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Doomadgee State School, Lower Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland

Case management, data focus and partnership

Context | Real outcomes | Partnership in the classroom | Factors in improving outcomes


The context

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Doomadgee is a Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT) community, in the lower Gulf of Carpentaria on the Nicholson River. It is governed by the Doomadgee Aboriginal Community Council and has between 1200 and 1600 people. During the wet season, the population is likely to be at the upper end of that range.

Doomadgee State School has an enrolment of close to 300 students from P-10, and there is also a preschool with an enrolment of 40 children. At any time, up to 30 students are away from the community, travelling with their families or on other business. After Year 10, students have to leave the community to continue their schooling. A large group boards in Mt Isa but others go to coastal cities.

The school has a total of 22 teaching staff, including principal, deputy principal and head of department. Increasing numbers of staff are electing to stay beyond two years.


Real outcomes

Principal, Michael Hansen discusses community expectations, case management and the appropriate use of data.


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Michael Hansen

A few years ago, very few students were up to scratch in the Year 2 Net. We've now turned that around so that about half our Year 2 students are at the statewide acceptable standard. We've got to have a vision, but it's got to be a vision based on what the community wants, and their expectation is that we teach the students at the same level that they would be taught anywhere else. That's been quite clearly pointed out to me on a number of occasions by both the Community Council and by the Community Justice Group.

And so we're on about honest outcomes for kids, so that if we say there is a certain level of achievement here, then that'll be the same level as anywhere else in Queensland. In the past, that probably hasn't always been the case, but it definitely is now. All our literacy programs, maths programs and so on are linked with the district programs and they have the same outcomes at the same levels. My belief is that everything has got to be driven by the data that we collect and that it has to form the basis for planning. So we case-manage our students individually.

A folio is started for every student in preschool and then in Grade 1 we case-manage the individual learning programs. At any given time the teachers can say where the students are in terms of reading, writing, number, spelling and attendance. They are the areas we really focus on and manage.

The students can tell you what their reading levels are and they go home and tell their parents as well, because they're proud of what they've done.

There are progress reports around the classroom. The kids take it as a challenge to improve but we've done this in a very positive sense. Any kid likes to learn and they can feel good about their reading because it's all about having fun learning as well. It's about getting that niche within the classroom, where kids expect to learn, expect to improve and have fun at the same time.

Case management allows us to ensure that kids don't fall through the gaps. In the past, I think a lot of kids have done that but now, if we have kids who are not meeting the national benchmarks, then we have an intensive one-on-one tutoring program through ITAS.

Of course, it's all about good, consistent teaching and high expectations. Some of the teachers that I have here I wouldn't swap with anyone. And some of the partnerships between teachers and Aboriginal aides in the classroom are extremely effective.

Our teacher aides are often here for the long term and some of them have been through four or five teachers. It's difficult for them because every 12 months or two years they have to get used to another style or another teacher. And often, teacher aides in communities are quite shy and will sit back and wait for instructions.

But teacher aides know a lot about the kids and its crucial that the teachers develop good relationships with them. It doesn't always work, but we've got examples now of real teaching partnerships in classrooms.

It's about how you make people feel. If you can make people feel good about themselves and good about their job, and if you value what they know and what they do then you're always going to get a better outcome than if you just want to be a boss. In young teachers that's a skill that's got to be learnt and I suppose it's my job to help them learn it. But, unfortunately, some people don't learn that skill until it's about time for them to leave. Michael talks more about attendance issues…


Partnership in the classroom

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Roshni Dullaway (left) and Roslyn George

Roshni Dullaway is a Grade 1 teacher working in partnership with Aboriginal Teaching Assistant, Roslyn George. Here they talk about the experience of working together and how they connect school and community.

Roshni:

Working with Roslyn you learn about the culture and learn to respect it, but at the same time never to lower your expectations. Just because we are outback here the expectations have to be the same. If you come with a low expectation then you're going to get low results.

I mingle with the community a lot. I don't go home and shut the door. If you're the teacher you need to understand a bit about the culture and even the language so that you can work with the children. But I've still got a lot to learn.


Roslyn:

I haven't taken her fishing yet but I'm going to! She likes to see everything that's going on. My partner runs some cattle and horses and last year she wanted to get out and have a look at that as well. The community likes to get to know the teachers and everybody knows Roshni!


Roshni:

When we're starting to teach about language we're aiming for command of Standard Australian English, but we go through stages. First, you need to raise awareness in children that there are many languages around. Then we show that every language is equally valued and respected. But, then we need to separate out those languages so that children know what's 'school talk' and what's 'home talk'. Roslyn is my dictionary! Every time I have to say something and the kids can't understand, then she shows them the two ways to say it. At the end of the day, we want them to be in control and be able to switch codes.

At the moment we've got an Australian animals theme going on and Roslyn wrote all the language needed for the turtle, fish and the rest of them. The kids love it and they're seeing how it all fits together. If we do a book we also do a retelling in language and that way they are getting the awareness of making the jump from 'home talk' to 'school talk' and 'school talk' to 'home talk'. And I suppose we are showing that we are valuing their home talk at the same time.


Roslyn:

We want the kids to feel good about 'home talk' but we also want them to be able to switch codes. When I went to school we weren't allowed to speak any Aboriginal language. Maybe they thought it'd cause a fight or something, but it makes you feel bad.


Roshni:

Teachers sometimes misunderstand. 'Manners' is one example. The Aboriginal way is different. You have to be prepared to ask people and find out.


Roslyn:

The 'English' way might be to take turns and to say please and thank you all the time, but that's not in the Aboriginal language. So when a teacher says 'Where are your manners?' the little kid doesn't know what she's talking about.

I also like to tell the kids how we grew up, because it's different to how they're growing up now. I tell them that I didn't grow up lazy. There were six of us kids and we all had work to do, even when we came home from school. We don't get cross or anything. We just tell them how we grew up and how it's different to how they're living now. Even when I went to high school I had to earn my pocket money. That was all we had.


Roshni:

We have 'cultural days', when we invite Elders and they tell stories to the children too. It's all part of the literacy program and afterwards we publish the stories. Some of them are Dreamtime stories but some of them are about why people moved from Old Doomadgee.


Roslyn:

There was hardly any fresh water around there and they used to walk back and forth looking for it. A few of them ended up walking this distance and then finding this big river and then moving here. The kids listen really close and the Elders are really proud. They tell them not to forget the old stories because the stories are about what's important now and in the future.


Factors in improving outcomes

Roshni, Roslyn and Grade 2 teacher, Catherine Young, identify a number of factors in the improved Year 2 Net outcomes.


  • Attendance is absolutely crucial. Children with overall poor records of attendance are much more likely to be caught in the Year 2 Net.
  • At the same time, outcomes for such students can still improve markedly in Year 2 if their attendance improves. Attendance can be improved through personal relationships with parents and community.
  • Years spent at preschool and in prep tend to correlate with better outcomes in the Year 2 Net.
  • High expectations are crucial, as are focused, structured classroom activities in literacy and numeracy.
  • Learning to code-switch is facilitated by access to experts in 'home' language.
  • At the same time, a focus on facility in Standard Australian English is the focus at school.
  • Practical, physical activities are very effective.
  • Children who move between schools are more likely to be caught in the Year 2 Net.
  • Individual tutoring has a large impact on achievement.
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