3. Identifying Effective Literacy Teaching Practices in the Early School Years

Article excerpt

The purpose of our study was to identify effective teaching practices that lead to improved literacy outcomes for children in the early years of school. It aimed to build an evidential link between children's growth in English literacy and their teachers' classroom practices. The study approach combined quantitative and qualitative research strategies in eight phases (see Figure 1).


Assessing children and value adding

We identified effective literacy teachers on the basis of assessments of growth in literacy learning for the children in their classes. A nationally representative sample of first and second year (2) of school children in 200 classes was individually assessed near the beginning and end of one school year on the literacy assessment tasks developed for ACER's Longitudinal Literacy and Numeracy Study (LLANS) (Meiers & Anderson, 2001; Meiers & Rowe, 2002; Rowe, 2002). The facets of literacy that were assessed included phonological awareness, print concepts, children reading aloud, making meaning from text, and writing in response to text. 'Value added' analyses of the LLANS data were then carried out in order to identify class/teacher-level differences in students' literacy learning (Fitz-Gibbon, 1996; Tymms, 1999). Three groups of teachers were then identified: those who were more effective, as effective, or less effective than expected, based on prior achievement-adjusted, mean-point estimates of class/teacher-level residuals of children's LLANS assessments. The adjusted residuals for teachers identified as more effective were statistically significantly above the expected level, those for the teachers identified as less effective were significantly below the expected level, and those for the majority of teachers identified as effective were not significantly above or below the expected level (for details of the analyses see Louden et al., 2005).

Selecting the teachers to observe

Once the teachers had been classified in this way, we were able to approach potential participants from each of the three groups for the intensive classroom observation phase of the study. As we had estimated learning gain over a school year, the classroom observations were made in the following school year when most teachers were teaching a different group of children. Schools were selectively approached in order to secure a balance of teacher effectiveness, school geographical location and size and socio-economic, ethnic and linguistic background of children. In order to ensure that teachers in the effective group could clearly be seen to be effective, only those teachers were approached whose students' learning gain adjusted residual in standard deviation units was positive, that is they were ranked above the median of the group.

Not all teachers and schools approached were willing to participate in this phase of the project and some teachers were no longer teaching in the same school or were teaching in another year level. The final sample of teachers who were observed in their classrooms was made up of two more effective teachers, four effective teachers (3) and four less effective teachers. Seven of the teachers' classrooms contained first year of school children (one of these also contained a few second year children), two contained second year of school children and one contained children from the first three years of school. These teachers were in schools that were situated in four Australian states and in a diverse range of communities, thus ensuring that the sample of classrooms in which observations took place was inclusive in terms of social, cultural and economic factors.

Developing the Classroom Literacy Observation Schedule (CLOS)

Based on a synthesis of key findings from the research literature, the Classroom Literacy Observation Schedule (CLOS) was devised as a tool with which to observe effective teachers of early literacy. …