Prof Thomas Nicholson staff profile picture

Contact details +64 (09) 414 0800  ext. 43519

Prof Thomas Nicholson

Professor of Literacy Education

Institute of Education

Tom Nicholson gained his PhD at the University of Minnesota and worked at The University of Waikato and The University of Auckland where he held a personal chair in Education and was co-head of the School of Education before coming to Massey University's Auckland campus in 2006 where he is a Professor of Literacy Education.

In 2009 he was elected to the International Reading Association's Reading Hall of Fame - he is one of two working at a New Zealand University.

He has authored adn co-authored more than 170 publications including 25 books. Recent authored and co-authored books include Phonics Handbook, Teaching Expository Text Structure, Teaching Reading Vocabulary, Teaching Reading Comprehension, Dyslexia Decoded, Literacy in Early Childhood and Primary, and the New Zealand Dyslexia Handbook. In progress publication is on teaching of writing and spelling.

He has taught in a range of areas including human development, research methods, language, literacy, and cognitive development, and the teaching of writing in the classroom. Current teaching load: Teaching students with literacy learning difficulties, Educational research methods. Current thesis supervision and co-supervision: two doctoral students and eight masters students.

Nicholson has directed an after-school reading project attended by many hundreds of pupils needing help with learning to read and spell.

He is married, lives in Auckland, likes walking and jogging, cafes, the movies, and looking at art.

Tom Nicholson is a Professor of Education in the Institute of Education at Massey University. Before that he held a personal chair at The University of Auckland and before that was Associate Professor at the University of Waikato. He has published widely and is in the Reading Hall of Fame. He has taught many papers including the reading process, psychology of reading, developmental psychology, issues in education, human development, language literacy and cognitive development, educational research methods, research methods for professional practice, teaching writing in the classroom , applied behavior analysis, child language development, language and cognition, and reading difficulties.

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Contact details

  • Ph: 43519
    Location: 3.32, Atrium
    Campus: Albany


  • Teacher's Certificate - Sydney Teachers College (0)
  • Bachelor of Arts - THe University of Sydney (0)
  • Master of Arts - The University of Sydney (0)
  • Doctor of Philosophy - The UNiversity of Minnesota (0)

Prizes and Awards

  • Lecturer of the Year Award - Albany Students Association - Albany Students Assocaition (2016)
  • Lecturer of the Year Award 2015 - Albany Students Association - Albany Students Association (2015)

Research Expertise

Research Interests

Research continues to focus on application of theoretical findings. Current research focuses on the simple view of reading and writing and on code-cipher theory.

He has won more than a million dollars in research funding. Most of the funding of $700,000 has been for research interventions for "at risk" minority group children. He also won a co-authored grant from Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) of $100,000 and an Australian government Discovery Grant of $200,000.

Major honours include election to the prestigious International Reading Association Hall of Fame and personal appointment in 2010 by New Zealand Minister of Education to a small, Independent Advisory Group (IAG) to advise the Minister on National Standards in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics.

He has been or is currently on the editorial board or a consultant reviewer for a range of publications including

Reading and Writing: An International Journal (ranked as one of the top ten journals in Education and Educational Research), Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties,

Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Learning and Individual Differences, Reading Research Quarterly, International Journal of Development and Education, National Reading Conference Yearbook, Scientific Studies of Reading, American Educational Research Journal, Journal of Literacy Research, Reading Psychology, Publications Committee of the International Reading Association, The The Reading Teacher, Applied Psycholinguistics, Journal of Educational Psychology, New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, Australian Journal of Education, and Set – A Journal for Teachers.

He acted as guest editor for USA journal Perspectives on Language and Literacy.

Supervised or co-supervised more than two dozen postgraduate theses.

A significant and respected voice for education in the public policy domain in NZ evidenced by dozens of media interviews. Recognised education scholar with over 1,000 citations, and national and international appointments and awards.


21st Century Citizenship, Resource Development and Management, Health and Well-being

Area of Expertise

Field of research codes
Curriculum and Pedagogy (130200): Education (130000): English and Literacy Curriculum and Pedagogy (excl. LOTE, ESL and TESOL) (130204): Humanities and Social Sciences Curriculum and Pedagogy (excl. Economics, Business and Management) (130205)


language, literacy, reading difficulties, spelling difficulties, teaching writing, dyslexia, reading vocabulary, reading comprehension, summer slide, summer books, teaching phonics, how children learn to read and why some fail, social justice in literacy, poverty and literacy, research methods, experimental design, literate cultural capital, Reading Recovery

Research Projects

Summary of Research Projects

Position Current Completed
Project Leader 0 5

Completed Projects

Project Title: Talking about Text

It is well known in the literacy field that students who know how writers organise their ideas and present them in fiction and non-fiction have higher achievement in reading comprehension and writing (Calfee & Patrick, 1995; Dymock & Nicholson, 2012; McLachlan, Nicholson, Fielding-Barnsley, Mercer, & Ohi, 2013). On the other hand there is little research in New Zealand on this topic and this study will address this gap. In the study, 150 year 5/6 children in two primary schools were randomly assigned to text structure teaching, a treatment control group, or a no-treatment control group. Children were taught either text structure strategies or math (for the treatment control group) three days a week in one hour lessons for 10 weeks. Teaching was in small groups by trained tutors. Tutored students completed weekly quizzes related to the texts they studied and a writing task where they had to summarise the main points of a fiction or non-fiction text. Children were assessed using normed tests prior to the training and immediately at the end of the training programme. The prediction was that training in text structure for the experimental group would produce better reading and writing than for the two control groups.
Read Project Description Hide Project Description

Date Range: 2007 - 2008

Funding Body: Massey University

Project Team:

Research Outputs


Dymock, S., & Nicholson, T. (2017). To what extent does children’s spelling improve as a result of learning words with the look, say, cover, write, check, fix strategy compared with phonological spelling strategies?. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties. , 1-17
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Cope, PY., Clendon, S., & Nicholson, T. (2017). The multiple mini-interview: A possible solution to problems associated with the interview processes for a selected entry allied health program. Journal of Allied Health. 46(4), e91-e95
[Journal article]Authored by: Clendon, S., Cope, P., Nicholson, T.
Blick, M., Nicholson, T., Chapman, J., & Berman, J. (2017). Does linguistic comprehension support the decoding skills of struggling readers?. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties. , 1-20
[Journal article]Authored by: Chapman, J., Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2017). Nicholson, T., & Dymock, S. (September, 2017). Zero to hero: Why phonics is important for getting off to a better start at school. Swings and Roundabouts, pp. 18-19. Swings and Roundabouts. , 18-19
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2017). Book review: Reading development and teaching. Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin. 49(1), 20-21
[Book Review]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2016). The gap that schools can’t close.. : LDA Bulletin, 48(3). 30-31
[Internet publication]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Tiruchittampalam, S., Nicholson, T., Levin, JR., & Ferron, JM. (2018). The effects of preliteracy knowledge, schooling, and summer vacation on literacy acquisition. Journal of Educational Research. 111(1), 28-42
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2016). Nicholson, T. (2016). What more could you want? LDA Bulletin, 48(2), 23-24. : Learning Difficulties Australia
[Internet publication]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Dymock, SJ., & Nicholson, TW. (2015). How reading stories and making story webs can enhance story writing. Literacy Forum NZ.
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Martin, A., & Nicholson, TW. (2015). 'My life is a rollercoaster': A survey of homeless youth who attended an alternative high school. International Journal on School Disaffection. 11(2), 3-17
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, T., & Tse, L. (2015). What are the criteria for a good intervention study? Response: "Unrecognized ambiguities in validity of intervention research: An example on explicit phonics and text-centered teaching". Frontiers in Psychology. 6(MAY)
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Tse, L., & Nicholson, T. (2014). The effect of phonics-enhanced Big Book reading on the language and literacy skills of six-year-old pupils of different reading ability attending lower SES schools. Frontiers in Psychology. 5(OCT)
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2012). Vocabulary instruction for struggling students. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties.. 17(2), 165-166Retreived from
[Book Review]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Dymock, S., & Nicholson, T. (2012). How can educators cater for adults with dyslexia?. Reading Forum NZ. 27(2), 5-9 Retrieved from
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, T., & Dymock, S. (2012). Moving the needle on reading - Part 2. Reading Forum NZ. 27(2), 22-26 Retrieved from
[Journal article]Authored by: Nicholson, T.


Dymock, S., & Nicholson, T.(2012). Teaching reading comprehension: The what, the how, the why. New Zealand: New Zealand Council for Educational Research - NZCER Press
[Authored Book]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Dymock, S., & Nicholson, T.(2013). 2013 Dyslexia Decoded. Auckland: Dunmore Press
[Authored Book]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
McLachlan, C., Nicholson, T., Fielding-Barnsley, R., Mercer, L., & Ohi, S.(2013). Literacy in early childhood and primary education: Issues, challenges and solutions. United States of America: Cambridge University Press
[Authored Book]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW., & Dymock, SJ.(2015). The New Zealand Dyslexia Handbook. Wellington: NZCER Press
[Authored Book]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, T. (2014). Academic achievement and behavior. In The SAGE Handbook of Emotional and Behavioral Difficulties. (pp. 177 - 188).
[Chapter]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2014). Standards-based assessment. In SG. Little, & A. Akin-Little (Eds.) Academic assessment and intervention. (pp. 316 - 337). New York: Taylor & Francis
[Chapter]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2014). Dyslexia, reading, and spelling: Some teaching suggestions. In B. McLean, & J. Clements (Eds.) The Australian Dyslexia Learning Difference Handbook 2014. (pp. 38 - 47). : Learning Difference Convention
[Chapter]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2016). Phonemic awareness and reading difficulties. In B. McLean (Ed.) The Australian Dyslexia Learning Difference Handbook 2016-2017. (pp. 21 - 28). Erina Fair, NSW, Australia: Learning Difference Convention
[Chapter]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW. (2016). Phonological awareness and learning to read. In V. van Daal, & P. Tomalin (Eds.) The dyslexia handbook 2016. (pp. 115 - 120). Bracknell, England: British Dyslexia Association.
[Chapter]Authored by: Nicholson, T.

Creative Work

Nicholson, TW.July
[Media]Authored by: Nicholson, T.


Cope, PY. (2015). Impressions of a multiple station speech and language therapy admissions process. (Master's Thesis)
[Masters Thesis]Authored by: Cope, P.Edited by: Nicholson, T.


Nicholson, TW.(2013). Dyslexia and what to do about it - a primer for the agricultural industry. : National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults
[Technical Report]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW.(2013). Keep your child reading over summer. Palmerston North: The Tribune
[Technical Report]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW.(2014). Fairfax media "First books" - Tips for reading with your child. Auckland: Fairfax Media
[Technical Report]Authored by: Nicholson, T.


Nicholson, T.(2016, September). Keynote speaker - The summer slide and the effect of the summer vacation on children's reading progress. .
[Conference]Authored by: Nicholson, T.Contributed to by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW.(2016, March). Keynote speaker - Phonemic awareness and its relevance for dyslexia. .
[Conference]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW.(2015, August). Title: A discussion of the dyslexia debate. Author was invited to give a commentary on the book Dyslexia Debate. Symposium was hosted by ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD), and Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University. This was an invitation to present at the Centre of Excellence in Cognitive development at Macquarie University in Sydney and was prestigious. National Centres, funded by the Australian government, are extremely hard to win funding for so the invitation was prestigious. The symposium was by invitation and was directed to an audience of Australian researchers.. .
[Conference]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW.(2014, August). A strategic approach to teaching children with dyslexia. .
[Conference]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW.(2013, September). Spelling: What it is, why it is crucial for writing, and how to help students who struggle. .
[Conference]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW.(2013, December). Inequality and the reading gap between higher and lower SES schools a comparison of years 1-6 in New Zealand and the USA. .
[Conference]Authored by: Nicholson, T.
Nicholson, TW.(2012, December). Stopping the summer slide” – The highs and lows of intervention research. .
[Conference]Authored by: Nicholson, T.


Nicholson, TW. (2017). phonics helps kids to crack the code. (pp. 18 - 18). New Zealand Herald
[Other]Authored by: Nicholson, T.

Supervision and Teaching

Summary of Doctoral Supervision

Position Current Completed
Supervisor 0 4
Co-supervisor 1 0

Current Doctoral Supervision

Co-supervisor of:

  • Susan Bisschoff - Doctor of Philosophy
    Dynamic Assessment as an Early Screening Tool for Risk of Reading Difficulty in New Zealand New Entrants

Completed Doctoral Supervision

Supervisor of:

  • 2016 - Alicia Ritter - Doctor of Philosophy
    Why do they stay? An Analysis of Factors Influencing Retention of International Teachers
  • 2015 - Shanthi Tiruchittampalam - Doctor of Philosophy
    School years, summer holidays and the reading achievement gap
  • 2014 - Mary Turner - Doctor of Philosophy
    The effects of book reading over the summer holidays on the reading skills and attitudes to reading of Year 3 students
  • 2012 - Laura Tse - Doctor of Philosophy
    Can Phonics Instruction & Big Book Shared Reading in Combination Work Better Than on their Own?

Media and Links


  • 26 Nov 2014 - Newspaper
    Big boost in teaching kids to read
    NZ Herald
  • 25 Jul 2016 - Online
    Raising literacy among indigenous children
    Nicholson, T., & Dillon, A. (2016, July 25). Teaching phonics skills alongside reading raises literacy achievement among Indigenous children. The Conversation. in this article co-authored by myself an
  • 20 Jun 2017 - Newspaper
    Nicholson, T. (2017). Phonics helps spelling
    Nicholson, T. (2017). Phonics helps kids to crack code. Dialogue section, NZ Herald, 20 June 2017, p. A18.
  • 16 Mar 2016 - Radio
    Radio interview Why South Koreans are reading less
    English speaking radio interview, Busan, South Korea
  • 15 Dec 2014 - Newspaper
    Summer holidays: down time or down to it?
    Melbourne Age
  • 13 Jun 2017 - Newspaper
    Quoted in article on spelling - NZ Herald 13 June
    Article on spelling in NZ Herald by Simon Collins reports interview with Tom Nicholson
  • 13 Jun 2017 - Radio
    Radio Live interview with Alison Mau on Spelling
    A radio interview about how phonics will help children to improve in spelling
  • 13 Jun 2017 - Television
    TV3 The Project 7:00 p.m - Phonics and spelling
    An interview about research on phonics and spelling for The Project on TV3 - 7:00 p.m.
  • 12 Jun 2015 - Radio
    Summer Slide in Reading
    1ZB Newstalk with Mike Hosking
  • 10 Nov 2015 - Online
    Hope comes to paretns of children with dyslexia
  • 07 Dec 2015 - Radio
    Radio - Mike Hosking about summer hols & kids read
    Mike Hosking about summer hols & kids reading
  • 03 Sep 2015 - Television
    Dads skipping story time in New Zealand
    Interview on Breakfast TV with Rawdon Christie
  • 03 Mar 2016 - Radio
    Koreans are reading less - how can they read more?
    South korea radio interview following up on research that shows Koreans are onling nine books a year which is below the OECD average
  • 03 Jan 2015 - Newspaper
    Keep up with reading over summer kids told
    New Zealand Herald
  • 02 Jan 2015 - Television
    Summer reading habits highlight social gap
    TV3 News
  • 01 Jan 2012 - Newspaper
    Study focuses on New Zealand children's literacy
    Lauceston Examiner
  • 01 Dec 2014 - Radio
    How can Maori children benefit from your research
    Radio Waatea - with Willie jackson
  • 01 Apr 2012 - Magazine
    What they did last summer
    Defining New Zealand

Other Links

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