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The 2023 PETAA Leading with Literacy Conference "Literature:the Heart of the English Curriculum"

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

What is literature?



As an Instructional Literacy Coach, I wouldn’t be walking my walk if I didn’t invest in my own professional learning. The Primary English Teaching Association Australia hosted their two-day Leading with Literacy Conference in Melbourne this year, with the 2023 theme, “Literature: The Heart of the English Curriculum.”


How do you know what successful teaching looks like? When I was in the classroom, I didn’t know any other way of teaching if it wasn’t with a visible, clear and demonstrated example of what success looks like; a poster, an excerpt, a screenshot of a webpage, a photo of an advertisement, a picture storybook or a novel, a modelled anchor chart, a co-construct example of success, a sample of student learning from their book, an A3 cheat sheet or a shared/whole class poster of learning.


What I didn’t realise while I was in the classroom teaching reading and writing, is that I WAS providing my students with visible, clear and demonstrated examples of success, I just wasn’t using the phrase we now refer to them as, ‘mentor texts’. I would teach reading THROUGH writing, and teach writing THROUGH reading, and I absolutely loved, and still love, the concept of ‘Read Like a Writer’ and ‘Write Like a Reader’. The students would see an excerpt from a quality text and one they were familiar with and sometimes not so familiar with, perhaps it was a picture storybook we’d read over the course of a week or two with a writing focus AND a comprehension focus, or it may have been a close read and analysis of a particular literary device or feature used by the author to then transfer into our own writing.



From one of my previous blog posts, my ‘zone of genius’ lies when I’m collaborating with like-minded people, when I’m aligned to their values and when we can form common ground…My Zone of Genius was buzzing at this conference! Beyond the professional learning and networking, what really struck me was access to so many skilled, creative and knowledgable educators. It was really awe-inspiring. Each time I congratulated one of the speakers on their carefully constructed and interactively delivered presentation, I continuously said, “You were speaking my language while you were up there!” So much of what they shared resonated with my own teaching experience, and it allowed me to reflect on the ways I could even bring this new insight to better support the

teachers I work with in their literacy practice.


(Here I am with another Instructional Coach, Stephanie Salazar)


The 2023 PETAA Conference exposed me to many more ideas of how to use mentor texts, or model texts as they refer to them (mentor texts are published, longer texts such as picture books, chapter books, information texts, etc., and model texts are those either created by the teacher or student themselves, as exemplars, or shorter published texts, such as a short newspaper article, or report). What was reaffirmed, was knowing that students need to SEE what success looks like in order to achieve their own level of success in their learning, and exposing students to quality literature, along with introducing them to different forms of literature, is a perfect example of that.


Key Takeaways:


-visual literacy provides students with the opportunity to explore quality literature through clips, songs, music, sound, lighting, illustrations, interactive texts, colours, font, formats, layouts, etc.

(Jon Callow, Associate Professor, The University of Sydney)



-building the field and building background knowledge through authentic curriculum links from other learning areas to a class novel supports the close reading, analysis and interpretative student response to a text

(Pauline Jones, PETAA President & Associate Professor, University of Wollongong and Carlie Plummer, Wenona School)


-All three of the interrelated strands, Literacy, Literature and Language, are equally relevant and necessary when teaching the English Curriculum, beyond and across other learning areas through rich texts.

- ‘Speaking and Listening’ and the ‘language strand’ (grammar) is where teachers shy away from explicitly teaching due to lack of understanding and lack of confidence

-students need to be taught how to talk, using ’accountable talk’ as a possible framework (Bree Hurn, Lecturer, University of Melbourne)



-the purpose of the Zone of Proximal Development is for students to reach their potential

-the Gradual Release of Responsibility is HOW we help them arrive at their potential; it’s not linear, it goes back and forth, and there is an ebb and flow to this pedagogy

-a responsive teacher knows when to pull back and when to intervene

(Maria Nicholas, Senior Lecturer, Deakin University)



-texts are central to the development of empathy, engagement, cultural, historical and social understandings

-teaching students to agree or disagree, accept or reject the information presented in texts

-no text is neutral, there is always an inherited bias, ideal, ideologies, opinions embedded in the texts, as the text has been created by someone who has had an experience and is based on their attitudes and beliefs at the time they were composing the text

(Helen Cozmescu, Lecturer, University of Melbourne)


-use story genres to allow students to access content in other learning areas to provide the students (especially EAL students) with the tools, knowledge and skills they need

-every learning area has different goals, motives, languages, priorities, and means

-Science pulls apart the present; History puts the past back together; Maths looks to solve problems

(Bronwyn Parkin, Adjunct Lecturer, University of Adelaide)


-are we readers? Do we read? When? What are we reading? -where and when do we provide our students with opportunities to read? How?

-we’re experts in literature to support our students extent of reading genre and their reading interests

-‘two equally important reading goals: to teach our students to read and to teach our students to want to read” (Gambrell, 2015, p.259)

-reading increases empathy- read about it, write about it

(Martina Tassone, Lecturer, University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education)


-time and depth are essential for deep diving into a text and unpacking it with students

-books create relationships between reader and characters

-analysing word choices in literature support the reader in understanding the text from a reading perspective and from a writing perspective

(Helen Harper, University of New England)


- an important part of literature for writing comes from reading AND writing

-students need to have opportunities to learn to read- independently, in groups, with the teacher, from the teacher, aloud, silently, etc.

(Helen Adam, Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University)


-a gap between theory and practice exists in English classrooms when teachers are teaching reading, writing, speaking and listening

-empowering teachers is critical; supporting them in reflecting on their purpose in the classroom and coming back to why they do what they do every day

-students are at the heart of what we do, we make conversations for student impact

(Stephanie Salazar, Instructional Leadership Coach | Education Coach)


-each text contains three types of meanings simultaneously: literary elements, language and vocabulary

-we need to select novels and picture storybooks that the students wouldn’t select themselves to enhance their vocabulary, discussion about the text and contextual understanding of the story

-when teaching a close read, the teacher locates does the literal, the finding the words, doing the hard work prior to teaching so that more time is focused on the students interpreting, justifying, making connections

(Lorraine McDonald, Honorary Fellow, Australian Catholic University, Sydney)


-poetry is the most creative form of expression through writing

-different types of poems can be found in our everyday environment, from the school emblem/logo to a school certificate, to one word on an ad, through a jingle on the radio, through the song lyrics on Spotify, to theme songs of well known television shows

-teaching poetry through mentor texts supports the experimentation of literary devices, techniques and features in a creative way -use poetry as an alternative to a text response; instead of a traditional recount; or as a text summary

(Maxine Beneba Clarke, Poet and Author)




“What is Literature?” was asked of The Panel, with a variety of responses, including, ‘the placement of words that can take you somewhere or carry you somewhere’; ‘highly literate texts’; ‘different perspectives’; ‘anything that touches our humanity’.


For me, I believe literature is the arrangement and composition of words to help you make sense of the world (in reality or somewhere else) to build a deeper emotional connection between you and someone or something else…


As I thought about the idea of literature being at the heart of the curriculum, and after synthesising all of my notes (all 21 pages worth and close to 200 photos!), it acknowledges the importance and fundamental impact of mentor texts on students, their learning and their achievement.


“You can’t be what you can’t see”


How do you define literature? What do you believe is the role of literature in your classroom? Do you have any recommendations of quality literature you can’t live without?! I’d love to hear what others think, share this around with your colleagues to gain a sense of their beliefs and understandings.


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