Improved communication lifts literacy

Issue: Volume 96, Number 13

Posted: 24 July 2017
Reference #: 1H9dea

A concerted effort to help improve students’ oral communication skills has resulted in a lift in literacy skills and classroom participation at Te Puna Wai Ora – Invercargill Middle School – and an award.

A plan to lift student achievement by improving communication skills is making a difference at a Southland school.

Teachers at Te Puna Wai Ora – Invercargill Middle School had noticed a pattern within the school: some students needed extra support to express themselves clearly and be understood.

“We had some students who were struggling with confidence – they were looking to me to affirm them before expressing their own thoughts and ideas,” explains deputy principal Katie Pennicott.

“I was thinking about the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and how I want all our students to be active participants in their own learning, and have the power to share their own thoughts without looking to me as the teacher to affirm them.”

Katie introduced some new teaching strategies to her year 2–6 level 3 te reo Māori immersion class, including the development of dialogic teaching and the modelling of communication tools and signals she calls ‘talk moves’.

“It started with thinking about sentence stems, and giving those to the students so they could build on them. I used a strategy of ‘recasting’, where they would say something to me, and I would recast it back to extend the conversation. These strategies have changed the whole way we interact with each other,” she says.

The entire teaching staff of Invercargill Middle School formulated a plan to work on these linguistic devices in every class. The impact has been far-reaching, with tangible improvements in students’ oral language, listening and literacy skills.

The school was named joint winner for the Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award, alongside Auckland’s Waitakere College, in the recent Prime Minister’s Excellence in Education Awards ceremony.

Principal Stan Tiatia says the work to enhance communication skills is part of a wider commitment to ongoing improvement at the school, and that winning the award was hugely meaningful for everyone.

“Ongoing achievement is an important value of our school – maintaining progress up the poutama is an expectation that we all have on each other and ourselves,” he says.

“Going forward, it means we know we can stand tall with our learning. Our school haka says ‘E tu atu nei’, meaning that we should stand strong with what we have and have gained as a community and take our place in the world. We expect this for our students and we expect this of ourselves.

“I am proud of the students we have; their commitment and passion for learning shows how our behaviour as educationalists can make an impact in their lives. The staff of Invercargill Middle School are genuinely fantastic, we live by our values of whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, ako and poutama and we know that we all make a difference through examining ourselves and our practices.”

Staff and students got the chance to extend this manaakitanga to Secretary for Education Iona Holsted when she came to visit recently.

“Iona honoured us by coming via an invitation from Julie Anderson, director of education for Otago/Southland. She listened, engaged with staff from across our Community of Learning and then observed learning in action in the classroom,” says Stan.

“We found her to be keen to learn about what we were doing to make a difference in the education of our students.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 6:00 am, 24 July 2017

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