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Augusta Park Primary School, South Australia

Peer mentoring and innovative curriculum delivery

The context | The Learning Assistance Program | Layered Curriculum™


The Context

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Port Augusta is an industrial and service city, 310 kilometres north of Adelaide, 75 kilometres from Whyalla and 98 kilometres from Port Pirie. The Flinders Ranges provide a picturesque backdrop to the town. The total population is about 14,000 with an increasing number of transient and mobile families. Over 3,000 Aboriginal people live in the town or the Davenport Aboriginal Community.

In the past ten years, the Augusta Park area has seen a major change in the character of its population. Former employees of the railways, electricity industry and government left the area as a result of infrastructure changes and consequent retrenchments. Housing Trust clients then moved into the area, thus greatly increasing the number of Aboriginal people in the area.

Today, Augusta Park Primary School has over 350 students, of whom over one-third are Aboriginal and about one-third are classified as having English as their second language (ESL). About half of the school's students are 'school card', meaning that they are classified as disadvantaged.

Together with the fact that transiency is an issue with many families, these factors have led the school to look at a range of strategies to engage and educate its students. Three Aboriginal languages are taught.


The Learning Assistance Program

The Learning Assistance Program (LAP) is a program of intensive peer mentoring. It is available to all students, but is considered particularly valuable in providing support for Indigenous students. At the same time, it has provided opportunities for a partnership with Port Augusta Secondary School.


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Sarah Betts

Sarah Betts is Teaching and Learning Coordinator at Augusta Park. She talks about the LAP.


We've got students within our own student population who nominate to be peer mentors and they then usually work for one hour a week with a younger child. Among them, Aboriginal students work with younger Aboriginal students but some work with non-Aboriginal children as well.

On Fridays, though, students from the secondary school (both the middle campus and the senior campus) come over and work with younger children. The senior school students are in Year 11 but are completing a Stage One (Year 11) South Australian Certificate of Education unit under the Work Studies framework. They were originally invited to provide an expression of interest in the program and then participated in a rigorous interview process, designed and constructed by the primary students themselves with assistance from school counsellors from the two schools.

The Year 11 students are completing TAFE modules 'Work with others' and 'Communicate with children' and write in a 'Workplace journal' each week. They also have regular TAFE lessons via a telephone conference.

Each Friday morning, the senior school students begin the day by liaising with their teacher colleagues in the APPS staffroom, before going to class with their assigned younger students.

Many levels of learning are involved in this project, from the junior primary classroom teachers mentoring SACE students, secondary students exploring a world of work which they may pursue beyond high school, through to our junior primary students gaining positive relationships with older role models and an early transition link with 'the big high school'.

Certainly, some secondary students have identified teaching as a preferred career pathway, thanks to the program, but each student has already developed important key competencies essential in any field of employment. The spinoff effect throughout the rest of the primary school has also been encouraging, as other primary students and parents now work as LAP volunteers at APPS and Augusta Park Children's Services Centre.

The community is really getting involved and we've got more adults in the school helping individual children. An Aboriginal parent was working with a couple of Aboriginal boys for a while and we now have two CDEP workers for two days every week.

The entire LAP program now caters for about 40 students. It's a great example of the community coming together with the common goal of making a difference in a student's school life.


Layered Curriculum™

'Layered Curriculum™' is a concept developed by the American educationist Dr Kathie Nunley. It is designed to support teachers dealing with students who have a variety of learning styles. Sarah Betts believes it is particularly appropriate when working in communities characterised by transience and students with what are often called 'mixed abilities'.

Sarah contributes the following article. Note her comments about explicit teaching as well as about innovative curriculum organisation.


I explain Layered Curriculum™ to my students (and teachers for that matter) as a two week project with three layers of learning, and I use the analogy of learning being like an onion. Layer C is delved into first as the basic understanding of facts, skills, vocabulary and technique, peeling of the crunchy outside skin of the onion, before going deeper. I explain that they will not have to complete all learning tasks from each layer but they must do some, gathering points for each task along the way once they have satisfied me that they have met the criteria of the task and shown me what they had learnt.

Students then move into the more challenging Layer B which will push them at times and make them think differently about the topic of the project. Again, students cannot do every task, but must do some, gathering points once they 'orally defend' their work successfully to the teacher. Layer B tasks should offer a range of projects students can complete, to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they developed in Layer C.

Students complete the learning cycle with activities from Layer A, the core of the 'learning onion', choosing one or more tasks from this layer and critically analysing a current issue in the real world which relates back to the overarching topic. Students aim to gain a certain grade, determined by the number of points they finally accrue at the end of the two week learning cycle.

I place a lot of emphasis on why we are learning in this way. I highlight the learning outcomes but also the importance of not just 'doing' busy work for the teacher, rather, completing activities because they fit into a relevant, bigger learning picture for the student. Oral defence is key to this, with students and teachers having to converse about what the student is doing, how they are doing it and what they are discovering in relation to the overall learning outcome/topic.

Reflection about accountability is important, especially at the end of the cycle. If students were disappointed with a grade, they quickly work out that the only person to blame was often themselves. (Liaison with parents about how Layered Curriculum™ operates is really important before beginning!)

Explicit teaching occurs before I tackle a Layered Curriculum™ cycle and this is my advice to other teachers, too. Key concepts often need to be scaffolded, explicitly taught, before such a broad project is offered to students. Students' time management becomes paramount to success; this includes working outside of official classroom hours when the student decides this is important. (I'm careful with this issue, when I know I have students who struggle to find the time or environment to do their project away from school.)

The teacher becomes somebody students access for conferencing, guidance with timing, ideas and access to people, materials and technology. The teacher cannot stand at the front of the room and be 'in charge' of everything when using this model — students usually feel very empowered when doing Layered Curriculum™.

Students complete a Learning Plan at the start of a learning cycle and I let them change their minds once or twice, but then they have to start working on tasks, or they never get finished. Students are encouraged to take Learning Plans home to parents, for extra points. Tasks and points are ticked off as work is completed. (I've noticed Layered Curriculum™ works well for students with poor attendance. They can pull out their folder on their return to school and quickly refer to where they were up to, on their plan.)

I explicitly taught preferred learning styles to my older students before doing Layered Curriculum™, and part of the reflection after the Layered Curriculum™ cycle was about which kinds of learning they felt most tempted by and which types of learning were their greatest challenges.

My Year 9 students and, more recently, some of my upper primary maths students, have designed their own Layered Curriculum™ projects. I don't expect the detail a teacher would embed into the plans — the student and I put that in afterwards.

[Layered Curriculum™ is a trade mark belonging to Kathie F. Nunley.]
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Denise Rigby-Meth



Principal, Denise Rigby-Meth, had this to say about Layered Curriculum™.


When Sarah first mentioned this to us as a leadership team, I thought it would be a real challenge because it's not like anything else we've had here. But it's been very gradual, with some staff embracing it straight away and some not, and no pressure... just colleagues talking about curriculum. Then, when we had a pupil-free day, we were able to bring in teachers who had already practised and they gave feedback.

The actual evidence of 'I've tried this in my room and this is what happened and next time I'm going to...', was really good, and didn't threaten anyone. Sarah worked with a couple of teachers and it started to do a sort of slow snowball! Six teachers are now trialling the approach.

footprints

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