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Developmental Literacy Continuum

What is the Developmental Literacy Continuum (DLC)?

The Developmental Literacy Continuum (DLC) is a Formative Assessment tool for teachers.  Students are tracked on the continuum to situate where they are in their literacy development (pre-K to Sec.5) in Reading, Writing, and Talk in English (3 strands of the Quebec Education Program) as well as Lire, Écrire, and Communication in French.

There are 5 phases in each continuum. Each phase is made up of a series of “indicators” that describe an observable artifact, action or behavior.  The teacher uses their professional judgement to decide if a student is demonstrating an indicator, some of the time (in progress) or consistently (attained).

The 3 choices in the DLC

A competency indicator needs to be observed, consistently, over a period of time, in a variety of situations.

In order to be able to make professional judgments about how a student is doing in a particular phase and what indicators have been demonstrated consistently, over a period of time, in a variety of situations,  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.  The use of a Digital portfolios or “portfolio” folders in a student’s TEAMS or GOOGLE account can be used for this.

Although the DLC looks at three areas, Reading, Writing and the Talk, this is really for layout purposes only.  Literacy development does not occur in isolation in three separate domains.  Reading, Writing and Talk are strongly interlinked and interdependent. A student will not 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. 

The DLC allows a teacher to determine a student’s zone of proximal development in any or all of the strands and then use this information to plan for future teaching/learning.

Using the Developmental Literacy Continuum

A set of developmental continua describe observable behaviors or actions that are called “indicators”. These indicators are organized into phases of development. Within a phase, the indicators are often similar in their degree of difficulty and compliment each other. They work together.

The 5 Phases are;

        1.  Exploring
        2.  Emerging
        3.  Developing
        4.  Fluent
        5.  Experienced

When most of the indicators in a phase are “attained” on a consistent basis, in a variety of situations, over a period of time (more than once!!), teaching can begin to address indicators in the next phase. Students can be in more than one phase at a time as they move forward. Indicators within a phase can also reflect a certain degree of increasing difficulty or complexity in relation to each other, but the order is not sequential. In what order students will acquire them will vary depending on each students own needs and pace.

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 relatively to the same level of reading development.

  • names some letters of the alphabet
  • matches some sounds to letters
  • recognizes some words in writing


Once the student’s phase of development in Reading, Writing or Talk has been determined, based on what they are able to do, the teacher will be able to see what still needs to be developed within a phase in order for the student to move along in their learning. The student’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), as defined by Vygotsky, has been established and provides information that can help guide the teaching.

It is important to remember that if learning activities are below the phase of development of the student they 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, they will soon feel there is no possibility of success as the mountain is too high and slowly (or not so slowly) disengage from the activities. 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.

Paper Version

There is a paper version for each Competency ( Reading, Writing, Talk, Lire, Écrire, Communication ), listing all the indicators, in their phases.

Below is a sample of the Reading Continuum

Screenshot of a sample DLC columnspaper document

These documents are formatted for 8.5″ X 14″ paper. They can be used to track individual students. By highlighting indicators with a transparent marker, one colour for “In Progress” and another for “Attained”.

For each Phase within a Competency, there is also a paper version that provides descriptors for each indicator as a further reference.  Printing out one set per competency that is being used is recommended.


Below is a sample of the Exploring Phase in the Reading Continuum

sample page with indicators and their descriptors image 

Paper versions can be found in the Resources for the DLC section below.

Resources for the DLC

Curated Resources for DLC

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