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  What Works - The Work Program

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Moruya Public School, New South Wales

The context | In-Class Tutoring | Maths in Context | Koori mentors: The Bullroarer

The context

Brian Giles-Browne (Principal) and Craig Connell (AEA)

Brian Giles-Browne (Principal) and Craig Connell (AEA)

Moruya is on the South Coast of New South Wales, nearly 300 kilometres from Sydney. It has a population of about 6000 and the Eurobodalla Shire is considered to have the lowest average income of any in New South Wales. There are two primary schools and a secondary school.

Moruya Public School has about 500 students, of whom 12-15% are Indigenous. In 1997, the then Principal, Doug Godwin, and the school community embarked on a program to:

  • promote stronger ties between the school and the Koori community;
  • improve the literacy skills of Koori students; and
  • improve the attendance and classroom engagement of Koori students.

The following three programs are aspects of this improvement effort.

In-Class Tutoring

Chris Simmons

Chris Simmons

Chris Simmons is the coordinator of the In-Class Tuition Tutoring program. She has been teaching at Moruya for nine years, after spending four years at Gundagai.

She talks about the In-Class Tutoring program, which is funded by the Australian government through DEST's Aboriginal Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ATAS).

Many Koori parents haven't had much success themselves at school, so a lot of Koori kids come to school without the background and 'school knowledge' that others kids have. So they're starting at a disadvantage. That's why early intervention, extra early assistance is so vital. If the kids get behind early on it's much harder for them. But if you can get them successful, then there's much more chance of them attending, staying on at school and doing well at high school.

So we've tried to provide assistance where it's needed and the Koori tutors are part of that. This year we have four tutors, each for three hours per day on four days of the week. They work with a total of 20 kids.

I'm pleased with the results because I've taught Year 1 for the past three years and I can monitor improvement. Their self-esteem improves, their academic achievements are better and their attendance is better. They just blossom. It's not only because of the tutors but that's part of a whole program.

A lot of Koori kids are very shy when they first come to school and having the tutor there beside them they'll ask the tutor questions that they won't ask the teacher. It just gives them that in-between person that they need. The questions are often simple but they won't ask the teacher. They're still getting used to a range of people.

We want Koori parents to be happy with the school, but we know that some of them haven't had good relationships with schools in the past. So it's hard. But when they see their kids succeeding, getting somewhere, well that's a good start. Everyone wants their kids to do well at school, of course they do.

What really makes a difference is early intervention and explicit, systematic teaching. That's up to the teacher, but the tutors and other staff can be a part of it.

Maths in Context


'Maths in Context' is a NSW Department of Education and Training program. Chris talks about what's happened at Moruya.

First, we had meetings with our local Aboriginal community and we worked with them to help decide the topics for Maths in Context. They talked about things that were important to them, such as fishing and wood carving.

Then we had a day with [Aboriginal Education Assistant] Craig Connell, plus four community people and four teachers and we mapped out where we were going to go from there.

And now we've written units for Stages 1, 2 and 3. We looked at the areas where our Koori kids weren't doing so well and we tried to design units to deal with that.

You can get Maths out of all these things. With the fishing one, we'll be going to the river, doing mapping and using compasses. Then we're going to do all sorts of experiments with fishing lines and hooks and sinkers and get into 3-D shapes and tessellations. Then there's breaking strains of fishing lines. And then we're going to South Head and we'll have a day out there where Koori people will come and talk about middens.

Then we'll be dealing with beach worms. Stage 1 will just be finding something on the beach that they predict will be the same length as a beach worm. They won't have seen a worm yet. Stage 2 kids are actually going to have to predict in centimetres how long a beach worm might be.

And we are going fishing as well for the maths in it, but a lot of parents will come with us. Two local Koori families who fish commercially for a living are going to throw a net out for us from a boat and pull it in for us. They're also going to give a talk to the whole school at some stage about what fish they catch in the river and what months they catch them.


Then kids will make their own graphs. Stage 1 will just be copying the teacher's graph but they'll get pictures of the different fish and stick them in the right places. The Sstage 3 kids will to do their own graphs. Part of the new 'working mathematically' syllabus is that the kids actually have to pose their own questions, so each child will make up a question and they'll swap questions. Such as 'what's a good month to fish for a particular fish?'

Stage 3 will also go to the extent of putting a monetary value on each fish and how you could make the most money from fishing.

But the thing is that there will be ten to fifteen activities that the kids will move through in a very structured and supported way. And for teachers, we're giving them all the resources they need to teach like this. They won't have to do extra preparation.

And each child will be having a 'learning journey'. At the end of every activity, they'll write about it. So, at the end, we'll have a lot of information about what they did and how they did it.

Koori mentors: The Bullroarer

'The Bullroarer' began as a newsletter for Koori students in 1997. In 2002 it reappeared in an expanded form and has been distributed widely in the South Coast. The following notes are provided by Greg Summerhayes, who is a teacher specialising in learning difficulties and who coordinates the Bullroarer.


Greg Summerhayes

Greg Summerhayes

It was from the Koori Mentor Program that the current Bullroarer writing program developed.

Community meetings were called by the AEA to discuss problems and come up with solutions. Four Elders put up their hands to help and became the first mentors. The program was designed to target identified needs in literacy development for Stage 2 and 3 children. Pre-program data was collected and analysed and used to direct the program.

Weekly training sessions were organised and daily delivery of the program started.

The program targets children's needs within the school and is part of a whole school approach. It has always been based on data collection and use. Positive learning outcomes have been a feature from the start. At the same time, there has always been a training and upskilling element for the mentors and community involvement has been ongoing both in design of the program and in selection of personnel.

Funding problems are continuing and funding has always been based on annual application.

Aims of the program


Specific aims of the Bullroarer program include the following.

  • To develop the writing skills of children in Stages 2 and 3 with identified targets.
  • To develop a forum for publishing the children's writing and increase their awareness of audience.
  • To improve communication between the school and community and foster community awareness of activities within the school.
  • To continue to improve the job skills of our tutors and workers.
  • To produce a quality product which 'looks good on the bookshelf' and would be a source of pride for the children and the community.

The children work as a team, usually of two or three members, mixing older and younger, or experienced and less experienced. Each team works with a mentor for two hours per week for a period of three or four weeks, or one cycle.

The production cycle

Each cycle involves three stages: planning, writing and publishing.

  • Planning — At the beginning of the cycle the tutor, facilitator and community liaison person will get together to plan and organise for the cycle. Once the topic or theme is decided, pro formas are written, resources gathered, tasks assigned and timelines set.
  • Writing — Usually at least one visit to a community member, event or feature is organised to gather information, which is kept as a resource to draft writing from. The team then follows the writing process of draft, revise, conference, edit and proofread ready for publication. By the end of the cycle the team is expected to have on a single floppy disc their finished article with any relevant photos and a suggested layout.
  • Publishing — The final copy is then worked on by a Community Development Employment Program worker using Microsoft Publisher and printed as a proof copy. The proof copy is returned in a plastic sleeve for final hand illustration. Then the sleeve containing the proof copy and photos on disc are given to the printer. The children are taken in small groups to watch the printing process in action.

Outcomes and lessons learned

  • The first issue is the hardest. Once the children can see and take pride in the finished product motivation ceases to be an issue.
  • Be prepared for change. It is constant, with different mixes of personalities, times, timetabling restrictions and class structures.
  • Seek feedback as it guides content and provides a source of pride in the product.
  • Distribute widely, as there is nothing children like better than to find their magazine in other homes, in waiting rooms, offices and meeting places. The idea of writing for an audience should be constantly reinforced.
  • Set sights high. Gather and collect samples of children's writing constantly and analyse it for feedback into the program. Check for generalisation of outcomes achieved into the classroom.

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