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  What Works - The Work Program

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Salisbury North R-7 School, South Australia

Scaffolded approaches: Deadly Writin', Readin' and Talkin'

The context | The pedagogy | A parent view | Outcomes

The context

Salisbury North R-7 School was established in 1996 through an amalgamation of the Junior Primary and Primary Schools. There is a staff of over 40 altogether, with 13 mainstream classes, all of which are composite (two year levels working together).

The student population of approximately 400 is diverse.

  • 16% are Indigenous students, a number which has doubled since 1997.
  • 17% of students are English as a Second Language learners.
  • 15% of students have Negotiated Curriculum Plans (ie, are identified as having a learning disability).
  • 5% of students are part of the New Arrivals Program, for new migrants.
  • 60% transience rate throughout the year.
  • 65-70% are School Card holders who qualify for government assistance.

The school is in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, in an emergency Housing Trust area. Several blocks around the school have recently become an area of urban renewal, with house demolition and vacant blocks. This is very unsettling for students. Read more about the school…

The pedagogy

The Deadly Writin', Readin' and Talkin' (DWRAT) Project began in 1998 when the school received Commonwealth funding as a Strategic Initiatives Project (SRP), part of IESIP (Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program). DWRAT Coordinator, Bronwyn Parkin, met Dr Brian Gray of the University of Canberra, who agreed to support the school during the period of the SRP in using the ' Scaffolding Literacy Program' he had developed with his colleague Wendy Cowey. Brian and Wendy also supported Wiltja Annexe of Woodville High School in Adelaide. [The National Accelerated Literacy Project is the successor to 'Scaffolding Literacy'.]


Bronwyn Parkin and students

DWRAT Coordinator, Bronwyn Parkin, contributes the following notes about the scaffolded literacy approach at Salisbury North.

It consists of the careful study of one quality written text per term, using that text as the basis for reading, sight words, spelling and writing. Using functional grammar as a tool, teachers and students pay close attention to the text, and the strategies that writers have used to achieve their purposes. Gradually, as the students become knowledgeable about the text, they are able to appropriate these strategies, as well as the spelling, and use the original author's resources to produce their own quality texts.

Each DWRAT class has a 50 minute scaffolded literacy lesson four days a week. In addition, the functional grammar teacher gives a focused grammar lesson in some classes once a week. The scaffolded literacy lessons are team taught in various ways, often including AEWs. There are almost always at least two adults in each classroom, although the older classes have demonstrated that it is possible to teach some aspects of scaffolding effectively without this extra support. There are many other features worthy of note in the pedagogy.

Repetition: The study of one text has typically covered 10 weeks of a term. A first reaction by many teachers is that students will get bored. They don't get bored, they become successful.

Choice of texts is crucial to the process. Rich texts with literate, rather than 'spoken' grammatical structures that will assist students in accessing more complex texts are selected at a level of literary complexity commensurate with the child's age.

Language for talking about texts: Functional grammar is used as a rich resource for talking about texts. Comprehensive notes are provided to assist teachers.

Preformulated questions: We try to ensure that all students have the chance to respond successfully to questions. We preface each question with an introduction to the question, a preformulation which tells the students the purpose and scope of the question so that all students know what is in the teacher's head.

Spelling: Words are not taught as spelling words until students are able to read them out of context, and then students are encouraged to use their visual skills to learn groups of letters, rather than only 'sounding it out'. This simple development in teaching spelling has had remarkable results in the DWRAT classrooms for some Aboriginal students and some English as a Second Language students who have had little success previously in mastering English spelling.

Potential for critical literacy: The depth at which we study a text provides many opportunities for students and teachers to develop critical analytic skills.



Student behaviour management: Time spent on controlling minor behaviour issues is time not spent on literacy. Therefore we focus on the learning at hand, rather than on minor behaviour issues. We have seen some encouraging changes in student behaviour as students become successful and begin to make sense of their learning. However, behaviour management is sometimes still a struggle in our context.

Committed and skilled teaching teams: While some parts of scaffolding can be taught in a whole class, our experience is that many aspects are best taught in smaller groups, so one extra adult is often needed for literacy lessons. Schools with a high proportion of Aboriginal students will in any case have an Aboriginal Resource Teacher who can assist. Our school has also coordinated the support of the ESL teacher to assist Scaffolded Literacy. This pedagogy is not just for Special Education students. We have been using it successfully in composite classes, with ability skills ranging from Profile level 2 to Profile level 6 in the one class.

One-on-one reading instruction: In addition to scaffolded approaches in the classroom, our Aboriginal Education Workers and School Service Officers have been trained in one-to-one scaffolding in reading. This support supplements the learning in the classroom.

Assessment and monitoring: Of course, assessment is not exclusive to scaffolding. It is, however, fundamental to our project. If we are not sure that our pedagogy is making a difference, then there is no point in continuing.

The work at Salisbury North has created considerable interest and people ask questions about the choice of literature, inclusiveness, cultural appropriateness and many other things. The school is grappling with many of these frequently asked questions as core issues.


A parent view

Debbie Moyle is ASSPA Chair.

As a parent coming into the school... The last two years we've had end-of-year celebrations which gives ASSPA members the opportunity to come in and talk about what has happened, but also the students to share what they have been doing through the DWRAT program. We've had an increase of parents attending. The first year I think we had about thirty, and then we had about forty. And this is extended family, this is both parents either having time off from work or coming in for the morning, or extended family, family friends and so on.

When it's the kids' turn, they're all arguing, all wanting to get up and share what they have learned or how they are reading: 'I can read better now', 'I'm deadly now', 'I can read, I can do this'.

They are ready to accept the challenge of learning. There is no shame. I mean, for a kid to get up and talk in front of thirty to forty parents about their reading, or read from a book or from a piece of work that they've written is absolutely amazing. It gives me goose bumps even seeing the kids and I get tears in my eyes and all the parents are like that... they are just so excited to see their kid up there reading.

But the thing for us is we've got at least forty or fifty younger kids all arguing to read: 'I want to read first, I want to do the Kaurna welcomes.' Not only are they doing the DWRAT stuff, they are learning more about their own identity. The role models that they are sharing with other family members. And that's the type of stuff that blows me away. Where before with younger kids it was: 'Shame, I'm not reading, I'm not getting up in front, I'm standing behind in the background.' But now, with our kids here, they are raring to go.


Performance targets

We had already determined that, unless the students educationally at risk showed improvement, we would not count our project as successful.

  1. The primary aim was that the literacy skills in Viewing, Reading and Writing of all Aboriginal students in DWRAT classrooms would match the national median for their year levels, using the national Profiles as the measure.
  2. When the project began, however, the literacy levels of some students were so low that there was little hope of them catching up and matching the national levels within the two years the project has been in operation. The secondary aim, therefore, is that students' rate of development in 18 months at least match the national rate of development over two years. This rate of development could be seen as a hopeful sign that students might one day, with continued support, catch up to the national levels.

Assessment tools



All students at Salisbury North take part in an annual reading and writing assessment. So that data can be obtained about the Performance Targets, Aboriginal students in DWRAT have also been assessed using the following tools.

For Junior Primary students (up to and including Year 2), the tool was the Marie Clay Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement. Year 3 students who were not sufficiently literate for the Middle Primary test also completed the Marie Clay tests. The Developmental Assessment Resource for Teachers (DART), published by ACER, was the tool used for older students.

All Aboriginal students in DWRAT classes also record a sample of their reading at the end of most terms, and this data provides us with information on what they are able to read when scaffolded.


At the beginning, we used scaffolded approaches in classes for 18 weeks before we had to make our first report. The results were very exciting. Some students had made leaps of an entire Profile level in Viewing and Reading in that time, and many, although not all, students at risk had shown significant gains. It took longer for improvements in writing to show.

The Marie Clay cohort of Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 classes score at Stanine levels 4-6 and the Year 3 cohort at Stanine levels 7-9. Our first target was to match these levels.

After three years of testing, we are able identify some patterns in the skills of our Junior Primary students.

  • They tend to demonstrate advanced knowledge about Concepts of Print when compared to Marie Clay's cohort.
  • They also tend to be able to identify letters of the alphabet out of context very well.
  • Many of our students also perform well in the Dictation test where they show that they can hear and record the sounds in words.
  • At these year levels, their text and letter knowledge does not seem to transfer to the Writing test where they are required to spell words 100% accurately to score.
  • Our students do not perform well when tested on a random list of sight words, which they have not studied during Scaffolded Literacy time.

Of serious current concern are the boys in the Year 3 cohort. None is scoring near the target in most tests and their performance raises issues about their engagement and interest in school learning. If we have not managed to keep them focused on school learning at this age, what will we do when they get older and have not caught up? This time is crucial for them and we are determining now how we can make a difference.

In terms of the first Performance Target for Years 4-7, many students have not yet achieved the goal of matching the national median at their year level. Nevertheless, many came close to that goal, and several students exceeded it.

In terms of the second Performance Target, however, the most encouraging sign is that, in most cases, the rates of progress of our students are at least as good as the progress shown by national data. Because our time span was eighteen months between tests, rather than two years for the national levels, this rate of development can therefore be seen as a hopeful sign that our students might, with continued support, catch up to the national levels. With the exception of two scores, all cohorts managed to achieve this secondary target. The fact that we can see significant growth is what makes us want to continue.




Interpreting these data: For instance, we can say that the progress shown nationally between Year 5 and Year 7 in Reading is 0.9 Profile Levels. Our Year 7 students have improved on average 1.2 Profile Levels in 18 months. Note that the only areas in which our students have not improved at a faster rate than the national scores are Year 5 and Year 6 Reading.



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