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Strategic alignment for 21st century literacies.

There is no doubt that the middle phase of learning is characterised by the necessity for teachers to plan for student engagement and to acknowledge that society has redefined 'literacy.' While there is policy support for this statement (Ministerial Council for Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 1997; Education Queensland, 2000; The State of Queensland, 2000), the question remains: How do schools provide meaningful and cohesive approaches to student-centred literacy learning and teaching underpinned by both research and systemic demands?

In Queensland, we are currently asking whether state schools can implement a literacy plan that encompasses:

* An alignment with the Queensland Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting (QCAR) Essential Learnings and Standards (for more detail see http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/assessment/3160.html);

* A review of school data to identify student literacy trends;

* The development of a professional learning community where 21st century literacy practices are discussed, understood and reflected upon; and

* Relevant, engaging contexts for young adolescents to investigate.

Strategic leadership and futures thinking will be necessary prerequisites if these initiatives are to be successful.

Alignment with the QCAR Essential Learnings and Standards

In 2008, staff at Education Queensland schools are embarking on an audit of their current curriculum plans against the QCAR Essential Learnings and Standards. This audit will establish a curriculum profile for improving the learning outcomes of students, with administrators and teachers considering the alignment of their current programs against both the knowledges and understandings and the ways of working included in the QCAR Essential Learnings. They will also assess the accessibility, credibility, authenticity and intellectual quality of the curriculum offerings for each cohort of students within the school.

Teacher professional development needs will be identified in this audit and school curriculum goals or strategic directions will be set. The task of administrators will be to keep their school communities informed of any new curriculum reforms, policy initiatives and research aligned to the curriculum needs identified in the audit.

Reviewing of school data to identify student literacy trends

Schools are also being encouraged to reflect on all student achievement data to highlight school and student trends, and to recognise the value of school forums or professional learning communities where teachers share and determine pedagogical approaches that will enhance student achievement. These forums can also support whole school professional development plans.

A whole school commitment to reviewing and acting on multiple sets of trend data has the potential to improve student outcomes in literacy at the whole school, juncture (e.g. at year 3, 5, 7 and 9) and individual student levels. A whole school literacy improvement plan can then target identified gaps in student literacy learning. Such strategic direction provides a focus for planning and assessment practices. Teachers also gain collegial support if they collaboratively monitor and plan for improved student outcomes in literacy by documenting and reviewing individual student learning plans and discussing these at regular support group meetings. Some schools schedule these meetings on a weekly basis, while others schedule them as the need arises.

The QCAR curriculum reform is supported by current research and literature (Department of Education and the Arts, 2005, also available at http://education. qld.gov.au/qcar) and highlights the benefits of using a wide range of assessment tools when planning. Offering students access to multiple modes through which to demonstrate their learning caters for all learners and assists both literacy development and the students' ability to demonstrate their learning.

Development of a professional learning community

Even in this age of great technological advancement, dialogue is still a powerful tool that broadens and deepens teachers' understandings (McTighe, 2008). Schools that embark on peer sharing of effective pedagogical practices that are supportive of improving literacy outcomes for diverse student groups are utilising extremely powerful professional development. This peer sharing is epitomised in the practices of moderation and collaborative planning.

Moderation, which is also a useful strategy for enhancing teachers' professional development, can create a professional culture where pedagogical beliefs, knowledge and understandings can be expressed, developed, reflected and nurtured within a safe environment. By participating in moderation, teachers view students' work and critically examine its standard. They develop expert knowledge in analysing student work samples and matching them to standards descriptors. Moderation can provide deep learning experiences for teachers about quality teaching practices. It connects educators and ideas across year levels, sectors, schools and districts.

Collaborative planning also promotes collegiality. It is a process where teachers take time to collaboratively plan units of work. This sharing of pedagogy, curriculum and assessment planning often leads to new insights, to deeper knowledge and understanding and, ultimately, to improved classroom practices. Collaborative planning enables schools to promote professional dialogue and is aimed at advancing teachers' initial stages of knowledge and quality of planning to a deeper level.

Creating relevant and engaging contexts

The QCAR Essential Learnings offer a core of learning to be covered with students. Schools are encouraged to use the pedagogical teaching approaches in the QCAR 'ways of working' to support and challenge students' identified learning needs and interests. Schools are free to select contexts and the multimodal resources that best support and engage students. Students are encouraged to take increased responsibility for their learning as they justify their findings and reflect on past and future learning opportunities. This increase in learning ownership leads to higher engagement levels and intrinsic motivation for learning (Pendergast, 2006).

The use of meaningful curriculum contexts supports literacy development. Literacy development must be seen as integral to quality curriculum practice (Luke & Carrington, 2002). Teachers must also ensure each student has a clear understanding of the curriculum intent and the assessment demands. Explicit support and scaffolding of the literacy demands of the task enhances engagement and literacy development. Feedback is also vital to the teaching-learning process, as it promotes reflection.

With new technologies helping to shape literacies, The QCAR Essential learnings work to provide teachers with extensive opportunities to foster reading, writing, speaking and listening in more diverse and participatory contexts. Effective instruction in 21st century literacies should focus on helping students understand how to decode many types of texts and to access, evaluate and synthesise information (Kalantzis & Cope, 2005). Digital technologies are providing opportunities for multiple learning pathways and new forms of support for students. Consequently new assessment practices such as online journals, photo stories, web pages and digital photography are consistent with, and required by, current contexts.

Conclusion

The Queensland Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Framework is Queensland's approach to providing schools with strategic futures orientated research and an 'uncluttered curriculum.' The 21st century has demanded that we redefine the definition of literacy and have the foresight to utilise the digital age in our education programs. Our best hope at improving student literacy performance in the middle years is through whole school communication, collaboration, professional development and a commitment to providing engaging relevant programs for learning. Ultimately, significant and sustained literacy improvement will be enhanced by school strategic leadership that values new pedagogies and new technologies.

References

Department of Education and the Arts. (2005). Background, rationale and specifications: Queensland Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Framework. Brisbane: Author.

Education Queensland. (2000). Queensland State Education 2010. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: Author.

Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B (2005). Learning by Design. Melbourne: Common Ground Publishers.

Luke, A. & Carrington, V. (2002). Globalization, literacy, curriculum practice. In R. Fisher, M. Lewis & G. Brooks (Eds). Language and literacy in action. London: Routledge/Falmer.

McTighe, J. (2008). Making the Most of Professional Learning Communities. The Learning Principal, 3(8), online journal available at National Staff Development Council http:// www.nsdc.org/publications/issueDetails.cfm?issueID=236

Ministerial Council for Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA). (1997). Improving the Literacy and Numeracy Skills of Young Australians: A National Plan. Canberra: DEETYA.

Pendergast, D. (2006). Fast-tracking middle schooling reform: A model for the integrated curriculum. Australian Journal of Middle Schooling, 6(2), 13-18.

The State of Queensland. (2000). Literate futures report of the literacy review for Queensland State Schools. Brisbane, QLD, Australia: Education Queensland.

Susan Brown | Education Queensland
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Title Annotation:enhancing literacy programs in state schools
Author:Brown, Susan
Publication:Literacy Learning: The Middle Years
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Words:1331
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