Tom Nicholson

Professor of Education
Speaking at


How reading and writing make you smarter: The importance of a successful early start in literacy and how best to achieve that

Literacy is a protective factor than enables us to achieve a better quality of life. If you get off to a quick start in reading and writing in Year 1 compared with your classmates, you are likely to be higher than them in Year 11 as well and more likely to have established a lifelong habit of reading. There are also long-term benefits to literacy. Adults with higher levels of literacy are more likely to have better jobs, higher levels of pay and employment, better health, better housing conditions, better educational achievement, and have less involvement with crime. How do you help your child to do achieve this? The home literacy environment and early instruction at school are critical drivers of success. For many students the current whole language approach works well but at least one in five children do not do well and for some minority groups the situation is much worse, for example, only half of Pacific Island children are writing at expected levels for their age. Phonics instruction in reading and a strategic approach to writing, combined with the whole language emphasis on reading books is a research-based solution but it requires political to make it happen.


Tom Nicholson has authored more than 170 publications including 24 books. Recent co-authored books include Teaching Reading Vocabulary (2010), Teaching Reading Comprehension (2012), Dyslexia Decoded (2013), Literacy in Early Childhood and Primary Education (2014), and the New Zealand Dyslexia Handbook (2015). He has reviewed for many journals including Q1 journals such as Reading and Writing, American Educational Research Journal, Journal of Literacy Research, and Reading Research Quarterly. He can teach in a range of areas including literacy difficulties, psychology of reading, language and literacy, human development, and research methods. He has supervised more than 40 theses and dissertations.