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Maximising potential for literacy education through school and class restructure



4.3.3 Maximising potential for literacy education through school and class restructure

School and class restructure has a profound impact on classroom teaching and learning and maximises potential for effective literacy and learning. By responding to recommendations for structural reform of school and class organisation in the middle years, schools make significant moves towards creating a model of provision that establishes a middle ground between teaching across the curriculum and curriculum specialisation. Where teachers are supported in maximising the scope and potential of these structural reforms, this middle ground is profoundly enabling of effective literacy teaching and learning.

Many schools are restructuring timetables to enable teams of teachers to share responsibility for classes of students with whom they have increased hours of contact and extended class times. Apart from enhancing continuity and connectedness for students, and professional commitment and satisfaction for staff, these schools are creating classroom learning environments that have a positive impact on students’ literacy development and learning outcomes.

Extended class times and increased contact with particular classes of students enable teachers to gain deeper and more comprehensive knowledge of students’ literacy and learning capabilities and needs across a broader range of key learning areas. Under less pressure to cover the maximum amount of curriculum content in a short time, and less time lost in lesson changeovers, teachers are able to incorporate more effective and sustained literacy teaching and learning strategies. Particularly where schools accompany these changes with a policy of ‘no interruptions’, teachers have increased scope to implement a wider variety of classroom organisational structures to support learning, including structured opportunities for oral interaction and co-operative learning. While these features are of benefit for the literacy and learning development of all students, they are particularly important for students with language backgrounds other than English, Indigenous students

and students with special learning needs, many of whom may require increased teacher support through literacy-focused teaching, and more time to complete learning requirements.

Secondary schools need to be aware of the implications of restructuring the timetable to create longer class times and the need to support both staff and students in maximising the literacy and learning opportunities it creates. This involves providing professional development and support for teachers in broadening their repertoires of teaching practices and strategies, and classroom management techniques.

The curriculum flexibility created by structural reforms to school and class organisation in the middle years leads to increased opportunities for teachers to work more cohesively in teaching and assessing aspects of literacy. Collaboration in teams, especially where teachers have responsibility for teaching two or more key learning areas, supports teachers in planning units of study or topics in different key learning areas that are thematically linked.

This in turn enables literacy and learning outcomes to be integrated across compatible and complementary areas, especially where curriculum projects involve literacy-rich learning tasks.

Research Snapshot # 4.3.3

Many of the case study schools involved in the research were in the process of taking up middle years restructure and reform, particularly where this meant establishing teams of teachers who were taking a class for more than one key learning area, and revising timetables to allow extended class times, or increasing the number of double periods.

While changes to school and class structures in School A were implemented simultaneously as a raft of middle school reforms, others, such as School J and School H, were introducing changes through a more staged approach. Schools taking a more staged approach felt they were yet to realise the full impact of these structures for improving literacy and learning outcomes but were convinced of this potential by witnessing improved engagement of students in literacy and learning. One school, which at the beginning of the project felt that revising the timetable to allow this innovation would be unlikely in the forseeable future, was investigating this as a possibility and laying the groundwork for change by the conclusion of the project.

School and class restructure and reform were seen by all case study schools to impact positively on literacy teaching and learning. Key elements of school and class organisation that emerged from the research as supporting effective literacy education are as follows:

•= linking groups of teachers who teach a class for more than one key learning area

•= flexible timetabling that enables teachers to meet and plan in teams

•= extended class times or increased double periods

•= clear roles, responsibilities and expectations in literacy

•= established and managed structures for planning, implementing and evaluating literacy provision.

Where changes to class timetables in case study schools involved the introduction of longer class times (referred to by one case study school as ‘learning zones’), or increased the frequency of double periods, this was found to be profoundly enabling of more effective literacy pedagogy. In School A, reorganising Years 7, 8, and 9, into a middle school with professional learning teams and extended blocks of time led to increased staff and student satisfaction, heightened student connectedness and engagement, as well as improved literacy and learning outcomes.

It is worth noting, however, that these changes are not equally welcomed at first by all staff, or even by all students, in secondary schools. Literacy coordinators and school leadership teams need to be aware of the importance of providing teachers with ongoing professional development and support in realising the pedagogic opportunities afforded by extended class times. In some case study schools, the major focus of the research involved supporting middle years teachers in developing more constructivist approaches to learning (as distinct from transmission pedagogies). The major objective here was broadening teachers’

repertoire of classroom strategies as a basis for maximising opportunities within those strategies for improving literacy and learning outcomes.

Teachers in case study schools found that extended class times provided a strong foundation for implementing effective teaching practices such as those described above. These teachers reported that there was significantly less time wasted in transit between classes, resulting in less restlessness and increased student attentiveness and engagement. Similarly, teachers could be more relaxed and more inclined to take risks in trialing new strategies and establishing changed learning cultures. Importantly, lengthened class times allowed greater opportunity for metacognition, reflection and self/peer assessment, which are essential if middle years students are to become more autonomous, independent and self- regulating as learners.

An issue that emerged particularly in secondary schools exploring a more integrated approach to curriculum design and learning outcomes was the challenge of maintaining a balance between teaching across the curriculum and curriculum specialisation. School A approached this issue by working in middle years teams to design integrated curriculum studies that combined compatible learning outcomes across the CSF documents of several key learning areas. These integrated curriculum units (often literacy-rich learning opportunities) did not wholly replace existing curriculum structures, but represented short-term curriculum initiatives, rotated at different times for different year levels in the middle school, that created innovative learning sites for students and teachers while still allowing time in the curriculum for the specialised knowledge of individual disciplines and associated subject-specific discourses and literacies.