Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

An Investigation of the Literacy Demands and Support Given to a Year 8 Class

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

An Investigation of the Literacy Demands and Support Given to a Year 8 Class

Article excerpt

Introduction

Literacy, and the effective teaching and development of literacy, has become a key concern of most schools. In secondary school, the subject English has traditionally been seen as the focus of literacy development, but with the increasing acknowledgement that there are key literacies specific to different subject areas rather than a single literacy which encompasses them all, that focus is shifting. In addition, the availability of funding for literacy programs, especially in the middle years, and the increase in accountability of schools undertaking these programs has provided a prompt to examine the literacy practices within the whole school and the role of each teacher within these practices. With the competition fostered by the publishing of the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) scores and standardised literacy testing, interest is increasingly being focused on how Key Learning Areas (KLAs) other than English can effectively promote literacy skills, in terms of general literacy and particular skills required for success in specific subject areas. It is increasingly recognised that all subjects have a large written component, particularly in the VCE, and that each subject has specific demands in relation to vocabulary, written work and text types.

Dromana Secondary College, a public school of 1000 students located on the Mornington Peninsula, has begun to closely examine the different literacies required for student success in the VCE. This focus resulted from a number of things: a drive to increase VCE scores to promote enrolment, teachers' beliefs that students are not performing to their potential, and concern over community perceptions of the school. Within the school concern has been expressed over the number of different tasks set for junior classes and students' ability to deal effectively with the range of texts to which they are exposed. Many staff outside the English KLA have expressed concern over the idea of literacy teaching in their subject areas. Literacy has been identified as a charter priority of the school and time and resources have been allocated to develop literacy programs.

A number of recent Victorian research projects have indicated ways of approaching whole school analysis and change. The Middle Years Research and Development (MYRAD) Project (DET, 2002), the Successful Interventions Literacy Research Project (DEET, 2001), the Middle Years Literacy Research Project (Deakin University, 2001) and the Middle Years Numeracy Research Project (Siemon, Virgona & Corneille, 2001) have all shown that improved student outcomes occur when schools and their communities recognise there is a need for change. Data-driven, evidence based approaches to school improvement should be adopted. (Hamilton, 2004). Primarily concerned with factors affecting student literacy and numeracy, engagement and retention, the literacy section of the research outlines approaches such as auditing school literacy practices, establishing shared understandings when talking about literacy, emphasising a broad range of literacy capabilities, teaching about language and curriculum literacies in each key learning area, and defining roles and responsibilities in the teaching of curriculum literacies (Deakin University, 2001, p. 38). These seemed a logical place to begin to address concerns and adopt a whole school approach for those who have no background in literacy support. There seemed to be little research directly relevant to our specific situation and requirements.

The starting point for proving that literacy demands can be both general and specific is a literacy audit: an outlining of the different genres students are required to respond to, the different styles of texts they are required to produce and the scaffolding, modelling and support provided to students when undertaking these tasks. Additional information was also collected on the set assessment tasks, and also on the teachers' perceptions of what is important for success in the subject. …

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