Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Effective Literacy Teaching for Indigenous Students: Principles from Evidence-Based Practices

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Effective Literacy Teaching for Indigenous Students: Principles from Evidence-Based Practices

Article excerpt

Without doubt, there are multifarious, compounding circumstances that in many cases perpetuate cycles of underachievement impacting on Indigenous students' levels of educational attainment generally and literacy learning specifically (ACARA, 2013). The issues are complex. Coexistent are understandings that simplistic and mechanistic approaches to curriculum are inappropriate (Cummins 2007; Luke 2001). Rather a range of response factors, layered and interconnected are necessary to redress forms of disadvantage especially for 'school dependent' children, those reliant on educational systems, schools and classrooms for support to disrupt trajectories of failure (Comber & Barnett, 2003; Delpit, 2012).

To date, Government initiatives to redress Indigenous educational disadvantage have had inadequate impact, at best. In response, in 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to six ambitious targets to address the disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians. Included was the goal to halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children by 2018 (COAG, 2009). Despite continuing efforts, national testing results indicate that by Year 3 there remains a significant gap in literacy measures between Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students (Ford, 2013). This has resulted in recent initiatives, such as the implementation of Direct Instruction based on the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy Initiative, to strengthen literacy in Indigenous communities. The ACER report (2013) on the Cape York experience indicated it is not yet possible to conclude from the available test data whether or not the initiative has had a positive impact on students' learning (see also Luke, 2014). However there is evidence, from a number of other programs that have contributed to successful outcomes for Indigenous students emphasising the effect of rich community, school and teacher support and resources. These include targeted programs to support the development of students' linguistic and literacy knowledge, such as Accelerated Literacy (Rose, Gray & Cowey, 1999; Cowey, 2005) alongside those that build on students' cultural resources to ensure meaningful connections to the curriculum (Bennet & Lancaster, 2013; Rennie, 2006) within an envelope of mutual respect and links to the local community.

At the broadest level the literacy acquisition discussion focuses on the early years as it is widely recognised that early literacy success has a significant effect on students' early and subsequent achievement (Rowe & Rowe, 1999). A child's early learning experiences has a profound impact on their development and educational outcomes and the substantial benefits that accrue to the individual, to families and the community from investments in early childhood (DEECD, 2008). The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading, DEST (2005) acknowledged the importance of the years before school in giving children the best start to their literacy development. 'It is also important to build on the benefits of early childhood education throughout the remainder of the schooling years and to provide opportunities to those whose early childhood experiences were less than optimal' (Ockenden, 2014, p. 3).

To complement the corpus of extant positive practice in the field and the benefits of early intervention, that gives authority to practice with young learners, this paper aims to examine key practices of three programs implemented in remote communities that have beneficial outcomes for young Indigenous learners. The programs selected as illustrative examples of practice have each received strong community and financial support, no doubt factors contributing to their success albeit while not without criticism (Chapman, Tunmer & Prochnow, 2001; Reynolds & Wheldall, 2007). The programs vary in approach and emphasis and combined they offer insights into effective practices specific to early literacy learning. …

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