Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Capturing Conference Learning

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Capturing Conference Learning

Article excerpt

Context

The East Tamar Federation is a group of five schools in the northern suburbs of Launceston, Tasmania. They have independent identities, but work closely together and have some joint funding. Historically, this is a low SES area and student outcomes in literacy and numeracy have been concerning. As a result all schools have been part of the Tasmanian state initiative Raising the Bar--Closing the Gap which provides some additional staffing and professional learning support. The schools have also attracted Federal National Partnerships funding which has allowed the five schools to work together to deliver a more consistent approach to teaching and learning. One strategy to promote this has been the employment of pedagogical coaches who work across the schools with a focus on enhancing teacher capacity and developing alignment. Initially there was a single teacher working with a literacy/numeracy focus at Years 5-8 level. The East Tamar Federation Project Team now also includes a Literacy Leader K-10 (Kindergarten to Year 10) and a Numeracy Leader K-10.

As the Project Team began to work with the schools the challenge of the task became clearer and larger. All schools needed to implement the Australian curriculum. Some schools had made substantial improvements in their student outcomes and had some strong consistent school wide approaches and practices, but practice was not aligned in all individual schools and certainly not across the Federation. Although the high school received students from all four primary schools, the schools were largely working in isolation.

Early in 2011 a network of literacy leaders was established, comprising teachers from each school. Fortnightly meetings provided a forum for these key teachers to talk about the literacy teaching and learning in their schools, and to begin to develop a common language and common understandings they could then share with other staff members.

Important to this process was the opportunity to attend the 2011 ALEA conference and hear many speakers sharing the latest research and practice about literacy but, there needed to be a high degree of accountability. If an organisation sends a large group of people to a conference, they all need to grow in their learning and understanding and so does the whole organisation. The Literacy Leader asked conference participants to consider the priorities of the East Tamar Federation as well as their personal teaching needs as they chose sessions to attend.

Relevant priorities in the strategic plan included:

* every teacher in the East Tamar Federation being a master teacher of literacy--a result of intensive and ongoing professional learning

* all teachers able to articulate what they teach and why they teach it--why they do the things they do

* use of common language, resources, structures and approaches to support classroom practice

* effective, smooth transition from primary school to high school

* Teams of staff inquiring into their practice through collaborative investigations in Literacy and Numeracy.

Conference attendance however does not guarantee increased teacher capacity: 'professional development--educators going to workshops and conferences, and taking courses--bears little relationship to classroom and school improvement' (Fullan, 2011, p. 2). At a meeting following the conference the attendees met to discuss their learning highlights and plan to share these with all the staff in their schools. From this, two significant professional learning projects emerged. The Literacy Leaders' Network identified Interactive Read-Aloud as a teaching practice that would promote student learning in all the schools while at Brooks High School, teams of teachers began working alongside academic partners to develop their understanding of effective reading in a high school. Each of these projects was supported by the East Tamar Federation Project Team, particularly the Literacy Leader, and is continuing to impact on teacher capacity and student learning. …

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