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Providing ongoing quality professional development and support in literacy education

SECTION 4: STRATEGIC INTENTIONS FOR LITERACY

4.6 TOOLING UP FOR REFORM

4.6.2 Providing ongoing quality professional development and support in literacy education

practice in literacy education in schools. In particular, literacy coordinators and specialist literacy teachers require increased support in the form of practical guidelines and resources for planning, implementing and evaluating effective literacy provision at the whole school, classroom and individual student levels.

Increased systemic support should also be given for celebration of success in middle years literacy education, and for providing local forums for schools focusing on restructure and reform to share their findings with the wider educational community, and to ‘mentor’ other schools.

Research Snapshot #4.6.1

This research project in itself contributed to raising the profile of literacy education by inviting selected schools to participate, by developing school research plans and by providing quality professional development for teams of teachers from primary and secondary schools involved in the research. Key findings from the research related to raising the profile of literacy were:

•= the importance of an understanding in schools of the relationship between literacy and learning across the curriculum

•= the importance of securing active and ongoing support from leadership in fostering staff commitment

•= the importance for literacy positions to be seen as having status within the school culture and hierarchy

•= the importance of having a literacy structure (whether a committee, sub-committee or working party) embedded within the school framework

•= the need to work collaboratively towards common literacy goals and achievements

•= the need for accredited undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in literacy and in-service accreditation pathways

•= the need for education systems and sectors to provide practical directions for literacy policy and practice in schools

•= the importance of access to quality teacher professional development and support in literacy.

4.6.2 Providing ongoing quality professional development and support in literacy education.

Quality professional development and support for teachers in middle years literacy education is fundamental to improving the literacy and learning outcomes of students. This involves ensuring that all teachers of students in middle schooling are equipped with:

•= the specific literacy knowledge required to explicitly address the literacy demands and learning expectations of curriculum areas, and

•= a repertoire of effective teaching practices and strategies for meeting students’ literacy and learning needs.

This is also an essential foundation for promoting the continuity of literacy education from the primary to the secondary school context.

The Scope of Effective Professional Development in Literacy

In order to be effective in bringing about reform at the school level, professional development should consist of a number of layers that combine expert input, access to school-based consultancy, peer mentoring and/or coaching and ongoing support for teachers to engage in guided classroom research activity and reflective practice. Where schools have established professional learning teams, it may be more useful to conceptualise professional development as ‘professional learning’, which is fostered through a variety of strategies that each fulfil different professional learning needs.

Professional development in literacy education needs to focus on developing knowledge about language and the curriculum literacies required for success in education and schooling.

Professional development needs to go beyond awareness-raising or ‘one size fits all’

approaches, and to be tailored to the different roles and responsibilities for literacy within the school. The professional development needs of leadership teams may be different from those of the literacy coordinator or other literacy specialists who require a different focus again.

Key learning area teachers are likely to be more engaged where professional development is directly targeted to the literacy demands and learning expectations of their key learning areas, and draws on the curriculum materials and resources used in those areas.

A starting point for professional development may involve laying the groundwork by assisting the school to clarify different roles and responsibilities in literacy, and to carry out an investigation or audit of the literacy needs and capabilities of both students and teachers, informed by state and national literacy standards and targets. This provides a basis for designing professional development – or professional learning – that is directly targeted to literacy needs and for supporting middle years professional learning teams in planning and implementing effective literacy practices and school literacy plans.

A model or structure that is highly effective in supporting teachers to enhance professional practice in teaching and learning is the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL).

The principles underpinning PEEL, which began in Victorian schools almost two decades ago, have the potential to impact as significantly on literacy learning as they do on learning in general. The PEEL model may provide a template, or starting point, for teachers collaborating in trialing and sharing ideas, strategies to improve literacy and learning outcomes for students. However, it is also important to acknowledge that the success of PEEL is due, in part, to the local autonomy with which it is organised and that it is organised by teachers for teachers, rather than part of a strategy imposed on teachers externally.

Principles of Effective Professional Development in Literacy

In general terms, professional development in literacy for middle years teachers, is likely to be most successful where it:

•= involves professional learning teams working in collaborative partnerships with mutual commitment and accountability

•= follows a model of spaced learning over an extended period to allow time for professional reading and trialing of theoretical and practical approaches and strategies;

•= models through its delivery, principles of effective middle years pedagogy

•= builds on existing strengths and on the collective knowledge and expertise of participants

•= achieves a balance between individual and group learning; and

•= is supported by ongoing opportunities for reflective practice through classroom research activity and collegial sharing of professional practice.

Significantly, those programs aimed at teachers in the middle and secondary years that have been most successful in Victoria reflect many of the principles of best practice in professional development. Programs such as Writing in the Subject Areas, Helping Students Learn, ESL in the Mainstream Teacher Development Course enhance professional practice in literacy education through combining spaced learning over extended periods with classroom research activity and reflective practice.

Focus of Effective Professional Development in Literacy

While taking into account the particular needs of individual schools and specific target groups, the following broad areas are considered to be key to effective professional development in literacy:

•= training in developmental literacy assessment and consensus moderation processes as a basis for common understandings, a shared language and consistency of judgement in literacy

•= analysing the literacy demands and learning expectations of the curriculum, with a focus on curriculum or subject-specific literacies

•= exploring general approaches and strategies that support effective literacy teaching and learning in all curriculum areas

•= examining principles and practices of effective middle years pedagogy and constructivist learning

•= identifying specific classroom strategies and practices that support the development of independent skills in reading and writing, as well as in listening, speaking and viewing (such as graphic outline and graphic organisers, reciprocal teaching, literature or reading circles, data charts, modelling and joint construction of text, summarising and note-making)

•= examining ways of promoting metacognition, reflection and self-assessment in learning (such as student learning journals, reading journals, self and peer assessment activities)

•= developing teacher knowledge about language, and a shared language, or metalanguage, for talking about texts and language across key learning areas and across the primary and secondary contexts

•= supporting middle years professional learning teams and/or clusters as they work towards improved continuity of literacy education and enhanced student literacy and learning outcomes

•= supporting personnel with key roles and responsibilities in literacy education in planning a comprehensive approach to literacy at the whole school, classroom and individual student level

•= setting directions for schools in establishing effective structures for supporting long- term reform in literacy education

•= assisting schools to develop literacy policies and strategic plans

•= integrating approaches to literacy that cater for a diversity of literacy capabilities and needs, including ESL, Indigenous and special education areas.

Research Snapshot #4.6.2

This research project itself represented the combination of many of the ingredients of successful professional development in literacy. It provided on-site consultancy and support, access to expert input and to professional development aimed at teams of teachers from the case study schools. Underpinning this was the raw data, gained from the DART assessments, indicating students’ literacy capabilities and needs. The project required case study schools to select a focus for the research and provided ongoing consultancy, resourcing and support for schools in pursuing this focus. The professional development and consultancy with the case study schools focused on the key areas listed above, and feedback from the schools, as well as clear evidence of the impact of the professional development on their teaching practice, reinforced the importance of those areas.

Teachers responded extremely positively to the professional development days which enabled them to work together in school or cluster groups, especially where efforts had been made to involve key learning area teachers as well to form middle years professional learning teams from the one school. The impact on some schools of participating in the professional development as a team was borne out in the results some of the schools were able to achieve as a consequence. School A, School D, School K and School F all indicated that the professional development, combined with access to ongoing consultancy and support, offered as part of the research was a major catalyst for change in their schools. Where the ongoing consultancy closely matched with the existing school identity, ethos, and ideological views of literacy education, this was seen to be even more effective.

School L was partly selected for the research on the basis of a ten year history of school professional development activity in literacy education, with a particular focus on writing in the key learning areas. The research focus in this school was a continuation of work begun in the Writing and Reading in Teaching English (WRITE) project organised by the catholic Education Office, Melbourne. This project involved pairing an English key learning area teacher with at least one teacher from another key learning area to enhance the teaching and assessment of student writing in different curriculum areas. More recently, the WRITE project has focused on promoting continuity of curriculum literacies in the middle years, particularly in the Year 6 to 7 transition, through the pairing or grouping of teachers across associate primary and secondary schools. Where it is given adequate support and resourcing by education systems and schools, this project represents an excellent model for active and productive partnership between associate schools focusing on improving literacy and learning outcomes.

Part of the research brief involved liaising with other organisations and/or programs in order to identify best practice in literacy. While only one of the case study schools involved in the research (School C) appeared to have been involved in the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL), the research team liaised with the organisers of this program, which already operates successfully in many secondary schools, and seems to be becoming established in a number of primary schools also. This structure brings teachers together in their school context to exchange shared professional practice and exchange effective teaching and learning strategies at the local level. Where schools already have PEEL groups in place, or could establish a new group, this provides an effective way of teachers and schools focussing on improving the literacy and learning outcomes of students. Advantages to building on the PEEL model are that it avoids

‘reinventing the wheel’, acknowledges the success (both locally and nationally) of this initiative, and recognises the correlation between effective literacy development and effective learning. However, it is also important to acknowledge that PEEL in schools is locally grown and locally owned, with as little or as much support from the PEEL organisation as teachers request.

4.6.3 Securing leadership, co-ordination and succession planning in literacy