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Planning for a diversity of literacy teaching and learning needs



4.4.1 Planning for a diversity of literacy teaching and learning needs

Students in the middle years of schooling bring a diversity of linguistic and cultural knowledge and experience, and a wider range of developmental levels, literacy capacities and needs than in any other phase of schooling. All teachers in the middle years need to be equipped with literacy knowledge, strategies and resources for catering for the range of developmental levels students bring to learning (see 4.4.3). This involves building on the literacy knowledge and skills students bring to learning, and enabling students to demonstrate new learning in a range of ways, including oral and visual.

Middle years teachers need to work collaboratively (ideally in literacy-focused professional learning teams) to establish literacy and learning goals across cohorts, for high-achieving students requiring additional challenge as well as students for whom there is evidence of underachievement. This needs to be informed by knowledge of:

•= the general literacy needs and likely learning pathways of diverse groups of learners

•= the particular literacy and learning needs of students

•= the learning cultures students have previously experienced (particularly in the case of new and recent arrivals)

•= standards and targets for literacy

•= a repertoire of core teaching practices strategies for students requiring increased teacher support.

Teachers need to develop curriculum and assessment processes that enable students who are working at different stages on a continuum of learning to experience progress and success.

This involves planning teaching and learning activities that are designed to offer different levels of challenge and achievement according to individual student literacy and learning needs and capacities. This is 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.

Research Snapshot #4.4.1

Schools involved in the research were selected in order to be representative of a broad cross section of students and social and cultural communities. Each school was required to select a particular focus for the research. This in itself fostered a diversity of approaches and strategies for improving literacy and learning outcomes of students. Several of these schools had students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and significant numbers of ESL students with a wide range of literacy and learning needs.

School J had high numbers of students from remote rural communities, many of whom found it difficult to be engaged and motivated in their learning. Teachers in this school focused on engaging students in learning as a precursor to focusing on improving literacy and learning outcomes. Professional learning teams of teachers in Year 7 planned activities in key learning areas to captivate students’ interest and increase motivation for learning.

School A focused on integrating effective literacy teaching and learning strategies into key learning areas in Year 7. They also developed a term’s integrated curriculum unit of work which involved literacy-rich tasks that combined learning outcomes from English, SOSE, Technology, Science and Maths.

This unit, which involved students in researching an issue in the local community and constructing a website, developed students’ reading and writing skills in range of text types or genres, as well as integrating learning technologies.

School B pursued a focus on literacy through creating a virtual technologised classroom space on a dedicated website linking them with pre-service teachers in a tertiary institution. The focus was on student writing for an unknown audience and conferencing about their writing.

In School F, the autonomous learning unit, which already worked on principles of high student engagement, became a site for strengthening the focus on literacy development through authentic learning tasks.

School E used ‘literacy learning rotations’ to create optional activities within a set structure of tasks. This structure was devised to meet the diverse literacy needs of 53 students while building a learning culture of collaboration, support and interdependence between student and student, and between teacher and student. This involved dividing students loosely into ability groups and selecting literature according to the particular needs and interests of students, with some attention to challenging and extending their literacy capabilities. Literature or reading circles were used as a way of supporting students in reading selected texts, while Bloom’s taxonomy was used to design a series of optional tasks, which were then grouped under four key headings. Students were able to select four different activities, one from each of the headings or categories, with the proviso that their activities formed a balance overall.

The benefits of this for middle years students were clearly that having an element of choice within set parameters resulted in greater ownership and autonomy and in completing the requirements more fully and comprehensively. There was also a greater scope for assessment products, which enhanced student interest in sharing their responses to the whole group as some presented poems or raps while others developed sociograms or wrote a further final chapter for the text. Through sharing their responses, the students gained different perspectives from the different presenters and indicated, in turn, their enthusiastic interest in their questions and comments of the presenters. The students needed to be able to clarify, justify and explain their responses to the audience, which allowed them to articulate their knowledge and interpretations of the novel.

Literacy learning rotations also included other components of the curriculum including reading and writing experiences based on an integrated unit of work. Some possibilities for curriculum and assessment tasks related to this unit were viewing a video and responding to it, using interactive CD ROMS which might have had a spelling focus linked with the integrated unit, developing research skills, and practising summarising and note-making skills using everyday ‘authentic’ texts such as newspapers, magazines and pamphlets.

Literacy learning rotations enhance the individuals’ literacy learning experiences while enriching the whole learning culture of the classroom through

•= providing a framework for small group work, and building on the needs of middle years students for peer interaction and learning

•= providing a variety of literacy options that may incorporate a variety of media and resources

•= focusing on a range of aspects of literacy development within the teaching and learning cycle

•= enhancing a sense of autonomy and interdependence as students work in their groups and plan ahead to gather required resources

•= increasing collective autonomy through taking responsibility for accessing peers for assistance and recognising when to ask peers for help and to know, in turn, when to offer assistance.

Two secondary schools, School I and School K, also used literature or reading circles as an effective means of catering for student needs, particularly in the English key learning area, where teachers have been seeking an alternative to the ‘whole class novel’ approach to reading literary texts. In these schools, the introduction of literature circles was not necessarily seen as completely replacing the practice of the whole class reading and discussing a shared text, as there may be situations where this is called for. Rather it was seen as a structured way of engaging middle years students in reading through choice, through small

group work and through texts matched to students’ needs and interests, and yet providing guided instruction in relation to the reading.

Though the introduction of literature or reading circles in these schools was mainly through the English key learning area, where it led to large-scale revision of the English curriculum for students in the junior secondary years, it is important to note that the strategy can be adapted for use with newspaper articles and selected factual texts, either in English or other key learning areas.

In School G, the focus was on using knowledge of students’ literacy performance (using the DART and other assessment strategies) to group students for literacy and learning activities tailored to their needs and abilities. Students were working on common projects in three broad groups with activities designed to extend their literacy knowledge and skills.