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from the field

How sites responded to the

Northern Adelaide Region’s
Comprehension Strategy
Stories from the field
How sites responded to the Northern Adelaide
Region’s Comprehension Strategy

Stories from the field was compiled from interviews conducted with 14 site leaders in
the DECD Northern Adelaide Region. Each site was identified by Regional leaders as
having engaged successfully with the Region’s Comprehension Strategy, 2010-2013.
The stories provide valuable insights into the different ways to engage with outside
initiatives , utilise resources beyond the site and implement improvement strategies
to suit the local context. Taken collectively, the stories also provide a strong
endorsement of the Region’s work and tangible connections between this work and
improved outcomes for children and students.

Leadership is about influencing, inspiring and leading with a great generosity of spirit. In a
continually changing world, leaders need to see change as inevitable part of life; not merely valuing
change for its own sake but for the innovation and the creativity it can inspire.
Today’s and tomorrow’s leaders need capabilities and skills that go beyond what we could have
imagined only a few years ago. Competent leaders create teams that adapt easily to new
challenges. They form partnerships and allegiances for the betterment of their sites and inspire
staff to dedicate themselves for something beyond self – to something that leads to a better future
for children and students.
Stories from the field uses the stories of fourteen of our leaders in the Northern Adelaide Region to highlight many of the
important qualities of educational leaders. It focusses on the efforts of these leaders to implement the Region’s
Comprehension Strategy over the last four years and, in doing so, illustrates the critical role that leaders play in improving
the literacy and learning outcomes of young people.
Reading Stories from the field provides valuable insights into the leader’s role in inspiring and mobilising teachers, binding
them in a common purpose and building their capacity as leaders of learning. At a more pragmatic level, the stories provide
practical and transferable strategies about changing structures, utilising resources, using data and providing ongoing
professional learning.
In The Northern Adelaide Region, the regional team often refer to our moral purpose. Moral purpose is about the
achievement and success of every child and student, intellectually, socially and emotionally. Leaders who are truly
committed to their moral purpose are reflective educators who understand what it means for students to be equipped with
learning to learn skills that will help them strive in future life and work.
In Stories from the field, moral purpose is writ large in the work of many of the leaders who are featured. These
leaders have recognised the Region’s Comprehension Strategy as important in addressing persistent literacy and learning
issues and in improving the life chances of many of our children and students. Their many qualities highlighted in Stories
from the field include:
 ensuring that structures are in place for teacher collaboration and sharing of practice;
 conducting and participating in professional development which is relevant and actively engages teachers in new and
innovative ways of working;
 providing consistent and timely support;
 promoting student-centred pedagogies and personalised learning;
 extending learning beyond the classroom and the school;
 translating high expectations of students and teachers into the practical learning strategies of the classroom.
These leaders are never satisfied and continually strive to achieve better outcomes for all children and students in their
preschool / school.
Michael Fullan in his recent book “Stratosphere” says of the change process, ‘Change really isn’t as hard as we thought if we
capture people’s interest and give them enjoyable, worthwhile experiences. We are learning more about large-scale change,
making it less complicated by focusing on a small number of ambitious goals with a coherent strategy that attends in
concert to half a dozen or so key factors: intrinsic motivation, capacity building, transparency of results and practice,
leadership at all levels, and a positive but assertive stance on progress … I call this “simplexity”– a small number of key
factors that must be made to gel with large groups of people.
In The Northern Adelaide Region, we have embraced Fullan’s idea of ‘simplexity’ to narrow and deepen our focus, insist on
measurable and challenging levels of improvement and to win the hearts and minds of the leaders and teachers who have
the most direct influence. In doing so, as the narratives in Stories from the field attest, we believe we have made a
contribution to the life chances of many young people and their capacity to participate in the world in meaningful and
powerful ways.

Toni Cocchiaro
Regional Director
DECD Northern Adelaide Region

Stories from the field
How sites responded to the Northern Adelaide Region’s
Comprehension Strategy


Introduction Toni Cocchiaro, Northern Adelaide Region 4

 The importance of the early years Anne Whittleston, Keithcot Farm Children’s Centre 6

 Learning how to learn Elizabeth Burton, Salisbury Downs Preschool 8

 Stepping out of our comfort zone Rae Wright, Blakeview Preschool 10

 Consistent, insistent and persistent Ian Marlow, Salisbury Downs Primary School 12

 Context always matters Angela Falkenberg, Lake Windermere B-7 School 14

 A perfect storm Deb Hancock, Modbury West School 16

 Dig fewer holes deeper Graham Elliott, Salisbury Park Primary School 18

 A rich journey Grant Dolejs, Tea Tree Gully Primary School 20

 No excuses David Cowles, St Agnes Primary School 22

 Linking in to new opportunities Simon Harding, Parafield Gardens R-7 School 24

 Connecting to pedagogy Helen Calvert, The Heights R-12 School 26

 A sustained focus on improvement Janette Scott, Para Hills High School 28

 Literacy is everyone’s business Lydall Bain, Banksia Park International High School 30

 A catalyst for change Ann Prime, Salisbury High School 32

Thankyou to members of the Quality Improvement and Accountability Portfolio Committee, DECD Northern Adelaide Region. In particular,
thankyou to:
 the 13 participant principals and preschool directors
 interviewers Kerry Wood, Laurian Nicholson, Sallyann Geddes, Paul Wilson, Marina Elliott, Karen Schutz, Peter Gad, Chris Ferguson,
Nanette van Ruiten, Sigrid Sweeney and Katherine Holman
 Richard Satchell for his transcription of interviewees stories
 Andrew Styles for the cover design
 The editorial team: Kerry Wood, Nanette van Ruiten and Chris Dolan

Anne Whittleston
Keithcot Farm Children’s

The importance of the early years

Keithcot Farm Children’s Centre is a fully integrated birth to school entry site. We have approximately 180 children and about 30
staff. The staff have a range of skills, qualifications and experience; and so, when looking at a topic such as comprehension, we
needed to think about how to get everybody on board - we wanted people to feel that sense of commitment and purpose.
We initially may have thought , ‘Oh this is very much a school focus.’ Comprehension was probably not a word that we used in
the early years, but now I think we’re seeing that it has a critical role in a prior-to-school setting; that if children are going to
have really strong life trajectories it’s critical they have quality interactions with very skilled educators and then they are going
to be very successful learners, lifetime learners.

Using the research

We started by looking at some of the research that was available - research connecting children’s early oral language skills with
later literacy achievements. We looked at research about literacy concept skills and understanding actually starting from birth -
so if you're working with babies and toddlers as well as pre schoolers all educators have a very clear role to play!
We also studied the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI) data. We found that one in four children in the Northern
Adelaide Region are developmentally vulnerable, with a similar pattern evident in areas closer to us around Wynn Vale, Golden
Grove and Gulfview Heights. So rather than look at comprehension as being a topic for school children, we felt we had a very
important part to play to support our whole cohort of children prior to them going to school.
The Region has provided important professional development to build our capacity as educators. Carmel Crevola’s work on oral
language and more recent sessions with Martin Westfall, demonstrated that we enjoy engaging with research and new learning
but at the same time we try to ask ‘What does this mean?’ and ‘How relevant is it for our work with young children?’

Supportive partnerships
While we had established a solid research base and a shared understanding about how could we better support children around
the comprehension priority, we still felt that we couldn’t go it alone. We looked at other partnerships we could develop in the
community to support us with training and resources. These included:

The Smith Family: Let’s Read Program for families promotes the Literacy Kits are story books with adjuncts in take-away packs. The
importance and value of reading to babies and young children, child can act out the story using the resources to demonstrate to us
committing the time to read and also to model reading – so turning the and the parent that they have understood the story, or can indicate
TV off and actually being seen to read, involving the child in talking that they’re having difficulty. They might have heard the story but not
about the illustrations, what happens in the story and so helping the comprehended it, and therefore may need additional support, e.g. a
baby, the toddler and the pre-schooler have a much better text that is more straightforward, or more of an oral language base
understanding. where there’s a lot more talking and one-on-one support .

DECD speech pathology trial: Language Links Program Parent Partnership Programs: developed for families in conjunction
Language Links is a computer generated program that gives us a very with a speech pathologist reinforce the importance of parents reading
clear indication of children’s level of understanding in comprehension. to, and engaging with their child after the story to help that child to
It then it helps us to identify those children who may need some make a connection between what they’ve just heard, to retell the story
additional support and intervention at an earlier stage and age. and to retain information.

Involving parents
A lot of research is now acknowledging that language and literacy development Parents are very keen to be
is not just our role as educators but involves working in partnership with
involved. It’s a mystery for
parents. Parents need to value the importance of language acquisition and
understand the connection with later literacy achievements. Raising the many parents and so they
capacity of parents was critically important to us.
want to know ‘How can I
We provided a range of parenting programs in literacy development. One
recently was entitled ‘Strategies to help your children learn to read and write’. It best support my child?’
was run with the help of a speech pathologist who reinforced the importance of
reading to your child and engaging with your child after the story by asking questions. Helping that child to really make a
connection between what they’ve just heard and whether they can retell the story and how much information they have
retained from the story.

Phonological Development and Progress

Not only are we talking to
A lot of current, local and international research, states that phonological
awareness is one if the best predictors of future reading ability and overall parents about their child’s
comprehension skills.
progress but then we ask
We collect data around all children’s phonological awareness using a universal
screening tool that focuses on listening skills, retaining information, awareness their consent to pass this
of rhyme and syllables and initial sounds in words. We do this in their first term
and then again in the last term of their pre-school program to compare the
information onto schools so
distance that children have travelled. We also identify children who may have that from day one the
strong, age appropriate or beginning skills and those children that we consider
may be at risk in their later literacy development. We talk to parents about how
school has very clear data
we can support individual children and provide schools with clear data about
those who are high achieving and those who could fall between the cracks.

Comprehension and Executive Functions

We are exploring the connection between comprehension and the work of Martin Westwell. We’ve been talking about the
executive functions and have looked at areas such as inhibitory or self-control and children’s listening skills, being able to
manage and filter thoughts and distractions, to be focussed and sustain attention. The concept of rhyme requires considering
several ideas; working memory for recalling information to follow increasingly complex instructions, relating and retelling
information, solving problems and making connections between stories heard in various forms and languages requires
something quite complex.
Cognitive or mental flexibility is required to be able to cope with the ambiguities and sounds in words, and approaching a
problem in different ways or using different languages to describe the same situation. So, cognitive flexibility is something that
we’re presently focussing on. We use this information when we analyse children’s learning.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Clarify your position: We took some time to realise how comprehension was important in the early years. Once we understood the links
between early oral language skills and later literacy development we could see the relevance to our work more clearly.
2. Utilise the research: Research findings help us clarify our position and our priorities. They also provide the data we need to act and many
of the resources we utilise.
3. Involve parents: Parents are very keen to learn and be involved. We talk to parents about the ways we can partner each other to get the
best outcomes for their child. We provide resources and training, and look to foster supportive practices in the home.
4. Its about learning together: We are all learners. Working together allows us to share our ideas and to choose ways of working that suit
our context. It also builds greater capacity, commitment and purpose in our group.
5. Look for new partners: When new priorities emerge, sometimes you can’t go it alone. The Region was a major partner in our
comprehension focus but we also formed partnerships and sought program support from organisations such as the Smith Family.

Elizabeth Burton
Salisbury Downs Preschool

Learning how to learn

The comprehension focus started with the whole staff team examining what and how we teach - a real focus on pedagogy. We
brainstormed and displayed a list of how we believe children learn at Salisbury Downs Preschool. This was really important for
working as a team and for making all of the outcomes of our activities visible for the parent so that they know what the children
are learning. The outcomes of the activities were displayed in portfolios for parents to see.

The importance of feedback and modelling

The teaching staff are always modelling to each other and giving each other feedback. It certainly helps that we have had the
same core team for four years and the staff haven’t changed. This has made developing relationships really important so that
we have been able to feel comfortable to give each other feedback during group time. At times we observe and give feedback
about how the teaching went but we also talk about how children responded.
We started this practice four years ago when I had a new teacher start with me. We discussed what feedback looks like and
what type of feedback we would give each other. Developing relationships has always been important to me. The teaching staff
do the teaching during group times and the ECWs sit with us and support that work and to provide feedback and they are
comfortable to say, ‘that didn’t work so well because…and have you thought about trying…?’ I encourage them to give me
feedback and suggestions.

Learning together
We have established a culture of inquiry. Questions are really important, so we explicitly teach children about how to ask and
answer questions. We also developed the strategy of writing questions and placing them in the learning areas so that parents
could engage with their children in particular activities. By doing this we
have had an increase in the amount of parents interacting with their
Last year we learnt about the
children because they have felt more confident to engage.
We believe that parent involvement is very important so we often send water cycle and one Dad came
questions home with the children on a particular learning topic. Recently,
back and said that he had no
we read an information report about kangaroos and I sent home questions
about kangaroos to the parents and the parents worked with the child to idea how the water cycle
investigate the question. Some Googled, others used books and many sent
back the work they had completed with their children. I have had countless worked. So we sat and we
parents discuss their own learning through this process. learnt it together!
We work really hard with parents to ensure they understand what the
children are learning. We display work on a table outside so that they can see it when they pick up their children and we talk
about their child’s learning with them as well. We put up weekly photo pages and weekly slide shows so that parents know
what we are learning about because I believe if we are going to extend a child’s learning it needs to be a team effort.

The importance of differentiation

One of the things that has had the biggest impact on developing children’s comprehension is differentiated instruction. We
group the children and change our groups based on what we are learning and the individual goals, interests and levels of
development of each child. Grouping helps us to focus on children’s skills and to extend the skills at their level. We have a very
high percentage of English as an Additional Language or Dialect Monica’s Story
(EALD) children and children on preschool support. The teacher uses I have a little girl who only speaks Dari at home. We were
a lot of strategies to develop their communication skills, including reading the book, “How the birds got their colours”. She
signing and using visual props. We have Vietnamese and Khmer stopped me and asked, “What does blood mean?” We asked
groups. Often we will read a book in English and the bilingual the children. They told her and we looked at our veins and
support worker will then read the book and extend the learning talked about blood. Then she actually said a word in Dari and
through the home language to ensure that the children are then said, “Oh yes, I understand now”.
comprehending the concepts. So she made connections herself between the English word
At other times we have mixed groups if we are wanting to model. I and the Dari word. She does that all of the time now and we
find that children are more willing to share ideas and participate if encourage the children to ask questions and when they do we
they are in a small group. Also we work hard on building on to investigate and make new connections.
children’s interests and they are often given choice about what they
would like to learn about. We record children’s learning at the beginning of the process and at the end to examine what they
children have learnt. We have high expectations for all children.

The other thing that we believe strongly in is early intervention. We have worked really closely with the speech pathologist who
has helped us identify assessments and early intervention strategies for receptive language and articulation. We talk with the
Speech Pathologist about any children that we are not sure about and we devise strategies to support them. We also have a
very close working relationship with Child and Youth Health and we refer children to them. We discuss children as a team and
consider what intervention is required to support the child.

Translating learning into practice

I take a lot from all of the professional development we do. I am constantly learning. Working as a team is interesting as we are
all at different levels of comprehension ourselves, so it is giving everyone a chance to participate, have a say and learn. We have
developed some common understandings and worked on developing staff skill in supporting and personalising learning.
Generally we try to attend PD as a team, but if we can’t we always come back and share the learning with the whole staff team
and reflect on how we can use the learning in our site. We have done lots of PD to support our focus on comprehension:
 ‘Talking Literacies’ led to the inclusion of screening for phonological awareness in the first and last term and its integration
into all areas of the curriculum
 Carmel Crevola’s oral language sessions led to the introduction of Wait time. We give children wait time to support them in
learning how to hold a thought and to enable all children to have the opportunity to express their ideas and to listen to
other children’s thoughts in discussions.
 Stephen Graham’s work with us focused on developing a common language, using various text types, noting when children
are doing a recount, narrative or description and exposing the children to the specific vocabulary.
The biggest improvement we have seen is children’s ability to respond to questions and their oral language generally. Our data
shows that what we are doing is making a difference with respect to their oral language development and comprehension.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Develop staff relationships: Staff who are comfortable with each other are better placed to observe each other’s practice and give hon-
est and constructive feedback.
2. Collect and reflect: To monitor progress towards targets we collect a lot of evidence of children’s learning and reflect on what it means for
our teaching.
3. Differentiate instruction: Ability groups allow us to provide learning opportunities appropriate to a child’s level of development. Mixed
groups are used when we need role models. At all times we try to tailor the learning to meet children’s needs
4. Make parents partners in learning: Look for opportunities to involve parents in the learning of their child. Send questions home, display
children’s work, put up photos and talk to parents about learning and distance travelled.
5. Turn PD into practice: We make sure that every professional development opportunity we invest in is shared with colleagues and utilised
in programming, teaching and assessment.

Rae Wright
Blakeview Preschool

Stepping out of our comfort zone

The Northern Adelaide Region’s comprehension focus and the Region’s University Partnerships Units fitted quite beautifully with
our site learning plan at the time and our priority for oral language. Budgeting to enable involvement in the University units and
creating release time was a major challenge, particularly as we are a very small staff.

Professional engagement
Because Liz Collinge, our teacher, had shown an interest in the research-based
We had excellent
University modules, we decided that we’d use the train-the-trainer process - opportunities for reflection;
send her to learn and then come back and train us. The process provided Liz with
opportunities to develop her own skills and to step out of her comfort zone. It to understand what we
extended her in her role as a leader of curriculum development at the site.
knew and how we were
The research projects provided positive opportunities for me to develop my own
skills as well as the skills of the people within the site. Implementation was
going to use it; what the
flexible, enabling educators to commit in different ways according to their current theories were and
capabilities, confidence and available time. It was something that we could do
together as a team. I don’t actually see myself as a leader, I see myself as a co- where that all fitted with
constructor with my staff. This collaborative approach enabled us get maximum
our philosophy and practice
value from the University units and treat them as important enough to want to
keep going.

‘The Learning Kindy’

For some of the projects we introduced bits and pieces, but not all of it was sustained over time. So just seeing what we sustain
over time has been a good measure. Parent responses have been really positive. Even staff discussions, with people saying
things like ‘remember when this worked really well? Let’s do that again’, are a good measure of improvement.
Some of the things were sustained, like acknowledging and involving the
The kids are getting really good
children as co-constructors of the learning, and encouraging them to ask
questions about ‘why?’ and ‘how do you know?’. Also the explicit choosing at being the teachers—the co-
of a text for the week and making explicit the vocabulary and the
comprehension associated with the text.
constructors of the learning. As
The intentional part of our program is now quite strong and focussed on we go along, they question
developing comprehension, vocabulary and the children’s oral language.
We’re now more explicit about the language components of learning in
what we are doing. They ask
our programming and in our displays. Parents are impressed with the ‘why?’ and ‘how do you know?’
depth of learning that the children are involved in and bringing home. Our
pre-school has a reputation as ‘The Learning Kindy’ in the area and I think Liz, teacher
that’s because we make it quite clear what our intentions are.

Seeing improvement
We gather a great deal of data and information about children’s learning and progress using a variety of methods. One of the
University modules prompted us to collect data at the beginning and end of the unit relating to children’s vocabulary use and
vocabulary tier level. We found a huge improvement in children using new vocabulary in everyday language. This finding was
supported by parents commenting on higher language levels and more complex words their children were using and actually
understanding! Parents were amazed that their children would even think to use the words that we had introduced to them.
Each module and project has prompted discussions, reflection and a ‘to do’ list that informs site learning programs and our
Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). Also, being part of the DIAf process, we knew the value of collecting data to see our site’s
progress and the modules made this work more meaningful. We became very proud of the work that we do.

Leadership considerations
As a leader, I had to ensure that budget, staffing and time needed for us to do this work were provided. Being aware of what we
needed and making sure that we had it was important. It was worth the time that we put in because we’ve now established and
consolidated some practices and included them in our everyday programming and our term focusses.
The other leadership part of it was that Liz, in wanting to become a Step 9 teacher, had the curriculum and the early years
document in her Step 9 application. So then I had to ensure that I provided her with opportunities to move up that next step, to
ensure that she was stepping out of her comfort zone into something that extended her. So it was about me making sure that I
was helping Liz move forward as well.
My own learning has been developed thanks to
the valuable support of my Director - we’ve helped
each other out. We found really good ways to
scaffold the learning. Each module has built on the
last, so that you’re not doing big changes all at
once. You embed that into your program then you
can go on to the next part. So the continuous
learning has been really good; and just when you
think, ‘Oh, how much more can there be?’ there’s
always much more! (Liz, teacher)

For Liz, time was also a major challenge. Over the last two or three years, in particular, there have been huge changes in early
childhood settings. This has created time pressures on everybody. Liz often used the holidays to reflect, write up and analyse the
information. Some projects were really short which meant that there was no time for her to stop and think. Writing and
evaluating the modules was quite challenging but the outcomes can make you feel quite proud.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Get involved: We took some risks in signing up for the university modules but it has produced great improvements for children and for the
way we work together as a staff.
2. Be researchers: We have all enjoyed learning and finding new ways of working. Even though time is often tight, we always feel better for
have squeezed something extra out of ourselves and our work..
3. Practice collaborative leadership: I am pleased to describe myself as a ‘co-constructer’ and feel that it is important to give credit to my
staff when they lead and make the running.
4. Use multiple measures of success: We measure our success not only by the children’s achievements, but also, for example, by whether
we have sustained programs over time, what the parents think of what we are doing, the quality of our display material and the morale and
teamwork of the staff.
5. Attend to time: Acknowledge the time it takes to undertake new learning and apply that learning at site level.

Ian Marlow
Salisbury Downs
Primary School

Consistent, insistent and persistent

We started off with a review of our data sets (everyone would have done that) - NAPLAN, running records, standardised testing
through literacy - and what we determined was that, despite many years of hard work from many staff, we were making little
gain. So we needed to find a better way. We decided to adopt the NAR Comprehension Strategy.

Shared Leadership
In 2010, our school was involved in a diagnostic review and one of the Sharing of leadership
findings was the need to increase shared leadership. So, in taking on the
Region’s Comprehension Strategy, we set up a literacy focus group responsibility has built the
comprising three teachers; one from each part of the school – junior primary,
confidence and competence of
middle primary, and upper primary – as well as the literacy coach and the
Principal. As a group we all went to NAR trainings and then the following teachers. Our little journey
week we would present the important learnings from that training to staff.
through comprehension has
So our classroom teachers, who are very competent in many areas, were
used to deliver our new learning. Rather than look at outside experts we created an amazing process
went ‘inside’ the school. We employed a shared response to the delivery of
our learning. We divided the learning up into specific sections and co-
where these teachers are bold
presented that to staff. We adopted the mantra “Consistent, Insistent and enough to present their own
Persistent” - so if we were going to do something we’d do it consistently
across the school and persist with that for longer periods than just a short beliefs and own practice to a
‘flash in the pan’ quick remedy, so this was no quick fix.
much wider group.
Two years later the initial teacher members of our literacy focus group are
still our school leaders in those areas even though that group doesn’t exist anymore; they’ve continued under the guise of the
Curriculum Development Group and provide curriculum leadership throughout the school. We now have many more than three
who are acting as curriculum leaders in comprehension; each of them would take on a particular different aspect depending
upon their competence but fitting with the comprehension focus within the school. The other aspect of shared responsibility
involved in-servicing all of our SSOs in comprehension, the Big 6 (see [+] below), and Jolly Phonics. They’ve taken on roles that
teachers can’t because they have that one-to-one relationship, often with Special Needs students.

De-privatising Practice
There has been many off-shoots from this shared responsibility; there’s now much more cooperation and collaboration across
the whole school. This links to our notion of de-privatisation; teachers are much more willing to share their practice, to have
their practice challenged and sometimes re-focussed. Part one of our de-privatising was forced on us by the Building the
Education Revolution when teachers from our portable classrooms were relocated into open space settings. After that, it was
about support and encouragement . We tried some models of observation and people working with each other - ways of
observing and reporting on teaching and student learning. This represented a huge change for our staff. We made sure that
people not only got a chance to share their practice but also to share their observations of each other.
Another common practice we have now, is related to our use of interactive white-boards. Teachers now place many of their
lessons on a common drive so that others can readily and easily share. This is another method of supporting de-privatising
because everyone wants to share now; in the past there were one or two people contributing, now everyone’s putting things on
there. Another aspect of this is that some people might say “Ok, I found this lesson that you were doing really interesting can
you show me more about it?” That would then go on the shared drive for all to use.

‘Strategically slow’ - sharing of practice

Sharing of practice has been a building process. It’s been gradual and it’s been slow - but its been strategically slow, it is
intentional. The gradual release of responsibility model means just that, gradual release, not ‘here, jump off and fly’. The
sharing started with one or two teachers who were supported and then grew from there to four or six. Now, we wouldn’t have
anyone who’s not willing to share. Every teacher at one stage or other this year has got up in front of the rest of the staff and
shared some part of their practice. And everybody’s comfortable for others to come and observe their practice which was
certainly different from even twelve months ago.
There’s been a massive cultural shift in terms of teacher confidence. Five years ago, if you had asked any of my Year 6-7
teachers why their students were struggling with reading, they would have had no idea. Whereas now, thanks to our focus on
comprehension, we can analyse the reason why and indeed now have structures in place for students to improve their reading -
which is a massive win. Many classes now share support strategies - even the Year 6-7 classes go back to the Early Years and
discuss strategies with them to improve reading whereas in the past that would never have happened.
We’re also developed peer tutoring networks for upper primary students to work with the younger children and that’s been a
great strategy too. Excellent for helping kid’s reading; if I’m teaching you how to read, I need to know how to read myself and
that’s been a very powerful learning tool. So we have many off-shoots and spin-offs in our engagement with the Region’s
Comprehension Strategy.

Data and outcomes

We’ve now had four years where we’ve had some growth in NAPLAN. In the last two years since we’ve adopted our whole
school approach we have had significant growth in Years 3, 4, and 5—a really pleasing affirmation that we’re on the right track.
In a different way, but also showing that the progression of students, is the PAT® data. It’s pleasing to see that we’ve got
standardised results that show our efforts are paying off. It’s not just the fact that teachers are more competent but it’s also
that we now need to provide intentional learning and teaching focussed on reading. Our entire reading structures have changed
across the school. Reading currently is the focus in all classes. We’ve also looked at spelling and what was an ad hoc method
based on teacher preference has actually changed to a very structured, strategic method across the whole school. All of these
efforts can be traced back to our participation in the NAR comprehension strategies.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Share leadership: It allows for joint ownership and responsibility across the school. Our ‘gradual release of responsibility’ model builds
strong relationships and supports the ongoing professional development of all staff members through the empowerment of lead teachers
(our on-site “experts”).
2. Promote explicit teaching: Having teachers know what they will teach and why they teach it has brought about clarity of instruction and
purpose. Intentional teaching ensured that the students also understood what they were learning and why it was taught.
3. Encourage de-privatisation: The learning of all students in our school has become the goal of all staff (the concept of MY class has dis-
appeared). There is increased willingness to share teacher-developed resources and ideas. This has also led to peer observations with
authentic and frank feedback being shared within a supportive framework.
4. Create sustainability: The notion of sustainability here is not about funding. Rather, it’s about having a common head-set and culture
around what is important. It’s about collectively finding long-term solutions to issues rather than a “quick fix”.
5. Conduct quality professional learning: A single focus (e.g. comprehension) and common agreements about what whole site learning
we would undertake has honed teacher skills, built capacity and increased student engagement and outcomes.

[+] Associate Professor Deslea Konza provides a short explanation of the Big 6 - oral language,
phonological awareness, letter sound knowledge, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension -
in this video at

Angela Falkenberg
Lake Windermere B-7

Context always matters

Lake Windermere B-7 School opened in 2011. Angela Falkenberg was
appointed as principal. Angela cites a range of factors, in addition to the I'll use the metaphor of a
Region’s Comprehension Strategy that that were important as the school
bicycle; comprehension may
embarked on a literacy improvement journey. These included:
 A Supporting School Improvement (SSI) Review in the first five months be the pedals that can power
‘which looked at our data and provided us with some clear direction’
along, but many staff weren’t
 A focus on the Big 6, with comprehension seen as just one aspect of
reading improvement aware there was actually a
 The Principals as Literacy Leaders (PALL) program ‘gave me excellent
professional development in the Big 6 and highlighted the importance of
bike and so we needed to look
rigor’. at the whole machine in order
 The use of Accelerated Literacy (AL) pedagogy and the employment of an
AL consultant ‘who focused on consistency of quality practice’. to get some traction.
Sometimes in a school you can be working away at doing your best but we needed to know that it is best in comparison to some
other measure of quality. We also had a reading support teacher, along with a literacy coach through National Partnerships and
it was important that they complemented the performance and development across the site. They also supported our
implementation of the recommendations of the SSI review. We began by developing whole school agreements and utilized the
standards and resources from the region and the DECD Literacy Secretariat. The standards helped us to understand where our
kids were and where they should be. Our learning focussed on 'what do we think in our context will support improvement?'.
The Regional Standards became our school standards. They’re up in every classroom, they’re public to parents and are included
in student reports; teachers write ‘Freddy is currently on level five but for his age he should be on level ten'. For some the
standards provided motivation, for some they were a challenge - particularly, if a teacher had a fixed mind set around the
students capabilities they would expect less. This is linked to what Pat Thompson describes as ‘full of lack’. We’ve really had to
challenge that and using the Loss Function graphs was one strategy.

Practices with impact

I used loss function graphs as a way to challenge the idea that SSO time was key to reading improvement. In a previous site,
teacher salaries had been converted to SSO time and there were significant human resources deployed but not evidence of
impact. This was unsustainable, but when cuts were proposed some teachers said ‘But I can’t do without this SSO support.’ So I
put up this loss function graphs which show the distance you are from the target. I did this for each class and student. It was
tough for staff to view these ‘rivers of red’ in the negative …… and tough for me to say ‘You’ve used this salary in this way in the
past, now show me that it’s made a difference.’
It was confronting. Just the other day a teacher reminded me of those graphs and how significant is was to her in that it was a
real shock. But we’d been toying around with the tough conversations, being nice about it all, saying encouraging things but at
the end of the day we knew we had to do something different and ask the question, ‘What has impact?’. Because we also

looked at a number of other practices that people had been expected to do and assessed impact; those that didn’t have impact
were thrown out. We freed things up a bit; and I think, while there was the initial jolt, the jolt was really about ‘We need to
think differently if we are to get different results'. So, with the guide of the Regional Standards, the resource support of the
Literacy Secretariat papers and the regional comprehension focus we made progress.

Building group success You know if you own the

Recognising the need for a whole school approach to literacy improvement, we
quickly established professional learning communities (PLCs) in our first year -
better, you have to take the
blocks of NIT release enabled teachers to work together. I led four of them in bitter too. Important in this is
the junior and middle primary years. We pushed ourselves fairly hard and
groups developed some great work. There was variation in the groups led by telling a compelling narrative
other members of the leadership team and it caused me to reflect that I had
not been effective in communicating the vision and in supporting them to lead
and talking about moral
through the tough stuff. And honestly, in our first year in setting a new culture purpose …. saying ‘Guys,
in a community that did not embrace new school…you have to rationalise your
time and pick your battles. what are we here for?’
We have made good growth in the early years in reading and staff have made
great growth in terms of their learning. One teacher thanked me recently. She said ‘the thing that I really appreciate is that
you’ve got me to embrace student success’. This reflects my belief that teacher well being is linked to student achievement. That
‘when they kids do better, teachers feel better’. Our success is building as a group thing - teacher’s get excited and tell their
colleagues …… it’s lovely. They perceive that it’s their effectiveness as a teacher that’s positively impacting on results.

Regional and other support

The region supported our learning in other powerful ways. We utilised Deb Draper for targeted professional development at
staff meetings. Dylan Wiliam was great around formative assessment and we continue to develop our learning in this area. Oral
language emerged as an area needing improvement and Carmel Crevola was magic for us. She enabled us to understand how
to make more effective use of questioning and other oral language development strategies We now use her Oral Language
Assessment and map results in the same way as our Running Records data.
Through Northern Connections, we met Dr. Carolyn Burroughs who had developed a speech and language program for schools
in Queensland. We have implemented the program and she was generous in giving us her time to build our understanding and
skill. We've now set up our own oral language intervention process, with a dedicated room and a teacher who works with
small groups of students .
Engaging parents in improving reading was another area of our work. We found parents to be quite low in their aspirations
about children's reading. Displaying the reading data publicly resulted in a range of responses. Some parents were quite upset
when they saw their child's achievement in comparison to the standard and sought ideas from teachers. We offered Partner in
Print workshops and two afternoon workshops to families. About forty families participated in these.
We also began a Reading Rangers program. We trained parent volunteers to read with other children and we have community
mentors that now support individual students to be engaged with school. This year we commenced an early-bird reading
program where children go to the library before school and two teachers and some year 7 students listen to them read.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Context always matters: Critically at site level, this means building ‘decisional capital’, the capacity to make innumerable decisions in
complex situations as different problems and cases arrive (see Appendix ***) Fullan and Hargreaves
2. Know your stuff, know who you’re stuffing and stuff them elegantly!: Getting performance and development processes right and
providing quality professional development brings consistency to your learning and the learning of others.
3. Data is critical: If the staff tell me something is working, I ask for the evidence. I say ‘In God we trust, all others bring data’!
4. Use research and informed practice: We read a lot, attend professional development. We are continuous learners and ask lots of
5. The power of documenting agreements: What we have collaboratively developed and what we believe works at this school and agree to
do is in our green literacy folder. This helps to focus our work and to clarify aspects of the Big 6.

Deb Hancock
Modbury West School

A perfect storm
When Deb Hancock arrived as Principal of Modbury West School in 2011, work on literacy improvement was already underway.
In 2010, led by Deputy Principal Rebecca Read, the school had evaluated the site data and concluded that there was a need to
focus on improving comprehension, rather than reading generally, developed whole school assessment protocols and
timelines and gained agreement from the staff to pool some of their NIT time to give the school flexibility to release groups of
people to meet and talk about improvement of teaching and learning.
Another driving force was that the Northern Adelaide Region’s focus was Comprehension. We knew that we could access really
good quality professional development through the Region. We didn’t have to go and source it ourselves. So it was like a perfect
storm – comprehension was a need of the school, the staff were in agreement and the opportunities were there in the region
(for what turned out to be really really high quality and well resourced PD).

The Facilitator Support Model

The comprehensive take-up of the Northern Adelaide Region’s Facilitator Support Model was critical to the success of the
Comprehension Strategy at MWS.

The school decided that, rather than it all coming from the Getting the most out of the Facilitator Support Model
leadership, we would fund the release of three teachers – The following principles were adopted at Modbury West School:
Junior Primary, Middle Primary and Upper Primary – who  Select a number of ‘comprehension facilitators’ - rather than just
became our ‘comprehension facilitators’ and attended regional one - to attend professional learning and to lead the project.
PD and led the learning of staff back at school. We went  Make sure the professional learning and resources on offer (e.g.
through a process with staff of looking at our NAPLAN results, from the Region) are of the highest quality.
and school data on reading, looking at where our relative  Provide the facilitators with time to attend professional learning
strengths were – which were few – and where our weaknesses and time to plan and discuss follow-up back at the site
were. Then we looked at the comprehension skills we knew  Create time for the facilitators and staff to lead and participate in
were important to teach and decided on three which became high quality professional learning adapted to the school’s context.
our focus.

The facilitators always built in time for staff groups, teachers and SSOs, to do some shared planning on how to implement this
new learning in their classrooms during our PD sessions. So, if we were learning about how to teach students to monitor
comprehension, we would ask ‘what is that going to look like in my classroom tomorrow and over the next few weeks?’. Staff
would plan in year level teams with input from the facilitators some things they would trial . Then we would meet in those same
groups in a few weeks time and review where we are at, what had worked, what hadn’t worked, and where to next.

The staff were really willing. They could see a purpose for it. We did it together. It was across the whole school, we were all
talking about the same things. On a Monday we might have done the PD with the Year 3-7 PLT and then on Thursday it would
be with the R-2 PLT. And then the following staff meeting we would have some more input to keep it going, we kept it bubbling
away. In 2012 we stayed with the focus on comprehension but we looked at different strategies so that over the two years we
covered all of the strategies using pretty much the same model. The comprehension facilitators would run a PD session on, for
example, ‘questioning’ and then we would go to their classroom and watch them demonstrate some strategies. It was really
teachers doing it with teachers and for teachers.

Changed teaching practice
With a sustained focus over 2011-12 on comprehension improvement, changes in teaching began to emerge.
Teachers became more intentional in what they were doing, so rather than just having a guided reading session, they would
have a guided reading session with a focus on ‘monitoring comprehension as I read’ or, ‘I’m doing some think-alouds and I want
the kids to see that I am questioning what I’m reading as I read it.’ So having that intent with what they did. At the same time
as the PD was happening we were also developing common agreements around literacy across the school.
One of the big things teachers said was that a lot of kids didn’t
Integrating the Comprehension Strategy
realise that when they read they were actually supposed to
Deb is clear that a focus on comprehension does not stand alone -
make sense of what they were reading. So we make this
that there are other strategies that need to be implemented at the
explicit and teach students to stop and question if they don't
same time:
understand what they are reading. An example of this is that
It’s hard to separate it out - to see the effect of the comprehension
we now don't do silent reading, or silent staring at the page!
strategy, because we also had these common agreements as well as
Using the R5 process (see [+] below), the kids are reading, but using the ‘waves of intervention’. We have a reading support teacher
they have to respond to their reading, they have to talk to a who works intensively with small groups of JP students, we put lots of
partner and some of them will have to talk to the class about SSO time into classrooms, we trained the SSOs to work with small
groups, we introduced a synthetics phonics programs across all of the
what they are reading. They have to be able to talk about the
junior primary classes. There were lots of things happening all at the
comprehension strategies they are using as they read. So, in
same time and, yes, we can see that it has paid off.
this way, the students are more accountable while they read
and are reading with a purpose in mind.

The importance of data

Data collection happens for different purposes. We need to collect data that is going to show us how we are progressing as a
school, but we also need to collect data that informs us at the classroom level - what do I do next week in the classroom for this
student, for this groups of students? So, for example, when we look at our PAT R data, we’ve got our data wall and we look at
the number, but the number tells us nothing except where the student sits in relation to other kids and the norm and we use this
for whole school reporting (eg the Annual Report). But the more important information comes out when teachers analyse the
sorts of skills the kids are bringing to that test, what they can do and what they can’t, and when they use the information to
inform their teaching and learning programs.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Consistency of practice: It’s a long way from perfect, but we are a lot better now than we were. And teachers are saying, ‘we want to do
the same thing with maths – how can we take this model that worked and apply it to the maths we are doing now.’
2. The importance of having a really narrow focus: Hard to maintain because you have all of these other competing demands. You need
to sift out things, pay lip service to some things, do the compliancy stuff but do it in the most expedient way possible. For two years we just
focussed on comprehension and it has really paid off.
3. Doing the professional learning yourself: I don’t have to be the expert, but I have to be there learning with my staff. When you are with
them, you can throw in guiding questions and you can see who is really engaged. Who’s got it and who, perhaps, hasn’t. And who do you
give more information to because you see they are going to be flying with this and perhaps become a leader in that field.
4. Skilling the staff: You’re never going to get everybody moving at the same pace, but skill up the key people and insist that everybody is
doing something. If this is an agreement, then the expectation is that you will do it. And if you are not doing it then; \Why not? How can we
help you?’
5. Understanding that time is critical: They say that it takes 80 hours of learning to grasp something new. We don’t have that, so we need
to ask, ‘how can we maximise the time that we’ve got with staff for their learning?’.

The R5 approach refers to a structured independent reading block. R5 stands for Read,

[+] Relax, Reflect, Respond and Rap. For more information, see R5 in Your Classroom: A Guide
to Differentiating Independent Reading and Developing Avid Readers by Michelle J.
Kelley, Nicki Clausen-Grace

Graham Elliott
Salisbury Park Primary

Dig fewer holes deeper

I arrived at this school two years ago and one of the things that I discussed with staff was that we had a very busy site
improvement plan. In fact we had four areas; literacy, numeracy, science and well being. From the SSI review that we had in
2011, and from my own observations, I thought there was too much on our plan and we probably needed to cull it a fair bit. We
used the mantra ’dig fewer holes deeper’, to bring all areas of our plan under the one priority, literacy. We decided to take part
in the comprehension strategy offered by the Northern Adelaide Region

A focus on site-based professional learning

I released three people to attend the eight modules that were offered by the Region throughout 2012. I wanted a Junior
Primary, a Middle Primary and an Upper Primary person to be involved in the training with the aim of coming back to site and
offering professional learning for staff. I was also lucky enough to obtain
the services of a literacy coach and she also took part in the training. The I don’t really have a like or a
group would go away and do the comprehension modules and then come
back and, on a fortnightly basis , I would release them to work together to
need to bring in people who
develop a professional learning schedule for staff, based on the offer professional learning for
comprehension modules, and some other aspects of literacy.
literacy; I’d rather develop the
In addition, these key people also feed into the Professional Learning
Community (PLC) groups. In one week , professional learning is offered by capacity of the staff within the
staff to staff and in the other week professional learning communities
consider strategies for putting their learning into practice. So we don’t
school to be able to deliver to
spend any staff meetings or PLC time talking about anything but site staff. They have our context and
improvement priorities and,
Making PLCs Work in particular, literacy. they have daily interaction with
Anything that falls outside
Some principles the school has used to make students. They have their finger
their PLCs work include:: of this we handle in other
 Focussing their agenda on agreed site ways. This approach has on the pulse about what’s
improvement priorities. been really well received by
important for Salisbury Park.
 Expecting PLCs to translate professional
learning into practice and to share and Another great thing about this professional learning model is that staff always
review the success of new practice. get to walk away with new resources – we would do the professional learning
 Operating according to agreed protocols. over one or two meetings and then the group who were released would create
Things like being professional, coming teaching packs for people to take back into their classrooms. So you could walk
prepared, being committed and away from those meetings having a good foundation for going back and
everyone having a voice. teaching comprehension strategies such as text connections or inferencing.
 Each PLC conducting a formal presentation There’s a fair bit of money that sits behind this model. I have probably
to staff about their work once a year.
committed $30,000 -$35, 000 to the professional learning budget each year for
 Providing time and resources to PLCs to the last two years—partly to fund the coach but also so there’s plenty of money
support their preparation, meetings and
to release people to work together or release those key facilitators to create
additional professional learning.
professional learning for staff.

Shared agreements
I worked with the literacy coach for the first six months shaping up a bit of an umbrella agreement about what we currently had
in regards to the teaching of reading and writing and what we were possibly going to try and put in place. In 2013, we moved
into a formal English block four days a week – an hour of explicit reading and an hour of explicit writing based on our whole site
literacy agreement. It’s a very explicit agreement around pedagogy and practice in reading. The feedback that I’ve had from
staff has been positive; people feel that they know where they’re going – they can see consistency and coherence from
reception to year seven. We’re now really starting to have a look at moderation of student work and things like writing rubrics
as well. That’s something that we need to look into more deeply I think. We also need to consider what sort of assessment helps
students – the formative versus the summative stuff. (see [+] below)

Important structures
On data, beyond the bench marking system from the running record, we’ve moved into the PAT reading (the on line PAT-R) and
that’s given us some good data as well. There’s still an issue there for us around things like inferencing and some of the other
higher order comprehension skills, but I guess we’re targeting that back to some more professional learning and to explicitly
teaching these strategies in the classroom. We’ve also set up a data wall in the staffroom for things like the running records
and the PAT-R, and we’re focussing on site words so we’ve got some Oxford word data from reception to year five now as well.
Something that I think has also been effective are our literacy awards. Every fortnight students get recognised at the assembly
for their literacy improvements or their work on comprehension strategies and their names are displayed in the front office. I’ve
also set up a writing wall in the main corridor, with writing samples from reception to year seven. After every particular text
type there’s work displayed from reception to year seven in regards to what that writing looks like in a finished product and
after it’s been assessed – so we’ve got lots of parents stopping and looking at that, also it highlights it for the students and it
helps build that culture that learning is important and well respected around the place.
Our literacy improvement priority is linked back to performance development strategies within the school. I meet with teachers
formally twice each year and then regularly informally. When we’re talking about comprehension strategies I need to see
evidence of those being played out in the classroom and that’s either through performance development, or it’s through their
term overviews which go home at the beginning of each term. It’s also when I drop in and out of classrooms and have
conversations with people and look at student work.

Ongoing challenges
For 2014 onwards, I guess my challenge and our challenge as a school is making sure that these comprehension strategies that
we have focussed on clearly stay on people’s agendas They are identified within the whole school literacy policy but we need to
make sure that we keep our foot on the pedal in regards to the explicit teaching of these strategies within the classrooms.
The other challenge is when new staff come on board. One of the ways we’ve dealt with this is that we have offered extra
professional learning after hours . This term, for example, every fortnight four new staff are meeting with the literacy coach to
work through the modules from last year and to provide resource packs to take away to use in the classroom.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Get into classrooms: I get into classrooms as often as I can in a non-threatening way. I’ll work within guided reading groups across the
school. I’ll hear the language of comprehension. I will see it in action and I will also talk to teachers explicitly about it.
2. Watching the data: I keep my eye on the data so that I can talk about specific kids and how they’re progressing or facing challenges. I sit
down and talk with teachers about their data individually and informally; lots of congratulations and some ways to move forward.
3. Working together with expert input: Allowing staff the time to work with each other but making sure there is some sort of expert within
the group to provide new input.
4. Less talking, more listening: as a leader stop talking and start listening to your staff. If you have the right sorts of relationships with
people they’ll be honest and tell you what their needs are and then you can do something to help them.
5. Tackle challenges to continuously improve: It’s not all chocolates and roses. We’ve still got some work to do and certainly lots of room
for improvement. Use your budget, use supportive colleagues and keep an eye on shifting priorities into the future.

[+] Rick Wormelli, author of ‘Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differenti-
ated Classroom’ talks about the characteristics and differences between formative and
summative assessment at

Grant Dolejs
Tea Tree Gully Primary

A rich journey
Based on our data, it was obvious that we needed to review our literacy practices at the end of 2009. When I heard about the
Northern Adelaide Region calling for schools to take part in their Comprehension Strategy it didn’t take too much to convince
the staff that Tea Tree Gully Primary School (TTGPS) needed to participate. In fact we saw this as an opportunity to tap into
some excellent professional learning and resources.

Making a strong start

From the beginning of 2010 we embarked on the implementation
Once teachers had engaged with the
of the Comprehension Strategy. This new work included: two recommended books, they then
 Using Julie Fullgrabe, Regional Curriculum Consultant, to
provide a rationale for our involvement, expert input and
used their TPLC time to share and
strategies to assist individual and team inquiry questions explore what they had read. Inquiry
 Purchasing, for every staff member, copies of the recommended
texts; ‘Strategies that Work’ and Do I really Have to Teach
questions were developed followed
Reading?’. by teachers trialling ideas from the
 Using current Tests of Reading Comprehension (TORCH)
comprehension data to identify and target students needing
readings with their students.
additional support - teachers set targets for these students Teachers then came back to learning
based on changes in pedagogy and explicit teaching they were
planning to implement. teams willing to share what worked
 Teacher Professional Learning Teams (TPLC) were given more or what needed changing.
explicit guidelines about ways to proceed with our
comprehension focus.
 Using Kevin McDonnell, Regional Performance Analysis and Reporting Coordinator (PARC) to assist the staff with data
analysis - this was a significant learning time for us as it also changed the way we looked at assessment. We started to
consider ‘assessment for learning’ possibilities.
At this point as a Principal it was important to capture our commitment and learning in a more formal way. I decided to link
TPLC actions and findings to our professional development meetings. This also included discussions around TORCH targets and
distanced travelled by individual targeted students.
We also made the commitment to start using our TPLC whole staff sharing, twice a year, to further capture our literacy learning
and productive pedagogy. I came away from these sharing times thinking how far we had moved in such a short time. In order
to capture our journey to this point, I wrote my reflections in a document called ‘Literacy Practices at TTGPS’.

Consolidating our gains

Over 2011 and 2012, we embraced the Region’s Facilitator Support model. We appointed two focus teachers who attended
Regional workshops and worked with staff back at school. Our TPLC learning teams were used to support our comprehension
focus all year. They focussed on the ‘How’ the pedagogy and the ‘What’ the Australian Curriculum. The teams referred to TfEL,
Literacy secretariat documents, our schools literacy practices and procedures document, Australian English Curriculum and the
two Comprehension books given out in 2010. We
found this was a good process to explore the
Teachers have now moved from assessment
Australian Curriculum through a comprehension ‘of learning’ to assessment ‘for learning’.
lens. Our two focus teachers also ran workshops for
parents and I kept Governing Council informed of our comprehension learning. The PALLS Program
Capturing the learning from staff professional development and PALLS workshops resulted I also took part in Principals as Literacy
in the development of our common agreements in the Big 6 for reading - oral language, Leaders (PALLS) workshops. I shared
phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension - and in writing and with staff what I had learnt. The timing
spelling. couldn’t have been better as it helped
fill in the whole-school gaps that
Later in 2012, the TPLC captured teachers’ comprehension learning journeys. Teachers perhaps the comprehension training
produced a summary presentation of their learnings to date, along with recordings of and development was not doing. Both
individual student learning. Teachers then voluntarily presented these at our validation complemented one another
day early term four.

Noticing improvements
What the data shows
Walking through classes after comprehension T&D, I
observed teachers putting into practice what they had learnt  At the end of 2011 our TORCH comprehension data showed that
with their students. Students were talking about their we needed to target 40 students from years 3/7. In November 2012
learning and what comprehension strategies they used to only 10 students of the 40 targeted needed further intervention in
help them understand text. We surveyed the students in 2011 2013.
and 2012, with the vast majority able to write about a range  Our Running Records data shows significant improvement at Years
of comprehension strategies they had learnt and were now 1 and 2 over the last three years
using.  Our NAPLAN data in 2013 revealed the significant improvement in a
large number of students in terms of progress in reading. Given a
At our school Validation Day at the end of 2012, the teachers
normal distribution of 25% low progress, 50% medium progress and
working in pairs shared their comprehension learning
25% upper progress, TTGPS achieved the following:
journey. All of the presentations contained mini video clips of
 Year 5: 21% low, 43% medium and 43% upper
students talking about their literacy learning. The validation
 Year 7: 14% low, 62% medium and 29% upper.
panel reported that our school had a very clear direction and
Using Estimated Standardised Student Progress 2011-13, our NAPLAN
very good whole-school policy and procedures. They also said
data shows that the comprehension focus has made a significant
that it was evident throughout the presentations that
difference to student learning
everyone was talking the same language and using data to
inform teaching and learning.

In conclusion ….
I would like to acknowledge the Northern Adelaide Region for providing the opportunity to be involved in the comprehension
strategy and for supporting our school with the T&D and website resources we needed. I would also like to acknowledge the
work of the Literacy Secretariat as their resources were extremely helpful. The PALLS training and development was timely and
very useful to me as a leader. Last but not least it is important to acknowledge my very professional and collaborative staff who
actually made this strategy work for them and for their students.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Have one major focus: This allowed us to prioritise professional learning, as well as give time to learning team inquiry and action
research. It helped drive ownership and changes in pedagogy. Do not let other priorities impact on the goals of your major focus.
2. Use outside resources: Tapping into the Region’s resources was a massive help. So was linking the Comprehension Strategy with the
PALLS program.
3. Link data and actions: Linking data to the work of our TPLCs and to the performance and development process helped maintain
momentum over a long journey.
4. Take the lead: As principal, I tried to provide leadership by always being involved, providing support and trusting the inquiry process.
5. Capture the learning over time: TPLC presentations helped capture our progress, challenge individuals and provide time to reflect and
celebrate our achievements. Our Big 6 strategy also captured our learning and made a strong statement this is our way forward.

David Cowles
St Agnes Primary School

No excuses
David Cowles arrived at St Agnes Primary School in 2011, in his first principal appointment. As a school of about 200 students,
surrounded by much bigger primary schools, David immediately understood the need for St Agnes Primary School to be seen
as high performing and committed to the best possible outcomes for students. He adopted the maxim ’we are a school with no
excuses’ and committed to leading a long term focus on reading comprehension improvement.

Putting support in place

We started in 2011. We grabbed the Region’s Comprehension Strategy
with both hands and started quickly. As a new principal, I needed some
The initial data presentation
support around me so we worked very closely with Regional office people. was a fairly sobering process.
We started off with Carol Smith (PARC) coming in to give us a snapshot of
our data - ‘This is St Agnes and this is where you are compared to, not We had a couple of people a
only like schools, but also to the national and Regional data.’ little upset on the day. But it
Engaging the help of experts was really important to us. We worked very
closely with the Region’s curriculum consultants, Julie Fullgrabe and
was the day we needed to
Debbie Draper. They came in and went through the strategy. They really have to move forward. Since
spelt out on how we were going to engage with it. Our people were
immediately enthusiastic about the whole process. Julie and Deb would then we’ve had everybody on
then come back and revisit our data and continue to work with us. This board which has been great.
arrangement was really important throughout 2011 and 2012.

Capitalising on the big opportunities

One of the biggest opportunities flowing from the comprehension strategy was the building of leadership density amongst the
staff. The Deputy took the lead person role, so she went to a lot of the Regional workshops and took staff with her. My
expectation was that all staff would have to go to two or three workshops throughout the year, map out their learning and then
report back to staff about explicitly teaching the comprehension strategies. Getting everybody on board was critical to our
success - if it all revolved around myself and the Deputy then people wouldn’t buy into it. Ultimately I’m responsible for the
results in this school but we all have a collective responsibility to move forward.
The comprehension strategy also represented an opportunity to build the credibility of our school in the educational community
and amongst local schools. When I applied for the job, I hadn't heard a lot about what the school’s learning priorities were or
what the school was ‘known for’. So it was about saying ‘We’re open for business and we’re doing some great things’.
Another opportunity was communicating our message to the community. There was lots of talk about the new gym being built
and lots about extra-curricular programs in the school, but the nuts and bolts, the teaching and learning, was not talked about
so prominently . The importance of the comprehension strategy was emphasised in regular newsletter articles, information
evenings and assemblies, where the themes would turn to reading comprehension; with students talking about their work and
what they were achieving. The feedback through Governing Council, was that parents were really pleased. They’d heard about
the focus on comprehension and their students were coming home and talking about it. We started to get the whole school
articulating the language of reading comprehension. You’d hear students saying things like, ‘I’m learning about inference’ or ‘I
had to use some summarising skills’.

Tackling the challenges
Everybody had to play their part. It was essential that I maintained very high expectations of staff in terms of their
programming and teaching. Getting the PLCs up and running was also very important. PLCs were still in their infancy here. We
had to ask and answer some fundamental questions, ‘What is a PLC?’, ‘How are PLCs going to function?’. What do the words
‘professional’, ‘learning’ and ‘community’ mean to us as a staff? So we came up with some group norms and we published
them. That was really important; to say that we’re going to value this and be respectful of other people’s practice. We also
faced a financial challenge. We’re only a small school with a small budget and to be able to send people in large numbers to
quality training and development was important. It did become an expensive exercise, but coming at it as a new Principal I put a
red line through a few budgets that were not connected to our new site improvement plan and committed to this. It was really
worth it. People came back enthused and they felt a communal responsibility for following through. I then used performance
and development conversations to gauge how that new learning was being turned into explicit teaching of comprehension
strategies in classrooms. Finally I provided meaningful verbal and written feedback to staff.

Noticeable improvements
The comprehension strategy contributed to high morale because people believed in it. The training sessions were of very high
quality and the ‘buzz around the water cooler’ in the staffroom, was about
reading and comprehension. PLCs were focussed on authentic Patterns of Achievement in the Data
conversations and building shared understanding of good practice - they
In the NAPLAN our school is performing well and truly
became an important vehicle for building quality pedagogy. At the end of above the NAR mean. That should be the case because
the day the improved reading results in the school have really reflected our we are a Category 6 school. Now we have to be at least
efforts. at state mean and preferably national. There has been a
Another indication of our improvement has been in invitations to share our quick turnaround in the improvement of our results.
journey at Regional events, such as the NAR Self Review and the Running Records results were lower than could be
Comprehension Expo. I felt that the school had started to arrive in terms of expected before engaging with the focus. In the period
educational credibility. 2011-2013 our Running Records are well above the
Regional and the State averages. But once again, that’s
I am also happy with our improved provision of resources to teachers. We
where they should be. We are a school with no excuses.
have a great intranet set up so that staff don’t have to fish around for
reading comprehension teaching resources. Staff professional learning has
been generously resourced and we have also borrowed great ideas from other schools, including Modbury West School.
Recently we were lucky enough to have Sheena Cameron from New Zealand speak to us. Sheena wrote the book ‘Teaching
Reading Comprehension’ which we have used extensively (see [+] below). It was great to hear from her and to take a stocktake
of where we’re at and how far we have travelled on our comprehension journey. It is easy for us to say , ‘Well we’ve arrived.
We’ve been there and done that’. However, it is more important to ask the question, ‘What does it mean for the future?’.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Lead with influence: As a leader you really can influence other people’s practice; you have a lot of leveraging power. As the saying
goes, ‘If you’re a leader and there’s no one following you then you’re just out for a walk’.
2. Be hands-on: You definitely have to walk the walk and talk the talk. I probably spent 15% of the budget attending the Regional
workshops myself. This helped us to build a collective voice when speaking about the comprehension priority to the community.
3. Induct new staff: Don’t expect new teachers to automatically pick up a priority that others are already familiar with. Give them individual
support and make your expectations clear.
4. Keep the concept fresh: Look for opportunities to go deeper with comprehension. Ask the staff, ‘How is your program changing? Has it
evolved? What is your thinking for 2014?’.
5. Make comprehension transferable: We are trying to apply the strategies of comprehension to numeracy improvement. I’m looking at
how we can unpack the strategies and marry the two things together.

Sheena Cameron’s excellent website is at It contains a wealth of
resources, teaching ideas and classroom display materials on various aspects of literacy, including
reading comprehension

Simon Harding
Parafield Gardens R-7

Linking into new opportunities

In 2009 and 2010, as Parafield Gardens R-7 School (PGR7) set its directions for literacy improvement, there was plenty going on
at the school. The amalgamation of the primary and junior primary schools had become official, a massive building program
was underway as a result of Education Works and Building the Education Revolution and the new Regional system was
establishing itself and advocating a focus on comprehension improvement.

Capitalising on opportunities
We knew that literacy improvement was a priority for PGR7. The We had a significant emphasis
Northern Adelaide Region had set their directions for comprehension and on partnerships. Partnerships
we thought this might be the best opportunity for us to link in with their
initiative and capitalise on the learning. We also thought it was important with colleagues, partnerships
that we didn’t spread our efforts too widely. So we went about working
with the staff to create new goals around literacy and, in particular,
with students and partnerships
reading comprehension. with parents and the wider
We linked with the Region’s comprehension focus by using the Curriculum
community. With every
Consultants to increase teacher’s capacity in terms of comprehension
strategies. Initially, this involved Julie Fullgrabe visiting our school on a partnership there was a focus
number of occasions and , as the Region’s work developed further, we
attended their workshops as part of the Facilitator Support model.
on literacy learning.
We sent a team of 5 to 6 people to each workshop. This often included one of the leadership team. It wasn’t the same person
every time as we wanted to share the learning as well as the responsibility for supporting teachers back at school. So the people
who went were from across the staff and that had significant impact on their learning. We also included an SSO in the training
who was instrumental in bringing strategies back and promoting them across the school through displays and working closely
with other SSOs to improve their skills and knowledge.

A strong collaborative focus

One of the things I noticed when I arrived at the school was how closely and willingly the staff worked together. However there
were limited formal structures to support professional collaboration. Over the last few years we have started to build this
structure. We now have some defined groups that work as PLCs. There are expectations about what we discuss and the
commitment we make to working together. We’ve also provided time within the school day to plan and program across
curriculum areas.
Other initiatives have supported our focus. The DECD Literacy Secretariat and the Principals as Literacy Leaders (PALLs) program
have both provided excellent resources. Our performance meetings with staff have become more focussed on improving reading
comprehension and staff are coming with new ideas that can be shared across the school. Staff are also going into each other’s
classrooms to do observations and provide feedback.
We have also developed a whole school literacy agreement with the main focus on reading comprehension. The Region was
very supportive of this high yield strategy, stressing the importance of moving forward with everyone working from a common
basis. We also created some benchmarks aligned with the NAR Standards. The Standards helped create a clear picture for
someone coming into the school. A sense of what was important and what was expected at PGR7.
The challenge of parent engagement
One of our important goals has been to improve the involvement of parents in the reading program, to give them some new
strategies to support their children at home. Improvement has been slow. We have a very high level of English as an Additional
Language or Dialect (EALD) students and we are a Category 2 school. We’re still working at developing relationships and our
engagement with parents. We’ve run a number of workshops for volunteers and also for parents to give them some more
strategies for support at home. Initially, we really pushed for some kind of reading diary, communication book, something to try
and ensure that there was some record of home reading. We’re still struggling to get parents to use this strategy effectively.

Consolidating the change

With attention being paid to the introduction to the Australian Curriculum over the last two years, our comprehension focus has
lessened. With a literacy coach this year, however, we have been able to bring this work back to the fore and to assist people
who missed out on the initial training. We have also added a focus on oral comprehension and oral language which we find
really important , especially for our students from an EALD background.
Our literacy coach is also helping us broaden our data collection. Access to PAT-R testing through the National Partnerships
provides us with another way to benchmark student learning and with a tool to begin a focus on formative assessment. We are
also working towards using our Running Records more diagnostically . This
The QuickSmart Program
will help the younger and newer staff in the school to gain an
understanding of where we are with literacy learning in our school. QuickSmart has made a tremendous impact on our
little trial group of at-risk students. It is a
We’ve also gone out to a couple of schools to see what kind of high yield
numeracy strategy for students at or below the
strategies they are using. We are particularly interested in making sure we
National Minimum Standard in NAPLAN . It
are getting good value for the money we spend on intervention. An
focuses on developing fast and accurate basic
example of this is a complimentary numeracy program we introduced this
academic skills through structured lessons over a
year called QuickSmart which we have found to make a significant
period of about 3 terms. (see [+] below)
difference to those students involved.

My personal learning
The Region’s Comprehension Strategy has been significant in my own personal development and my ability to implement high
yield strategies with staff. I have appreciated the continued support that Regional staff have offered through the curriculum and
leadership consultants. I have also benefitted from having a consistent message and a single priority in the Region across the
last four years. We are in the process of transitioning to a new Site Improvement Plan, and I notice that the Region’s focus
continues to influence my thinking and my decisions about where we head and how we take people forward.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. One focus, narrow and deep: Develop a whole-of-school focus that is narrow and deep so that staff can do some deep learning and the
school can invest in sustained change.
2. Develop a whole school agreement: Anybody coming to PGR7 can get a quick sense of our expectations, directions and approach to
literacy learning. We have a common understanding amongst staff, so they can more easily have discussions with each other.
3. Work on your partnerships: We continue to try and engage parents more fully in the reading and literacy development of their children.
Parents have be treated as partners in the learning, just like staff and students.
4. Tap into expertise: The Regional focus on comprehension has been a great opportunity to tap into people who have the expertise and
the time and skills to transfer their knowledge to other educators.
5. Formalise staff collaboration: Informal conversations between staff are good for morale but can only take the learning so far. Set up
well structured and well resourced PLCs and learning and improvement will blossom. .

[+] For more information on the QuickSmart program go to:

Helen Calvert
The Heights P-12 School

Connecting to pedagogy
The Heights is a Preschool to Year 12 site so this adds some complexity to engaging people at different levels. I wasn’t involved
in the initial decision to take on the comprehension strategy, however, it seems the decision was taken because there was
dissatisfaction amongst teachers particularly about SACE outcomes in the Secondary School. Teachers also wanted better
NAPLAN results. So the connection there was really to do with the data that was available; people weren’t generally happy even
though it wasn’t dreadful. There was a willingness on the part of the staff to try something different to improve results that the
kids were getting.

Engaging teachers
One of the big opportunities
Once the process started, the engagement was clearly about, ‘How do we
connect the agenda with teachers, what’s in it for them and how can we the comprehension strategy
maintain the focus specifically on reading/comprehension?’. Giving the school a
single focus turned out to be a really useful strategy because it connected to the provided was to make the
work of teachers across the school. For example, one of the opportunities for the
site more cohesive and
secondary teachers was to support students to know how to read and
comprehend specifically at the inference level in order to learn better and focused. It built a stronger
therefore to produce better results.
sense of ownership around
The whole notion of PLCs in the early stages was pretty embryonic and there was
no performance and development process in place. The comprehension strategy a single agenda.
brought new opportunities. Teachers looked at the reading results and asked
’What am I going to do about improving these results with the students that I work with?’. In response to this question, an
action plan was developed with a specific focus on reading comprehension as the area for improvement. This in turn led to a
whole range of improvements in performance and review processes and connections to Step 9 implementation. It also meant
that it brought the wider community together. They knew what the focus of the school was and became involved in it as well.

Some challenges
Several challenges arose. For example, how to engage staff who don’t believe reading is their business. We found that many
staff didn’t have any depth of knowledge in terms of literacy and, specifically, reading and comprehension. It actually threw up
a whole load of gaps in people’s knowledge and their practice that needed to be attended to. Of course, once individuals
disclosed, ‘I don’t know how to do this?’, the incentive to engage was heightened.
There was also the challenge of keeping the momentum going. Some people were ready to move forward, and were really
excited about this being a long term priority as well as a personal interest. These people, the engaged staff, connected with
those people that weren’t immediately on-board. They did some sharing, particularly with those who lacked knowledge in
terms of literacy and pedagogy.
The absolute biggest opportunity was making the connection to pedagogy so that teachers actually focussed on what they were
doing in their classrooms with the students. The topic could have been literacy and numeracy or anything really but it was
actually about, ’What am I doing with the kids and what am I getting the kids to do?’. And that led to a whole range of
improvements in relation to planning, learning by design and a range of ways of using the TfEL.

Common understanding and clear purpose
I think the really useful thing about the comprehension strategy is that it’s actually focussed on an aspect of students’ learning -
whether they’re in the pre-school, whether they’re gifted, whether they’re on the spectrum. It’s not focussing on a particular
group of students, it’s focussing on a critical aspect of every students’
learning. And so we have a responsibility - regardless of ability, aspirations or
We have to keep building a
age, there’s a job there to do. culture of improvement rather
I have also appreciated the support from the Region - the number of
workshops they’ve provided, the implementation models and the support
than a culture of blame. A
personnel. Because the Region actually had a priority, they directed culture focused on making
resourcing towards it and allowed us to tap in to that resource.
The important part of implementing any strategy, including comprehension,
things better for all students
is having a common understanding and a clear purpose. In small group work, and celebrating
I find you have to constantly go back to these things. Otherwise, we go
straight into the business and we don’t actually spend the time asking, ‘what improvements along the way.
is the purpose of this group?’ and ‘what are we doing this for?’.
It also suggests the need for our system to have a statement about what is valued. Rather than the thoughts of a few people,
this should be a statement based on research and evidence about what creates improvement in outcomes for students. It
should be sustainable and resourced over an extended period.

Signs of improvement
Helen observes a range of improvements at The Heights as a result of implementing the Region’s Comprehension Strategy:
 Our PLCs are now a lot more functional and important in the professional learning of teachers (see [+] below) and teachers
are actually doing some observation of the practice of others
 There’s a lot of sharing, not just of content. For example, the focus on reading comprehension and literacy in the secondary
area has been targeted to sharing the literacy requirements of tasks and a whole range of frameworks and pro formas have
been developed to support this.
 If you go into classrooms now you will see evidence of the literacy focus. For example, assessment plans document literacy
requirements and a broader range of texts is available targeted to different ability levels.
 An important discovery has been the capacity of middle managers in the secondary area to lead their staff in improving
literacy outcomes for students. The range of knowledge that people have and the different level of conceptual thinking they
bring about what learning actually looks like and what literacy means in their particular subject area has been invaluable.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Acknowledge starting points: Find out where people are at - their level of knowledge and understanding. We don’t all have the same
starting point and we don’t all have to reach goals in the same way. The important thing is that teachers are motivated.
2. A relentless focus on a single direction: Whenever there’s a gathering of the team or the people around the focus, make sure you con-
textualise the purpose of the meeting in relation to the direction and don’t deviate from it.
3. Give teachers tools: Teachers need tools they can use in terms of developing, and planning for the improvement. It’s not about a bag of
tricks, it’s about, ‘This is what I know the students already know, this is where I want to take them, this is what I want them to learn, what
are the things that I can use for this particular group (or individual) in order to get there?’.
4. Data and evidence are critical: There is a need to constantly use data to drive the improvement. What I’ve learnt though, is that people
have wide ranging skill levels in data analysis.
5. It’s about pedagogy: That’s the topic really - a focus on what the teacher is doing, what teaching practices are being used and what the
teacher is asking of their students.

[+] Presenter and author Rick DuFour talks about the importance of professional learning
communities and the biggest obstacles a school faces when transitioning to a PLC. Go to:

Janette Scott
Para Hills High School

A sustained focus on improvement

Para Hills High School began its literacy improvement strategy in 2008. This was prior to the Northern Adelaide Region
establishing the single improvement priority for all sites in reading comprehension. We began with small bites of T&D in staff
meetings and on pupil free days. In 2009, to support our literacy focus, I appointed a Literacy Across the Curriculum
Coordinator. Working closely together, we responded to staff requests for the professional learning. Consecutively we began to
analyse data. We were using the TORCH test at this stage and we were trying to identify more specific issues within literacy to
which we could target our professional learning. There was a lot of staff support, though some people indicated concern about
how much time it would take away from subject specific learning. This was certainly aired in the first couple of years.
After discussions at our Curriculum Committee and a staff meeting, we collectively decided that we didn’t want to be involved
the first year of the Region’s comprehension strategy. This was because we had already identified and agreed to our priorities -
they were going to be (i) increasing and strengthening students’ general vocabulary and words they were using in subject
specific classes and (ii) writing and writing genres. So it just didn’t feel that reading comprehension could fit in the time that we
were going to have. During 2010, we worked on professional learning and curriculum change associated with our priorities.

The Leading Literacy Improvement Team (LLIT)

The Literacy Coordinator and I considered moving into the
Establishing a Leading Literacy Improvement Team
second year of the region’s comprehension program. I
initiated discussions with the Curriculum Committee halfway The processes we adopted at PHHS were:
through the year. I could see that if we moved into it in the  Establishing a collective agreement on the importance of a Leading
second year it would add to the strategies that we were Literacy Improvement Team (LLIT) to continue to build on our
using to improve our students’ literacy. So as a result of literacy focus.
these discussions, people really got on board and said ‘Yes,  Commitment of the leadership staff and learning area coordinators to
reading comprehension. Learning more about how to be part of the LLIT.
support students with reading strategies would fit with  Expanding the team to include another person from each learning
where we want to go’. So we joined in the second year. At area, as well as members from our Special Unit and our AET.
the first meeting that I attended with our Literacy  Using Regional Consultant, (Peta Gad) to provide support as a
Coordinator, Deputy Principal and a learning area member of the LLIT.
coordinator, we decided that we needed to pull together a  Facilitating regular meetings twice per term, provision of time to
broader team to support literacy improvement. We came up reflect, review and plan.
with a notion of a Leading Literacy Improvement Team.

Regional Support
Regional staff and resources focussed and supported our work to improve students’ reading skills. For example, Peta Gad and
Colleen Braham presented the Tactical Teaching Reading (TTR) training for all of our Literacy Team (approx. 20) in three
engaging and interactive sessions. That provided all Learning Areas with at least 2 people who could share a diverse range of
pre-reading, during reading and post-reading strategies to improve reading comprehension. Although there was initial concern
about the number of strategies, two years on we are actually seeing reading strategies from TTR being used in classrooms.
Peta also presented T&D to whole staff, contributed agenda items for our LLIT meetings, and a wide range of web-based
resources for LLIT members to share with other staff.

Defining our literacy principles
The LLIT collectively developed a draft Literacy Improvement Plan and collaborated on this with staff, students and parents.
Feedback in relation to the suggested set of literacy principles was gathered. We ended up coming up with a set of four guiding
principles that everyone had identified as the most important things that we believed about literacy and then established our
goals and strategies. This process of establishing principles that underpinned our literacy improvement plan was instrumental in
getting everyone on the same page about what we believed about literacy and also, what we were we going to do.
After agreeing on the principles, we went into the business of identifying what we needed to do in terms of professional
learning, resourced the proposed actions, set targets and monitored the effectiveness of our implemented strategies through an
evidence based approach. We also developed resources, such as a show-bag for parents to help them support their children’s
literacy, the program for our ‘celebrating reading assembly’, and our Kindle program.

Evidence of Improvement in Literacy at PHHS My personal leadership growth

 Since our engagement with our literacy improvement focus, our NAPLAN through leading literacy
data indicates an improvement in reading and writing; we have also
maintained a high level in spelling. (Grammar and punctuation – is an It’s been an interesting journey for me because as a
area that we still have to work on. They remain two of our goals, as does Deputy, I was head of curriculum and felt really very
writing). confident about what I needed to do in that role.
 The first year we were involved in The Premier’s Reading Challenge, Moving into the role of Principal, it took me a couple of
about 30 students completed it. Three years later, 140 students years to work out how you lead learning without
completed the Premier’s reading challenge this year. overshadowing your Deputy....and how you need to
 Since I’ve been at the school, so that’s over 6 years, the SACE literacy work together. For a little while, I stepped back because
results have gone from about 80% achieving a C to last year, it was 96% I was trying to sort out what was my role about in
achieving a C. Year 9 NAPLAN results aren’t necessarily reflective of the leading learning and what was the deputy’s role.
enormous improvement that our students make from year 7 to the SACE
The area of literacy improvement has been the key for
Stage 1 (Year 11) level .
me to working out how as principal you can lead
learning. I believe it is from being really involved. I
chaired the LLIT and oversaw the collaborative development of the plan. The authority that comes with the position of Principal
is something that is really important to use because it helps elevate the priority and facilitate shared agreement about what
everyone needs to do.
If you’re taking on board feedback – that notion that you’re in there, that you are listening, that you’re working through
priorities with everyone else- it just gives the work for change and improvement much more momentum. That’s what I’ve learnt
and I’m applying that now in our Improving Numeracy Strategy. One of the changes we’ve made is that we have realigned our
LLIT to now be a Numeracy and Literacy Improvement Team. As a school we had learnt a lot about literacy improvement that
will help our numeracy improvement and vice versa (see [+] below).

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. All in together: Work towards whole staff shared agreement, commitment and expectations to improve student literacy skills through their
teaching and assessment.
2. Quality professional learning: Continue to build individual and collective capacity by providing high quality learning for staff.
3. Focus heavily on vocabulary: Vocabulary development is a fundamental plank for reading comprehension—understanding subject
specific terms, how to spell them and use them orally and in writing. We are committed to using reading strategies for pre-reading, during
reading and post reading.
4. Develop higher order writing skills. Higher order writing skills and higher levels of reading comprehension are partners in improving
5. Work closely with parents: Working in partnership with parents is invaluable in supporting improvement in students’ literacy attainment.

[+] Debbie Draper’s excellent paper ’Comprehension Strategies Applied to Mathematics’ can be downloaded at

Lyndall Bain
Banksia Park
International High School

Literacy is everyone’s business

In terms of planning the Banksia International High School engagement, my early thinking was triggered predominantly by the
priority for literacy, in particular comprehension, across the Northern Adelaide Region. Had Literacy not been such a priority, I
may have focussed on one or other of the many priorities that we were juggling, given that our students do reasonably well in
NAPLAN and overall their literacy results are good. However, because of the Northern Adelaide Region priority we took literacy
on board in a committed way and we worked particularly with other secondary schools in the North East.
The SPALL initiative was created in conjunction with the South Australia Secondary Principals Association. It provided an
opportunity to look at literacy far more deeply. The Australian Curriculum is also a great vehicle, as literacy is absolutely evident
through the curriculum. In my view it shouldn’t be something that’s left to another fresh initiative - it should be embedded.

We are all committed

As a leader you need to consider what approach you take, given that
It’s not only about focusing on
everyone is at a different point in their learning. With the SPALL literacy for the students we have
program, I decided to work with the entire Principal Team and all of our
Learning Area Coordinators. The Principal Team meets twice a week today, but for the students that
and our Learning Leaders meet fortnightly. We included literacy on
we have over the years ……
every agenda and we took the view here that “we are all in” with this
I wanted to take a long term
Literacy is not just the domain of the English staff or Society and
Environment staff; we are all committed to literacy. We did exactly the view, but with clearly identified
same in implementing the Australian Curriculum (AC). Even though four
subjects have been a priority in the AC, every learning area is using it at
steps in each year of the process,
Banksia Park and all staff are planning using the draft documents. This as sometimes a long term view
enables us to use our meetings to collaborate, challenge and rethink
what we do. can get lost.
It was interesting that it took us a little while to get to a point where
honesty about our own literacy knowledge was shared. At first, I was of the impression that people were wanting to tick boxes
and say they understood and they could do what was required, but as we delved a little bit deeper, more questions arose and a
few individuals were brave enough to say that they actually didn’t understand how to do it better, smarter, or differently.
Others started to be more open and honest about what they didn’t know, the frustrations they experienced within their learning
areas, the strengths they had as well, and what support they needed to do things differently.

Sharpening our focus

The next challenge was identifying particular areas on which to focus. Our Literacy Leader had undertaken a lot of the Regional
professional development and we also decided to buddy her with a staff member from Health & PE and Languages. This gave
us male and female leaders with backgrounds across a range of subjects. They undertook the training together; they shared
their perspectives and applied the train-the-trainer model back at school. Staff responded well to having two quite different
staff leading the learning and became more responsive when they recognised it wasn’t solely an English focus.

During the Region’s training they analysed what was on offer and what
Having a culture of learning in was relevant to our site and our context. Areas we needed to focus on were
our school has been vital, identified. Obviously we had done quite a bit of work over time in response
to NAPLAN results and identifying areas where our students struggle, for
because if we’re not leading example areas like inferring and predicting. We also identified through
some mapping exercises that there was some confusion about genre/text
our own learning as teachers
type in assessment tasks. We decided to focus on assessment tasks across
and leaders, then it’s hard for learning areas because that was something we were doing through SPALL.
We did extensive work throughout 2013 in clarifying text types and really
us to lead learning with and for spelling out what text types we are using across the learning areas.
our students. A genre map now exists for years 8-12 across all learning areas. At this
stage, we have become much more targeted in each of the learning areas
around what genres are being used and how they are being used. We are also exploring the literacy scaffolding around specific
genre and the explicit/intentional teaching requirements. There is still a way to go, but that’s the approach we’ve taken.

Literacy is everybody’s business

We have certainly made some operational and leadership changes. It has proven successful to involve all of our leaders and all
of our teaching staff. Leaders haven’t felt isolated or that they needed “to push the wheelbarrow up hill on their own”. Had we
chosen to work with only one or two learning areas, I feel that the work would have remained isolated and not part of
everybody’s business.
Of course there are some challenges, including having people with varied levels of experience and knowledge and a diversity of
literacy learning experiences in their own schooling. Some of the staff who graduated 3 or 4 decades ago have quite deep and
rich literacy knowledge and functional language expertise that some young staff don’t necessarily have. The young ones have
different literacies though, such as IT literacies for instance. They also
have short-hand language literacies for texting. Balancing and The importance of principal partnerships
valuing the two strengths is really important. It’s valuable for those For me, working with other Principals in the North East
that are experienced in one way to work with those that are Secondary Network has been important. Through our coalition
experienced in another in order to get the best out of that situation. of schools we’ve selected literacy as one of our priorities. We
have shared approaches to literacy, culminating this year in a
Deprivatising practice is relatively easy at BPIHS because our school
shared pupil-free professional learning day that focussed on
is quite open and even when several walls went up in our open space
literacy and the Australian Curriculum. We will do this again in
buildings, leaders insisted that there were big windows everywhere.
2014. Feedback has indicated that staff have valued the
It’s unusual in this site to be alone as a teacher as whatever we are
network, valued working together, and valued working
doing is generally quite public. Our staff rooms are not subject based backwards from assessment tasks, where they deconstruct the
either, so there are people working across learning areas most of the assessment task and look at the literacy components.
time. We don’t really have little niches of isolated people.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Plan for literacy improvement: Our original Literacy Action Plan was too big. Our 2014/15 Plan is quite specific term-by-term and we
have dedicated specific meetings for professional learning that build on our literacy journey. We’ve worked to review and develop our
literacy action plan, measured our progress and modified plans as a result.
2. Use professional networks: Our leaders have benefitted from working together. I also worked with a group of student representatives
and provided feedback to the learning leaders, which helped inform our action.
3. Link performance conversations to student learning: Talk about the learning of staff and evidence of student learning. It is intended
that performance plans are clear, purposeful and targeted and that feedback is specific and developmental.
4. Take data seriously: One of our assistant principals has a lead responsibility for analysing data 8-12. He has been rigorous in producing
information about student achievement data and we’re looking at another process for tracking grade point averages that will provide data
for students and families in a graphic way on term-by-term reports.
5. Build broad commitment: In secondary schools it is important to guard against the tendency for literacy to be associated only with
language-rich subjects.

Ann Prime
Salisbury High School

A catalyst for change

When we first went along to the comprehension workshops at the Regional office it was a real awakening for us. Although sites
were aware that comprehension was a necessity for students to move to a higher order level of thinking, we didn’t actually
understand what that meant for developing skills in the classroom. In fact, at the start we didn’t even understand the meaning
of comprehension and I didn’t really feel at that stage I could lead a group of people to implement comprehension strategies.

Bringing a team along

We were very strong about bringing a team along to the comprehension discussion. This was really strong recognition that our
focus would be comprehension across the curriculum. This is why, when we engaged with the Region’s professional learning at
Elizabeth House, we had so many staff attending across curriculum areas. These staff then used the facilitator support model to
feed new ideas and strategies back into those curriculum areas - sharing with staff their classroom activities, but also delivering
PD to staff on the comprehension modules. This work culminated at the end of the first year with several staff presenting at the
Region’s Comprehension Expo.

Putting in some breadth

One of the most important results
We then put some breadth into the school strategies for developing
literacy and comprehension. We formed a literacy team with from the comprehension modules is
representatives from the learning areas, so literacy wasn’t the
business only of certain subjects.
that we’re talking a common
Comprehension was the catalyst, but we treated it as one of a range language. You can’t understand the
of initiatives working together. We used Q Learning Consultancy to value of comprehension across the
upskill teachers and focus their work on the comprehension
modules. We involved many of the staff in Tactical Teaching curriculum unless you’ve got the
Reading and, more recently, all of the staff have undertaken the
DECD Literacy Secretariat course, Literacy for Learning.
language to talk about it.
One of our most recent strategies is the Literacy CAFÉ. We started it up for students who are not able to access some of the
other interventions we have in the classroom. CAFÉ stands for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency and Expanded Vocabulary
Students work in small groups for targeted one hour a week intervention. Already we’ve noticed a big increase in the confidence
with which these students are reading to our literacy coaches who run that program. That will flow on with how they are able to
conduct themselves within their classes.

Giving students a voice

The comprehension initiative has given teachers the confidence to allow students to present their work in a variety of different
ways, rather than constraining students to thinking they’ve got to do it a certain way. If students were to engage in enquiry, for
example, they need to be able to choose something to enquire into. Prior to the three years we’ve been involved in the
comprehension work, we would probably have told students to select from the choices we provided them. Now, teachers are
using more risky and more enabling strategies for students—asking for a voice from the students first about. And I’ve seen that
in Year 9 English Extension classes, in the Studies of Society classes in Year 11 and 12, and I have also seen it now in Science.

I also think the students are more conscious of what it means
to comprehend. For example, I watched a Year 11 Pure Maths
Have the confidence as a teacher to
class where the students were presenting information about give students the space to make their
statistics to their class - how they read the statistics and the
purpose of it. At the same time the other students, using a own choices, rather than feel the space
rubric, were gauging how well the person delivering actually has to be filled up all of the time.
understood what they are saying. It was an enquiry, led by the
students, into what was meaningful at what wasn’t. Now
that’s comprehension in its real sense. Developing staff
Salisbury High School implemented a range of strategies to support
‘Good is not good enough anymore’ the learning and development of staff:
Our students will say ‘Good is not good enough anymore. A  A literacy committee was formed so that a group of people could
teacher who is effective in my learning will provide me with meet regularly for discussions about literacy improvement
information on how I can improve and what I need to do and  A radar analysis was conducted for each learning area and shared
from that feedback, I will know’. Students now draft their work with staff. It was used to assess the quality of literacy learning
much more than they used to. They like to share their work and prior to engagement with the comprehension strategy and other in
initiatives and again after the new work had been implemented.
get the feedback, whereas before near enough was good
 Literacy coaches worked in classrooms to support our teachers
enough. One of the strong points about the feedback is that
and to help them evaluate whether the intent of their teaching was
they want the feedback to be reliable, instructive and be able
being realised in the learning of students
to use it to enable them to go to the next level.
 Teachers who were ’champions’ emerged from these processes—
The staff comment that the explicit teaching of literacy in the they became leaders of literacy improvement on our staff .
school has provided them with an opportunity to look at what
they knew and where they were at. They feel like they are on the crest of a wave. They are so excited about the middle school
kids moving forward - so different from saying ‘these kids will never read because they came here with low reading levels’.
So I think the positive change we are seeing in student achievement has a lot to do with staff moving forward cohesively. This
would not be working if leaders were imposing it on staff. For example, I refer staff to the Literacy Capability in the Australian
Curriculum (see [+] below). I will say ‘this document helps us to make explicit what you already know implicitly’. In this way, I
value their knowledge base, but help make sure they get the knowledge across to students in ways that are accessible to them.
The Region’s comprehension strategy provided us with two key components in our strategic plan. Firstly, we created high
expectations by refusing to dumb down the learning or teach to a ‘C’ standard. Secondly, we focussed on high level
comprehension literacy and numeracy skills. We are now seeing very positive trends in our data. For example, in the most
recent NAPLAN release we achieved a 13 point improvement in vocabulary - an area which had been our weakest and on which
we have had an intensive focus.
However, our literacy focus wouldn’t be working if staff were unable to understand the components of literacy and
comprehension. If they were weren’t provided with the knowledge and skills, they would have stayed in their comfort zone.

What are the five most important learnings from the Region’s Comprehension Strategy that you will use in the future?

1. Have high expectations: Expect students to achieve. Set high standards and don’t compromise them by dumbing down the learning or
by letting students think that close enough is good enough.
2. Target professional learning: Provide high quality learning options for staff but make sure it fits with the needs of individuals and groups.
Call in special expertise when its needed.
3. Provide options for students: Don’t constrain students to working and presenting in one way. Change the way the learning is
conducted, give students responsibility for their learning and options for how it is presented.
4. Utilise resources on offer: We evaluate carefully and then choose those things that will support our journey. The Region’s
Comprehension Strategy is a good example where we could access resources and expertise without having to look outside of DECD.
5. Build collaboration: The key for us has been to mobilise the staff as a cohesive group.

[+] For an explanation of the Literacy Across the Curriculum General Capability in the Australian Curriculum go to: