A primary school in Hobart’s northern suburbs has dramatically improved its students’ literacy by blending innovative ways of teaching with tried and true methods.
- Almost half of Tasmanian adults are functionally illiterate, meaning they don’t have the literacy or numeracy skills needed to function in a technology-driven world
- In 2016, Hobart’s Rosetta Primary realised some of its students were not improving as they should
- Since introducing a new method of teaching, some students’ tests show more than a year of learning in just 12 months
In 2016, senior staff at Rosetta Primary realised some students’ results were not improving as they should.
It sparked the curiosity of advanced skills teacher Deb Button — and her research and dedication have since led to a whole-of-school approach to teaching reading and spelling, including a method known as Multisensory Structured Language.
“It’s direct, explicit, it’s sequential, we constantly review what we do, and it also means they see it, they hear it and they feel it,” Ms Button said.
“When I say feel, I mean how it feels in your mouth when you say a word … and that improves what they hear, what they see, and how it comes out on paper.”
Part of its benefit was that it was more tangible to learners, Ms Button said.
“There’s not the — dare I say it — look, cover, write, check. ‘Here’s a worksheet, let’s have a test, we’ll do another test at the end of the week,'” she said.
“The reading and the spelling are so closely linked at the same time, so that means we hear it, we see it, we spell it … then we read it again.”
The model is promoted by the Australian Dyslexia Association, which notes the theory allows specially trained teachers to “adjust their teaching to meet the needs of the learners rather than expecting the learners to fit one way”.
Principal Deirdre Arendt said the results since implementing Multisensory Structured Language for students in grades one to three had blown her away.
“We’ve got students achieving across the board,” she said.
“Wherever they were at the beginning when they took this first assessment to the end of the year, it’s been well over a years’ growth of learning.
“That to us is absolute gold.”
Results a source of pride for Toby
Students appear to enjoy the new approach.
Toby Shelton, a seven-year-old in grade 1, said he struggled with “big, long words” but had learned to sound them out by “chopping” them into syllables.
“So you can say the first bit and the second bit and the third bit and the fourth bit. Then you can put it all together and say it in one big go,” he said.
“Long words kind of confuse me sometimes, but now I can see how it’s made up.”
Toby said it felt good to be able to read well compared to when he was “blind for words”. His favourite book is one on the Titanic, the Hindenburg and Boeing 747s.
“I feel very proud now that I can spell things and make it easier for my life,” he said.
Ms Button, just one of Rosetta Primary’s literacy coaches, said families were involved in their children’s learning too.
“I’ve had one parent say, ‘If only they’d done this when I was at school,'” she said.
“We’ve seen students who were not confident before who are willing to come and read, and the amount they’re reading has improved too … some of them are so hooked into reading, and we didn’t see that before.”
Annabel Graham is another grade 1 student benefiting from Rosetta Primary’s new approach.
She loves reading about dinosaurs and hopes to one day become a teacher.
“Because then I can teach students stuff that I’ve learned so there’ll be lots of smart people in the world,” she said.
Ms Button said aspiration was key: “By having that there, they all have a chance to succeed at a much higher level than they might’ve before.”
Improving literacy ‘a slow process’
Tasmania’s public schools are allowed to choose their own methods of teaching in line with the Australian curriculum.
The state’s Education Department last year launched a Literacy Framework and Plan for Action, with the Government also pledging to allow all government schools access to literacy coaches.
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff has set a target of 100 per cent functional literacy.
According to adult education service 26TEN, the existing figure among adults is about half that — in other words, 48 per cent of Tasmanians do not have the literacy and numeracy skills they need to live in a technologically driven society.
“Accept that improving adult literacy is a slow process; with this in mind, the longer-term support and funding provided by the State Government is essential and represents persistence and sustainability,” the report said.
Ms Arendt, from Rosetta Primary, said paying for professional learning and the requisite relief teachers had not come cheap — but said it was more than worth it.
“If other schools are interested in doing a journey similar to ours, we’re more than happy to support and help in whatever ways we can,” she said.