Funding to support deeper understanding

Issue: Volume 94, Number 19

Posted: 27 October 2015
Reference #: 1H9cuz

The Tertiary Fees Funding Support scheme (TFFS) is part of the Ministry of Education’s efforts to further develop teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge and understanding in key areas of learning and teaching and builds on the work started in Ministry professional development programmes for teachers in mathematics and literacy.

The funding exists to support schools’ efforts to raise student achievement, through increasing the expertise and knowledge of teachers in the areas of mathematics and literacy. This is done by offering a funding subsidy for teachers to study a graduate or postgraduate level literacy, mathematics or middle schooling paper that is offered by a New Zealand university and approved under the Tertiary Fees Funding Support scheme.

Up to 1200 primary and intermediate teachers per year may be accepted into the programme; half of base tuition fees are paid for by the school (or by the teacher), and the other half is covered by the Ministry of Education.

Profile: Jan Westfield

Jan Westfield is teaching principal at Rawhitiroa School, a rural school with a roll of 35, inland from Eltham in Taranaki. She is pursuing a master’s degree in education from the University of Waikato and has made the most of the TFFS scheme by taking a number of papers during 2014 and 2015.

Last year, she completed a paper entitled ‘Reading difficulties’. While this may sound like a very straightforward study topic, Jan says that the ways we can define ‘reading difficulties’ is, in fact, just as nuanced and individual as the students who experience them.

“Like the title says, it’s about reading difficulties, but it actually went a lot further than that,” says Jan. “It looked at the types of interventions that are available in schools, and how to structure interventions to work best for the individual student, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach. It was a lot about encouraging us to think about the specific needs of the student, and working the intervention to fit those needs, rather than saying ‘the child will fit the intervention’.

“The paper didn’t cover any particular intervention programmes, rather it was more about identifying learning difficulties in literacy, and what sort of difficulties those are, and then examining the sorts of things that can be put in place to help the child succeed in reading.”

In other words, says Jan, identifying the child who is falling behind is only half the battle. The paper she completed emphasised that ‘falling behind’ is not a useful measurement; much more digging must be carried out in order to identify exactly what sort of falling behind is being talked about.

“The child might have an issue with deciphering print, or it could be a comprehension issue. It’s about looking into the child’s reading history and working out where there are gaps, and what needs to be done to fill those gaps.

“For example, if the words on the page don’t mean anything to a child, or they have no understanding of the letters, there’s no point trying to introduce the child to more advanced concepts in literacy.

“It could be an older child who’s suddenly having difficulties around understanding or vocabulary, because if his or her vocabulary isn’t keeping up with the type of reading that they’re being exposed to, then the child is going to struggle with the comprehension of it.”

Jan wonders if people understand how early children can potentially fall behind in their literacy progress, and just how fundamental a lack of comprehension among young children can be: in many cases, it’s not that children don’t understand the words; the problem is that they don’t yet understand what words are.

“With the really young ones, one of the most common problems is probably difficulty understanding that the words on the page are the story. That’s quite huge for a lot of children, I find. A book is something that is normally read to them, but actually understanding that all those words on the page, in fact, contain the story, that you don’t just look at it; that’s a leap that every child has to make.

“I suppose that’s what very young children do, isn’t it; they pick a book up and they tend to tell themselves a story by looking at the pictures and interpreting. Some children are slower than others at progressing past that point. If they don’t pick up on the significance of the alphabet and those first words, it makes it so hard for them to progress past that stage of always just telling themselves a story; it’s a conceptual leap to begin extracting meaning from collections of letters on a page.”

Jan won’t be drawn on detailing what strategy she might put in place for the child who sees words as funny squiggles on the page; that would defeat the point of the learning she’s engaged in, which makes it clear that only an individualised approach can hope to be successful, but she is unequivocal when asked whether her learning has reaped rewards in her classroom practice.

“Absolutely. This year, when we’ve identified students that have been struggling with reading, instead of just saying, ‘well, we’ve got this programme on the shelf’, we’ve talked a lot more extensively among ourselves about where exactly the child is struggling. Instead of just doing the standard testing and saying, ‘right, this child is behind’, we’ve concentrated on examining an awful lot more information on why they’re behind, before we decide how we’re going to help the child.

“As a school, we also now approach things more collaboratively. We’re only a little school, and as teachers we know all the students, and we all from time to time work with all our students. So we’re getting input from three different teaching professionals about a particular student. We all see different things, and we all have different approaches. Using professional development tools like the knowledge I’m gaining through these papers, we can come up with a better strategy and approach to the needs of our learners.”

TFFSL Frequently asked questions

Is the scheme fully subscribed?

No, there is still funding available for teachers who would like to take part in the scheme. Those teachers who have a full-time teaching role and are involved in other professional development alongside outside commitments can find that tertiary study is not an option.

What is the benefit to teachers?

Teachers gain increased knowledge and improved confidence in classroom teaching. This also provides benefits to the children and school. Salary may also increase salary if the paper/s contributes towards the completion of a Postgraduate Diploma in Education.

Can anyone apply for the subsidy?

No, applicants must be New Zealand registered primary or intermediate teachers currently employed by a New Zealand school.

Can teachers apply for the subsidy for more than one paper at a time?

Teachers can apply for a maximum of two papers per semester.

Does the scheme cover classroom release time for teachers?

No, but a component of the classroom release time agreed under the NZEI Collective Employment Agreement could be dedicated to this professional development. This would be agreed between the teacher and principal and board of trustees.

What are the papers presently on offer?

The current lists are available on the NZ mathematics website(external link) and the Literacry online website(external link).

Has the programme been evaluated?

Yes. Refer to Findings from the New Zealand Numeracy Development Projects 2008 and 2009. Hard copies are available from the Ministry of Education or online(external link).

Why isn’t the scheme available to other types of teachers, such as secondary teachers and RTLBs?

Secondary study awards are available to secondary teachers as part of their collective employment agreement and RTLBs also have their own funding sources to be used for professional development.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:32 am, 27 October 2015

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