Better Start Literacy Approach at OPS

 7 September 2023

BSLA for OPS website - for whānau

We will continue to develop this page and add information for whānau. If you have additional questions or suggestions for information we could add, please speak to your child’s teacher.

We have added a vocabulary section later in this piece with short explanations of some of the words teachers and ākonga use and will continue to add to it.

The aim of the Better Start Literacy Approach is to ensure all children develop the strong foundational skills they need to become strong readers and writers.

The approach has been developed by a team of educators and researchers at the University of Canterbury specifically for our New Zealand educational and cultural context and controlled research trials have proven its effectiveness.

Teachers in our Year 0-Year 4 Learning Communities at Onehunga Primary School have trained (or are in the process of training)  in this approach this year. Our teachers who trained at the beginning of 2023 (or earlier) are already seeing great progress by our ākonga and are excited by the results.

The Better Start Literacy Approach (BSLA) focuses on vocabulary, letter knowledge and phonological awareness instruction. 

Vocabulary (word learning) - words that we use in speaking or understand in listening, and the words we understand or use in print (writing)

Letter Knowledge - letter recognition, letter naming, letter-sound knowledge, and letter writing.

Phonological awareness- the ability to hear, identify, make, and work with the sounds and sound patterns of spoken language.

BSLA is taught in a systematic way which ensures important foundations or building blocks for literacy are in place. It involves structured lesson plans, planned games and activities. 

It follows a particular sequence for introducing children to letters and sounds, that aligns with the children’s decodable readers. It involves monitoring children’s progress to make sure each child is making expected progress. Teachers call this ‘Scope and Sequence

Teachers start by assessing each ākonga to find out what they already know. This allows teachers to be responsive to your child’s needs. Assessments can take up to 45 minutes of a teacher working one to one with each ākonga.

This video is aimed more at educators, but might be interesting for whānau who want to find out a bit more about BSLA

What is phonological awareness?

This video is again aimed more at educators, but offers some simple explanation at the beginning

Dr Margie Gillis - Ed.D

Supporting Your Child’s Literacy Learning At Home

You are an important part of your child’s literacy journey. Children’s early language and reading experiences at home help build foundations for reading success. 

Vocabulary plays a very important part in learning to read. Beginning readers must use the words they hear orally (when talking and in everyday conversations) to make sense of the words they see in print.

For whānau this might be enjoying time together with books, and looking at print around the home and when you are out and about. Talking with your children, having conversations back and forth, taking lots of turns and encouraging your children to talk and discuss things with you are some really easy activities you can do with you children that don’t involve any resources. 

Our teachers will focus on teaching your child to read, whānau can support by encouraging regular sharing of books and conversations about words, sounds and books. 

Children may bring home books which are not decodable readers. We are sending these to give whānau a range of books to read to their children and talk about.

If you are ever unsure what you can do, or the book your child is bringing home please ask your child’s teacher.

Some ideas about how whānau might support literacy learning at home:

The Ministry of Education - Ideas to help with reading, writing and maths

What is a decodable text or reader?

At OPS we are currently using Ready to Read Phonics Plus books to support BSLA in Year 0-4

The lead researchers within BSLA Team have also developed the new Ready to Read Phonics plus series for the Ministry of Education. These new children’s readers are culturally relevant to NZ and use a systematic approach to introduce word patterns to help children decode unfamiliar words and to comprehend simple stories. The use of these new readers from the Ready to Read Phonic Plus series is embedded within the Better Start Literacy approach.

The decodable readers your child will bring home have suggestions on the front cover about how whānau can support that particular reader. Your child’s teacher may also send an information sheet about the sounds your child is focusing on that week.

Whanau Notes

Your child can read the story to you.

Help them with any words they don’t know.

After reading, talk about the story, characters, and pictures.

What are the letter sounds being used?

A big part of learning to read is learning the sounds letters and combination of letters make. We know that there are also some English words which do not fit these patterns. Letter sounds and combinations of letter are taught to our ākonga in a planned and systematic way. Teachers refer to this as the ‘scope and sequence’

We have included some examples of the sounds which you might be interested in…

Vowel and Consonant Sounds in New Zealand English.pdf
English Vowel Sounds (1).mp3
English Consonant Sounds.mp3

The Sounds of New Zealand English - Emma Nahna - NZ Speech Language Therapist

There are a lot of new words and phrases being used by teachers and ākonga when they talk about reading. We have included some really simple explanations…

August 2022

Better Start Literacy Approach (BSLA)

You may have heard stories in the media about some ‘new’ approaches to literacy recently in Aotearoa New Zealand. While we wanted to get involved and find out more, we also needed to balance this with the current professional learning and development (PLD) we have committed to and staff are already involved with. We can't just keep adding on more and more PLD to our staff time! 

As a school we are always looking at approaches and research which we can add to our teaching and learning programmes. While many of our children are making great progress in their learning, we also look for approaches to support those who are not making the progress we would like. BSLA, led by the University of Canterbury is a good example of this. 

“The Better Start Literacy Approach, is an integrated classroom literacy approach for Year 0/1 classrooms to support children’s early reading, writing and oral language success. It incorporates vocabulary development using quality children’s story books, structured teaching of critical phonological awareness skills and letter-sound knowledge through fun, game-based activities, activities making explicit links to the reading and spelling context, and structured small group reading sessions using the new Ready to Read – Phonics Plus early readers series. The Better Start Literacy Approach follows a phonics scope and sequence that is used in the class and small group reading teaching.”

In 2022 had two teachers from our Year 0/1 team involved this year in this professional learning. This meant they could be part of this professional learning and try this approach in OPS classes. After this professional development and trial were completed we were able to make an informed decision about the best next steps for our school. The results were positive and we decided to get as many eligible teachers as possibel invovled. For the start of 2023 this opportunity was avaialbe for Year 0-2 teachers only.


Term 1 and 2 - Our Kiwi Learning Community - Year 0 & 1 and Kea Learning Community - Year 2 teachers took part in the very intensive Better Start Literacy Approach professional learning. 

Term 3 - Our Kereru Learning Community Teachers - Year 3 & 4 are now eligible to be part of this training. All of the six Year 3/4 teachers are involved in the training. By being part of this training we can develop a consistent language and approach for OPS ākonga and their whānau.

OPS Learning Spotlight about Better Start Literacy Approach  25/5/23


Kea Learning Community

We are a team of three Year 2 whānau classes located on Level 0 of the new building.

 This week’s 'Learning Spotlight’ focuses on…

This year, the Kea learning community teachers are taking part in the Better Start Literacy Approach through the University of Canterbury. Kiwi Teachers are also involved in this professional learning.

The Better Start Literacy Approach (BSLA) is a structured approach to literacy instruction for Year 0 to Year 2 classrooms, to support children's early reading, writing and oral language success. It has been developed specifically for our New Zealand learners and trials have proven its effectiveness. 

The Better Start Literacy Approach includes teaching letter sound knowledge skills through fun, games-based activities, activities making explicit links to reading and spelling, and small group reading sessions using the new ‘Ready to Read - Phonics Plus’ early readers series. In addition, the approach teaches vocabulary skills and builds children's listening comprehension skills through story books. We teach The Better Start Literacy Approach in whole class sessions and smaller reading groups.

Since beginning our BSLA journey, we have noticed a positive impact as students are beginning to transfer their BSLA learning to their reading and writing. Students are learning to break words into sounds and blend sounds together when attempting unknown words. `Akonga are learning that the amount of sounds in a word do not always equal the amount of letters in a word. Once teachers have completed the training, we look forward to sharing more with whānau, including ways to support your child's learning at home.

Student voice: 

tch in itch makes the sound ch because it is a trigraph. Three letters make one sound”

ai goes in the middle of the word but ay goes at the end”

C-a-t, cat”

“It helps me with my reading because I can count the sounds on my fingers.”

You can find out more about Better Start Literacy here and in this newsletter from 2022