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Using core teaching practices and strategies to support literacy and learning in each key learning area



4.4.3 Using core teaching practices and strategies to support literacy and learning in each key learning area

Research Snapshot #4.4.2

One case study school, School F, which has a culturally and linguistically diverse population, used the four resources model to develop a checklist of developmental descriptors of reading and writing achievement that could be used by teachers and students alike (see case study in this report). While the starting point was to list the skills students were expected to develop in Years 5 and 6, the four resources – text codebreaker, text meaning-maker, text user and text analyst – were used to ensure that reading was represented not as a set of discrete skills but as an interactive process (Luke & Freebody 1990).

Descriptors were written in language that could be understood by students to encourage them to use the profile for self-assessment. Students were invited to fill in the profile by marking the skills they believed they had already developed. One high-achieving student commented that the profile helped her to set goals, adding that, while the teachers expected her to achieve the Level 3 outcome, she herself expected to achieve at Level 4 but aimed to achieve in all areas of reading at Level 5. Another student found that the profile helped him recognise skills he had not previously considered as part of ‘reading’, such as using the computer. He had spent some time on a website reading the instructions for an electronic game, obtaining information about new products and reading about ‘cheats’. By going to the section of the profile related to

‘text meaning-maker’, he located the appropriate descriptor: ‘I use a range of resources for research including newspapers, internet, encyclopaedia, magazines, CD Rom.

The use of this model has facilitated a more purposeful approach to the teaching of literacy at this school, which reiterates the importance for middle years professional learning teams to have access to shared professional development and planning time in order to develop common approaches and resources for literacy.

4.4.3 Using core teaching practices and strategies to support literacy and learning in

Literacy teaching and learning is most effective where it is embedded in the key elements of the effective teaching/learning processes. These key elements, identified in many different models and frameworks for classroom pedagogy, can be summarised as follows:


For middle years teachers, this means knowing students and what they bring to literacy and learning, as well as the ‘curriculum literacies’, or the literacy demands and learning expectations of the particular key learning areas being taught.


For middle years teachers, this means both connecting new literacy knowledge and skills to prior knowledge and skills, and also connecting ‘school’ literacy and learning to ‘out-of- school’ literacies and to literacy in wider community and global contexts. Teaching strategies that activate prior knowledge and encourage students to anticipate meaning by making and confirming predictions are


For middle years teachers, this means modelling the desired practice in a way that makes the processes and/or linguistic choices explicit.


For middle years teachers, this means supporting students by providing scaffolding in the form of guidance that enables them to experience success and to develop confidence and knowledge to tackle literacy tasks independently. Scaffolding may involve providing templates, models or frameworks for literacy tasks, or teaching particular approaches that give students structural supports in accessing or making meaning in text.


For middle years teachers, this means responding to students’ work with constructive feedback that uses a language for talking about text and language that teachers have supported students in developing. It also alerts teachers to the need to provide students with an option of responding and demonstrating knowledge in a variety of ways.


For middle years teachers, this means creating opportunities for reflecting on both teaching and learning, through teacher reflective practice and through ongoing student reflecting on learning and through self-assessment.

Addressing Literacy through Core Teaching Strategies

While addressing literacy through these key elements of the teaching/learning process, teachers also need to establish a repertoire of effective strategies and approaches to be used or adapted across key learning areas. These should be informed by knowledge of students’

literacy capabilities and needs, and knowledge also of the literacy demands and learning expectations of the relevant key learning area/s. These literacy teaching practices and strategies need to be regarded as representing baseline expectations for teaching and learning in key learning areas, and should extend students’ capabilities in listening, speaking and viewing as well as in reading and writing.

In order to improve literacy and learning outcomes, strategies need to do more than use language. An essential feature distinguishing an effective literacy teaching strategy is the

extent to which the strategy maximises opportunities for ‘learning language, learning through language and learning about language’ (Christie 1991). For a strategy to be effective in extending students’ knowledge about text and language in the context of curriculum literacies, teachers need to capitalise on its potential for explicit teaching to this purpose.

The concept of ‘low book (or text) orientation’ and ‘high book (or text) orientation, emerging from national literacy research with Indigenous students, provides a useful distinction between strategies which provide initial preparation of students for reading and writing (for example, using prior knowledge and context clues to make predictions in reading), and strategies which attend much more closely to the sequence of meaning in a text, to the structure of the text and to the writer’s linguistic choices (Rose et al. 1999).

Creating a Reading Culture

Students require continuing support to be active readers in the middle years, and schools can no longer assume that students read print texts in the form of books outside the school context. Therefore, schools need to create a ‘reading culture’ through a combination of providing guidance and support for students in self-selected reading, and through setting expectations for student reading. This needs to be understood and supported by the whole school community and embedded in the curriculum in a visible and structured way. Many schools are revisiting and adapting earlier strategies, such as Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading (USSR) in order to place reading back firmly within a focus on improving literacy and learning outcomes. Literature circles, or reading circles (Daniels, 1994; Dawson &

Fitzgerald, 1999) provide another exemplary approach to reading and an alternative to the

‘whole class novel’ in English, that provides a structure that allows choice and flexibility and fosters independent reading within a framework that can be closely monitored by teachers.

This strategy provides authentic opportunities for teachers to assess students’ reading progress with different text types and texts of varying levels of difficulty.

Reading Texts and Textbooks in Key Learning Areas

All teachers need to see themselves as teachers of the range of texts students read in the key learning areas they teach. Students need to be supported in reading factual texts through baseline strategies such as graphic outline (also known as surveying the text or text preview), reciprocal teaching, or guided reciprocal, literature or reading circles, three level guide and others lend themselves to opportunities for literacy-focused teaching within meaningful learning contexts. Graphic organisers, data charts or grids assist students in extracting and categorising information and support students in structuring their writing.

Writing in Key Learning Areas

As the literacies of key learning area become increasingly specialised and differentiated within the middle and secondary years, all teachers need to incorporate explicit teaching of curriculum literacies. In writing, baseline strategies are explicit teaching of the text structures and genres and their associated grammatical features, combine with modelling and joint construction of text.

Research Snapshot # 4.4.4

The aspect of core literacy teaching practices and strategies was directly relevant to the research brief for the project which focused on ways all teachers of students in the middle years maximise their effectiveness as literacy educators in the mainstream classroom context. The research required schools to select an

aspect or area in literacy education for particular attention. Professional development and consultancy could then be tailored to supporting schools in their particular research focus.

The key elements of the teaching/learning process outlined above were highlighted in the professional development provided for case study schools as elements of best practice in literacy education. Many of the case study schools trialed literacy practices and strategies that demonstrated these elements, used these elements as a tool for auditing current literacy practice or built these elements into existing practice in schools.

Case study schools focused on the following elements as part of the research into effective literacy teaching and learning practices in the mainstream classroom context:

•= creating a community of readers and writers who read and write for a range of purposes including enjoyment and learning

•= activating and developing prior knowledge through activities such as brainstorming, graphic organisers and word splash

•= engaging with text and interacting with meaning at deeper levels through activities such as graphic outline, directed reading and thinking, reciprocal teaching, read and retell, literature or reading circles, three level guide and co-operative cloze

•= demonstrating and scaffolding through activities such as analysing text structure and grammatical features, modelling, joint construction and discussing samples

•= responding to the text appropriately through activities such as structured discussion, graphic organisers, written responses, visual display, powerpoint presentation, performance,

•= reflecting on what they have learned and how; what worked well and what could be done better, what learning strategies can be transferred to other contexts, and what language has been learned to talk about text and language.

A key theme emerging from the research was that, in order to lead to improved literacy and learning outcomes, classroom teaching strategies need to be underpinned by sound principles and pedagogies and by teacher knowledge about language and literacy in general, and students’ literacy and learning needs in particular.

Teachers need to be able to make informed choices from a broad repertoire of possible practices and strategies according to the demands of the task, the learning context and student needs. In addition, classroom strategies for literacy need to be firmly embedded in engaged learning and the principles of effective middle years pedagogy in general. These provide for active and constructivist learning, authentic purposes, choice and autonomy, meaningful literacy practices, metacognition, reflection and self- assessment.

Case study schools trialed particular strategies and approaches to literacy. In those schools with a particular focus on reading, approaches to reading factual texts such as ‘graphic outline’ (otherwise known as ‘surveying the text’ or ‘text preview’) and ‘reciprocal teaching’ were essential baseline strategies for supporting students in engaging with the texts and interpreting and analysing meaning at different levels.

School G found that students trained in ‘reciprocal teaching’ in small groups demonstrated increased understanding of meaning through applying the independent strategies of predicting, questioning, clarifying and summarising. Naming these different roles, or textual practices, provided students with a metalanguage for talking about their learning; even the youngest students could identify and classify the different kinds of questions (level 1, 2 0r 3) being asked or answered within the group.

School D used a number of strategies for improving student comprehension and interpretation of deeper meaning in text. This was combined with strategies such as data charts and information grids that supported students in extracting and organising information from texts in ways that supported them in structuring their writing for reports, character studies and other texts.