Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Subject Area Literacy Instruction in Low SES Secondary Schools in New Zealand

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Subject Area Literacy Instruction in Low SES Secondary Schools in New Zealand

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to investigate patterns of student achievement and subject-area literacy teaching in a cluster of 22 New Zealand (NZ) secondary schools that serve low-to mid-socio-economic-status (SES) communities. We describe patterns of students' reading achievement in high stakes assessments in English, mathematics and science as well as patterns of literacy teaching across 104 Year 12 subject-area classrooms.

The wider context of the study is NZ's high quality but low equity compulsory education system (OECD, 2014). NZ students regularly rank well above the OECD average in mathematics, reading and science but there is a wider gap between high and low-achievers than most other countries (OECD, 2010; Vannier, 2012). Students from low SES backgrounds, Maori (indigenous) and Pasifika (first or second generation immigrants from Pacific island countries) are markedly overrepresented in the tail end of the achievement distributions (OECD, 2010). Maori and Pasifika ethnicities and low SES are also strongly positively correlated.

We were interested in understanding how patterns of literacy teaching in subject-areas might contribute to historic patterns of low achievement for students from this group of schools and in identifying teaching practices that could be developed to be more consistent with practices identified as effective in the literature.

The specific research questions were:

1. What are the patterns in low SES schools of student participation and achievement in high stakes English, mathematics and science assessments that have complex reading demands?

2. How does literacy instruction across different subject areas in low SES schools reflect increasingly specialised and sophisticated reading and writing challenges in the senior secondary school?

3. How does literacy instruction in low SES schools in different subject areas reflect currently known optimal practices?

Internationally, over the past two decades, there has been growing concern about an 'adolescent literacy crisis'. The crisis consists of high school students' reading achievement stagnating or declining, relative to previous cohorts, at a time when the literacy demands of education, work and society are rapidly increasing due to technological, social and economic changes (Jacobs, 2008; Moore, Bean, Birdyshaw & Rycik, 1999) such as the expansion of information-based technologies, the internationalisation of labour markets, and the dramatic decline in the number of jobs that do not require (much) reading or writing (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; Kamil et al., 2008; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008). The increasing importance of reading means that, regardless of whether overall levels of reading are actually declining, as they appear to be in the USA (Brozo, Moorman, Meyer & Stewart, 2013), or merely stagnating, as they are in New Zealand (Telford & May, 2010),

there is a growing gap between the literacy vision and the reality.

Leaving high school without the literacy needed to fully participate in workplace and life situations constrains the life chances of the individuals involved but having large numbers of students leave high school without advanced forms of literacy is also concerning from a community and national perspective. Particularly troubling is that some groups of students -notably minority, indigenous and students from poorer communities --are markedly overrepresented in the lowest achieving groups. Ethnicity and socio-economic based disparities in literacy outcomes are persistent features of the educational systems of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other Anglophone nations.

Given the importance of literacy--and clear evidence that quality teaching has the potential to improve student learning (Alton-Lee, 2003; Hattie, 2008)--it is unsurprising that much attention has been directed toward better understanding the role that teaching can play in improving literacy outcomes. …

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