Literacy leaps: Data keeps students moving to new skills

Data walls, tiered intervention and high expectations are just some of the ways teachers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel (OLMC) Catholic Primary Waterloo are helping students to improve their literacy skills.

Stretching more than five metres across two walls in the staff room at OLMC Primary is a noticeboard with a photo of every one of the school’s 108 students. Along the side of the board are the words, reading, writing and comprehension and along the bottom are levels and clusters.  Above the board are the words, ‘we believe all students will succeed’.

The board is the school’s data wall which provides teachers with a map of where all the children are in terms of their literacy development in reading, writing and comprehension.

We have high expectations of our students which they really respond to.

– Kelly Bouris

Principal Kelly Bouris said having the children’s photos is crucial as it puts faces on the data, and the data wall is a great stimulus for teacher discussion on the progress of each child.

“We’ll often have a meeting and look at the data wall and say, ‘How’s everyone plotting?’,’How is everyone progressing?’, ‘Who hasn’t moved since we last met?’ and ‘Why not and what do we need to do?’”

Since 2012, OLMC has been part of the State Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, which was introduced to support schools to help their students reach the benchmarks. It provides funding to ensure that the school’s 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. At OLMC, it has also enabled the employment of Instructional Leader Jane Sonego.

Mrs Sonego said that through the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy the school has had a big focus on data.

“It’s not collecting data for data’s sake but relevant data that identifies the areas the students are good at but also where the challenges or gaps are.”

Mrs Bouris added that it is very easy to generalise and say a child finds reading hard or they are not a good writer.

“But if you drill down and find out what part they find difficult such as concepts about print, are they still developing their comprehension skills or is it that the text did not capture their interest – all point to particular areas of need for individual students.”

While the focus of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy is on Kindergarten to Year 2, OLMC has applied it to all years including a three-tiered approach to intervention.

Using the information from the data, each child is grouped into a tier. Tier one students are those who are working at the class level or above the core group. Tier two are working just below the average class level and tier three are students needing additional special education support.  The tier two and three students have organised intervention to address the gap in their learning, which is undertaken within their regular classroom.

Mrs Sonego said the tiered system and professional learning opportunities support teachers in designing and implementing strategies for students who are at risk and require support.

This approach has resulted in significant improvement in the students’ skills and ongoing growth in Years 3 and 5 NAPLAN results. The students are more confident about their learning and there has been a major decrease in behavior issues.

“When Literacy programs use data as the starting point for teaching and learning, students are working at their level which builds their confidence and self-esteem. From here students are willing to take risks with their learning and achieve,” Mrs Sonego said.

Mrs Bouris said all the staff at the school are on the same page and are all committed to the school’s Literacy/Numeracy Action Plan.

“We have high expectations of our students which they really respond to. They like people believing in them. We all like that – to know that people think we can get there, that we can do it. So even though a child may have started on reading level 1 in Kindergarten they believe that by the time they finish Kindergarten they will be confident readers.

“And we all participate and believe in the benefits of the ‘gradual release of responsibility’, a process where the teacher starts modelling writing (or reading) to their students, then they slowly take away the scaffolding and students participate in shared writing, guided writing and independent writing.”

The teachers also involve the students in setting their own goals for improvement in literacy and invite the parents into the classroom to show them what a guided reading lesson looks like or a writing lesson. Information is sent home to the parents letting them know what their child’s focus is and what their target is for that term. The school also participates in creative writing workshops with Sydney Story Factory.

“It’s a special place here at OLMC,” Mrs Bouris said. “You definitely leave here at the end of the day and know that a lot of success has happened.

“Our parent body is very supportive and we have teachers who know that education is the way to break cycles and are committed to their students, and a group of students who believe in themselves.

“But there’s no sitting still and resting on laurels because we know we are not hitting all the benchmarks yet and we still have goals to achieve. We are continually reviewing, adjusting and talking about what’s working and what’s not so that our students have the essential literacy skills they need for success in life and learning.”

Key elements of OLMC’s Literacy Action Plan

  • Whole-school approach
  • Collecting relevant data
  • Analysing the data
  • Putting faces to the data
  • Organised tiered intervention
  • Philosophy of ‘gradual release of responsibility’
  • Personal learning plans involving children in setting goals
  • High expectations
  • Parent involvement
  • Ongoing evaluation of teaching and learning
  • Constant review and professional discussion about future directions
  • Relevant and targeted Professional Learning for teachers.



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