Literacy Instruction in Rural Elementary Schools in Jamaica: Response to Professional Development

Article excerpt

Rural educators from several elementary schools in southwest Jamaica completed pre- and post-literacy surveys. Professional training was developed and provided in response to the pre-assessment results. Literacy training combined two essential skills: (a) ongoing assessment of literacy achievement and (b) evidenced-based intervention strategies. Pre- and post-assessment results revealed that the phonics approach was the most frequently used literacy strategy. The least used method of literacy instruction was the use of ongoing or informal literacy assessments. Although the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills was modeled as an example of an ongoing assessment, post-assessment results revealed that educators did not frequently use this assessment. The most utilized literacy intervention strategies were teacher-directed activities implemented at the class-wide level.

Keywords: professional development, literacy, intervention strategies, rural Jamaican education

Nations worldwide are working to ensure that their youth and young adults are proficient in every core academic area. It has long been recognized that countries must produce citizens who are competent in reading, writing, and mathematics to remain competitive in world markets (Brown-Chidsey & Steege, 2005; Daly, Chafouleas, & Skinner, 2005; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008). Developing Caribbean Commonwealth (CC) countries (e.g., Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago) are a subset of those nations who understand the relationship between education and sustaining a country's identity, competitiveness, and longevity. While these countries have long understood the importance of graduating citizens who are highly capable, they also recognized that incorporating reforms to their educational system will be necessary to ensure that their citizens are well-prepared to make contributions that will advance their countries economically, politically, and socially. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has identified several areas in education in need of immediate attention:

The improvement of literacy and numeracy, the development of multhingual skills, using student-centered teaching approaches, teaching low achievers with special references to male underachievement, the provision of universal quality secondary education by the year 2000, and the application of technology as an aid to teaching and learning. (Jennings, 2001, p. 107)

The island of Jamaica, a CARICOM member, is faced with these concerns as specifically cited in the government's 2004 educational report (Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture, 2004). However, its educational system continues to be fraught with challenges that prevent the successful implementation of many improvement programs. Some of these challenges are full access to secondary education, equal access to quality education, the underperformance of large groups of students, the performance disparity between males and females with females outperforming males, and the role and training of teachers in the system (Davis, 2004).

LITERACY CHALLENGES

Notably, the Jamaican government has identified literacy enhancement as an area of intense need. Although 87% of Jamaican adults (UNICEF, 2006), and 94.1% of Jamaican youths are literate (UNESCO, 2008), the private sector continues to be faced with illiterate adults who cannot compete in the market place. Due to this deficiency, the country has instituted several early literacy policies, including new assessment procedures for tracking literacy development. One of these newer procedures has been the mandated fourth grade literacy test designed to identify students who are not progressing satisfactorily in the area of reading and to encourage educators to provide appropriate remediation when deficits in ability are determined. Since it has been instituted, an increase in literacy rates from 43% in 2001 to 75% in 2006 has been observed (Jamaica Gleaner, 2008). …