In Designing a whole-school literacy program, Andrew Nicholls discussed the process he undertook when revamping his school's literacy program. Here, he discusses staff professional development to support it's implementation and the program's impact on student learning outcomes.
After developing a new literacy program at a small rural school, I recognised that, in order for it to achieve success, professional development for staff was critical.
So, I designed PD sessions that aimed to engage staff by communicating:
- The brief – what the Principal wanted and the school needed;
- The approach – the data I used and the research I based my conclusions on;
- The solution – what we were going to do to solve the problem.
The PD sessions
Building on Sir Ken Robinson's Changing Education Paradigms argument of ‘waking [students] up to what is inside themselves', and influenced by Wiggins (1998) and the work of his colleagues in the development of assessment standards, at the beginning of the school year I informed staff that the program would allow the school to generate data that was personal, informative, trackable, accessible and transferable.
I then provided teachers with an overview of the program and explained how each teacher was to be allocated the responsibility to manage their own group's literacy data. Each teacher was then provided a sample assessment and asked to complete it. Each assessment was marked by another staff member and a conversation was had. This provided meaningful discussion about the complexity of the assessments.
To further support the implementation of the literacy program, I provided a comprehensive staff handbook at the end of the PD session. Each handbook contained:
- The program's yearly calendar with detailed dates of each stage;
- An abridged overview of each assessment program and how to conduct it;
- Instructions on how to enter the data generated by each assessment; and,
- Class allocations.
In Term 2, a second session was held. This session's content was based around feedback from the staff, who were asked to think, share and record their feedback before placing their thoughts on Plus, Minus, and Interesting (PMI) charts.
Overall, the response was overwhelmingly positive. They felt the continuum supported student learning and engagement, their teaching practice, and parent understanding of their child's abilities. They also felt that the literacy program provided a cohesive structure within the school. Notably, some staff noted that their own literacy knowledge had begun to improve.
Impact on student learning outcomes
The immediate benefits of the program for students were apparent, particularly when teachers began to provide students with their individual results. For some, it was a relief to finally understand what might be holding back their ability to grasp knowledge from instruction or activities.
The long-term benefits of the program were evident by the impact it made to NAPLAN results. We had made a positive improvement across all assessments in reading, writing and language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation). Students in Year 9 showed improvement, and were either at or above the state's minimum reading standard.
Importantly, data from the Literacy Continuum showed that the majority of students were engaged with literacy, showing ownership over their learning and demonstrating a desire to improve.
The Literacy Continuum began the school's movement towards more frequent, targeted feedback to students. It led to the development of classroom performance feedback, and Student Progress Indicators (SPI). These tracked and fed information back to students about their ability to apply effort in class, submit coursework, complete assessments, and demonstrate preparedness.
As the year progressed, teachers became conscious of their ability to teach, and to some degree, relearn literacy knowledge and skills. At the core of this were the correct use of grammar and the orthography of spelling. As teachers continued to explicitly teach literacy skills, their ability and confidence to assess and improve student abilities in specialist areas of the curriculum also improved.
As literacy improved, so too did student behaviour. In the absence of the regular classroom teacher, disengaged and disruptive students would now sit and silently read. The library saw an increase in the amount of books being borrowed, and students began to use their personal devices to download books and novels.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, data became a colloquial term. The school community realised the impact of providing continual feedback to students and how diagnostic assessment could assist in pinpointing each student's Zone of Proximal Development. This not only provided teachers with the ability to provide differentiated and explicit instruction, but ensured they could measure their impact.
For example, the CARS (Comprehensive Assessment of Comprehension) program found that many of the school's Year 7 students had a major inability to inference meaning from text, which made teachers consciously explain meaning when a text only inferred it.
Ultimately, in my opinion, the key to this literacy program revolved around two factors; diagnostic assessment and continual feedback of progress, stagnation or regression. Without the ability to isolate each student's areas of need in terms of spelling orthography, grammar, and reading and comprehension, it would be impossible to target and improve their literacy skills.
It was the Literacy Continuum that supported this - a simple document that collated data, enabled students to engage, take ownership over their learning and celebrate their achievements with teachers, each other and their parents.
Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative Assessment. New York: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Is there a literacy program at your school? If so, are all teachers part of the program, rather than just literacy teachers?
Do teachers use the data to understand each students' strenths and areas for improvement?