Programmes for Students: successfully accelerating student achievement

Issue: Volume 94, Number 5

Posted: 23 March 2015
Reference #: 1H9cqg

Programmes for Students, now in its fifth year, is one of the best ‘good news’ stories in education at the moment. School reports consistently confirm the positive impact Programmes for Students has, not only on accelerating student progress, but also in helping students to develop their identity as successful learners in reading, writing and mathematics.

Programmes for Students provides support to accelerate student achievement. It comprises two separate, but conceptually related interventions, which run for 15 weeks: Accelerated Learning in Mathematics (ALiM), and Accelerated Learning in Literacy (ALL). Both start with the identification of a cohort of students who require specific support to accelerate their progress. Schools are mentored to use the expertise in their staff to provide supplementary support for a small group of 6-8 students. During the intervention, the ALL or ALiM teacher inquires into their practice to explore what works best, and is most effective, for those particular students.

Inquiry teams that include principals, the ALL or ALiM teachers and subject leaders are formed. This group, assisted by mentors, is introduced to self-review inquiry tools, and given a grounding in the research and philosophy behind Programmes for Students.

This philosophy can best be expressed in three words: ‘inquiry’, ‘agency’, and ‘transferral.’

Inquiry: Programmes for Students applies inquiry teaching methodology. Learning from students is important, as is self-review and evaluation, in designing programmes that best accelerate student progress and adapt as evaluation and inquiry continues.

Agency: There are two aspects to this idea: teacher capacity and student agency. Programmes for Students is not a programme that is simply plugged into any cohort and school. Teachers are given the tools and support to do something different in their teaching, and to identify and evaluate what works. Giving agency back to the student means making learning relevant, and involving the student in their own learning pathway.

Chris Henderson, one of the national leaders in the Programmes for Students literacy programme, ALL, had this to say on student agency: “Sometimes a student has been through so many interventions, all they’ve really learned is that someone will take over when they’re struggling. We want to give the learning agency back to the student.”

Giving agency back to the student means making learning relevant, and involving the student in their own learning pathway; for example, students may set their own goals, or come up with their own learning context.

Transferral: All the hard work is for nought if changes in practice leave with a departing teacher. Part of the Programmes for Students process is to ensure that lessons learned are embedded across the school. This is achieved through the inquiry team setting up systems so that learning is shared and other teachers are mentored in turn.

Evidence of change

National Programmes for Students leaders get an overview of where the initiative is at via end-of-year reports filed by individual schools. National leader ALiM Fiona Fox says that what continues to come out of these snapshots is that firstly, the interventions are working, and secondly that insights teachers are making into their own practice are being successfully incorporated in other classrooms and across the school.

National leader ALL Chris Henderson explains: “I think a fair amount of that success is to do with the intervention model itself. We don’t say to people ‘here’s the programme, go and do it’. We ask everyone to engage in spirals of inquiry, and to work out what works for their students and their school. In the second year of the programme, they’re able to identify what’s been successful at their school, and they then spread that around the whole learning community.

“For me it’s pure excitement being involved in this project, to be quite honest. When I’m speaking as national leader of ALL, I always start by saying that the thing that strikes me most is that it’s one of the best ‘good news’ stories I think we have in education at the moment. I say that because it’s been demonstrated that with a 15-week intervention, we can make a huge difference to student outcomes, including achievement, motivation, and engagement. It’s given us the power, I think, to give agency and learning back to students who are falling behind expectations.

“In ALL and ALiM we’ve got something like 900 schools involved this year, and I really believe that teachers and schools find the programme to be really motivating. One of the key factors is agency – and I know that’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment – but it’s that whole thing where students who have previously been keenly aware that they’re not meeting learning expectations, suddenly find that they are. Teachers who perhaps weren’t sure how to respond to some students falling behind find that they can help, and can make a big difference, and I think as a result schools themselves start looking across lots of interventions, and appraising them differently.”

ALL national co-leader Gaylene Price says that the programme is of potential benefit to every school in the country, because it integrates neatly into processes that are common to all.

“It’s a project that relies on some key elements that are consistent across all schools nationally; a short-term 15-week literacy intervention provided to groups of students who are not achieving at their NZ curriculum expectations in addition to their regular literacy teaching, the need to focus on priority learners, and the need to use a process of inquiry.

“Over the time of each school’s involvement, as more teachers and students become involved, the focus in ALL aligns with schoolwide processes and examines the range of intervention programmes more widely across the school.”

What's working

Fiona says, “We’ve really been able to build on previous years. In 2010, schools were really focusing on the ‘number knowledge’ part of the maths curriculum, but many have moved away from that now. Now they’re focusing more on a problem solving approach.”

Fiona says also that two success factors are beginning to shine through more strongly than others: authentic learning contexts and rich tasks, and student discourse.

“For example, one teacher working with Year 7 and 8 students was coming up with authentic tasks around budgeting, which culminated in a trip to the Sky Tower, and the students had to put together a budget for it. They had to raise money, and they had to write a letter to the principal. What’s happening is that there’s a reason for solving a problem. Coming out of the reports last year, authentic contexts were right at the top of what was working, followed by student discourse.”

Getting kids talking

Student discourse is something that’s been identified as a powerful tool in getting students motivated and engaged, as well as helping to highlight for teachers where gaps in student knowledge, understanding and reasoning may lie.

Suzanne Chapin’s research into ‘talk moves’ has helped inform this investigation into the impact of the encouragement of discourse – not just between teacher and student, but among students. On the surface, it’s a very simple idea; it’s about encouraging teachers to open up conversations. For example, there’s the concept of ‘adding on’, where one child might give an explanation of their reasoning, and another might be asked to add something to the explanation. Then there’s the concept of ‘justification’, where students are asked to explain why they came to the conclusions they did.

Programmes for Students continues to evolve into an ever more effective intervention, because preconceived ideas have been broken down, says Fiona.

“Learning and adaptation around what works and what doesn’t has come about because teachers are conducting continual inquiry into their own practice. Teachers no longer see this as a programme that is applied to fix a problem. When we first started, we were focusing on number activities, for example; now we’re dealing with the bigger ideas.”

Big ideas are fine of course, but in the end, big ideas need to translate into evidence that Programmes for Students does what it says on the tin: take a group who are falling behind, intervene, and accelerate their learning to get them back in line with expectations. Fiona says that box has already been ticked, but there’s plenty more work to be done.

Meeting learners' needs

Chris Henderson says, “In the past I think there’s been the tendency to just plug the child into an existing intervention. Programmes for Students asks ‘what are the child’s needs and how will we create an intervention to meet those needs?’

“I would just say that every school would find it hugely beneficial to be involved with this programme. I think that long term the goal is of course to reduce the number of students who need interventions, and I think that we’re well on the way to getting there.’’

Programmes for students: factbox

The Programmes for Students initiative includes two short-term interventions – Accelerating Learning in Literacy (ALL) and Accelerating Learning in Mathematics (ALiM).

What are ALim and ALL?

  • Short-term (15-week) interventions of supplementary support for students.
  • Focused on accelerating the progress of a small group of identified students who are underachieving.

Who are ALiM and ALL for?

Students from year 2 to year 8 who are below/well below the expected standard, and who have had at least 60 weeks of schooling.

What’s the benefit for schools?

  • Acceleration for small groups of learners who are achieving below/well below the expected standard.
  • A school curriculum and achievement plan (CaAP).

Why are ALiM and ALL successful and working so well?

  • Schools are supported to use their expertise to undertake a short-term inquiry focused on accelerating progress of a group of students who are underachieving.
  • Schools develop their own supplementary inquiry team, including the ALL / ALiM teacher, and practice is based on sound evidence.
  • The inquiry team and ALL / ALiM teacher transfer to other teachers what they have learned through their inquiry.
  • Students develop their identity as successful learners in reading, writing and mathematics, which support their learning across The New Zealand Curriculum.

What is a Mathematics Support Teacher (MST)?

MST follows on from ALiM. It’s a two-year programme providing supplementary support for groups of students below/well below the expected standard. The MST focuses on using the expertise within the school to evaluate the effectiveness of current practices that support accelerated mathematics learning.

Find more information by visiting The New Zealand Curriculum on line(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:32 pm, 23 March 2015

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