As I have talked about previously, this is an area of interest that has been developed by student interest and engagement. A quick scanning of the Australian Curriculum returns 59 results where the curriculum is developed through sustainability concepts. It is a rich source of curriculum and has a high level of engagement for students with it’s hands on resources. It seems as if we can’t do too much in this area. To date we have invested in solar energy for the school, food gardens, water and waste management systems where waste is separated and composting with barrels and a worm farm. This week, after the live streaming of our chickens hatching last term, we have invested in establishing a chicken coup as well as extending our seedling raising ability. These materials arrived today and we will work to have them installed by the end of term. The collective and collaborative work that is required to make our Sustainability focus successful has also contributed to the building of community, which has always been a focus of our school.
Future enrollments …
Noticing a sharp reduction in enrolments over the past two years, our school has worked strongly in re-energising our links with local kindergartens. After a single year of falling enrolments we were active in promoting our school through ramping up the commercial advertising of our school. When this did not translate to increased numbers in 2016, we decided to remove our finances from advertising and move into a more community-based program. This has to date been an outstanding success with numbers on the rise for 2017. Rather than doing as much as we could we focussed on a few things and tried to do these very well. We are now looking at a review of what worked well and what can be improved to go to the next level in 2017. Our work with the local kinders has also provided us with new avenues for student leadership that has been taken up by our senior students of the school. Again, as with our sustainability focus, community building has benefited from this area of work. We look forward to continuing to build relationships with our local kinders and looking for opportunities to connect and help each other. Word of mouth is always our strongest form of advertising and it is the parents of our school who are also involved in the local kinders that are our greatest asset.So we ask you to continue to spread the word that St Kevin’s is a great place to commence your educational journey.
Literacy – a new approach …
The literacy program (how we teach reading & writing) in operation in most Catholic schools is either a whole language approach to literacy or a variation of this. This has come about from the past 15 or so years where the Hill & Crevola model of literacy. The Catholic Education Office collected data about it and the results appeared to be quite good. Rumblings of children becoming very good decoders or words but lower levels of comprehension were often cited by opponents of the program. Today schools are in charge of their own literacy programs and many are either turning to or beginning to look at the effectiveness of their own programs. Two years ago, our school looked closely at the reading program and ceased advancing children based on their ability to decode words. Our focus moved towards comprehension. We are now looking closely at the Phonics v Whole Language approach in general.
One of the first things that I noticed in this debate was the evidence that was provided by Professor John Hattie’s work relating to student achievement. The school referenced this work when we reviewed Homework in 2015. As a quick refresher, Hattie’s research provided quantitative evidence that the greatest influence on student achievement is the teacher. So we need high-quality teachers that are well trained and well resourced. His data also provides a roadmap for programs and practices that school might want to implement. So simple in fact is his analysis of the data that he provides a formula for benchmarking this. Influences below the benchmark are those that decrease outcomes, while those above increase outcomes. More simply stated: 0.2 for small effect, 0.4 for medium effect and 0.6 for large effects. Homework in the primary level is well south of 0.2.
So, with this background, let’s go back to literacy and the two schools of thought; phonics based instruction v whole language approach. I’ll start with a simplified defining of both taken from: http://goo.gl/gBsST9
Phonics-Based Reading Instruction
Phonics-based reading instruction is a methodology for teaching young children to read and spell words. The teacher introduces a series of spelling rules and teaches the child to apply phonetics (how the letter combinations sound out loud) to decode words based on their spellings. Phonics attempts to break written language down into small and simple components.
Whole Language Reading Instruction
In the simplest terms, “whole language” is a method of teaching children to read by recognizing words as whole pieces of language. Proponents of the whole language philosophy believe that language should not be broken down into letters and combinations of letters and “decoded.” Instead, they believe that language is a complete system of making meaning, with words functioning in relation to each other in context.
At St Kevin’s, like many schools we have adopted a hybrid approach where aspects of the phonics approach have been integrated into the program. It remains however, a whole language program. Lets now go back to the research and see what it can tell us about these approaches and why after looking at homework, our language program had to be next. Reading is core to all learning. We start school learning to read but after just a few years we transform from being learners OF reading to being readers FOR learning. Of Hattie’s meta-analysis studies in some 140 areas, phonics instruction rates at 0.60, while whole language instruction rates 129.
So with this evidence in hand, we are now investigating a an action strategy for a paradigm shift at St Kevin’s. WE already have teachers espousing the benefits of phonological awareness for our students. We have have trained key leadership staff to become accredited in leading our school to transform from a hybrid whole language school to a phonics based program. Our action plan is being present ed to staff to approve in the coming weeks.
Improvement of Facilities …
As many in the community are aware we are working closely with the Roman Catholic Trustees, Catholic Education Melbourne and the City of Glen Eira to annex further land to our school boundaries and also take ownership of the playground area currently under lease from the City of Glen Eira. While these steps are slower than we would like, the wheel are still moving. Over the past few years we have also been working on an alternate facility improvement plan. Several years ago we applied for a Capital grant for building works. This was unsuccessful and the following year on advice from CEM, we applied again. This was unsuccessful again. Rather than going down this path again, we continued to be prudent financial planners. Saving in small ways across all areas of school development. Six years ago, the school was not very financially stable, and this hard work was required. Our school was also in debt with existing loans to repair the heritage listed roofline of the old part of the school. This loan is now coming to an end and the financial focus of the administration of school has meant that we are now in a healthy state and able to finance a building program without need for Grant assistance. So, while we continue to wait for the outcome of talks with the Council, should this not be decided in favour of the school, development opportunities will still present themselves. We continue to work on both fronts for the benefit of the school.