JIS News

Eleven-year old Tanya English (not her real name) is a top student at Rousseau Primary School in St. Andrew.
Not only did she achieve mastery of over 85 per cent in the 2009 Grade Four Literacy Test, but she is also on the school’s honour roll, based on her excellent overall academic performance.
One would hardly believe that up to a few years ago, this outstanding grade five student was reading below her grade level. “I could not read write or spell properly,” Tanya recalls, noting that she was unable to perform basic tasks in class.
Thanks to the Ministry of Education’s literacy programme, which entails the placement of literacy specialists in school, among other things, Tanya is now on a path to achieving her full potential.
“She had a problem with the comprehension and the writing of letters. but because of this intervention, Tanya was able to master the writing and the comprehension, as well as the word recognition sections of the Grade Four Literacy Test,” says Librarian and School-based Literacy Co-ordinator at Rousseau Primary, Ingrid Rose. “She is doing well in her class,” she adds.
Tanya tells JIS News that the literacy programme helped her “because I didn’t know how to read, write or spell properly and I am more confident now.”
The school’s literacy programme, introduced in 2008, involved pulling students from their regular classes, where they receive special attention from the literacy specialists in areas of reading and comprehension.
“We recognised that there were some children performing below the grade four level so what we do is to pull students from grades three and four and we have seen where these students have started to read,” Miss Rose says.
She notes that the literacy specialists introduce and reinforce strategies that the teachers could use to improve comprehension and writing skills. “These are the areas where the children would fall down in and we have seen an improvement in that,” she states.
And, the success is being seen in the Grade Four Test, where mastery moved from 50 per cent between 2007 and 2008 to 75 per cent last year. “So, we have really seen improvements,” she says. She notes that while some students are still not at the level where they can pass an exam, “you can see where they have shown improvements and certain skills that they didn’t have before they can do it now.”
Cluster-based Literacy Specialist for Region One, Allecia Lindsay, informs that the strategy used at Rousseau Primary and other schools in the region, focuses on the cognitive and social development of students.
“In terms of their cognitive development, we focus on key areas of literacy, particularly reading and writing, listening, speaking, and we try to use strategies that will get them engaged. Presently, we are using writing workshops where the students are pulled, whether individually or in groups, and we work with them in small conferences as they go through the writing process,” she explains.
One innovation strategy being employed to improve writing skills is an interschool pen pal programme.
“In this programme the literacy specialist acts as a postmaster and so we have two or three schools exchanging letters and the specialist would take the letters from one school to another. The students get a chance to write letters based on what they want to write about. The topics are not assigned but are self-selected,” Mrs. Lindsay notes.
As it relates to comprehension, an area of the Grade Four Test where students fall short, the Cluster-based Literacy Specialist informs that a “directed reading thinking approach” is being employed to improve outcomes.
“In this approach, we get students to predict (what will happen), before they start reading the text .because during the prediction, they get a chance to recognise that what they have to say is of value.
“We then go into the text and use the ‘read aloud or echo reading method’. to get them engaged and then they would go back to confirm, revise or modify their predictions. We also use the question and answer relationship or the think aloud strategy and these also help with the listening and speaking skills,” she explains.
Mrs. Lindsay tells JIS News that the programme is reaping success in the education region. “We have seen improvements especially in the comprehension area of the Grade Four Literacy Test. In the recent resits, when we look at individual grades of the students, we see that their comprehension has improved. We are finding that the students writing have improved across the grades,” she boasts.
She notes, for example, that many students, who were not able to write letters, can now do so.
“When they are asked to do that, a lot of the students would maybe just write down the instructions. Now, we have students, who at least understand the form of the letter and what is supposed to be placed in the letter and so we see improvements. It’s not that all the students have improved but we have seen great improvement,” Mrs. Lindsay emphasises.
In the meantime, with the 2010 Grade Four Literacy Test less than a month away, the Cluster-based Specialist says that more needs to be done to assist those students, who are really struggling.
“There are students, who we know are ready, but I don’t want it to be just about those who we know will perform. We want more emphasis to be placed on the students who are really struggling to just give them the help now rather than wait until they get to grade five or six,” she states.
Mrs. Lindsay, who has been a literacy specialist since 2003, is also appealing to parents to send their children to school every day and assist them with assignments, noting that it is only by attending classes that they will receive the assistance they need.
She also urged teachers to employ the strategies suggested by the literacy specialist.
“I am asking that the strategies that have been suggested by the literacy specialists, the resources that have been given or suggested to be used, that we use them particularly at this time with those students, who we know are struggling, and need to be helped. Let us not let another student fall through the cracks because we did not do our part,” she urged.
Since 2007, the Ministry of Education has developed and implemented a National Literacy Strategy aimed at raising students’ performance in literacy to optimal levels. The move is part of a thrust to achieve 100 per cent literacy by 2015. Under the initiative, low-performing schools gain the expertise of literacy specialists, who work closely with school leaders, teachers and students to identify particular challenges and individual student needs, in order to develop programmes and address deficits.
The schools that are doing reasonably well also benefit from literacy enrichment activities through the assistance given by regional literacy coordinators and territorial education officers. Teachers are also supported through job-embedded professional development, which focuses on reading, diagnosis, developing customised intervention programmes, establishing a print-rich classroom environment, and selecting and utilising material, with sensitivity given to gender issues.