The noun, the verb and the rest

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The noun, the verb and the rest
                        When preparing her Year 7 class for the new National Assessment Program test in literacy, Windsor
                        High School teacher, Sonia Harris, reminded her students about ‘the noun, the verb and the rest’ rule
                        for constructing good sentences. The students instantly knew what she was talking about, as they had
                        learnt exactly the same rule at their various partner primary schools. This shared understanding was
                        the result of a middle school literacy project among a cluster of schools in the Windsor area, a project
                        funded by the Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme.

                        One Stage 3 teacher from each of three primary schools in the cluster, together with one from the
                        cluster’s high school, formed the project team. Nicole Downie represented Oakville Public School,
                        Belinda Carroll came from Windsor Park Public, and Steve Bryan took part on behalf of Windsor South
Sonia Harris            Public, while Sonia was Windsor High School’s team member. Silvia Azzopardi, the literacy consultant
                        for Western Sydney Region, was also a team member. The aim of the group was to look at the middle
                        years of schooling, identify common areas of literacy need and then to implement a coordinated
                        strategy across the four schools to address those needs.

                        Collecting and analysing evidence
                        The first task of the team was to reach agreement on the areas of literacy that required attention.
                        Armed with the schools’ Literacy Basic Skills Test results and English Language and Literacy
                        Assessment results, the team analysed the data to look for common trends across the schools. It was
                        very evident that sentence structure, grammar and punctuation needed to be addressed in both
                        Stages 3 and 4. Each team member then went back to his or her school and surveyed staff and
                        students to gather additional evidence about problem areas. Sylvia also administered a past English
                        Language and Literacy Assessment test to all Stage 3 and 4 students in the cluster, the results of
Silvia Azzopardi
                        which were moderated by the team. This extra evidence confirmed the original finding, that students
                        needed assistance in writing and punctuating sentences correctly. Typically, they wrote simple
                        sentences or whole paragraphs consisting of just one rambling sentence, with the repetitious use of
                        ‘and’ in place of full stops. ‘Quite often the content and purpose were good, but there was no sentence
                        structure – that’s why students were losing marks in the Basic Skills Test,’ said Belinda.

                        Implementing a strategy
                        Faced with the evidence, the team recognised that it was completely wrong to assume that students in
                        Stage 3 and Stage 4 should already know how to write and punctuate simple, complex and compound
                        sentences correctly. A decision was made to use a consistent, explicit approach across the four
                        schools to teach sentence structure. Team members from the schools undertook professional
                        development with Sylvia to learn ways of doing this, and then took the strategies back to their own
                        schools for implementation. Part of the consistent approach involved the team developing scaffolds to
                        be used throughout the cluster. The scaffolds included a student self-editing checklist and posters for
Nicole Downie           display in classrooms. The team also documented a set of procedures for teaching sentence structure,
                        which meant that the same approach was constantly reinforced through primary school and then into
                        the high school.

                        Embedded in practice
                        Back at their schools, team members undertook an active leadership role to introduce the new
                        strategies for teaching sentence structure. The teachers did not need convincing. They could see the
                        team’s evidence for themselves. Principals and senior executive were also supportive, and the new
                        literacy practices were written into school management plans, and stage and faculty programs. The
                        explicit teaching of sentence structure was not limited to Stage 3 and Stage 4 students, but was
                        applied to all stages in the primary schools, and all faculties and stages in the high school. This
                        expansion of the project was made possible because team members arranged a repeat in each school
                        of the professional development that the team had undertaken. Teachers found this professional
Belinda Carroll
                        learning to be both practical and rewarding. The project team was a catalyst for changing practice in
                        how aspects of literacy are taught in the cluster. As a result, students are showing a new confidence
                        and are producing more polished pieces of writing.

               AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT QUALITY TEACHER PROGRAMME NEWSLETTER, ISSUE 2 2008                                   Page 2

				
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