Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Advisor

Associate Professor Lorraine Hammond

Second Advisor

Professor Mark Hackling


Whether or not teachers use the research-based practices of Explicit Instruction (EI) in lessons matters, since the salient features of EI design and delivery, backed by empirical research (Hattie, 2009), enable the transfer of new and difficult information from short- to long-term memory (Kirschner et al., 2006). How teachers interpret EI is important, because effective early instruction in “systematic, direct and explicit” phonics and phonological awareness (PA) can reduce the incidence of reading difficulties (Moats, 2010).

The aim of this thesis was to investigate, describe and analyse teachers’ enacted understanding of Explicit Instruction in phonics and phonological awareness, and identify the factors that enhanced or inhibited faithful implementation of EI practices in pre-primary classrooms.

Case studies were conducted with three pre-primary teachers in Perth, Western Australia. Five explicit phonics and PA lessons, delivered by each teacher, were observed and video recorded over a data collection period of 14 weeks, spanning three school terms in 2014. The teachers were interviewed after the five observations; more extensively at the beginning and end of the datacollection phase. The school principals and, where available, the teacher mentors or EI coaches were also interviewed, with further information gathered from school documents and email contact. The case studies were examined individually and across cases to provide insights into the complexities of teachers’ enacted interpretations of EI.

One of the schools had adopted EI as a whole-school approach to literacy in conjunction with fully scripted Direct Instruction Programs (Carnine et al., 2010). In this school, the pre-primary teacher received extensive professional development and delivered EI with fidelity in a school environment highly aligned with teacher-directed approaches. The other two pre-primary teachers taught E I in more eclectic environments, where essential components of EI were not a sufficiently clarified, supported or embedded approach by instructional leaders.

Amongst others, O’Donnell (2019) concluded that teachers’ beliefs are an important factor in the success or failure of new teaching approaches. It is therefore likely that the teachers in this study believed phonics should be taught using play-based, meaningful experiences (Campbell, 2015) because the dominant philosophy in early childhood education is play based (Ebbeck & Waniganayake, 2016). This could have contributed to their inability to adhere to critical aspects EI as recommended in the research.

I used Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory to explain how teaching practices were subjected to multiple and complex environmental influences and pedagogical content knowledge, in addition to what teachers deemed important to their students’ learning needs. Teachers’ practices and understandings were found to be influenced by confusing national and state policies, a predominantly play-based learning philosophy, vagueness of school policy in relation to literacy and EI, teachers’ personal beliefs, the school’s professional learning framework and the commitment of leadership to embedding teacher-led learning. This study addressed a gap in the literature on teachers’ practice of EI in phonics and phonological awareness, and showed that some teachers could articulate the principles but not put them into practice. The findings have implications for further research, policy and teachers’ professional learning.

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