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  What Works - The Work Program

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The Kimberley Literacy Project

Intensive work in the early years

The context | The seconded teacher project | The literacy backpack trial | Student follow up | Performance indicators

The context

The Kimberley Literacy Project is now over three years old. It was designed to improve and enhance the Standard Australian English (SAE) of Aboriginal students in a range of Catholic schools in the Kimberley and funded through DETYA's English as a Second Language — Indigenous Language Speaking Students (ESL-ILSS) component of IESIP.

The Project targets children in their first year of schooling. Students come from homes in which a variety of Indigenous languages and Kriol are spoken.

Since its inception, the Project has been amended somewhat but the focus questions have remained the same:

  • What strategies can the teachers and ATAs (Aboriginal Teaching Assistants) implement to give the students opportunities to listen to, interact with and practise Standard Australian English?
  • How can the students' home experiences and knowledge be used in the classroom as a basis for further learning?

In 2000, the Project had three parts: the seconded teacher project, the literacy backpack trial and the follow up of eligible students from 1998-9.

The seconded teacher project

Eight preprimary classrooms engaged in an intensive literacy program, each using an additional classroom teacher for the duration of Term 3, 2000. The additional teachers were seconded for the term and most came from the south-west of Western Australia. Where possible, consultation had begun in Term 4 of the previous year with principals, classroom teachers and ATAs.

Information, discussion and support was provided for classroom staff during the first two terms of 2000. Professional development and ongoing support coordinated by the Literacy Consultant were made available to all staff involved in the project during Term 3.

Director of the Catholic Education Office in Broome, Sandra Brogden, discusses the project.


Sandra Brogden

There were a few things we wanted to look at through this project. Firstly, the employment of teachers in our Kimberley Catholic schools. Over the years, we have found that teachers coming into the Kimberley are not necessarily trained or up-to-date with good ESL strategies or practices. In some cases, teachers don't recognise that the students in their classrooms are using English as a second, third or fourth language.

The people involved in developing this project wanted to get a few particular things from it. We wanted to start with and build on the knowledge students were bringing from their homes and this became our first task. The Aboriginal Teaching Assistants (ATAs) and the teachers in a couple of communities began looking at the home experiences of children and how these experiences could be built on in our classrooms.

Through the investigation of home experience, we came up with a list of things that students could do, and the things that they were bringing from their home experiences. It's not by any means an exhaustive list.

This research was done only in a couple of communities, and it is intended that this will be further developed in the future. One thing that was very evident was that there were a lot of differences from community to community. I guess one important learning out of this for teachers and ATAs in our schools was that you have to be really focusing locally and school communities have to take responsibility for investigating and building on the particular home experiences of the children in the community.

Another feature of this project was that teaching teams in our schools discovered how capable our ATAs are as researchers, and links between home and school. Unfortunately, although we continue to say these things, sometimes we do not value these people or the work that they do as much as we should. The ATAs in our schools and in the Kimberley Literacy project are the most vital component, they are the people who have begun the education of these children through their involvement in the community, and will continue with these children through their involvement in the schools. I think we need to trust these people enough to let them take risks and make judgements. Sometimes, without being aware of it, we as teachers have to be in charge and direct. The ATAs are very skilled people in what they do and it's a pity a few more of them don't go on and teach in our schools.

The next thing we looked at was how we could immerse the children in Standard Australian English (SAE), and so we came up with the idea of the seconded teacher program. This program is designed to run over a period of one term, and its intention is to provide intensive teaching in Standard Australian English, building on good ESL strategies through the use of the FELIKS Approach, the 'Making the Jump' project and the 'Deadly Ways' project. These programs all have a similar philosophy and are designed to develop Standard Australian English for Aboriginal students.

Initially for this program we seconded six teachers from schools in the south west of Western Australia (predominantly city schools). They came to the Kimberley to work in a classroom with the existing teacher and an ATA as a team, so that the students could be immersed in Standard Australian English. That was all about some real formal teaching, but also some less formal teaching — immersion in one form of language and teachers modelling those sorts of practices.

It worked well, but I guess something that I took from the experience is that you can do this for a term, but when you take the additional teacher out of the school, unless you've done something to encourage the existing teacher to move on, then it's easy to fall back into sort of the same old practices. For me, this program should really be about empowering the people who are in the schools, like the ATAs and the teachers, to reflect on their own teaching and look at how they can improve that to better suit the needs of the children in their class. Of course, this will be a bit challenging because teachers are having to actually look at themselves and their own practice and what's going on in their classroom.

But the results have been good and I guess people are learning along the way. [Read more about this from the project report…]

The literacy backpack trial

Literacy backpacks were trialled in three Kimberley Catholic schools during Terms 3 and 4 of 2000. They contain an assortment of texts, including oral and visual ones, which promote the use of SAE literacy practices. They are taken home and can be shared and used by other family members.

Literacy backpacks aim to provide

  • Aboriginal children with the opportunity to explore, discuss and manipulate Standard Australian English texts in a familiar environment;
  • a vehicle for parental participation in decision making about the material included and selected for the backpacks;
  • the opportunity for parents to model literacy behaviours through participating in the use of the materials;
  • a springboard for communication about literacy between the home and school; and
  • opportunities for parent and community education on school literacy practices.

As a result of participating, it was anticipated that students would demonstrate an increased ability to participate in classroom SAE literacy practices.

Sandra takes up the story.

We thought we should be encouraging students to look at different sorts of texts and how good literacy practices could be developed through a variety of texts. So, during last year we trialled literacy backpacks in three communities. The backpacks also provided a vehicle for parent education and through them we are able to disseminate information about what is going on in education. For instance, one of the big shifts in education in Western Australia is the move to outcomes-based education and we found that the backpacks are a very useful tool to support the consultative process within school communities.

Another feature of the backpacks is that, in a number of communities where they are operational, the level of parental involvement has increased. Schools have been very inclusive of decisions made by parents in choosing the materials to go into the backpacks. The level of involvement by parents has been varied but, in some schools, the parents choose the backpacks and what was going in them.

The role of the [Catholic Education] office personnel in this is to provide a variety of materials suitable for the backpacks, such as videos and tapes that the children can take home and listen to, complete with Walkman and the earphones which are also provided in the backpack. There is also a wide range of written texts as well as information pamphlets and other things for parents, such as magazines and newspapers. This program is all about providing literacy support for everybody in the household. Parents are modelling good literacy practice because they're reading — so the children want to read. Older siblings in the family are also wanting to read and listen to the materials in the backpacks.

The program varies from school to school. Sometimes they take the backpacks home for a week, and then bring it back to get new materials. There are some newspapers up here. They fly them in on the mail planes, so they can get access to those sorts of things. But it's just bringing another sort of text into the house, you know... comic books and all that sort of stuff which I guess we take for granted. In a community like Billaluna or Balgo they might never see these materials until they go to Hall's Creek.

People say the backpacks will never come back to school, and do you know what my response to that is? It's a whole lot of rubbish, and I've had that belief for years. As a teacher myself I've sent home readers and they all came back. Parents are interested in what their children are doing at school and they want to be involved. It is our job as educators to assist them to become confident in their own ability to assist their children in their learning. I think people have to move on from the problems and start to develop the positive things that happen every day in the education of Aboriginal students. If you lose a few things along the way, so be it, as long as at the end of the day your kids can read and write and your parents are getting a little bit of education and it's encouraging their participation in our schools then we are all having a win. We all say parents are the first educators of their children, but until we get them involved in the education of their children in our schools, then that's just a throwaway statement. I think that the recognition of parents and their role in education is what we should be all working towards.

The results from the backpacks program have already been encouraging. Attendance has increased, because even kids who haven't been to school for twelve months have wanted to come back to school to get a backpack. At this stage we have not really been able to measure the improvement in Standard Australian English in our classrooms, but it is evident when visiting classrooms that progress has been made. I think teachers have become more accountable in their classrooms because we are actually reflecting on the teaching and the learning that is happening in our schools. When remote community schools like Billiluna are winning national literacy awards something has got to be working along the way. [Read more about this from the project report…]

The follow up of eligible students

One of the major recommendations from initial years of the seconded teacher project was the need for continued monitoring and assistance for the eligible students. In 2000, funds from the Kimberley Literacy Project were allocated to provide information on and further support for students who had participated in the project in the previous two years. An intensive intervention program was designed to further improve basic literacy skills of these students, and four schools were supported to introduce it on a trial basis. The program aimed to

  • track and assess students from previous years on basic literacy skills;
  • provide intensive support to students in need in the trial schools; and
  • provide feedback and direction to classroom teaching staff on continued support for the students.

There were multiple benefits for staff and students, many of these similar to the benefits enjoyed by those involved in the Seconded Teacher Project. Of particular benefit for teachers was the support offered in the identification and intervention of students experiencing difficulties.

For the students, many showed significant progress in SAE literacy skills. Specific literacy knowledge and skills were targeted and therefore clear, measurable outcomes achieved. Increased self-esteem and confidence to participate was evident in many children. Parents, ATAs and class teachers reported a significant improvement in participating students' attitude to work and increased motivation.

As a result of this, the Project Report (2000) recommended that

  • a clear model for identification and intervention at the Year One level be devised;
  • appropriate support be offered to teachers in the implementation of this model, with particular emphasis on the assessment tools; and
  • the intensive language tuition for students in the Kimberley Literacy Project by the seconded teacher model be applied to the Year 1 level instead of preprimary.

Performance indicators

Performance indicators have been devised in the following areas.

  • The percentage (with numbers) of students assessed as eligible for entry into the program who actually commence the program. (Eligible students are those who have English language skills less than ESL Scales Oral Level 1 or agreed equivalent.)
  • The percentage (with numbers) of students who commenced the program who are assessed at the end of the program.
  • The percentage (with numbers) of students who are assessed at the end of the program who achieve ESL Scales Oral Level 1 or equivalent.
  • The percentage (with numbers) of students in each absence level who achieve ESL Scales Oral Level 1 or equivalent.

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