Improving literacy at different ages

Image: Kzenon /

Reading and writing can be developed in different ways and for different age groups. We take a look at some recent projects with positive results.

Reading and writing are much more than spelling out words: they involve knowing vocabulary and concepts, processing information, and critical engagement with multiple sources. One of the EU Education & Training 2020 targets is that by 2020 fewer than 15% of 15-year-olds should be classed as “low-achieving” in basic skills, including reading. The current rate of low achievement in reading is 19.7% (PISA 2015), while three years earlier it was 17.8% (PISA 2012), meaning that serious work needs to be done to get below 15% by 2020. Schools naturally play an important role in developing literacy but are not the only ones responsible; especially when literacy skills touch so many aspects of our work and personal lives. Therefore a broad range of players have a role to play in addressing the issues.

The three following initiatives show how reading skills can be enhanced among different age groups. They are part of the good practice examples reviewed and chosen by the European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET).

Buchstart Burgenland, Austria: Growing up with books

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” – This remark by the Argentinian writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges has inspired the Austrian project, Buchstart. It aims to engage children with libraries from an early age, even before beginning school. The younger children begin reading books and literature, the easier it will be for them to learn, read and write later on in their lives.

The project involves the whole the family and promotes libraries as meeting places where children of all ages can discover the world of books and learn the value of reading. For children, books become bridges which introduce them to different cultures and generations.

In 2014, the Burgenland authorities provided every infant with their first book (a cardboard picture book) and their families with pre-reading tips for children from 0 to 3 years old. The project is ongoing and is funded by the federal government of Austria. 

LitCam, Germany: Play football and learn how to read! 

Football meets culture project was initiated in 2007 in Frankfurt, Germany, by the international literacy campaign LitCam. It aims to tackle early school leaving and to ensure that young people will reach an adequate level of education that will ensure their employability in the future.

The project is targeted mainly at children from a socially disadvantaged background, and whose first language is not necessarily German. In order to do this, the project uses football as a means to improve children’s social skills, but also as an incentive to motivate them to perform better at school.

Students taking part in the programme meet twice a week after school for a whole year and train both their literacy and their football skills. They learn football from a major football club and their tutoring is inspired by their football training sessions. Tutoring involves writing and reading stories about football, but also using football as a source for numerical exercises.

The project goes one step further by giving the participating students the opportunity to attend cultural events such as visits to museums, libraries, rap poetry workshops, etc. once a month. More than 1000 students from disadvantaged environments have profited from their participation, making the project attractive and leading to its expansion in 17 schools in 10 German cities.

Boost for Reading, Sweden: Training teachers to improve students’ literacy skills

While the PISA rate of underachievement in reading for the EU in general went up, Sweden managed to reduce it by 4.3 percentage points between 2012 and 2015. This achievement is partly attributed to the programme called “Boost for Reading” (Läslyftet).

Läslyftet began in 2014, and aims to increase students' reading comprehension and writing skills by strengthening and developing the quality of teaching. The project encourages the continuous professional development of teachers, and tries to enrich their literacy competences and give them examples of effective teaching models to boost their confidence. It has three levels of implementation: training of facilitators, training of teachers in collegial learning, and teaching students to become better readers.

The participants share material through an online platform. More than 700 schools have so far taken part in the project, and the feedback has been overall very positive.

This project is financed by the Swedish National Agency for Education, Skolverket, and will run until 2018.

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