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The professional learning program

Teachers' professional learning

In the first stage of the project all teachers rapidly learnt to use the strategies for classroom interaction, and all reported an unprecedented level of engagement by all students in their classes. In the next stage all teachers began to plan their own lessons, selecting and analysing texts in the curriculum. This practice enabled them to take on high level skills in discourse analysis in the third workshop, and their mastery of these skills was clearly demonstrated in the final workshop, as they had no difficulty analysing samples of students’ writing using the discourse analysis tools.

The first major change in practice that teachers reported was to engage all students, using the Reading to Learn preparation strategies to enable all students to respond successfully in classroom interaction. Teachers were also asked to video their lessons and these videos were discussed during school visits by project consultants and in the second training workshop.

All teachers reported an unprecedented level of engagement by all students in their classes. However it was reported that some students in some classes were at times still not effectively engaged. In discussion this was attributed by the teachers to four main factors:

  • failure to adequately affirm and praise students for successful responses
  • failure to adequately extend students through elaboration moves
  • selection of texts that were not sufficiently challenging to keep students engaged
  • habituated resistance by a few students to classroom interaction and challenging tasks.

These problems were largely overcome as teachers skills developed. However one response to behaviour problems by some students in a ‘low ability’ class, was to lower the level of texts used for reading and writing. This is a universal response by teachers in ‘low ability’ classes, and in Aboriginal education in particular, to behaviour problems arising from challenging tasks. In this case it was clearly demonstrated to be an ineffective response. The teachers decided instead that a more effective approach was to maintain the high level of text, but to more quickly cycle through activities of reading and writing, by focusing on shorter passages at a time.

Teachers began the project with a broad intuitive understanding of the language demands and genres of the English curriculum, but with little systematic knowledge of the language demands and how to teach them. They were introduced to tools for selecting and analysing texts to plan lessons in a series of steps.

In the first workshop, teachers were provided with detailed lesson plans for reading and writing a range of stories at middle school levels. They first practised using these in the workshop, discussing the language patterns that were focused on in the lesson plans, and how to discuss these with their students. In the second workshop, teachers were introduced to some general tools for systematically selecting and analysing texts in the curriculum. The approach was first demonstrated with a range of texts, and teachers were rapidly able to independently begin identifying genres and analysing phases. In the third workshop, teachers were introduced to a set of high level tools for systematically identifying the language features of texts to focus on in teaching reading and writing. In the final workshop, teachers were introduced to a set of tools for analysing students’ writing, using the discourse analysis tools introduced in the previous workshop. Teachers had no trouble using these tools to practise analysing samples of students writing in the workshop.

This sequence of development in teachers knowledge about texts and language, and skills in selecting and analysing texts, demonstrated that:

  • subject teachers generally have a strong intuitive understanding of the genres and language demands of their subject areas
  • English teachers generally have no resistance to explicitly analysing the language patterns of texts in the English curriculum, and using these analyses in their teaching
  • the most effective approach to developing teachers’ knowledge and skills with language analysis is to start with their intuitive understandings, and then to make these understandings conscious and systematic
  • a scaffolding approach of demonstration with curriculum texts, supported practice in workshops, and independent practice in the school, enables teachers to rapidly develop a high level of professional skills in selecting and analysing texts.
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These materials are provided for research purposes and may contain opinions that are not shared by the Board of Studies NSW.