Hands-on programme raises literacy

Issue: Volume 97, Number 22

Posted: 6 December 2018
Reference #: 1H9pWZ

Literacy levels at Auckland’s Sunnybrae Normal School have soared since the introduction of a hands-on programme for new entrants that includes the use of high-frequency word cards and ‘acting out’.

In 2014, prior to Sunnybrae Normal School’s teacher inquiry which began two year later, 35 percent of children in the Year 1 classes were reading appropriate to their age. By 2017, the proportion had risen to 78 per cent, and most children were reading with confidence.

The teacher-led inquiry developed new practices, tools and techniques that focused on students’ coding and decoding strengths and needs, and in particular on promoting wider use of high-frequency words. 

The purpose of the inquiry was to support a group of learners who, despite achieving stanine 5 and above in at least 2 subtests on the Observational Survey (six-year net) and appropriate reading age on the Burt Word reading test, were not meeting reading expectations.

The school’s students are from very diverse cultural backgrounds, including from Pacific families, particularly Tongan, and migrant families from China, some of whom start with little or no English. However, the students’ levels at which they enter Reading Recovery has improved during the project. The Year 1 group also included children with learning support needs and resources were developed to support them.

The achievement of five-year-old identical triplets Carly, Hayley and Emily Zhou reflects the progress made. When they started in the school a year ago, they were beginning English learners but are now on a par with other children, fluent and confident English speakers and achieving on track in literacy.

Helen Rennie-Younger, TLIF project leader says, “Our approach was multi-faceted, and operated on different levels, including changing teacher practice, peer review and reflection on practice, sustaining close community and family involvement, and intense data collection.”

Fun and engaging resources

The team researched and developed new resources as fun and engaging ways for the children to learn using a phonics-based programme. High-frequency word cards were an important tool. They were made for each colour level, and initially they were given to a focus group of students, then all students, to take home to learn with parents. On one side of the card is a word, and on the other is a sentence including the word, a resource designed and developed by Helen. 

They work for six-year-old Hayley Zhou, who says, “The cards makes the words stick into my head.”

There is intense focus on writing high frequency words. These are written in large-size print on cards that are displayed prominently on classroom walls. The children all have a High Frequency Word Testing booklet, recording progress made and consolidating learning.

Acting out promotes learning

High-frequency words in large letters are displayed prominently on the wall behind Wendy as part of the school's teaching of writing words with automaticity.

The teachers do a lot of ‘acting out’ the spelling of words to assist memorisation, and aid engagement. Student Christian Havealeta, 6, says, “The acting out is fun and helps me to remember how to write the words into my writing book.” A fastest finger game is used to promote fast recognition of words on a page, and the children compete with each other to point to the right word first.

To help learning of concepts about print, new resources were made and used within the reading tumble. A visual self-assessment tool for encoding text was developed, trialled and then embedded, in line with the Literacy Learning Progressions, to help the students track their progress and plan their goals. 

Transition buddies and learning buddies are another effective tool.

Wendy and Helen both agree that strong relationships were important, and the school has fostered close links between homes, whānau and ECE centres as partners in developing literacy.

Improving attendance amongst a focus group of students was essential, and the project strategy included partnering with parents and introducing a Tongan teacher aide who was able to talk in Tongan to the children and their families. She also translated key literacy information for parents into Tongan and a Facebook page was established for Pacific parents. Videos were uploaded in the Tongan language that encouraged parents to read the bilingual books to their children. Videos were also shared on the page to show parents how the alphabet letters and sounds were being taught in the classroom.

Material was also translated into Samoan for Samoan parents.

"Acting out" makes learning fun for the students, and embeds words in memory, which helps improve literacy.

The project was a Teacher-led Inquiry Funding (TLIF) programme – the funding helped to pay for release time, so teachers could observe one another. It also provided time for them to reflect on current readings and their own practice. It enabled teachers to visit and make connections with Early Childhood Centres within the community.

Wendy and Helen agree that all that was achieved as a result of the project would not have been possible without the TLIF funding.

Games help learning. In this game, the children are parking cars in a space that matches a word.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:43 am, 6 December 2018

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