Junior School and Gawura teachers believe that an optimum learning design involves a gradual release of responsibility from the teacher as the learner transitions from dependence to independence.
We utilise expert teachers with specialisation in all Key Learning Areas. In the early years the emphasis is on the explicit teaching of key foundational skills (Reading, Phonics, Mathematics, Writing, Spelling and Handwriting), with an introduction to concept-based and inquiry-based opportunities for learning across the curriculum. We acknowledge the importance of surface learning moving to deep learning and then transferring that learning to other contexts. As the learner gains automaticity and fluency of the essential skills, then learning becomes more student-led and less explicit in nature. Underpinning the entire programme is the intention to foster deeper learning by empowering each student to understand and improve their own learning process.
Over fifty percent of the teaching load in the Junior School is focused on developing our students’ literacy and numeracy skills, providing a solid foundation for school success.
Reading instruction encompasses a range of explicit teaching practices that provide varying levels of support, at different points of need – these practices include modeled reading, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. We focus on developing vocabulary, linking the fundamentals of talking and listening to reading and studying the etymology, morphology and orthography of words. Teachers model rich, authentic texts and include explicit instruction of decoding, meaning-making, text use and analysis (Freebody & Luke, 1999).
Our School provides opportunities to maximise engaged reading and deep thinking about quality texts through practices such as literature circles and reciprocal teaching, and through providing prompts to promote extended talk about texts. We are research and evidence-based, recognising the importance of the five foundational pillars of reading: developing phonemic awareness, phonic knowledge, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. We appreciate the need to develop competence in speaking and listening to support reading and writing. We believe that if students cannot say a word, they cannot read it, nor write it.
Writing instruction involves students in focused, scaffolded, and authentic writing experiences. A range of teaching practices are intentionally followed: modelled writing, shared writing, interactive writing, and independent writing. Lessons incorporate explicit instruction around the four pillars of writing: enhancing vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation. These four elements quickly and easily enhance writing by creating the writer’s voice. Structural and grammatical features of language are studied from Kindergarten including etymology, orthography, and morphology. Spelling is taught using the evidence-based THRASS (Teaching Handwriting Reading and Spelling Skills), a framework to support decoding of words, essential to Spelling, Reading, and Writing skills.
Students receive ‘Talk Homework’ to allow them opportunities to talk about their writing, gain ideas from family and friends and to assist in making the most out of their class writing sessions. Each fortnight all students practice and demonstrate all the literacy skills they have been learning. The link between talking and writing consistently results in significant growth in student writing competence, quality and endurance. In Term 3, all students in Kindergarten to Year 6 participate in an Annual Public Speaking Competition and are encouraged to enter an annual Writer’s Competition.
Creating mathematical dispositions in our students requires providing opportunities for play, exploration, openness and teamwork (Eddie Woo, 2018 PD).
The following framework allows us to build numeracy:
An activity that helps students to recall something they learned in the last lesson, something they learned a week previously, and something they learned prior to that time. This retrieval practice is important for helping students to move their learning from working memory to long term memory, and for continuing to scaffold new learning to existing learning. This part of the lesson is also important for developing mathematical fluency in skills that students need to readily access such as counting, times tables, and doubling numbers.
This prepares students for the lesson through low floor/high ceiling activities that all students can access but can be taken to very high levels. These activities relate to the concept being taught and often make use of visible thinking routines or number talks.
These are made explicit to students because they “indicate to the student what success looks like and the student (often with help) can estimate how far away from success he or she is, the amount of energy needed to attain success, and to be more focused on attending to the tasks that lead to the success.” (Hattie, Understanding Learning: Lessons for Learning, Teaching and Research, 2013).
Explicit instruction is an important part of learning as it is the time when teachers provide students with the knowledge they need to develop their mathematical thinking. While teachers guide the learning, “students are not passive recipients of information – they are fully involved in the learning process” (Barton, How I Wish I’d Taught Maths, 2018) as teachers explain, model and guide instruction.
During deliberate practice, students also apply the mathematical skills that have been taught and practised during the instruction phase of the lesson in problem-solving and inquiry activities. This helps them to develop understanding and fluency through inquiry, exploring and connecting mathematical concepts, choosing and applying problem-solving skills and mathematical techniques, communication and reasoning. As the week progresses, students may spend more time in this component of the lesson.
The lesson concludes with an opportunity for students to reflect on what they have learned.
Evidence for student learning
Students complete a pre-test and post-test twice a term to guide instruction. Student books are regularly marked to assess for learning. However, books do not record all work a student completes during mathematics as much of the mathematics is completed in discussions, on whiteboards, and with hands-on material. Evidence for learning may include photos and additional work samples that are kept in a folder.
The remaining fifty percent of our teaching load is spent across other Key Learning Areas, including: Science and Technology, History, Geography, Creative Arts – Music, Visual Arts, Drama and Dance Personal Development, Health and Physical Education, and Social and Emotional Wellbeing lessons. The two languages studied include: Mandarin and Wiradjuri.
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