Strengthening the classroom kete
10 August 2015
Fee scholarships are offered to teachers wanting to upskill with a TESSOL qualification.
Seventeen years on and two very supportive principals later, REP is a well-established reading support programme that is strongly integrated into the teaching and learning programmes of One Tree Hill College and its whole school community.
The REP programme is seen by management and staff as a part of the college’s literacy delivery, and as such, students selected on the programme have ‘REP’ appear on their official college timetable.
Feedback from teachers continually reinforces the learning that takes place on REP, with teachers noticing a growing confidence in the students in their curriculum classes. This is because the REP centres on current core subject vocabulary.
Its standing in the community is now such that the selection of students takes into consideration recommendations from contributing schools, requests from parents who wish their children to be part of the REP programme, or requests from the students themselves.
Harvey Alison is still involved in the project, and the Penrose Rotary Club continues to be a major funder (ably assisted by local businesses). There is now a dedicated teacher-in-charge, Brian Langdon (an experienced classroom teacher), and a classroom dedicated for use by the programme. There are now 50 students who move through the programme each year, and 60-plus volunteer reading tutors who offer 1-1 tuition for students.
Principal Nick Coughlan says, “REP is learning at its best – a community initiative making a real difference.”
To identify those students who could benefit from REP, a comprehensive assessment based on asTTle, a range of diagnostic tests, and information from previous schools is carried out with Year 9s at the start of the school year. REP is focused on those students who are reading below expectation levels: research has proven that these are the students who will benefit most from extra learning.
Programme coordinator Brian Langdon is constantly communicating with teaching staff throughout this selection process. This is one of the strengths of the programme, says Brian – the recognition that REP is a part of the school’s curriculum.
Once a cohort has been identified, the students are paired with volunteer reading tutors, who give up their time to coach students to help them with basic literacy principles and gain more understanding (and therefore more enjoyment and motivation to read) from the texts they work on. Students participate in the programme for an entire semester, with two yearly intakes.
Because of their involvement with the programme, tutors take the welfare of students very seriously, and over the years, they have helped students ‘outside the classroom’ by providing extra tutoring for students sitting NCEA, provided funding to help poorer families with the cost of outside testing (for such things as dyslexia), purchasing glasses and other necessities that they hear families might need. Some have even offered parents financial assistance for their children’s future education. They are continually purchasing books for their students to keep for themselves and share with their brothers and sisters.
Scholastic New Zealand supplies a range of excellent reading material which enables the programme to have its own library in the classroom. This means the ‘Bookpoints Ladder’, which fosters reading in the home, is possible. Books are graded in levels of difficulty and points are allocated for each grade. Students are expected to choose at least two books per week and to discuss the content and level of understanding with their tutors before returning the books. These book points that the students earn are displayed on a chart which creates a level of competition amongst the students, though the emphasis remains firmly on the students’ understanding and enjoyment of the text and the ideas.
REP is a holistic reading programme with five primary goals:
After working with tutors throughout the semester, all students are re-tested, and results are discussed and recorded. Formal prize-giving is held in June and December, to which parents, tutors, sponsors, and community role models are invited. Prizes of books are distributed to all students, and thanks given to all the students, their families, and the tutors.
Tutors come from all walks of life, including accountants, sportspeople, and retired teachers. Brian says that the rapport they build up with students and the sharing of their knowledge and experiences can become an integral part of a student’s self-esteem development.
Tutors are generally Rotarians, or acquaintances of tutors already on the programme. The programme relies on the tutor’s enjoyment in helping to inspire young people.
Former Papatoetoe West Principal, Trevor Canute, is a recently inducted tutor to the REP programme. He considers the programme enormously beneficial.
“I have found REP to be a programme that reflects positively on everyone involved. One Tree Hill College teacher and REP coordinator Brian Langdon, along with his wife Trish Langdon, who teaches at Papatoetoe West School and helped Brian to set up the programme, deserve enormous credit for developing an initiative that models the pedagogy outlined in both Ka Hikitia and the Pasifika Education Plan, which both aim to improve and enhance learning outcomes for Māori an Pasifika students.
“The aim is to involve the student, the family, the school and the community in creating effective learning opportunities. Post programme analysis of entry and exit data shows significant progress in levels of academic achievement, but it is the increase in personal growth that is equally significant, I believe.
“REP is helping to produce confident, motivated, and articulate students who are enthusiastic about the challenges that future education holds. The students exit the programme with a strong knowledge foundation, the support and encouragement of their parents and community, and most importantly a strong self-belief in their ability to succeed. They are also outstanding role models for their peers and siblings.
“I am constantly aware of Professor Russell Bishop’s approach to educating students, and I see his practices manifest in the REP programme with regard to encouragement, prompting, risk taking, skill, and literacy development.
“Tutors establish supportive relationships with motivated students who participate in a structured programme where students challenge themselves to achieve and progress. These are the keys to the success of the programme.
“The tutors enjoy working with their students just as much as the students enjoy participating, learning, and achieving with their tutors. There is such a positive atmosphere for learning in the room.”
Outcomes for One Tree Hill are as holistic as the programme itself. At an intangible level, Brian has observed significant improvement in the confidence and educational aspirations of students involved, which feeds into a sense of responsibility for their own learning.
Community engagement is a stand-out feature of the programme. It is recognised that schools cannot exist in isolation from the communities they serve, and still hope to create the best learning environments. So much is possible when community leaders realise that they are also responsible for the educational achievement of young people within their community, and REP gives people outside the walls of the school the chance to make a lasting difference.
In 2011, Lindsay Fish, a student from the University of Auckland, chose the One Tree Hill College Reading Enrichment Programme as the subject for her MA thesis. The title of her study was Reading achievement at Year 9: supporting progress through community tutoring.
This was a very exciting experience for those involved with the REP programme, says Brian, as Lindsay’s thesis provided further evidence of the benefits that the REP programme was conferring. The research focused on three key areas:
(a) students’ reading achievement
(b) students’ affective outcomes – their attitudes to reading and the programme
(c) the nature of the tutoring that was occurring.
Outcomes as recorded by Lindsay during her time studying the REP programme were:
A mean measurable increase in reading ability of 2.72 sub-levels over two terms . This is more than expected for this group of students who on entry had been identified as being below the National Standard at the end of Year 8. This acceleration sees them catching up quickly with their peers and able to be successful once back in mainstream full time.
Brian says that the REP programme has mana at One Tree Hill College and within the community it serves. Through the hard work of many people, REP has earned a reputation as ‘a cool thing to do’, and he believes that the programme has no stigma attached to it among young people.
“Before REP, I didn’t have the confidence to believe in myself,” says student Korina, writing to her tutor after graduating. “But now I do. I feel confident in myself and proud too of who I am.”
Deborah has also been through the programme:
“I used to be shy of reading in front of my class, but now I’m more confident. I’ve learnt a lot of new words while being on REP. I enjoy reading so much, I now read to my sisters at home.”
Parents also see positive change in their children’s attitudes toward reading. Ms Manu’s evaluation of the programme’s effect on her son perhaps sums up what all parents want to see.
“My son comes home and always talks about his tutors and his ‘book points’ totals. He discusses the books he has read and is excited about reading a new novel.
“My son has loved his time on REP and has become a much more confident person through the experience.”
Earlier this year, Harvey Alison and the Penrose Rotary Club launched a second Reading Enrichment Programme at Otahuhu College. Although in its very early stages, REP at Otahuhu is already making its mark on the school.
One Tree Hill is now fielding enquiries from around the Auckland region, and from schools overseas. Who knows where Harvey Alison’s dream of bringing the community and the school together to enrich students’ reading might spread next.
BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 8:21 am, 13 October 2014
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