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How to Set Up your Literacy Practice for Success in 2024

8 Top Tips To Implement

When I was in Year 5 and 6, I’d spend several days in my classroom before the beginning of the school year to set up a welcoming, nurturing and encouraging learning space. This meant many shifts of the furniture, reshuffling some of the displays and posters, moving the student conference table several times before finally deciding where it belonged, and choosing a place to house our class library, with books scattered around the classroom, centred around our Inquiry Unit! 

In order for me to feel ready and organised for the year ahead, and before I could even think of setting up my literacy practice, I couldn’t focus or concentrate until the classroom was ready to go…well at least after several attempts of trying to ‘get it right!’ 

Once this was ready to go (the Monica Geller in me!), I could shift my focus on setting up my literacy practice for success for the year ahead. My literacy practice was very much informed by our Unit of Inquiry which supported the content, ideas and themes for the direction of the teaching across all learning areas. This was not to take away from the reading, writing, speaking and listening skills which needed to be taught, but shaped the content. 

Here are some of the things I found most valuable and useful:

1.Know your students, first as children, then as students

  • How do we come to know the students in our classroom? We ask deep, meaningful and genuine questions. From a very Inquiry-based approach, we become curious and we seek to understand their stories.

  • This doesn’t mean we only rely on the handover notes from the previous year’s teacher or all of the documents on file, but we spend time getting to know them (their interests and hobbies, which will also shape their reading and writing), we watch them interact with their peers and we take a ‘bird’s eye view’ to observe them socially and emotionally…then academically. 

2. Student Voice and Choice

  • As much as students need direction and guidance, to establish rapport, and to build solid and respectful relationships, they also need opportunities to contribute their thoughts and ideas.

  • Students need to have some ownership over their learning. Just like the relationship between coach (me!) and coachee (you!), the relationship between teacher and student is based on mutual respect, not control, and with clear expectations around boundaries.

  • Support the students in having choice around their speaking opportunities, how and when they contribute to discussions, their reading material and content, along with choice about their writing topics…when necessary.

3. Book Selection

  • Whatever name you give to students selecting their own novel for independent reading and literature analysis, and however you do that (I’ve always used the 5-finger test and my anecdotal evidence has proved this successful after 7 years), this sets up the basis of a ‘third teacher’ or ‘mentor text’ for the students, from both a reading perspective and a writing one.

  • Students draw on this text to improve their oral language, their reading skills, comprehension skills, and their writing skills.

  • Having students see examples of quality literature within a text which is significant and accessible to them makes all the difference to their outcomes and your literacy practice. It will take some time setting this up, especially with a few visits to the library, but it’s worth it for the remainder of the year! 

  • Ensure your classroom has a selection of books (perhaps a class library) with a range of genres, authors, series and genres.

  • Displaying a range of books relating to another learning area, for example, an Inquiry Unit, means students can establish even more of their background knowledge, hone in on an area of interest and use these books for research to build the field.

4.Literacy Learning Goals

  • After independently or collectively analysing student data, support the students in analysing their own data to create student-centred goals. This will inevitably guide and direct your teaching practice. Hattie measured an effect size of 0.68 between set learning goals and no learning goals.

  • Evaluate student data WITH the students; take the time to show them their successes and celebrate these with them. Ensure they’re aware of their ‘next steps’, so that they can set meaningful, achievable and practical goals in their learning. Literacy learning goals need to be in student friendly language, visible and maintained. I love Lyn Sharratt’s approach to ‘Putting Faces on the Data’ and I used this with student goal setting- student school photos next to their written displayed goal! This then becomes the foundation and purpose for feedback. 

  • Lyn Sharratt uses ‘The 5 Questions’ which students answer about their learning. In terms of goal setting, think about students being able to respond to ‘How did you go?’ and ‘How can you improve?’ when establishing learning goals based on literacy skills.

5.Know Your Content and Build Your Capacity

  • My first jump up to Year 5/6 was with an Enrichment Class, where the students were performing at a higher than expected level across all areas of the English Curriculum.

  • I was out of my depth and had no idea where to start with the Year 5 and Year 6 curriculum, let alone looking at Year 7 and Year 8! So I asked my literacy leader at the time for support and guidance, and she spent time with me IN my classroom. Not long after that, I received Instructional Coaching due to a pilot program in which my school was involved.

  • And as you know, the Instructional Coach transformed my literacy practice (which is why I created The Instructional Literacy Coaching Program to help you transform yours too!). I became more familiar and comfortable with the curriculum and content, and I built my capacity to teach reading, writing, speaking and listening confidently and consistently.

6. The ‘Third Teacher’

  • Having a ‘third teacher’ in the room is imperative to the success of student outcomes and your literacy practice. Visuals, visuals, visuals! 

  • Students need a reference point for them to work towards success and in order for them to ‘see’ what success looks like.

  • This can include bump it- up walls, student examples of learning on display, co-constructing posters, and analysing and annotating mentor examples of learning during the modelling or shared phase.

  • Students are supported with a bit of a ‘guide’ when it comes time for them to learn independently following the release of responsibility. This is where Lyn’s ‘Where do you go for help?’ question is answered.

7. Recording Evidence of Learning

  • Keep track of student results, scores, grades and outcomes in an organised and strategic way. For me, I double handled (not so time savvy!), but in my ‘teacher writing’, I would always take notes in my anecdotal hard copy book, so old school, but it worked for me! 

  • Another practical way for me to record student data was to use checklists, and I loveeeed checklists! I still do!

  • Literacy focus at the top, class list down the left hand side, and I’d often have little keys to tell me how a student was tracking. 

  • We used a Data Spreadsheet I created to record P-6 literacy data which was visible and readily accessible for all teachers to own the data collectively. Having this where everyone owns the data was a game changer.

8. Post-It Notes

  • Need I say more?! 

Taking the time to set up your literacy practice at the beginning of the year will support you in feeling comfortable and confident for the remainder of the year. As a reflective practitioner, there may be things that need tweaking as the year progresses, but having these solid foundations as a place to start will set you up for success...and your students!

Amanda 😊

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