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  What Works - The Work Program

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The seconded teacher project: Extracts from the project report

Benefits for teachers and ATAs

  • Networking opportunities were highly regarded by staff as a means of exchanging valuable information.
  • The professional development provided an increased knowledge of many areas in early childhood education for Aboriginal students.
  • Extensive and ongoing support offered by consultants was appreciated.
  • Teachers' knowledge of students, families and communities increased.
  • There was increased collaboration with ATAs.
  • The awareness and understandings of 'two-way learning' (part of the underpinning philosophy of Catholic Education in the Kimberley) were enhanced.
  • Staff made more purposeful use of 'bush trips' and other excursions.
  • The project was an interesting and challenging opportunity for the seconded teachers.
  • There were multiple opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of current practice.
  • The opportunity to engage in action research to evaluate successful strategies was appreciated.
  • Professional and personal benefits of some form were enjoyed by all staff.

Teachers' comments

'The opportunity to 'research' and engage in a structured outcomes planning cycle has reaffirmed my belief that students learn in many different ways, that 'play' is a powerful medium for learning and that students are great teachers to each other. The cultural and language differences are important to the community and two-way learning has special significance for these children. I have further witnessed that the child's first involvement with school environment is enhanced by planning oral language programs based on the child's home knowledge.'

'A huge learning curve for all involved. A hard ten weeks, but worth it when you see the results. It makes you examine your own teaching practices — which can only be a positive thing.'


Benefits for students

  • Increase in confidence and self esteem.
  • Demonstration of risk taking.
  • More active participation in daily routines and learning experiences.
  • Increase in verbal responses in whole class and small group situations.
  • Able to initiate conversation in SAE.
  • Increased use of specifically targeted oral SAE structures such as the use of questions, prepositions, greetings and phonological awareness.
  • A more open and inclusive curriculum.
  • Increased interaction between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.
  • Development of social skills.

Teachers' comments

'Having another model of Standard Australian English in the class is invaluable.'

'The obvious enjoyment of the program was always expressed on the children's faces.'

As in previous years, there have also been some wider, long term benefits for Catholic education in the Kimberley with some of the seconded teachers extending their contracts this year and one taking up a permanent position in a remote school in 2001.


Issues

Whilst acknowledging the above successes, it is important to identify and attempt to address any issues that may have affected aspects of the project in an adverse way. Through ongoing discussion and consultation, feedback was gathered throughout the project from all stakeholders involved.


Issues in early childhood practice

Consultants involved in the project, some principals and teachers themselves have identified that much needs improving in terms of early childhood practice. Specific areas targeted by the project continue to prove difficult and problematic.

One of these areas is assessment. Debate over the following assessment issues continues:

  • cultural appropriateness of measurement tools;
  • developmental appropriateness of measurement tools;
  • apparent lack of progress on designated measurement tools;
  • type of data seen as important in order to assess SAE progress;
  • expertise to implement measurement tools; and
  • the initial identification of eligible students is open to teacher interpretation and bias.

Another key area of early childhood practice that raised concerns is developmentally appropriate practice. Serious challenges in this area remain, although much positive progress was made. Solutions to providing the most appropriate learning environment for young children, particularly young Aboriginal children, are not easy to find. The following are issues raised.

  • That the strategies and 'special' activities devised for the Kimberley Literacy Project should be happening anyway in our early childhood classrooms. Comments indicated that some people believed that the project was unable to focus on providing additional support as attention was needed in 'just providing the basics'. This should not be interpreted as teacher incompetence, as many of the teachers are doing their best to cope with the difficulties faced in teaching in the Kimberley.
  • It can be difficult to document and use the students' 'home knowledge'. For example, there is the danger of generalisations being made. In some situations the ATA does not have local knowledge or is not available to make these observations and, once collected, there are many different ways this information can be interpreted and used.
  • The quality, appropriateness and access to relevant resources is an issue that varies significantly across schools. Many teachers in the early childhood area believe they are under-resourced and that there is a general lack of culturally appropriate resources available to their students.
  • The 'ideas book' collated after the 1998 and 1999 Kimberley Literacy Project and presented in draft form to all staff involved in the 2000 project, has not reached a form that makes it useful for the teaching staff.
  • A general concern by some teachers and the consultant staff is the use of the project as an impetus to promote inappropriate practice. This comes about due to the project's focus on the acquisition of SAE and the translation of this by some staff into formal written tasks.

Issues with staff

Various issues arose in relation to classroom teachers, seconded teachers, ATAs, principals and other school staff.

  • The sharing of a seconded teacher between two schools proved problematic due to lack of planning time and inconsistent time spent with students.
  • The lack of knowledge and experience of current ECE theory and practice of some classroom teachers, ATAs and principals is an issue that impacts on making informed decisions about resources, learning programs and many other relevant issues.
  • The qualifications, expertise and experience of the seconded teachers employed was, in some cases, not of the standard needed to address the complex issues faced by the project. The project needed experienced and qualified early childhood educators with some ESL and Aboriginal education experience. Unfortunately, it was difficult to recruit such staff in sufficient numbers for the task.
  • Absenteeism, continual change of, or no, ATA involvement in the project were problems faced in some schools.
  • Many schools have ESL or Literacy Support staff and intervention programs are operating to some extent already.
  • The qualifications and expertise of the support staff is not equal to the challenge despite the best of intentions.
  • Problems faced by the seconded teachers include the time it takes to adapt to their new situation. This includes coping with the difficulties involved in working in a cross-cultural situation, adjusting to the Kimberley environment and climate, and learning 'the ropes' of a new school and classroom structure. These realities impact on the effectiveness of the seconded teacher.
  • Access to quality services such as appropriate accommodation, transport and telephone access were problems faced by some of the seconded teachers.
  • Communication was an issue at some schools. For example, between the principal and teachers or between seconded teacher and class teacher or the ATA.

Issues with the one-term model

The model on which the Kimberley Literacy Project operated in most schools sees a seconded teacher enter the preprimary classroom for a one term intensive program with the eligible students. This, in itself, has raised some problems and issues.

While all teachers report an improvement of some kind in the students' use of SAE, in many cases this is minimal (particularly when measured by the designated assessment tools) and not necessarily ongoing or even maintained once the third term intensive program is over.

The age of the target group has been questioned. As preprimary is not compulsory and should not involve formal instruction, can these children receive optimum benefit from such an intensive program? At this age, students are often shy and reluctant to communicate with a new person (ie, the seconded teacher) and therefore their true abilities may not be reflected.

Another aspect of the short time span meant that many staff felt the focus of the project was too broad and that the expectations were unrealistic. There was a professional development overload as the project attempted to address too much.


Issues with attendance

Attendance has long been identified as an issue in success at school and there has been and continues to be many varied ways of addressing the problem. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to the problem of absenteeism and it has definitely affected the outcomes of the Kimberley Literacy Project.

Many of the eligible students had erratic attendance, long absences or did not attend at all. It is acknowledged that there are many, complex reasons for this. Cultural factors such as funerals and special ceremonies are examples of some these.


Recommendations

It is believed that many of the issues that have risen out of the Kimberley Literacy Project can be addressed by providing a highly structured support system for our early childhood educators. This will include professional development sessions once a term, regular school visits and establishing a network amongst the staff themselves. It will involve a high level of commitment from principals and staff.

It is proposed that stricter selection criteria for the seconded teachers be set and adhered to. We also aim to employ or second experienced staff for longer periods, including the possibility of the whole year.

The differing needs of the schools will be acknowledged. A school-by-school plan is in the process of being mapped out. All ECE staff will be surveyed early next year to assess the varied needs of our staff.

Below are some aspects of the model of support recommended.


Term 1

  • The focus for preprimary staff will be on supporting the establishment of an appropriate learning environment.
  • Review and survey ECE staff needs for the year.
  • Six new preprimary teachers will receive initial PD at the induction week in March. The content will also be forwarded to the other preprimary teachers.
  • An early childhood network to be established at induction to promote exchanging of ideas and support.
  • A further PD session will be offered to all preprimary staff, possibly in regional centres (focus: assessment?).
  • School visits by Literacy Consultant and other support staff will take place.
  • Year 1/2 staff be provided with any relevant information from the above PD.
  • Information from 2000 Kimberley Literacy Project will be 'handed over' to Year 1 teachers and junior primary staff will be surveyed for their needs in 2001. Plans for follow up of eligible students will be made.

Term 2

  • The focus for all preprimary staff will be on Curriculum Framework in ECE and literacy across the curriculum.
  • An ECE seminar for preprimary staff with a focus on curriculum.
  • Framework, art, music, movement, play and the literacy within these areas.
  • A seconded teacher or additional support person enters some preprimary classrooms with a focus on general support in best practice. This involves ensuring that the best possible learning environment is provided for all children, not just those deemed eligible for the Kimberley Literacy Project. It will also help teachers in developing an effective assessment and monitoring process.
  • Ongoing support via visits from consultants.
  • Year 1/2 staff to participate in relevant PD and receive relevant information. It may be possible for the 'seconded teacher' in some schools to be part time in the pre-primary classroom and part time with eligible students from Year 1/2 working on an intensive literacy support program.

Term 3

  • The preprimary focus to continue to be on aspects of good practice in ECE. An emphasis will be on identifying students at risk and a review and sharing of assessment and record keeping methods.
  • A PD session available to all preprimary staff.
  • Ongoing consultant visits.
  • Year 1/2 classrooms to have access to a 'seconded teacher' to work with the eligible students on an intensive SAE program.

Term 4

  • PD and visits available for preprimary staff.
  • Year 1/2 staff to continue to provide for the eligible students within their daily class program.

Professional Development

  • The PD plan needs to be developed further in terms of prioritising content, timing, presenters, etc. This will be done in further consultation with schools and CEO staff.
  • The PD to be offered will come from a variety of sources. It is recommended that highly qualified people be consulted and 'contracted' to deliver the content.
  • Many aspects of the PD will be linked to the whole school literacy plans being developed. With the support of the Literacy Consultant, relevant information will be recorded and made available to the whole school staff as to ensure common understanding.
  • ATAs will have additional access to PD through the ATA seminar.
  • An ESL and Literacy Support Seminar will also take place next year. This will address issues relevant to ECE.
  • Relevant information on good early childhood practice will be presented to principals, including key criteria when employing ECE staff.

Seconding or employing staff for the Kimberley Literacy Project

  • Seconded teachers will not be shared between schools within a term.
  • The role of staff employed or seconded for the Kimberley Literacy Project will vary according to length of employment, qualifications of the employed or seconded teacher and needs of the school involved.

ECE Resources

  • ECE staff will be supported in 'auditing' their school-based resources.
  • Basic guidelines on appropriate resources will be provided to schools.
  • The production of Kimberley-relevant resources will begin at a school based level with ECE staff given time during PD sessions to make resources relevant to their community. This could lead to the involvement of community members, and also the CEO Production unit.
  • Resources and relevant materials for Aboriginal education produced by other states and departments will be researched (eg, NT, Qld and SA).
  • The 'Ideas Book' from 1998-99 Kimberley Literacy Project will be redrafted into a card index file of ideas and information for new Kimberley ECE teachers.
  • Schools participating in the seconded teacher program will provide a suitable budget for consumable resources.

Developmentally and culturally appropriate practice

  • Research be undertaken in the area of investigating and using the students' 'home knowledge' in ECE. This aspect of the project has generated a lot of interest in the field of Aboriginal education.
  • Basic guidelines on ECE in our Kimberley Catholic Schools be established.

Attendance

  • Schools and staff undertake a 'self examination' of the strategies they use to optimise attendance.
  • Kimberley principals or nominated staff exchange views, ideas and suggestions on addressing attendance issues.
  • The school community consultants are given support in addressing this issue with communities in creative ways.
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