Assistant professor Margunn Mossige, Professor and Director Åse Kari Hansen Wagner and Communications advisor Elisabeth Rongved, the National Centre for Reading Education and Research, University of Stavanger.
The article is published in the 2016 Yearbook of the Consortium of Institutions for Development and Research in Education in Europe.
In 2015, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research launched the National Strategy for Language, Reading and Writing 2016–2019. This is a national strategy with the ambitious aim of improving the language and literacy competency of Norwegian children and pupils. The aim is to increase the skills and expertise of school and kindergarten teachers and staff in the areas of language development, reading and writing. This is a comprehensive and systematic strategy that targets all children and pupils. However, certain groups will receive particular attention. These are: children and pupils with language difficulties; pupils with difficulties related to reading and writing; boys; children and pupils from minority language homes, and high achieving pupils.
In this article, we will describe the background to why a strategy of this kind has proven to be important in Norway, and we will explain why it is unique of its kind. We will give a description of the content and methods of the strategy, and how it is designed to meet the current challenges in language and literacy instruction faced by Norwegian kindergartens and schools. Further, we will present a brief overview of the challenges facing the target groups listed above, and how the strategy addresses their needs.
The National Centre for Reading Education and Reading Research (The Reading Centre) has been placed in charge of developing and administrating the strategy, in close collaboration with the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training and the National Centre for Writing Education and Writing Research (the Writing Centre). The strategy is led by a management group with members from the Reading Centre, the Directorate for Education and Training and the Writing Centre, as well as observers from the Ministry of Education and Research, the Directorate for Education and Training, and the Reading Centre.
At the point of writing, the trial version of the strategy is on-going in kindergartens and schools across Norway, and schools and kindergartens are preparing to participate in the full version of the strategy, commencing in August 2016.
It is a priority for the Norwegian government that all children and young people should have highly-developed skills in language, reading and writing. These skills are crucial for citizens in a modern society. Young children need age-appropriate language skills in order to participate in playing and learning, and good early language development is central for children’s later acquisition of reading and writing. For school-age children and youths, mastering reading and writing is essential for learning and school participation. Having adequate literacy skills is also imperative for people of all ages to participate in work and education, to reach their goals and potential, and to participate fully in a modern, democratic society – a society that places increasing demands on the literacy skills of its citizens.
According to the European Commission, basic skills in literacy, numeracy, science, and technology are essential for further learning, and are a gateway to employment and social inclusion (The European Commission, 2016). However, in 2012, 17,8 % of European students were low achievers in reading (ibid). In its report from 2012, the EU Commission’s High-Level Group on literacy lists a number of recommendation to improve literacy amongst Europe’s children, youths and adults. The goal is that, by 2020, less than 15 % of 15-year-olds should be classed as “low achieving” in the basic skills, as measured by PISA tests (ibid).
The first PISA survey in 2001 revealed that Norwegian students showed mediocre skills in reading (Stanat et al 2002). This sdefines reading Stavanger. ge, enrass Available online: sfag,vikling - strategy r compulsory school and upper secondary schoolcaused a stir amongst Norwegian education policy makers, school professionals and the general public. Popularly labelled the “PISA-shock”, this led to more than a decade of political engagement on issues related to education. An educational reform programme and a number of strategies which aimed to improve learning and instruction in Norwegian schools have been the result. These efforts seem to have had an effect. The performance of Norwegian pupils has improved gradually over the last 10 years in the areas measured by international surveys such as PIRLS and PISA (OECD, 2012). Many will argue that the Norwegian education system is on the right track. However, there are still some acute challenges that the government finds it necessary to address:
- A substantial proportion of the Norwegian population struggle, or have struggled, with acquiring good reading or writing skills (PIAAC, 2014; Hulme & Snowling, 2009).
- The reading level of 16 percent of Norwegian 15-year olds is below what PISA has identified as a baseline level. (OECD, Ibid, page 3). In other words, one in six students leaves school unable to read adequately. Most likely, these youths will struggle with meeting the demands facing them in further education, at work, and in society in general.
- National standardised tests in reading for Year 8 (13 year olds) show that students from non-Norwegian households are over-represented in the lowest-scoring group. In this group, we find 42 percent of Norwegian-born students of immigrant parents, and 55 percent of students who have come to Norway as immigrants themselves. 24 percent ofAhat aarten teachers and staff. tive that lie ahead in ensuring the stratll tegy is a success, it'000 in high school.cy, mathem students from Norwegian-speaking households are found in this group. Amongst all groups, boys score lower than girls.
- The upper secondary school drop-out rate remains stable, despite efforts to increase completion. In 2014, 30 percent of students who had started upper secondary education in 2009 had still not reached completion (Statistics Norway, 2015).
- Children and young people who struggle with reading and writing are often being identified too late, although research shows that the effect of early intervention is considerably greater than measures taken in later years (Gabrielsen & Gees Solheim, 2013).
- Too many children with Norwegian as a second language start school without sufficient proficiency in Norwegian. 83 percent of first graders received special language teaching in 2014 due to poor language proficiency. 4.9 percent of older children receive special language teaching. sdefines reading Stavanger. ge, enrass Available online: sfag,vikling - strategy r compulsory school and upper secondary schoolIt is crucial for children to be highly proficient in the language spoken at school, in order to gain a full grasp of the classroom instruction.
- Research also shows that high-achieving students in Norwegian schools do not receive sufficient stimulation and support from their teacher (Cosmovici, Idsoe, Bru & Munthe, 2009).
Goals and ambitions
As mentioned in the introduction, the government has identified a number of at-risk groups as specific target groups for the National Strategy for Language, Reading and Writing 2016–2019. However, as well as improving literacy skills and school completion amongst these children and pupils, the Ministry of Education and Research has several other ambitious goals within the strategy. These are:
- Improving the overall quality of language development work and activities in Early Childhood and Care Institutions – barnehager, which we in this article will refer to as kindergartens;
- Establishing a continuum between language development activities in kindergarten and literacy instruction in primary school;
- Increasing teachers’ skills and expertise in the areas of language, reading and writing;
- Earlier identification of children and young people who struggle with language, reading and writing, and putting necessary educational measures in place at an earlier stage;
- Reducing the number of students with poor reading and writing abilities
- Increasing the number of highly skilled students in the areas of reading and writing;
- Providing the necessary challenge and support for high-achieving pupils who are exceptionally skilled in reading and writing.
The Strategy marks the debut of a comprehensive and systematic strategy for language, reading and writing that encompasses the entire Norwegian education sector, including kindergartens. The inclusion of kindergartens in a comprehensive education strategy like this is new in a Norwegian setting. Compulsory schooling for Norwegian children starts at the age of 6. However, over 90 percent of children aged 1–5 attend public or private kindergartens (Statistics Norway 2012). Public and private kindergartens must fulfil the requirements of the National Kindergarten Act, and are characterised by a holistic, play-based approach, in contrast to the more academically oriented early childhood programmes found in many other countries. Due to a change of jurisdiction in 2006, kindergartens were moved from the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs to the Ministry of Education and Research. This shift represented a new emphasis on the importance of early childhood education amongst Norwegian policy makers. The inclusion of kindergartens in this strategy can be viewed in light of this development.
When the minister of education Torbjørn Røe Isaksen introduced the strategy in October 2015, he emphasised the importance of language development work in kindergarten.
“If we succeed in improving language instruction in kindergartens now, the future will see a decrease in children with critically low reading skills in Grade 8”, the minister said to the trade journal Utdanningsnytt, published by the Union of Education Norway.
Target groups in the strategy
Many children and youths struggle with language related difficulties, as well as with difficulties related to reading and writing. The ambitious goal of this strategy is to strengthen the expertise of school and kindergarten teachers and staff in order for them to swiftly identify children and students who struggle with language, reading and writing, and to follow up with effective support.
As well as targeting children and youths who struggle, the strategy emphasises that high achieving students should receive the challenge and support they need.
Minority language children and pupils
Minority language students and pupils are at risk when it comes to falling behind in language, reading, writing and formal learning (Melby-Lervåg & Lervåg, 2013). This is despite the fact that many of these children master everyday Norwegian well. There is a need to focus on the development of Norwegian language skills by minority language children throughout their entire time in kindergarten and school.
Children and pupils with language difficulties
Children with language difficulties are at risk for developing reading and writing difficulties (Rescoria, L (2009). Early intervention, through systematic, language-stimulating measures, is the most important educational approach for these children. However, due to a lack of knowledge about language difficulties amongst teachers, these difficulties are often not detected, and necessary measures are not put in place (Bele, 2008).
Boys seem to acquire early language skills at a slower rate than girls, and a higher number of boys than girls experience difficulties related to language, reading and writing. Although research adds nuance to this picture, gender differences continue to be observed amongst school age children, for example in large surveys such as PISA, PIRLS and the Norwegian standardised national tests (van Daal, Gees Solheim & Gabrielsen, 2011; OECD, ibid). These surveys reveal that girls consistently show better reading skills than boys. Kindergartens and schools need to work strategically to avoid increased gender differences in language and reading skills between the children as they get older.
Children and youths with reading and writing difficulties
Large resources are spent on special, one-on-one instruction for children in higher grades in Norwegian schools, and fewer in primary years. Researchers and educational authorities have identified the need for change from late to early intervention, in order to prevent the development of reading and writing difficulties in at-risk children (Vellutino & Zhang, 2008). Early intervention towards children who struggle with reading and/or writing, reduces the risk of these difficulties developing further as the children get older (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs & Barnes, 2007).
The principle of individually adapted education also includes children and young people with exceptional abilities and talents in a range of areas. These children and youths do not always receive sufficient stimulation and support from their teachers (Cosmovici; Idsoe, Bru & Munthe, ibid.). Many of these highly skilled pupils invest very little in their school work, despite the fact that they are characterised as extraordinarily able. Unless they are met with real challenges that awake their interest, they tend to find school boring, withdraw themselves from what is happening in the classroom, and minimise their efforts.
An overview of the strategy
The Reading Centre was given the assignment of administering and developing the strategy by the Ministry of Education and Research in the autumn of 2014. It was decided that the strategy would commence in full from August 2016, however that at trial of the strategy would take place in the school year 2015/2016, involving a limited number of participants.
2015: Trial year – practicalities
A total of 210 kindergartens and schools participated in the 2015/2016 trial of the National Strategy for Language, Reading, and Writing 2015–2019.
This included 70 kindergartens, 101 primary schools, 28 secondary schools and 11 upper secondary schools.
Teachers from the participating kindergartens and schools gathered at the first introductory meeting in October, 2015. Representatives from the Reading Centre and the Writing Centre presented the content and use of the professional development kits to the participants.
A total of 11 kits (1 for kindergarten, 8 for primary school, 1 for secondary school and 1 for upper secondary school) were available to support the trialling of the strategy.
The majority of the participating schools and kindergartens started working with the development kits by the second term, i.e. January 2016.
Schools and kindergartens that participated in the trial, may also participate in the full version of the strategy.
Key elements of the strategy
A large proportion of the employees at the Reading Centre has been involved in developing, producing and administering the strategy, which consists of the subject areas described below. The strategy consists of three key elements: Free, online professional development kits; annual introductory meetings for participating schools and kindergartens; and financial support for local professional development.
Free online professional development kits: For the first time, a national education strategy will be implemented through the use of Massive open online courses (MOOC). The Reading Centre is in charge of producing research based, professional development kits for each of the areas in the strategy. The kits, freely available for kindergartens and schools on www.sprakloyper.no, are made up of academic texts, video examples of educational practices, video lectures, reflective questions, examples of parent-teacher cooperation, and exercises to try out in the classroom and share with other professionals.
Participating kindergartens and schools will work in teams, using the kits as basis for professional development, at regular intervals throughout the year. The kits will provide direction for the professional development that will take place in the participating kindergartens and schools. The kits also give participants the opportunity for professional immersion within the different subject areas, as well as instruction on how to utilise new instructional methods. The kits also contain valuable tools for teachers and staff to use in reflecting upon their own practice.
Research shows that schools with a well-functioning professional community are better equipped to create a good environment for professional development than schools where teachers work mainly individually (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace & Thomas, 2006). With this in mind, this strategy emphasises professional team work in participating kindergartens and schools. The professional development kits are developed to be used in groups – either by the staff as a whole, or in smaller professional groups or teams.
Annual, introductory meetings took place in October 2015 for kindergartens and schools that participated in the trial, and in Spring 2016 for kindergartens and schools that will participate in the full strategy in the school year of 2016/2017. Due to the large and spread-out geographical nature of Norway, these meetings took place at seven locations across the country. The meetings were organised and led by representatives from the Reading Centre, and attended by teachers and staff from participating kindergartens and schools. At the introductory meetings, representatives from the Reading Centre and the Writing Centre instructed the participants on how to use the professional development kits. Following these meetings, participants are expected to present the kits to their colleagues, and to lead the implementation of the strategy at their local schools and kindergartens.
Support for local professional development: 27 Norwegian municipalities in 12 counties have received a total of NOK 11 million (approx. EUR 1.2 million) for work on language, reading and writing. The receiving municipalities are found to have particular needs related to language, reading and writing in its schools and kindergartens, and are selected by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training.
NOK 15 million (approx. EUR 1.6 million) has been distributed to kindergartens.
These funds will go to professional development amongst teachers and staff in participating kindergartens/schools, and to establishing local professional networks to support the aims of the strategy. The Reading Centre and the Writing Centre will develop and provide tools for the professional development of kindergarten teachers; support their work, and manage local networks.
A total of NOK 3,5 million (EUR 378 000) has been granted to the following non-profit organisations in 2016, in support for their work on language or literacy projects that can be related to the strategy: Association Read! (foreningenles.no/about-us), Dyslexia Norway (www.dysleksinorge.no), the online teenage magazine Magasinett (magasinett.no) and Books for anyone (lesersokerbok.no/english/).
Subject areas in the strategy
Based on the challenges related to language and literacy in Norwegian kindergartens and schools and the identification of target groups, the strategy covers a number of areas. By participating in the strategy, the aim is that teachers and kindergarten teachers and staff will gain insight in, and learn more about, the following areas:
Language development and activities stimulating reading and writing
Good language development is crucial for a pre-schooler’s ability to play, learn and develop social relations. However, research shows that few activities related to reading and writing are initiated by the teachers and staff in Scandinavian kindergartens (Svensson, AK, 2011). It is necessary to strengthen the focus on pre-written language activities and language activities in general. This requires attentive adults with extensive knowledge about language development and the use of language in children.
The relationship between language learning activities in kindergarten and school
In order to ensure optimal continuity and development in children’s language learning, kindergarten and school need to be aware of the language learning activities that take place in both places. School teachers need to accommodate early literacy instruction to the needs of each individual child. Therefore, it is crucial that teachers working with young children are familiar with language development in children. Also, teachers need to familiarise themselves with the language learning activities that take place in kindergarten, which prepare children for school.
Early literacy instruction
First graders are generally very motivated for school and learning. This has probably not been sufficiently acknowledged in most Norwegian schools (Lundetræ & Walgermo, 2014), and the potential for learning should be exploited more fully than has been the case to date. Literacy instruction needs to be accommodated to suit the needs of the individual child. Most children will learn to master written language, regardless of which methods are used in early literacy instruction. However, the methods and content of the early literacy instruction can be of crucial importance for children at risk of developing reading and writing difficulties. Teachers need necessary expertise on how to help children who are in need of extra support.
Reading and writing in all subjects
The development of reading and writing skills is a process that continues beyond the initial literacy instruction in primary school. Middle, secondary and upper secondary school students are expected to continue to develop their skills in reading and writing. Knowledge and literacy are developed and used in various ways within the different school subjects. Teachers need to know how to better integrate reading and writing instruction with the planning and instruction in all subjects, from Grade 1 throughout middle and upper secondary school.
Digital technologies in literacy instruction
The school of the future will be technology-rich, both in terms on how students learn, and on how teachers instruct. Digital technologies will, to an increasing extent, be implemented at all levels of education, from pre-school to upper secondary school. Framework plans and steering documents in Norway focus strongly on increased used of IT. The development is fast-paced and places new demands on teachers.
Challenges and reflections
The goal of The National Strategy for Language, Reading and Writing 2016–2019 is ambitious: To reach out to all Norwegian children and youths by increasing the skills and competence level of their kindergarten teachers and teachers. Experiences from the trial serve as important background for developing the full version of the strategy. There will be four rounds of evaluations during the trial year, consisting of written feedback from participants. A case study of one of the participating schools will also be used as background for developing the full version.
At the time of writing, in May 2016, the trial of the strategy is well underway. The first introduction meetings of the full strategy have recently been held in 7 locations across Norway and a survey amongst 456 participants in the trial has been conducted. Judging by the results of this survey, it seems safe to conclude that the National Strategy for Language, Reading and Writing 2016–2019 is meeting a demand amongst school teachers, kindergarten teachers and kindergarten staff. An overwhelming majority is positive to both the content and methods of implementation of the strategy. 89 % of participants answered that they were positive to the professional development kits they had been working with at the point of the survey. 92 % found the kits to be at an appropriate professional level, and a full 97 % found the content of the kits relevant for the school’s or kindergarten’s current work on language, reading or writing.
Given that this is the first time an educational strategy is presented in the form of a massive open online course, it is positive to note that as many as 98 % of participants found the website sprakloyper.no easy to understand and navigate. 97 % found the instructions provided on the website to be adequate or better.
In order for a strategy such as this to succeed, the importance of engagement and participation by the entire staff – not only by key staff or group leaders – has been emphasised. The survey showed that 96 % found that staff were engaged in discussions and reflections during the workshops. 84 % of the participating schools and kindergartens planned to conduct workshops related to the strategy at least once per month. 84 % also planned on conducting work related to the strategy in between the workshops.
These answers are obviously positive when determining whether the strategy is on the right track. However, as we will see, there are a number of other factors that will determine whether the strategy will turn out to be successful, and meet its ambitious aims of improving the competency in language, reading and writing amongst Norwegian school teachers, kindergarten teachers and kindergarten staff.
Challenges related to participation
The government’s ambition is participation by the vast majority of, if not all, Norwegian kindergartens and schools, between 2016 and 2019.
On the whole, secondary and upper secondary schools are less likely to participate in national educational strategies and programs than kindergartens and primary schools. There seems to be certain challenges related to participation from secondary and upper secondary schools also for this strategy. Both at the introduction meeting for the trial in October 2015, and at the introduction meetings for the full strategy in Spring 2016, the interest has been consistently higher from teachers and management in kindergartens and primary schools, than from secondary and upper secondary schools. 166 kindergartens applied to participate in the trial of the strategy; 87 were granted a place (52 % of applicants). 175 primary schools applied to participate in the trial; 125 were granted a place (68 %). In contrast, only 28 secondary schools and 11 upper secondary schools participated in the trial, and all of those who applied were granted a place.
The 7 introduction meetings for the full strategy were attended by a total of 1100 teachers and kindergarten teachers in Spring 2016. 600 participants came from kindergartens, 400 came from primary schools, whereas only 171 came from secondary and upper secondary schools.
The relatively low interest from secondary and upper secondary schools may in part be attributed to the shortcomings associated with a trial strategy and the fact that, due to practical reasons, only a limited amount of professional development kits targeting the higher grade levels were available during the sign-up period for the full version. On a more fundamental level, however, the implementation of the strategy at higher grade levels faces challenges that are related to the traditional role of reading and literacy in a secondary school setting. The Norwegian educational reform The Knowledge Promotion (2006) defines reading as one of the five “basic skills” that form the foundation for all other learning. As is the case for all the basic skills, reading has become incorporated into the syllabuses for all subjects. All teachers are therefore responsible for enabling pupils and apprentices to develop their reading skills. This is a new way of thinking and working for most teachers in secondary / upper secondary schools. These are specialised teachers, without reading or literacy as part of their formal qualification. Instruction in reading and writing has, as a rule, been associated with the lower grade levels.
A number of strategies targeted towards secondary and upper secondary schools in recent years may have led to a shift in attitudes and increased knowledge on literacy and reading amongst teachers in the higher grades. The programs Ungdomstrinn i Utvikling, Ny Giv and FYR, that aim to increase upper secondary school completion, are estimated to have reached up to 4 000 secondary and upper secondary school teachers nationwide. It is hoped that the focus on reading, writing, and literacy incorporated in these programs will also lead to increased interest amongst secondary / upper secondary schools to participate in this strategy.
The success of the strategy is also dependant on how it is adopted and implemented by school and kindergarten management, teachers and staff. The goal is that participation in the strategy will lead to increased awareness and knowledge on language, reading and writing in school teachers and kindergarten teachers and staff, which will, ideally, lead to a change in practice. Hopefully, this change in practice in turn will improve the language and literacy competency in Norwegian children and youths. However, certain criteria must be met in order to ensure active participation and thus positive change.
Teachers and kindergarten teachers will be in charge of leading the professional development at their own institution (with support from their management, and ideally as part of a wider professional network or management group), after attending the introduction meetings. In order for these teachers to successfully lead the development work amongst their colleagues, it is imperative that they have a good understanding of both the strategy as a whole, of the methods presented in the professional development kits, and of the aims and goals of the strategy. Thus, both the content as well as the structures of the strategy are of critical importance.
The Reading Centre is a national research centre, with the mandate to disseminate resources to schools and kindergartens based on the centre’s own research as well as research from other national and international sources. The resources presented in the professional development kits are research based. However, the resources also ought to be presented in a user-friendly manner, and must be easy to implement in an everyday setting for individual teachers and kindergarten teachers and staff members. It is important to avoid the characteristics of “how to-manuals” that can be used without participants needing fundamental understanding of why they should follow the recommendations. Rather, the kits need to offer tasks that emphasise reflection, evaluation and understanding of the work at hand. Participants need to find that the resources are of relevance to their own professional work. It is crucial that those involved in developing the professional development kits have a high awareness of this balance, and that they manage to communicate the theoretical background of the resources in a way that is relevant and engaging for the participants.
Research also shows that cooperation, dialogue and exchange of ideas are important requirements for successful professional development amongst teachers (Collinson, Cook & Conley, 2006). For this to happen at local kindergartens and schools, it is important that the management is actively involved in organising and implementing the strategy.
In line with EU policies and targets related to improved literacy in the European population, the aim of the Norwegian National Strategy for Language, Reading and Writing 2016–2019 is to improve the competency of school teachers and kindergarten teachers and staff, and thus improving Norwegian children and youths’ competency in language, reading and writing.
The trial of the strategy and the launch of the full version, have been well received amongst Norwegian school and kindergarten management, teachers and staff. Feedback from participants in the trial, indicates that the strategy is highly relevant and successfully presented, and that it is strongly related to the professional reality of school and kindergarten teachers and staff. However, while the interest from kindergartens and primary schools has been relatively high, one goal for the next 3 years is to increase participation from secondary and upper secondary schools. Also, in order for the strategy to meet its ambitious aim of increasing language and literacy competency in all Norwegian children and students, the implementation of the strategy in individual kindergartens and schools is important. Whether the strategy will lead to real change and improved competency amongst Norwegian school teachers and kindergarten teachers and staff, depends on the quality of the professional development kits; how the methods and the strategy are communicated to school and kindergarten leaders, teachers and staff; and how the professional development kits are implemented in each individual school and kindergarten.
 A short note on the Norwegian education system: The Norwegian education system offers kindergartens, primary, secondary, upper secondary and tertiary education. Education is compulsory between the ages of six and sixteen (grade 1 to 10).
Primary school runs from grade 1 to grade 7.
Secondary school runs from grade 8 to grade 10.
Upper secondary school provides three years of general education or four years of vocational education after the 10-year compulsory education. The norm for vocational education is two years of vocational training in school, followed by two years of apprenticeship.
The vast majority of pupils attend public (state) schools. Only 7.8 % of Norwegian schools (grades 1–10) are private, according to Statistics Norway
 The 2006 Knowledge Promotion Reform is the latest reform in the 10-year compulsory school and in upper secondary education and training. Other strategies have been The Strategy for Lower Secondary Educaiton in Norway Motivation and Mastery for Better Learning (”Ungdomstrinn i utvikling”), a strategy for science, and The Vocational Education and Training Promotion (The VET Promotion) https://www.regjeringen.no/en/topics/education/innsikt/yrkesfagloftet/id2353804/, and others.
 Based on currency convertion rates in May, 2016
 These meetings include most (but not all) schools and kindergartens that will participate in the strategy in the school year 2016/2017. Although participation at the introduction meetings is recommended, it is optional for those wanting to take part in the strategy, and there is also no requirement to participate in the strategy for schools or kindergartens attending the introduction meetings.
 Some kindergartens and schools sent more than 1 participant.
 This equals around 8 percent of the teachers in Norwegian secondary and upper secondary schools.