Analysis from recent NAPLAN Literacy results gave us some specific feedback on ways we can further develop our teach spelling, writing and reading comprehension.
One of the first areas we approached was spelling. Over the last few years we have reviewed how we teach spelling and acquired best-practise methods and teacher resources from respected experts in the field such as David Hornsby, Christine Topfer and Misty Andoniu.
This year the focus has been on refining our spelling scope and sequence and ensuring what we teach in each grade marries with the Australian and NSW Curriculum. For example, where Kindergarten will focus on alliteration or onset and rime, Year 6 will focus on nominalisation and the etymology of words to assist in their spelling (and meaning). Likewise, Year 2 can be doing work on the long vowel sounds while Year 4 is deepening their understanding of suffixes available to use. What we have also tried to do, especially in lower grades, is match quality picture books with the spelling focus. For example, Anthony Browne’s Silly Billy would be an ideal book to teach the spelling of ‘ll’.
Earlier this month our school invited Dr Lorraine McDonald to host a Saturday professional development day. Lorraine is currently Honorary Fellow, School of Education, Australian Catholic University (ACU) and an author of several books aimed at helping primary educators teach English.
Her workshop demonstrated to our staff how students can be guided to ‘actively notice’ how quality (Australian) texts are constructed and how to follow these mentor texts to make relevant choices for their own writing purposes. In a very hands-on day, teachers applied specific language/grammatical knowledge to closely observe ways that readers are engaged, the significance of evidence-based inferencing, how texts are made cohesive and how sentence fluency can be developed.
What has been most impressive is how it has been taken up by the St Thomas staff. Ms Stuart instantly took to an activity on how to develop children’s vocabulary and has given me a few amusing anecdotes that have come from the children in 3Y. Mrs Mair has refined word families and collocation with her children in 3B, especially around informative texts. It was also nice to hear Mrs McKeown talk about the language she heard coming out of Ms Churchill’s class when the children were analysing the power struggles of characters in the Year 4 shared text Detention by Tristan Bancks. I also had the privilege of hearing Mr Edwards, immediately after a lesson, eagerly tell me about how children in his class enthusiastically spoke about how a silver chain around a dog’s neck had power over that dog and how because that chain was not rusty, it must been a recent exercising of that power. Both Ms Churchill and Mr Edwards have created an excellent Year 4 resource to teach comprehension and grammar based on Dr McDonald’s presentation and the rich discussions from that resource continue to flow from their students.
These are just a few of examples of teachers taking on expert advice and instantly running with their new learning. All our grades have made refinements to English programs following the Dr McDonald presentation and the two Literacy-based staff meetings that have followed.
My next goal is to make changes to our school readers and acquire sets of quality Australian literature, such as CBCA award winning texts, for children who are emerging independent readers through to advanced independent readers. This should allow them to further their passion for reading, and more importantly, question the texts in rich discussions with their class teacher.
If you have any questions about our Literacy program at St Thomas, please contact myself or Mrs McKeown.