A brief history of MultiLit

Today, MultiLit is a leading provider of effective literacy instruction in Australasia. Our evidence-based work is grounded in extensive research and experience and the aim to bring about major educational change so that far fewer children struggle at school. From the early days of research at Macquarie University in the mid-1990s to the comprehensive suite of programs, Literacy Centres and professional development available today, here’s a brief history of MultiLit.

Making Up Lost Time in Literacy

MultiLit began as a research initiative at Macquarie University Special Education Centre, led by Professor Kevin Wheldall with Dr Robyn Wheldall back in 1995. Coined as an acronym for ‘Making Up Lost Time in Literacy’, MultiLit referred to an ongoing program of research and development into more effective instruction for low-progress readers. In its early years, MultiLit partnered with the Exodus Foundation to establish the Schoolwise Program at a tutorial centre for socially disadvantaged youth in Ashfield, before publishing the first edition of the MultiLit Reading Tutor Program in 1998.


Community partnerships

As peak literacy and teaching bodies across the US, Australia and the UK identified the necessary elements of effective reading instruction, MultiLit was proving its findings in practical settings. In 2001, the Gladstone MultiLit Tutorial Centre was established in Queensland to improve the literacy skills of the community’s adolescents. MultiLit was then short-listed and highly commended for the Macquarie University Innovations Award for Innovative Partnerships in 2004, recognition it would receive twice more in the following years.

It was at this time that Professor Kevin Wheldall and Dr Robyn Wheldall began working with Indigenous leader Noel Pearson on pilot studies using MultiLit’s programs with Indigenous students in Cape York – and received the Macquarie University Community Outreach Award for their work with disadvantaged students.

Leaving the nest

Managing Director Iain Rothwell cites a trip to Cape York to witness programs being delivered in a remote Aboriginal school in Coen as a highlight of his time with Multlit.  

“This was an insight into one of life’s beautiful moments,” says Iain. “A student and a teacher positively engaged in the most critical of all lessons – learning to read. There we were in one of the remotest parts of Australia changing lives and impacting communities for the better.”

It was shortly after this experience that the team realised that for MultiLit to thrive and reach its potential, it needed to be established as a company. In 2006, MultiLit Pty Ltd was formed as a spin-off company of Macquarie University, and the MultiLit Research Unit was established to continue the valuable research that forms the foundation of the MultiLit programs.

A time of growth

As a private company, the MultiLit team wanted to provide resources for schools to be able to help students themselves, rather than picking up the pieces when students were struggling due to not receiving good instruction. Embracing the expanded knowledge of the Science of Reading, product development became a significant focus, including trials of an early literacy instruction program, MiniLit.

Government partnerships supported the expansion of MultiLit’s presence in multiple schools in Cape York, the establishment of Schoolwise Program sites in Darwin and the development of an online version of the MultiLit Reading Tutor Program.

Since 2011, MultiLit has launched at least one program, assessment tool or other resource each year, alongside growing its offering of professional development training. Iain is proud that everything released is not only backed by the latest research, but trialled in a school setting, demonstrating the dedication of the research team and the level of trust schools have placed in MultiLit.

“We feel privileged to work with such amazing schools,” he says. “I think the result is evident in the superlative standard of all our programs.”

Comprehensive literacy instruction

Today, MultiLit is tackling the mission to ensure every child learns to read from a number of different angles, offering resources for schools, parents and communities to provide effective literacy instruction across ages and contexts. A comprehensive suite of programs covers pre-school children, whole-class early years instruction, small group intervention support and more.

Training is available for teachers and school support staff – including the Positive Teaching and Learning Initiative professional development series on positive behaviour management – while direct support is delivered through the MultiLit Literacy Centres.

MultiLit also publishes the free literacy periodical Nomanis and supports the Five from Five project, which promotes evidence-based reading instruction and provides free information and resources for teachers, principals and parents.

Most recently, The Bookshop by MultiLit was launched, selling quality picture books and reading resources for children, parents and educators. The online store is home to books by MultiLit’s two publishing imprints: Putto Press children’s books and MRU Press, which publishes academic titles by members of the MultiLit Research Unit.

What's next for MultiLit?

As an innovative organisation, the MultiLit team has countless ideas and unbridled ambition to achieve more. A plan to expand the company’s geographical reach is well underway, with existing offices in Sydney and Perth, and a Brisbane office set to open later this year.

“Perhaps the most exciting initiative we’re planning is the Academy for the Science of Instruction,” says Iain, explaining the intention to launch a postgraduate school focused on evidence-based practice in the classroom, designed to equip teachers with the practical knowledge to do what they do best – teach. “The Academy will provide knowledge that allows teachers to be more effective. The greater impact will be assisting so many more children to learn.”

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