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Improved reading and writing in Mangere and Otara

8 November 2001 Media Statement

Improved reading and writing levels achieved by children in Mangere and Otara

A new research report showing a stunning boost to reading and writing levels among six-year-olds in Mangere and Otara schools gives a boost to Government programmes to improve the quality of education.

Trevor Mallard was launching the research report Picking up the Pace based on professional development work among teachers at fifteen schools and a range of early childhood centres in Mangere and Otara.

The research shows that reading and writing levels have improved so much that the lowest achieving students have reached the same levels as those that were once being achieved by the highest achieving students in schools.

“These children are now reading and writing at close to the levels achieved by six-year-olds across the country and that’s a great achievement,” Trevor Mallard said.

“The exciting results from this work show that reducing disparity is possible with a combined development approach between academics, early childhood education centres, schools, communities, and the Ministry of Education.

“That’s a really positive reinforcement to a lot of the work the Government is doing to give all New Zealand opportunities for excellence.

“For example, there is a strong push to increase the number of children taking part in early childhood education and we have increased the number of resource teachers of literacy around the country. The Government is committed to comprehensive professional development for teachers and principals.”

Results from eight schools are reported on in today’s research report, which looks at a programme run by Professor Stuart McNaughton and Dr Gwenneth Phillips. The interventions were based on two general approaches. In early childhood settings, they focused on teaching in literacy and language activities. In schools, they were directed towards changing beliefs about language, learning and literacy. Instruction then became personalised, and based on a detailed knowledge of the child’s progress.

Trevor Mallard said he was thrilled that a professional development project which was producing such positive results was continuing.

“The research being conducted in tandem with the work means that other schools and teachers can share what has been learned from this initiative,” he said.


Executive summary attached.

The full copy of the report is available at: www.minedu.govt.nz (from 5.00pm)


Picking up the Pace

Effective literacy interventions
for accelerated progress over the transition
into decile 1 schools


Gwenneth Phillips

Stuart McNaughton

Shelley MacDonald

Executive Summary

This is a report about researching effective ways of supporting literacy development for children (up to 90% of whom are Maori and Pacific Islands children) in communities served by decile 1 schools in Otara and Mangere. New Zealand research indicates that children in these schools, compared with national patterns have low achievement in conventional school literacy on entry to school and this initial disparity in reading and writing continues throughout their schooling.

While aspects of mainstream programmes in general work well for most New Zealand children, current programmes do not address the need for early and accelerated learning to enable children in low decile schools to achieve within a range expected for their age. Achieving this was the general aim of the interventions reported here.

The research asked two questions. Firstly, what are the separate and combined effects on children’s achievement of providing professional development to teachers in early childhood centres (N=37) and to teachers of children in their first year of schooling (N=73)? Secondly, through the provision of professional development for these teachers can an increased number of children in decile 1 schools achieve at levels expected for their age at school entry and after their first year at school at age six? The design followed and compared different groups of children (with and without the intervention) at six-monthly intervals from 4,6 years to 6,0 years (a total of 415 children). Two interventions are reported and their focus was on learning, language and literacy over the six months before school in early childhood centres and during the first year at school.

The interventions were based on two general approaches. The early childhood intervention aimed to enhance children’s literacy development by focusing on teaching in literacy and language activities in early childhood centres, thereby building continuity in literacy development across settings. The primary intervention was directed toward changing teacher’s beliefs about language, learning and literacy and focussed on intensive teaching to help teachers and children manage the mismatches that occur during early literacy instruction. Both interventions, which took the form of professional development for teachers, were underpinned by a co construction view of learning and literacy as social practices.

The early childhood intervention showed that by further focusing on literacy and language activities within the current practices in centres associated with decile 1 schools school-related literacy and language could be enhanced. Different types of centres (N= 15) were represented. As a result of the early childhood professional development children at 5,0 years showed statistically and educationally significant higher achievement on school-related literacy and expressive and receptive English language measures, compared with other children who had been in early childhood centres before the teachers had the professional development. On entry to school the children were close to expected levels in concepts about print and exceeded expected levels in a story retelling task. The results were replicated across three phases. The intervention was generally as effective for Maori as it was for Pacific Islands children. The data for children whose home language was not English and for those in the Pasifika Language Group centres raise issues about the need for research into and assessment of bilingual and biliteracy development.

The primary intervention with 73 teachers from 12 primary schools was also shown to be very effective in terms of children’s accelerated progress. Compared with baseline groups significant gains, both statistically and educationally, were achieved across a broad range of literacy measures, both at 5,6 years and continuing to 6,0 years. The robustness of the effects was ascertained by a quasi-experimental design and replication across three phases and most schools. Teachers were able to accelerate the progress of these decile 1 children despite low entry profiles in components of school literacy and English language. Broad effects across all components of literacy measured including the reading of continuous text were achieved thus avoiding the specificity of effects found in other interventions. An increased number of students achieved in the average range expected for their age at 6,0 years and the high risk of underachievement in schools at baseline was greatly reduced. The professional development was also shown to be very effective when set alongside a standard for effect sizes derived from other interventions. Class size (combined with the professional development) was shown to be associated with achievement. In summary, the primary intervention was associated with substantial gains for children in literacy after a year at school.

The primary intervention also had a powerful effect in changing teachers’ attitudes, expectations and understandings about literacy acquisition during the first year of schooling. Teachers’ indicated that they had learned to teach for early strategies and to observe and respond to children’s behaviours in a more specific and focussed way. With increased effectiveness the teachers also became more confident in accepting the responsibility for student achievement.

Those children who had been in the early childhood centres receiving the intervention and who went into schools that had received the primary intervention, experienced a combined intervention. Some of the differences apparent at 5,0 years, between those who were and those who were not involved in the early childhood intervention, were still there at 5,6 years when compared with children who had had the primary intervention only. However, at 6,0 years significant gains were confined to concepts about print and there were no differences in the reading of continuous text and writing measures. The language measures for which there had been marked effects were not used at 6,0 years. This pattern of results was replicated across phases. The result suggest that there were some advantages to the combined intervention but that these were limited to areas where the early childhood intervention had had a marked effect.

A second comparison demonstrated that when children from the early childhood intervention went into classrooms without the primary professional development, their continuing progress was very similar to the group who went into classrooms with the primary intervention. This suggests that their increased expertise at entry may have allowed them to engage more effectively with a range of different programmes, or alternatively, that the teachers in some way were more able to pick up on the expertise that they had now gained.

In general, the interventions show that low progress in decile 1 schools in Otara and Mangere is neither inevitable nor immutable. They demonstrate that it is possible for educators in early childhood and primary classroom settings to ‘pick up the pace’ of teaching and learning to enable children in low decile schools to make accelerated progress in school reading and writing. Their achievement at the end of the first year of school can be like any other child in New Zealand at 6,0 years.

The descriptions of these interventions and their underlying frameworks included in the report add to the pool of research both local and international on the effective teaching of early literacy and language within communities with diverse culture and language. In addition the theoretical base adopted offers a basis for understanding the acquisition processes for these children. The results of the interventions not only provide a demonstration of effective practice but also give a vision of what is possible.

The report concludes by noting several implications. These include the need for further professional development in those Pacific Islands language group centres which were not involved and the assessment of children’s bilingual and biliteracy development. Further professional development in primary schools is needed to sustain gains made through the first year intervention, and smaller class sizes are of importance for effective teaching in year one. Children must be followed over time to ascertain long-term effects of the interventions.

ENDS

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