Literacy a passport to lifelong learning

With good literacy skills vital to learning, achieving academic success and engaging in society, Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) has an on-going focus on improving student literacy.

“Across Sydney Catholic schools we are building very common understandings of a systematic approach to teaching literacy that’s in context, is relevant and authentic to the students who we are working with,” said Helen West, SCS K-12 Literacy Coordinator.

“The programs we are implementing are best practice, backed by current research and are proven to work.”

Literacy is the effective use of knowledge and skills to interpret and use language confidently for learning, communicating and engaging in society.

Sydney Catholic Schools’ Statement on Literacy, available on the SCS website, sets the foundation for literacy teaching and learning in Sydney Catholic schools. Underpinning this Statement are the principles of literacy acquisition including the importance of oral language development to all aspects of literacy learning. The Statement also acknowledges the diverse perspectives of language, literacy and learning students bring to school.

Some of the key elements of SCS’ literacy strategies are early intervention, assessing students to establish their literacy learning needs, high expectations for students, a whole-school approach and specific teaching of the language requirements of each Key Learning Area (KLA). Central to this approach is providing targeted professional development for teachers.

At the primary level, professional learning opportunities are offered in the area of Teaching Grammar K-6, Effective Literacy Practices in the Early Years, Running Records and in collaboration with the Eastern Region, Quality Literacy Teaching K-6.

At the secondary level, more than 600 teachers have taken part in Literacy: The Next Step, a four-day course which equips them with strategies, activities and resources to teach their students the language requirements and specific writing skills specific to each Key Learning Area. (see story on page 9)

SCS also runs a Leaders of Learning course specifically for school leaders and leadership teams on strategic planning for literacy, which is currently being developed for online learning.

Over the past three years, representatives from Sydney Catholic schools have taken part in literacy professional development with Dr Lyn Sharratt.  Dr Sharratt’s training encompasses 14 parameters with a key focus on learning the ‘right things to do right’ to achieve effective district-wide improvement. This approach emphasises how to increase achievement levels for all students, for all teachers, in all schools, by putting FACES on the data. Dr Sharratt also emphasises leading whole school change to improve literacy, creating strong leaders of learning in literary, choosing the right data to inform practice and working collaboratively.

Ten Sydney Catholic primary schools are involved in the State Literacy Numeracy Action Plan from 2017-2020. This focuses on K-2 students and aims to ensure students have the essential literacy and numeracy skills needed for success in learning and in life. The schools taking part have funding to ensure that their literacy (and numeracy) programs have a continued focus on intervention in the early years of schooling, and on explicit teaching and high expectations for all students.

The early intervention strategy Reading Recovery operates in all Sydney Catholic primary schools. Trained teachers work with students after their first year of school to progress their reading up to the average level of their Year 1 class.

Sydney Catholic Schools operates three Catholic Intensive English Centres (CIEC) based at Holy Spirit College Lakemba, Mary MacKillop College Wakeley and Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield. These centres provide intensive English programs for secondary students who are newly arrived migrants and for refugees for at least two terms but usually three, to advance their level of English so that they can transition to the mainstream classroom with support.

“In terms of literacy, our system is in a good place,” said Ms West.


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