Hagley Community College (TLIF2-001) - Advancing academic literacy to improve outcomes for students entering university Publications
Teachers from four Christchurch secondary schools and the University of Canterbury’s transition programme worked together to see how they could better support students, particularly Māori and Pacific students, to transition to tertiary study by focusing on the literacies and ways of thinking about and discussing specific disciplines.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Marie Stribling and Hagley College as lead school with lead teacher, Catholic Cathedral College, Avonside Girls' High School and Ao Tawhiti Unlimited
Date Published: March 2019
The project’s main aim was to develop teachers’ understanding about the social practices and thinking that underpins their discipline by sharing key research, and for teachers to then apply that knowledge in their inquiries focused on selected priority target students. A significant resource that was developed as part of the project was the ‘discourse analysis tool’, which supported teachers to interrogate and build their understanding of the practices of their discipline.
The ways of knowing and doing became real for me with this project due to the learning that we did early on — exploring our position as an ‘outsider’ with unfamiliar texts from different disciplines — and how our students might feel in the same position.
The inquiry team included teachers from four Christchurch secondary schools:
- Hagley College (the lead school with lead teacher Marie Stribling)
- Catholic Cathedral College
- Avonside Girls’ High School
- Ao Tawhiti Unlimited
with support from the University of Canterbury’s UC Student Transitions and Engagement team.
The teachers came from a range of learning areas: health, physical education, art, English, chemistry, biology, geography, social sciences, English language learning and from the UC transition programme, which encompasses academic communication studies as well as specific disciplinary study.
The project was also supported by literacy advisor Trish Holden.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) data shows that there is an ethnic disparity in the achievement of school leavers, with Māori and Pacific students achieving at lower levels compared to Pākehā students. They tend to enter tertiary study with lower qualifications and literacy skills than their counterparts, pursue less rigorous academic pathways and drop out at higher rates in their first year. The University of Canterbury’s research also shows that Pākehā and ‘other’ students consistently perform better than Māori and Pacific students who arrive with the same entry score.
The project team identified that secondary school students’ transition to tertiary education or training was not being supported by specific literacy instructions within the subjects they were studying. In general, secondary schools do not teach literacy relevant to the subjects students are studying — they rely on what students have learned at primary school and build on that by assuming students will pick up discipline-specific literacy as they go through secondary school.
Research indicates that this does not happen. The dominant practices in senior secondary school programmes tend to be content-driven and focused on passing particular achievement standards. Students do not develop the discipline-specific literacies they need for secondary school or tertiary study because they are not explicitly taught how discipline-specific knowledge is produced and communicated. Teachers are often not skilled or confident in teaching discipline-specific literacy, and so do not adequately prepare students with the transferable academic literacy skills they need at the tertiary level.
Teachers worked to understand the literacy needs within their discipline better and to understand how to teach the skills and knowledge students need to decode, comprehend and use texts in discipline-specific ways. They read key research in the field and worked collaboratively with all the teachers in the project to examine texts from a range of disciplines to identify similarities and differences in the skills and knowledge students would need. This analysis helped teachers analyse the discourse of their discipline, and understand the similarities and differences between disciplines. Professional development also focused on culturally responsive pedagogy. For example, teachers in the UC transition course included academic texts from a Māori perspective in each research reading list and from Pacific perspectives where possible.
Teachers chose four or five target year 13 students from their setting — priority Māori or Pacific students where possible — and engaged in an inquiry into their literacy practices based on these students.
One of the most significant aspects of the project was the ‘discourse analysis tool’ developed by the project leader, Marie Stribling. Teachers used this tool to identify and make explicit and visible to students the rules and ways of working within specific disciplines that were hidden or taken for granted. It separated the ‘ways of knowing’ (social practices and the nature of thinking required by the discipline) from ‘ways of doing’ (creating meaning through the forms of representation and patterns of language used to create and share knowledge in the discipline). Teachers used this tool to interrogate their discipline in a very concrete and practical way.
In the first year of the classroom intervention (2017), teachers developed an intervention for each of their target students based on the student’s strengths and weaknesses and their confidence with academic literacy. Each intervention identified the student’s needs, appropriate actions and success factors. Teachers used the discourse analysis tool to inform interventions such as templates to scaffold NCEA achievement standard tasks to support students in recognising the invisible ways of knowing and doing in the discipline.
In the following year (2018), teachers used the discourse analysis tool to apply the teaching of ways of knowing and doing and disciplinary capabilities across years 9–13. Their purpose was to raise teachers’ awareness of the need to embed disciplinary literacy approaches across all stages of students’ learning.
In 2016, the project surveyed teachers about their current understandings about academic literacy and the teacher’s role in developing this with students, as well as the kinds of reading and writing tasks they typically gave their students.
In 2017, teachers:
- completed Time 1 and Time 2 COALS analyses of student writing to identify strengths and weaknesses and any shifts in student samples;
- investigated their school’s 2016 UE and Level 3 NCEA disaggregated data to inform teachers’ understandings about achievement gaps in their settings; and
- completed a teacher reflection on their before and after literacy knowledge and practice and the extent to which target students had met or exceeded teachers’ expectations.
In 2018, teachers:
- analysed their school’s 2017 UE and Level 3 NCEA disaggregated data and compared it to the 2016 data to inform teachers about achievement gaps in their settings; and
- identified actions taken in transferring what they learned about academic literacy to students in levels other than year 13.
In 2016, the project surveyed students about:
- the kinds of texts they had to read and write in their learning areas, and this was compared to teachers’ feedback to identify any similarities or differences in teachers’ and students’ perceptions; and
- the reading demands of texts within their disciplines using a set of indicators to alert teachers to the demands of the discipline.
- target students provided feedback about interventions trialled by teachers;
- the literacy consultant did semi-structured interviews with 21 students to collect feedback for teachers to inform their ongoing practice and outcomes of interventions; and
- work samples collected at various points were analysed by individual teachers and collectively by the group to determine shifts in academic literacy practice.
Impact on teachers
Teachers have made significant shifts in their practice now that they have a much greater awareness of their role in teaching discipline-specific literacy and how to do it. They have significantly increased their understanding of the nature of disciplinary literacy and their role in supporting students to develop their understanding in this area. They have learned that they can’t assume students will have transferable skills and know they can’t rely on students’ generic literacy skills to succeed in a discipline. They have learned that they have to explicitly teach those transferable skills and explain to students how they can transfer those skills to other subject areas.
The project teachers were exposed to a large range of readings and research that helped them move forward in their practice. They realised they needed to increase their knowledge in understanding transition demands and in recognising the ‘ways of knowing and doing’ in their discipline. Having to read texts from all the disciplines in the project showed teachers what their students have to do every day as an outsider, and how they might feel in the same position. For many, it was a revelation to realise how people within different disciplines are motivated by different questions and purposes and read and engage with texts differently as a result.
Teachers used their increased knowledge to trial a variety of approaches to help build discipline-specific literacy understanding to facilitate students’ ‘insiderness’. They learned about the challenges students can have in understanding and explaining subject knowledge as ‘outsiders’ and what they have to do to become ‘insiders’ in a discipline. They used their new understanding of ‘ways of knowing and doing’ and disciplinary text-dependent questioning to make the invisible aspects of this explicit and visible for students.
Teachers used their new knowledge to ‘backmap’ aspects of ‘ways of knowing and doing’ to their disciplines in lower year groups.
Impacts on students
Before and after writing artefacts showed significant improvements in students’ writing, including specific markers of appropriate forms of organisation and language features.
Students were empowered by being able to understand that knowing discipline-specific ways of thinking is different from knowing the content. This understanding showed them how to learn as well as what to learn.
Students gained confidence in themselves as writers as they became more aware of their insider knowledge and skills in a discipline. Their engagement increased with their greater sense of efficacy as they realised their insiderness and came to understand the ways of knowing and doing in a discipline.
NCEA Level 3 and UE achievements varied among the students, with 63.3 per cent of the target students achieving 14+ credits in the project teachers’ subject. Some students achieved well in the project teachers’ classes but failed to achieve 14 credits in three approved subjects. A general pattern emerged where target students seemed to achieve higher results in project teachers’ classes than in other subjects. Teachers put this success down to their involvement in the project and the intensive mentoring and tracking of students.
The project showed there is an intrinsic link between the development of academic literacy to prepare students for the transition to tertiary study, an understanding of disciplinary ‘ways of knowing and doing’ and capability frameworks. It has shown teachers that in order to focus on developing academic literacy, they have to identify the social practices and thinking and key ways of working within a discipline before they can begin formulating a set of capabilities required by the discipline. Any development work on capabilities frameworks is crucial in the development of disciplinary literacies and must be part of reframing literacy professional development for the sector.
Teachers have to be able to understand the ways of knowing and doing in a discipline before they can effectively teach discipline-specific literacy. The success of the discourse analysis tool and the collaborative inquiry showed the value of teachers working within a diverse community of learning to understand the nature of their discipline.
Teachers discovered they needed to re-examine the NCEA tasks they gave their students. They found that there is no clear and consistent hierarchy of instructional verbs used in standards. They now understand that the teacher’s role here is to support students to understand what actual cognitive and literacy knowledge they need in any given standard. They have used the discourse analysis tool to gain a clearer understanding of what is being asked for in NCEA tasks. These inconsistencies should be considered in the current review of NCEA to stimulate a discussion on the instructional language used in NCEA assessments.
Reading was more important to the development of writing within disciplines than many of the teachers believed at the start of the project. They found a lack of connection between the ‘ways of knowing and doing’ and the ways the discourse is presented in textbooks in particular disciplines. Textbook models frequently contradicted the literacy practices of a discipline, which worked against teachers supporting students to gain a clear understanding of discipline-specific literacy practices. Teachers learned to seek out models that were authentic to the discipline. The greater emphasis teachers put on reading and the need for authenticity in texts means secondary teachers need to understand the place of textbooks in classrooms and know how to take a text-dependant questioning approach to texts they used with students. This creates implications for educational resource developers, to ensure the resources are authentic to the ways of knowing and going in a particular discipline.
Plans for sharing the findings
- Teachers in the project schools have already backmapped their learnings to the other years in their schools. This is influencing other teachers and students within their schools.
- An English teacher and an English Language Learner teacher planned to share these finding with their professional associations.
- UC transition programme teachers have shared this discourse analysis tool with UC colleagues to work with them on disciplinary literacy approaches within the wider transition programme.
- The project’s literacy expert has shared aspects of the project with teachers in a kāhui ako.
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For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader, Marie Stribling at Hagley Community College at email@example.com.
- Content/Organisation/Audience and Purpose/Language/Surface features framework for writers
- Teachers used year 13 as a starting point and then embedded specific teaching of relevant skills from year 9.
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