Friday, May 2, 2008

Indigenous students making literacy progress

A new literacy program introduced by the West Australian government has led to significant literacy gains for indigenous students in 42 remote communities at Kiwirrkurra in the Gibson Desert. The key seems to be straight forward – mandate that teachers spend the first two hours of the day to guided reading, guided writing and word games. As I discussed in a previous post, time on task is important for success in anything. One of the most basic insights from literacy research in the 1960s and 1970s was the repeated observation by researchers like the late Dame Marie Clay in New Zealand and Richard Allington in the USA that struggling readers read less than successful readers.

Paige Taylor reports in the Australian Newspaper that "The literacy of children at Kiwirrkurra in the Gibson Desert, 700km west of Alice Springs, was so poor four years ago that only a handful had the reading and writing skills to attempt the West Australian Government's annual written literacy exam for all students in Years 3, 5 and 7. Of those who sat the test, not one met the national benchmarks."

Mitchell Drage, is a Pinikura-Thudgara man and is one of the few indigenous school principals in Australia. He reports, "Their progress really has been incredible." Mr Drage suggests that community support for the school at Kiwirrkurra has been the key and he credits the encouragement of community leader Jimmy Brown - a Lutheran pastor who speaks nine Aboriginal dialects - for the children's interest in school. Mr Brown's approach is simple: "I tell them school is good and they come by themselves, they don't have to be told."

The Department of Education and Training's analysis of the strategy shows that, since its introduction, 70 per cent of Aboriginal students in remote West Australian schools have demonstrated moderate to very high improvement in their reading standards. In 2007, 66% of Year 3 students in remote communities achieved state reading benchmarks compared to 48% in 2005. For Year 5, the gains were from 31% (2005) to 42% (2007).

The Australian report can be read in full here.

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