Improving literacy results in Queensland schools

September 14, 2008

Queensland students have not done as well as their counterparts in other states when it comes to literacy – at least on the raw data. There are a number of unavoidable reasons for this, including:

  • the later school starting age for student
  • the number of  students in living in remote and isolated areas.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that lack of educational leadership from the Queensland Studies Authority (QSA) has much to answer for in this regard.  In pandering to the prejudices of politicians, journalists and a small but vocal minority of academics, the QSA has ensured that there has been no statewide syllabus for English since 1987 (yes, 1987 – that’s not a misprint!).  To make matters worse, the QSA no longer employs experienced English Heads of Faculty in order to provide advice about teaching English to schools and, recently, a Physical Education teacher was given the task of re-writing the Senior English syllabus.  A number of consequences have flowed from this situation:

  • a lack of a coherent, educationally sound approach to teaching English and literacy
  • confusion in many teachers’ minds about what is the right way to teach English and literacy – with the result that they have often fallen back to outmoded teaching methods.

The situation has been worsed by funding cuts to the QSA by the state government – according to reports, all work on new syllabuses in the early and middle years has stopped until the next financial year due to a redirection of funds to the health system. Providing lists of essential learning targets is only partly helpful.

So, what are teachers to do? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a good knowledge of English grammar (traditional and functional), and can apply that to practical strategies for helping students read and write?
  2. Do you understand the range of factors that will assist students to undertake reading and writing tasks, including cultural knowledge and understanding, knowledge about language, thinking processes and attitudes?
  3. Do you consistently and effectively use all aspects of the teaching-learning cycle: modelling, guided practice and independent practice?
  4. Do you understand the various roles of the reader (code breaker, meaning maker, text user and text analyst) and do you understand the implication of these for teaching individuals and groups of students in your care?
  5. Do you structure your teaching of reading effectively with appropriate pre, during and after reading activities?
  6. Do you structure your teaching of writing effectively with appropriate pre, during and after writing activities?
  7. Do you effectively and explicitly model all significant written tasks that students are required to undertake?
  8. Are your students trained to reflect effectively on their own work and that of others?
  9. Is your approach consistent with the approach taken by other teachers at your school?
  10. Are you part of a professional learning community that seeks to strive for constant improvement?
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