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


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: 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.


McLachlan, C., Nicholson, T., Fielding-Barnsley, R., Mercer, L., & Ohi, S.(2013). 2013 Literacy in early childhood and primary education: Issues, challenges and solutions. Published book by Cambridge University Press.. United States: Cambridge University Press
[Authored Book]Authored by: Nicholson, T.

Supervision and Teaching

Summary of Doctoral Supervision

Position Current Completed
Supervisor 0 4
CoSupervisor 1 0

Current Doctoral Supervision

CoSupervisor of:

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

Completed Doctoral Supervision

Supervisor of:

  • 2016 - Alicia Ann Ritter - PhD
    Why do they stay? An Analysis of Factors Influencing Retention of International Teachers
  • 2015 - Shanthi Tiruchittampalam - PhD
    School years, summer holidays and the reading achievement gap
  • 2014 - Mary Louise Turner - PhD
    The effects of book reading over the summer holidays on the reading skills and attitudes to reading of Year 3 students
  • 2012 - Laura Lo-Ming Tse - PhD
    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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