11. Conclusions

Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, October 2005 | Go to article overview

11. Conclusions


Considered together, the findings of this study have led us to conclude that effective early literacy teaching requires teachers who can ensure high levels of student participation, are deeply knowledgeable about literacy learning, can simultaneously orchestrate a variety of classroom activities, can support and scaffold learners at word and text levels, can target and differentiate their instruction, and can do all of this in classrooms characterised by mutual respect. Nevertheless, some important issues arise from these conclusions and the research on which they are based.

For the purposes of this study we took a strict, some might say narrow, definition of effectiveness. This was limited to success in producing student achievement gains, which was operationalised as the amount of growth on the LLANS literacy scale (developed for ACER's Longitudinal Literacy and Numeracy Study, Meiers & Rowe, 2002), over much of a school year, for the children in each teacher's class. We did not measure children's growth in the affective domain, although we were mindful that some definitions of teaching effectiveness include promoting personal, social and emotional growth (Brophy & Good, 1986). What we found was that the effective and more effective literacy teachers created a classroom climate that appeared to foster these types of growth. Their classrooms were places where children were encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning, where active citizenship, in terms of equality, tolerance, inclusivity and awareness of the needs of others, was promoted, and where children were happy and motivated to learn. So, whilst effectiveness was not defined in terms of the affective domain, there was clear evidence of potential for growth in this domain in the classrooms of the more effective and effective teachers.

Related to the issue of definition of effectiveness is the type of assessment used to identify the effectiveness of teachers. The facets of literacy assessed by the LLANS tasks included phonological awareness, phonics, print concepts, children reading aloud, making meaning from text, and writing in response to text. This array of tasks was broader than many assessments of early years literacy in schools and included aspects of both whole language (for example response to text) and phonics approaches to teaching. Further, the tasks and materials were similar to those used in early years classrooms, such as a Running Record (adapted from Clay, 1985) on an unseen reader of the type used in guided reading lessons in classrooms. Thus, the assessments measured children's growth over a range of facets of literacy in ways that were similar to their regular classroom activities. It is possible that had a narrower range of literacy learning been assessed, some teachers identified as more effective, effective or less effective may have been classified differently. However, it seems that growth in literacy, as taught in Australian early years classrooms, was able to be better measured by LLANS than by other available assessments many of which have not been designed for the Australian context.

Another methodological strength is our use of a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodologies, which Chatterjee (2005) sees as important in gaining evidence on 'what works' in educational settings, and which allowed us to examine not only the frequency of literacy teaching practices and activities, but also their quality. However, our methodology, whilst it allows us to propose causal relationships between growth in literacy and teachers' repertoires of teaching practice, does not allow us to make claims of causality. A further limitation is the size of the sample of teachers whose observed practice was analysed. We recognise that the relatively small, yet widely distributed sample, limited the stability of the findings. Further research, with a larger sample is indicated to test the consistency of our findings about the CLOS observation scale and the teachers' use of particular practices and activities in their classrooms. …

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