4 Steps For Navigating Towards Literacy Success

formative assessment

My husband and I enjoy rogaining (long distance orienteering that requires a minimum of two people per group).

It’s not just the fact that it usually involves running around the Aussie bush that we love it, it’s the fact that it requires brawn AND brains.

Yes, it requires good fitness (especially if you’re super competitive and desperate to get on the podium to enjoy your very own winner’s chocolate bar).

But it also requires strong strategy and navigational skills.

If you don’t have these, you’ll NEVER taste the coveted Cadbury Furry Friends prized chocolate at the end.

Effective Navigation

There’s no need to go into specifics, but one person in our team of two has an underdeveloped sense of direction, whilst the other person can (admittedly) have an inflated sense of their own capacities in this area.

Disagreements about best directions can lead to long bouts of ‘mindful thinking time’ (AKA kilometers of silence) and, inevitably, provide more opportunity for relaxation at the finish line (i.e., remove the issue of having to get out of your seat to go up and collect a winner’s prize).

On days when we’ve achieved a less-than-admirable performance, we always reflect to diagnose where and how we went wrong. (And generally who caused it- but that’s another matter…)

We want to continually improve what we do, and we certainly don’t want to ever repeat that unpleasant pine plantation experience we once had…

Time and time again, on the days when we’ve got it really wrong, it’s just been a case of stuffing up the basic 4 steps of effective navigation:

  1. Find out where you want to go on the map. (A)
  2. Work out where you are right now. (B)
  3. Come up with a plan for moving from B to A.
  4. Constantly check your progress along the way.

It really is that simple.

Too often though, in the rush and excitement of trying to be fast and efficient, we don’t stop after we’ve achieved one goal to get our bearings on the map and plot out our next one.

With map in hand and a general sense of where the next marker is, we launch into our next mission. Every now and then we might take a quick glance down as we’re running along (usually praising ourselves on our speed as we do).

Sometimes this works. Sometimes we end up heading in roughly the right direction and just spend a bit of extra time searching around at the end for the marker.

More often that not, this doesn’t work though. Because we haven’t pinpointed out exact starting point, the compass directions over a kilometer of hilly or bushy terrain put our navigation well off-course in the end.

On these days, we end up having to do a lot of time-consuming backtracking, frustrating circles or silent walking up and down every single row of pine trees.

When we reflect, we always agree that on the next course we’ll commit to investing the time in slow downing and gaining precision on where we are now, so we’ll be more efficient in getting to our next goal.

In other words: Slowing down to speed up.

A lesson for literacy instruction

It’s a bit like teaching a unit of genre writing without checking what your students know before you start.

You’ve got your eye on the target at the end: every student will be able to write a strong persuasive piece.

But you haven’t slowed down to work out where they’re starting from.

  • Are they currently on the far left of the map- where they already understand the structure and the word choice?
  • Are they starting on the far right of the map- where they’re great at writing with entertaining voice but need to work on persuasive devices?
  • Maybe you’ve got students who’ve already checked in at your target and are actually half-way through to reaching the next one?
  • Or maybe you have students who are currently stuck in the thick of an endless pine plantation with no hope of getting out?
Team Leung rogaining
A rare rogaining photo of Laurie and I (we’re too competitive to stop and waste time taking photos on the way!)

By slowing down to check where your students are starting (i.e., by collecting and then analysing pre-assessment data) you can better orient your teaching and reach the finish target more efficiently.

You can eliminate unnecessary backtracking (reteaching) and frustrating circle work (wondering why your unit of work didn’t lead to positive growth despite ALL the hard work you put in).

Slow down to speed up.

Do you want to know the great things about these navigational steps?

They don’t just apply to orienteering or literacy instruction. They’re highly effective for all types of teaching and learning.

Note to Literacy Leaders

This simple principle is also applicable to adult learning.

When you slow down the rollout of your support, PD, coaching etc. to learn more about where your teachers currently are (in terms of their knowledge on the current focus), you can better target your support to reach your target more efficiently.

Slow down to speed up.

Evaluate and diagnose before planning and implementing next steps.

Remember these simple navigational steps:

  1. Determine where you want to go. (A)
  2. Work out where your staff/students are now. (B)
  3. Come up with a plan for moving from B to A.
  4. Constantly check your progress along the way.
  5. Go with all of your wife’s ideas on the course. (Oops, how did that last one get on there?)


Have you trialled “slowing down to speed up” with your staff or students?

Share your experiences in the comments below or over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook Group

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