The Developmental Literacy Continuum is a Formative Assessment tool for teachers.  Students can be plotted on a continuum to situate where they are in their literacy development (determining their zone of proximal development) in three strands of language learning, Reading, Writing and Talk ( Also the 3 strands of the Quebec Education Program in English and French ).  The on-line version is accompanied by a paper guide that describes the phases of development as well as the individual indicators within. The guide also provides teaching strategies for teachers to help in the planning of further teaching once a student is situated within the continuum.


Preliminary support and training can be provided by the LEARN team in collaboration with your school board consultants.

Using Developmental Continua

A set of developmental continua describe observable behaviors or actions called “indicators”.  These behaviors or action are clustered in phases of development.  Within a phase the indicators are often similar in their degree of difficulty and compliment each other.  They work together.  When most of the indicators in a phase are observable in a student’s work on a consistent basis, in a variety of situations, over a period of time (more than once!!) it can be said that a student has attained that phase. Teaching can begin to address indicators in the next phase.  Indicators can also reflect a certain degree of increasing difficulty in relation to each other, within a phase, but in which order any given student will acquire them may vary greatly.

For example in the list below for Exploring Literacy in Reading, different children will not necessarily acquire these in this order but one can see how the indicators all relate to relatively the same level of reading development.

- names all letters of the alphabet

- matches sounds to letters

- recognizes words that rhyme

- reads some sight words

Once the student’s phase of development in Reading, Writing or Talk has been determined, based on what s/he is able to do, the continuum will also show what still needs to be developed within that phase in order for the student to move along in their learning.  The student’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD),(Vygotsky) has been established.  This information now can help guide our teaching. 

It is important to remember that if learning activities are below the phase of development of the student s/he will find the tasks very easy and before long will lose interest as there is no real challenge.. they know this stuff already.  If the learning tasks are too far beyond the student’s phase of development s/he will soon feel there is no possibility of success as the mountain is too high and slowly (or not so slowly) disengage from the activity.  We often wonder why students are disengaged or unmotivated in class.  This may in part be due to the fact that the activities are not targeting their zone of proximal development where they are challenged to do new things but can also attain success and be aware of their progress.  

Screenshot from Digital Version ( first 3 phases of Writing )

first 3 phases of the Writing continuum


The Literacy Continuum looks at three areas, Reading, Writing and the Talk.  However, this is really for practical purposes only.  Literacy development does not occur in isolation in three separate domains.  Reading, Writing and Talk are strongly interlinked and interdependent. This does not mean that a student will necessarily be in the same phase in all three areas.   However, the areas of strength of a student can be engaged in developing teaching and learning strategies that will help develop the areas that are not as strong. 

In order to be able to make professional judgements about how a student is doing in a particular phase and what indicators have been demonstrated consistently, in a variety of situations, over a period of time, the teacher will need evidence.  One of the most effective approaches is to have students keep a process portfolio of their work.  That is to say an organized selection of artifacts that reflect the learning of the student.  These can be work samples, audio recordings, videos of an activity or photos of projects, events etc.  A digital portfolio such as EPEARL is ideal for this.

How can the D.L.C. be implemented?

There is no set pattern for using the Developmental Literacy Continuum.  It really depends on the needs of the professionals who intend to use it.  So, a classroom teacher could use it for the whole class, a small group of students or with individual students that may need a closer look.  A resource teacher could use it for the students they see.  The language specialist (English and/or French) could use it for all their students or a selected few.  The information gained through the D.L.C. can also provide ideas for a student I.E.P. 

Curated Resources for Literacy Continuum

Assessment Tools for DLC

Paper tracking tool for writing in English. EN FR

Writing indicators and descriptors by phase as a support docs to tracking tool. EN | FR

Paper tracking tool for Reading EN | FR

Reading indicators & descriptors by phase. EN | FR


For more information about the Developmental Literacy Continuum please contact;