07 Working collaboratively to improve children’s reading as they transition to school

ERO’s 2015 report, Educationally powerful connections with parents and whānau, found that the best examples of educationally powerful connections with parents and whänau were learning-centred collaborations focused on the students’ learning and progress. In the best instances, leaders and teaches removed the separation between home and classroom learning experiences.

Teachers at SELWYN RIDGE SCHOOL identified the need to work more closely with parents to improve the achievement of children in Year 1.

They had completed a review of their actions for Year 1 students and had a board trustee involved in their review to gain some parent perspectives.

Teachers improved their partnerships with parents. They also made changes to make sure children better understood the reading strategies to use and knew when they had mastered them.

This narrative shares their recent changes that promote an increased urgency for Year 1 children’s early success.

Selwyn Ridge School is arranged in three vertically grouped teams where each team had classes from Years 1 to 6. New entrant children start school in one of the three teams.

The majority of children in the school were successful readers by the end of Year 2 through to the end of Year 6. However, in 2014, analysis of the achievement data from all the Year 1 classes revealed many children were below expectation by the end of their first year at school. Subsequently, they needed to catch up in Year 2 or later. Leaders and teachers had not expected this as many children had attended an early learning service (ELS) and the school was in a high social-economic community. Previously, the school had consistently high results across the year levels.

A team leader formed a review team to inquire into the possible reasons that might have contributed to the Year 1 results. The review team included a board trustee, Year 1 teachers, and their Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB). They identified two key areas to improve. The first related to their relationships with parents and transition to school processes. The parents wanted to be more involved but didn’t know how they could be. The school also identified a lack of urgency for children to progress. Teachers reviewed the amount of time given for all children to develop early literacy through play to carefully balance this with more formal reading instruction. They wanted to make sure their programme responded to and built on every child’s previous literacy learning.

Transition and working with parents

Feedback from parents identified that some children needed more transition support than others. After becoming aware of these issues, the teachers immediately changed their transition activities to respond better to those that needed extra support. In some cases, teachers engaged with a child and their parents and whānau for the whole school term before the child started school. Leaders and teachers also introduced new practices that included the following:

  • Teachers visited the child’s ELS a term before the child started
  • Leaders reviewed and improved the transition letter and information they sent to parents to include more information about who was at the school, maps and activities information
  • Year 1 classes were set up to have play alongside formal learning to help children transition to school.

Their main change however, was to involve parents in their children’s learning more, during and after the transition. Leaders recognised that to grow learner-focused relationships with parents and whänau they had to work with them more regularly. They wanted to take more opportunities to hear and respond to the parents’ opinions about their child’s interests, strengths and needs. They began to meet with parents to hear about and share their child’s strengths, interests, achievement, progress, goals and next steps throughout the year.

“We wanted to take a more strengths-based approach where we focused on what the child could do rather than what might be missing. So we started new sharing information sessions with parents that now happen every 10 weeks for the first 40 weeks the child is at school.”

Leader

Teachers completed more comprehensive assessments. Ongoing 10 weekly assessments were introduced to determine the child’s progress with alphabet knowledge, concepts about print, writing vocabulary, and their current maths strategy stage. They also undertook initial testing of oral language and some of the child’s physical skills. These assessments were shared during each of the 10 weekly learning-focused meeting with parents. As part of these sharing discussions, they also reviewed previous goals and set new goals together. Teachers shared what they were focusing on at school, how the child was responding and what they would do next. Parents shared information about what learning and other things were happening at home and what they could do in the future. If resources were needed for any at home activities, the teacher provided them.

Increasing the urgency for children to progress

Teachers also wanted to make sure they had clear expectations about changes for their own teaching. They agreed to give children a greater sense of purpose by making sure children knew more about what they were trying to achieve and when they had achieved their goals. They wanted to develop children’s awareness of the knowledge and skills they were acquiring in their literacy activities. Teachers also aimed to extend opportunities for children to celebrate what they were achieving. They trialled ways of introducing goals and self-reflection activities for children in each of the Year 1 classes.

We observed reading and writing lessons in Year 1 classes and saw children highly focused on their goals. The classrooms had displays featuring the goals children were currently focused on. Teachers and children frequently referred to these goals.

This is a photo of the reading goals displayed prominently on the wall

Teachers constantly reminded children of the links between reading and writing. Before they started reading or writing teachers asked children to look at the relevant rubric and share what they were doing well with a buddy. They then decided where they were placed on the rubric.

This is a photo of the maths rubic on the wall for students to refer to

After the reading lesson, the children worked on a short writing activity and ERO talked to them about their literacy goals. They explained what their current focus was. They were able to explain how they were progressing with spelling some basic words. They also knew their reading level and what they had to do to read even better.

“If I get stuck I use the chunky monkey to break the word into chunks or I use skippy frog to miss out the word and then go back to fix it.”

Year 1 child

Children focused on their own progress and were not competing with others. They were highly motivated and knew how they could improve.

After the teachers had introduced deliberate teaching and more specific feedback to children, they continued to collaborate across the teaching teams to monitor the impacts for children. Teachers from Year 1 classes met together for a day in each of the school holidays to continue to refine their expectations and review their progress. They were able to see the positive impacts of their changes.

In 2014, only 47 percent of children had met the reading standard. However, in 2015, 60 percent of the children had met the expectations and in 2016, 62 percent achieved the standards.