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Developing common strategies and instruments for communicating school and student literacy information



4.2.3 Developing common strategies and instruments for communicating school and student literacy information

Developing common strategies and instruments for communicating information about literacy education between associate schools is an essential aspect of primary to secondary school transition. This includes information about students’ literacy development as well as information about school literacy programs and practices.

Student Literacy Information

Student literacy information is a vital component of transition data. However, the sheer numbers, and diverse language and literacy experiences, of students converging in Year 7 in the secondary school can yield volumes of individual student information. Associate schools need to work collaboratively to review existing transition processes and documentation with a view to developing more effective and streamlined processes for sharing student literacy information. The nature and volume of information to be communicated, and also the format and timing of that information should be considered to ensure processes that are meaningful yet manageable for the schools involved. These processes need to recognise and build on the professional judgement of middle years teachers in the primary context,

Of particular importance is the communication of information about students who may require increased teacher support, additional assistance and/or a learning environment that responds to their particular cultural and linguistic needs. These include students with language backgrounds other than English (especially where these are newly or recently arrived), Indigenous students and students with special learning needs.

Student self-assessment and selection of work, as is common in many transition portfolio and student passport initiatives, is an important component of assessment data for middle years students. While this is effective in promoting student ownership, confidence and self- esteem, it also enables Year 7 teachers to recognise student work at optimum levels of achievement, which can then be used as a benchmark in student performance at the beginning of year 7.

School Literacy Information

While effective communication of student literacy information is an important element of successful transition, of equal importance is that secondary schools have an overall picture of the approaches to literacy teaching and learning in associate primary schools. This includes an understanding of the kinds of literacy and textual practices, curriculum emphases and classroom learning cultures that incoming students have experienced in Years 5 and 6, and which have shaped their literacy and learning development.

Developing a School Literacy Transition Passport – as distinct from a student passport – provides secondary schools with an overview of the range of curriculum and literacy practices with which incoming students are familiar and enables them to identify broad patterns and trends that will have implications for classroom pedagogy in the secondary context. Middle years teams in secondary schools can use this information to directly inform curriculum development, teaching and learning. It assists them to identify the range of knowledge, skills and capabilities that incoming students can be expected to bring to learning, and to plan collaboratively to build on literacy programs and resources – whether the DEET Early Years Literacy Program, CECV Children’s Literacy Success Strategy (ClaSS) or West Australian First Steps – where they are in use in associate primary schools.

The process of formally documenting and reporting on school literacy teaching and learning practices also inhibits the effects of the ‘secondary dip’ by ‘benchmarking’ not only optimum levels of student progress and achievement in literacy, but also exemplary teaching practices and the features of successful classroom learning environments in Years 5 and 6.

Further benefits are increased teacher and school communication, enhanced professional relationships and the informal professional development, which are instrumental in promoting continuity of literacy education in the middle years of schooling.

Developing a school passport needs to be viewed as a two-way communication process, serving the needs of both primary and secondary schools in promoting continuity in literacy education. While it need only involve one document, copied for each associate secondary school, this instrument is most effective where middle years teams or clusters collaborate in its design as this ensures that it will reflect local issues and literacy teaching and learning needs.

A sample School Literacy Passport is included as Appendix 3 Dissemination of Literacy Information

Clear and effective pathways for communicating the literacy information to relevant staff is essential. Both the instruments used and the strategies developed for disseminating this information within the secondary school, need to be designed with attention to the intended target audience, or end-user. The ways information can be best disseminated, whether to the transition or year level coordinator, home-room teachers, or professional learning teams, should be given careful consideration.

Where instruments are designed by middle years teams working collaboratively across primary and secondary schools, this ensures that they are responsive to the needs, challenges, and realities of both contexts.

Research Snapshot #4.2.3

As a starting point for talking about literacy in transition, several of the case study schools participated in sessions discussing issues relating to the kinds of information gathered about students’ literacy development, and the ways this information was communicated between associate schools. School J, for example, is part of an active cluster of representatives from surrounding schools which meets on a regular basis and organises shared professional development activities on a range of topics. One session, organised through the research, involved middle years teachers from this cluster in discussion and critique of a random selection of transition documents in order to identify strengths and weaknesses for literacy in transition. This discussion and analysis were framed by the following key questions:

•= what is the most meaningful and useful information about students’ literacy development to share between schools?

•= how is this information best conveyed to ensure it is used to maximum effect?

•= what is this information best accompanied with (eg work samples, self-assessments etc)?

•= what format and processes will facilitate the dissemination of this information to appropriate personnel in the secondary context?

•= how will this information be used to inform curriculum and literacy teaching and learning?

The following points emerged in the research as key principles for guiding the efforts of middle years teachers in associate schools in redesigning existing transition instruments or strategies:

•= the need for transition forms to establish a common language for talking about literacy development

•= the need for transition forms to avoid duplication with enrolment forms and other documents by concentrating on gathering different information

•= the need to respect confidentiality and give teachers options to signal where they would like the opportunity for a face-to-face discussion about a students’ literacy needs

•= the need for a balance between quantitative and qualitative information

•= the need to apply a ‘less is more’ principle to both limit the volume of information to what can be realistically handled and also to ensure that information gathered has maximum meaning and value

•= the need to maximise accessibility, and ‘usability’ of information by creating formats and processes with the end-user in mind.

The ‘Quad’ outlined in the text Evaluating Literacy (Anthony et al.1992) was used in professional development with some case study schools as a useful data-gathering framework that assists middle years teachers and schools to analyse and classify different kinds of student assessment information according to four broad categories: observation of process, observation of product, classroom measures and decontextualised measures, conceptual framework for analysing and classifying different types of student assessment data. This is a useful conceptual framework for ensuring that student assessment data reflect a range and balance of different kinds of information communicated in appropriate ways.