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The power of the school network

Monday, August 12, 2019


Being able to read is so much more than just recognising and saying the words on a page.

Children with higher literacy levels, those who can understand and discuss what they read, on average perform better in classroom settings. They generally have higher attendance rates, a greater sense of wellbeing, and more confidence in their abilities.

Pearson has worked in collaboration with a partnership of regional schools in South Australia to improve students’ education and learning through reading and literacy programs.

Read on to learn more about the collaboration and its outcomes.


What is the Murraylands Partnership?

The Murraylands Partnership is made up of 10 primary and secondary schools in regional South Australia. Many of the schools have high numbers of students who have lower literacy rates than the Australian average – and a large amount of these students are Indigenous.

Because around 20 percent of the children at these schools were identified as needing extra help with reading and comprehension, it was clear that an effective intervention strategy was required. Although most of the schools had some type of special reading program, and were getting together for other projects, when it came to literacy each was mainly working in isolation with limited access to resources and support.


What role did Pearson play?

Pearson was brought in as a consultant and facilitator to improve literacy outcomes for Indigenous students at these schools. Our role was also to encourage collaboration between the schools and provide ongoing support.

After carrying out analysis and research, goals were defined and we worked with the leaders of each school to develop the literacy intervention program – known as LLI. Based on their feedback and decisions, we provided tools and strategies to identify at-risk students and improve their reading and comprehension in an effective, measurable way.

Regular sessions were held with the schools to host live demonstrations of the literacy program, followed by open discussions. During the demos – held at a different school each session – people would come and watch an LLI teacher and student run through a literacy lesson. Originally the program was developed to support Indigenous students only, but because of its early success, it was expanded.

“After [the demo] we run through the challenges with the audience and ask for feedback. Each session is always relevant to the group, and all the learnings are what teachers have asked for,” says Angela Farrier, the key account manager at Pearson for the SA literacy program.

Pearson Academy then facilitated product-linked, professional development workshops to ensure fidelity of implementation. The first workshop focussed on BAS, specifically how to conduct the benchmark assessment, how to collate and analyse the results, and how to group students based on their assessments. The second workshop focussed on LLI, and how to accelerate students’ literacy skills through targeted intervention. Pearson Academy also provided interim and follow up support to the participating teachers.

It’s as much about empowering teachers, as it is about teaching them how to use the literacy tools. “It was so great to see different people administering LLI as we all have a different teaching style and dynamic and behaviours of students,” writes a teacher from Murray Bridge South in survey feedback. “Getting together as a cluster to see how other schools are going will be beneficial as we can learn so much from other teachers.”


How do we measure success?

No one can argue that the tools (the books and teaching strategies) used in the program aren’t powerful – Farrier says they’re backed by 30 years of evidence and research in the US – but what the program seems to really boil down to is ongoing support and collaboration.

“It’s very helpful, particularly for student support officers (SSOs) who come away with more confidence,” says Farrier about the collaborative nature of the program. “By coming together in a session, they understand they’re on the right track, or they see what needs to change.”

Implementing a program like this also needs many different people working towards success together. It takes school leaders (principals and deputies) to find time and space in timetables. It takes teachers to be supportive of students taking time out of class. It takes the support teachers and other helpers learning how to carry out lessons effectively. It takes parents to get those students to school, and to help with their extra homework.


Has the program been successful?

While the hard data and statistics are still being collated, anecdotal feedback and evidence collected from the schools points towards positive outcomes. One of Farrier’s favourite stories involves a seven-year-old Indigenous girl from Fraser Park Primary School. This student stood up in front of a whole audience of teachers, parents and students and shared her experience of the lessons:


“She had never wanted to go to school and was always in trouble. She was popped into [the program] and within three terms had turned herself around. The principal of the school’s words were, ‘She now talks the language of learning.’ She learns. She knows she’s a learner...

She stood up and said she now has friends, she wants to go to school – her whole outlook and wellbeing has changed. Hearing her say that, standing up in front of everyone, was really empowering. Every student can learn, it’s about giving them a chance. In a bigger class it’s hard, but in a small group of three, that kid can learn. She progressed in a short period of time, and now there’s no need for the extra help. Now she goes into the class and she can read books just like everyone else. She has strategies now – she’s a learner.”


Because it’s not just about teaching students how to read words on a page. It’s about changing the way they approach learning – fostering a growth mindset over a closed one. A teacher at Murray Bridge High whose students gained a full year of growth in literacy in approximately 11 weeks had this to say in survey feedback:

“One of the largest benefits of the program is the confidence that the students gained for school work in general. Several teachers have reported to me a new willingness of students who have completed the program to have a go with tasks that have challenging literacy components that previously may not have been attempted. I believe this is due to not only to an improvement in literacy but also the way the program is structured affords the students to have a great deal of success, which for some may not have come that often.”

This is the type of growth that spills over into all areas of students’ lives. “The wellbeing of the students has risen,” says Farrier. “While reading levels may not go up straight away, accuracy is improving, attendance is improving, outlook on life is improving. It’s all good.”

Rita O'Brien (principal) at Mypolonga Primary School used LLI to support the wider school cohort. The way the LLI lessons are scripted has even supported the staff to learn new skills: “In transferring LLI into the mainstream we have observed that teachers are learning how to teach Guided Reading quite effortlessly. They are now transferring those strategies when unpacking texts in other learning areas such as History. We call it ‘Guided Reading for Dummies!


Are you a school teacher or administrator keen to get involved in a program like this? Speak to your local Pearson Education Consultant.

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