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First Steps Reading Developmental Continuum

Monitoring and Assessment | Four Resources Guideposts
First Steps Reading Developmental Continuum | Analysis of Reading Strategies |
Read and Retell | Codes of Visual Text | SWOT Analysis | Self and Peer Assessment

Sections of the First Steps Reading Developmental Continuum have been reproduced with the permission of First Steps.

First Steps provides a framework for linking assessment with teaching and learning. It was researched and developed over five years by the Education Department of Western Australia.

First Steps cover the four areas of Oral Language, Reading, Writing and Spelling. For each area a developmental continuum has been prepared to identify the phases in a child’s development from pre-literacy to independence.

The Developmental Continua

The continua have been developed to provide teachers with a way of looking at what children can actually do and how they can do it, in order to inform planning for further development. It is recognised that language learning is holistic and develops in relation to the context in which it is used. However, given the complexity of each mode of language, a continuum has been provided for reading, writing, spelling and oral language, in order to provide teachers with in-depth information in each one of these areas.

The Continua make explicit some of the indicators, or descriptors of behaviour, that will help teachers identify how children are constructing and communicating meaning through language. The indicators were extracted from research into the development of literacy in English-speaking children. It was found that indicators tend to cluster together, ie if children exhibit one behaviour, they tend to exhibit several other related behaviours. Each cluster of indicators was arbitrarily called a ‘phase’. This clustering of indicators into phases allows teachers to map overall progress while demonstrating that children’s language does not develop in a linear sequence. The concept of a phase was shown to be valid by the Australian Council for Education research in their initial research into the validity of the Writing: Developmental Continuum.

Individual children may exhibit a range of indicators from various phases at any one time. ‘Key’ indicators are used to place children within a specific phase, so that links can be made to appropriate learning experiences. Key indicators describe behaviours that are typical of a phase. Developmental records show that children seldom progress in a neat and well-sequenced manner; instead they may remain in one phase for some length of time and move rapidly through other phases. Each child is a unique individual with different life experiences so that no two developmental pathways are the same.

The indicators are not designed to provide evaluative criteria through which every child is expected to progress in sequential order. They reflect a developmental view of teaching and learning and are clearly related to the contexts in which development is taking place. That is, language development is not seen as a ‘naturalistic’ or universal phenomena through which all children progress in the same way. Children’s achievements, however, provide evidence of an overall pattern of development which accommodates a wide range of individual difference.

MyRead is aimed at readers at stages 3, 4 and 5 of the Reading Developmental Continuum (shaded in green). Phases 3, 4 and 5 are described in detail below.

Reading Developmental Continuum overview
[larger image – GIF] [larger image – PDF]

Indicators For Reading Developmental Continuum

Phase 3: Early Reading

Making Meaning at Text Level

  • Is beginning to read familiar texts confidently and can retell major contents from visual and printed texts, eg language experience recounts, shared books, simple informational texts and children’s television programs

  • Can identify and talk about a range of different text forms such as letters, lists, recipes, stories, newspaper and magazine articles, television dramas and documentaries

  • Demonstrates understanding that all texts, both narrative and informational, are written by authors who are expressing their own ideas

  • Identifies the main topic of a story or informational text and supplies some supporting information
  • Talks about characters in books using picture clues, personal experience and the text to make inferences
  • Provides detail about characters, setting and events when retelling a story
  • Talks about ideas and information from informational texts, making links to own knowledge
  • Has a strong personal reaction to advertisements, ideas and information from visual and written texts
  • Makes comparisons with other texts read or viewed. The reader’s comments could relate to theme, setting, character, plot, structure, information or the way the text is written
  • Can talk about how to predict text content, eg ‘I knew that book hadn’t got facts in it. The dinosaurs had clothes on.’

Making Meaning Using Context

  • May read word-by-work or line-by-line when reading an unfamiliar text, ie reading performance may be work centred. Fluency and expression become stilted as the child focuses on decoding

  • Uses picture cues and knowledge of context to check understanding of meaning

  • Generally makes meaningful substitutions, however, over-reliance on graphonics may cause some meaning to be lost
  • May sub-vocalise when reading difficult text ‘silently’
  • Is beginning to use self-correction as a strategy
  • Uses knowledge of sentence structure and punctuation to help make meaning (syntactic strategies)
  • Sometimes reads-on to confirm meaning
  • Re-reads passage in order to clarify meaning that may have been lost due to word-by-word reading. May re-read a phrase, a sentence or a paragraph
  • Can talk about strategies used at the sentence level, eg ‘If I think it doesn’t sound right, I try again’
  • Is beginning to integrate prediction and substantiation

Making Meaning at Word Level

  • Has a bank of words which are recognised when encountered in different contexts, eg in a book, on the blackboard, in the environment or on a chart

  • Relies heavily on beginning letters and sounding-out for word identification (graphophonic strategies)

  • Carefully reads text, demonstrating the understanding that meaning is vested in the words
  • May point as an aid to reading, using finger, eyes or voice, especially when reading difficult text
  • Locates words from sources such as word banks and environmental print
  • When questioned can reflect on own word identification strategies, eg ‘I sounded it out’


  • Is willing to have-a-go at reading unknown words
  • Enjoys listening to stories
  • Reads for a range of purposes, eg for pleasure or information
  • Responds sensitively to stories read
  • Discusses favourite books
  • Talks about favourite author
  • Selects own reading material according to interest, purpose and level of difficulty and, with teacher support, can reconstruct information gained


Phase 4: Transitional Reading

Making Meaning at Text Level

  • Shows an ability to construct meaning by integrating knowledge of:

    • Text structure, eg letter, narrative, report, recount, procedure
    • Text organisation, eg paragraphs, chapters, introduction, conclusion, contents, page index
    • Language features, eg descriptive language connectives such as because, therefore, if┘then
    • Subject specific language, eg the language of reporting in science and the language of a journalistic report

  • Can retell and discuss own interpretation of texts read or viewed with others, providing information relating to plot and characterisation in narrative or to main ideas and supporting detail in informational text

  • Recognises that characters can be stereotyped in a text, eg a mother looking after children at home while the father goes out to work or a prince rescuing a helpless maiden from an evil stepmother, and discusses how this could be changed

  • Selects appropriate material and adjusts reading strategies for different texts and different purposes, eg skimming to search for a specific fact; scanning for a key word

  • Makes inferences and predictions based on information which is not explicit and implicit in a text
  • Makes generalisations based on interpretation of texts viewed or read, ie. confirms, extends, or amends own knowledge through reading or viewing
  • Uses a range of strategies effectively to find relevant information in texts, eg makes use of table of contents and index
  • Reads orally with increasing fluency and expression. Oral reading reflects personal interpretation
  • Selects texts effectively, integrating reading purpose and level of difficulty
  • Makes comparisons with other texts read
  • Recognises devices which influence construction of meaning such as the attribution of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ facial characteristics, clothing or language and the provision of emotive music and colour, and stereotypical roles and situations in written or visual texts

Strategies for Making Meaning Using Context

  • Is becoming efficient in using most of the following strategies for constructing meaning:

    • Makes predictions and is able to substantiate them
    • Self-corrects when reading
    • Re-reads to clarify meaning
    • Reads-on when encountering a difficult text
    • Slows down when reading difficult texts
    • Substitutes familiar words
    • Uses knowledge of print conventions, eg capitalisation, full stops, commas, exclamation marks, speech marks

  • Makes meaningful substitutions, ie. replacement miscues are meaningful, eg ‘cool’ drink for ‘cold’ drink. The integration of the three cuing systems (semantic, syntactic and graphophonic) is developing

  • Is able to talk about some of the strategies for making meaning

Making Meaning at Word Level

  • Has an increasing bank of sight words, including some difficult and subject-specific words, eg science, experiment, February, Christmas
  • Is becoming efficient in the use of the following word identification strategies for constructing meaning:

    • Sounds-out to decode words
    • Uses initial letters as a cue to decoding
    • Uses knowledge of common letter patterns to decode words, eg th, tion, scious, ough
    • Uses known parts of words to make sense of the whole word
    • Uses blending to decode words, eg str-ing
    • Uses word segmentation and syllabification to make sense of the whole word


  • Is self-motivated to read for pleasure
  • Reads for a range of purposes
  • Responds sensitively to stories
  • Discusses favourite books
  • May discover a particular genre, eg adventure stories (may seek out other titles of this type)
  • Shows a marked preference for a specific type of book or author
  • Makes comparisons with other texts read
  • Demonstrates confidence when reading different texts


Phase 5: Independent Reading

Making Meaning at Text Level

  • Can recognise and discuss the elements and purposes of different text structures, eg reports, procedures, biographies, narratives, advertisements, dramas, documentaries

  • Reads and comprehends text that is abstract and removed from personal experience

  • Makes inferences based on implicit information drawn from a text and can provide justification for these inferences

  • Returns purposefully to make connections between widely separated sections of a text

  • Makes critical comparisons between texts

  • Can discuss an alternative reading of a text and offer possible reasons why a text may be interpreted differently by different readers or viewers

  • Talks with others about interesting or difficult content
  • Can justify own interpretation of a text
  • Comments and makes judgements on the ways authors represent people from different cultural and socio-economic groups
  • Is beginning to recognise and appreciate that authors manipulate language in a variety of ways to clarify and enhance meaning
  • Can recognise and discuss the elements and purpose of different text structures, eg biography, mystery
  • Reflects on and discusses issues and topics that have emerged when reading or viewing
  • Challenges and criticises text and topics, offering supportive evidence
  • Organises logical responses to a text
  • Selects relevant information for own purpose
  • Identifies and synthesises points of view
  • Draws conclusions from text and generalises about information extracted from them
  • May compare self and own experiences with fictional characters to enrich understanding
  • Reads and comments critically on materials such as news items, magazine articles and advertisements and letters in the press, identifying techniques and features designed to influence readers
  • Applies basic research skills effectively such as identifying informational needs, using knowledge of library organisation and text organisation and extracting relevant information from data base, catalogue or book

Making Meaning Using Context

  • Uses a range of strategies automatically when constructing meaning from text:

    • Self-corrects
    • Re-reads
    • Reads-on
    • Slows down
    • Sub-vocalises

Making Meaning at Word Level

  • Uses word identification strategies appropriately and automatically when encountering an unknown word

    • Knowledge of graphophonics
    • Knowledge of word patterns
    • Knowledge of word derivations, morphographs, prefixes, suffixes and syllabification


  • May avidly pursue a favourite author. Books may be compared and recommended to others
  • Feels strongly about reading preferences and can justify opinions
  • Is totally absorbed when reading
  • Sees books as a major source of information
  • Empathises strongly with admired characters in fiction



First Steps Reading Developmental Continuum. (1997). Melbourne: Rigby Heinemann.

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