Consistency and community key in Indigenous literacy: Q&A with Shirley Davey

Literacy is a community affair in the Top End, according to Literacy and Numeracy Trainer Shirley Davey.  In the remote areas where Shirley works, students, families, teachers and trainers are working together to bring the benefits of literacy and numeracy.

We asked Shirley about her experience working in Indigenous literacy.

Where do you work? Northern Territory Department of Education.

 What is your role?

Literacy and Numeracy Trainer, focusing on the implementation of the LANE (Literacy and Numeracy Essentials) project in rural and remote schools in the Northern Territory.

I currently support 11 remote schools across the Top End region with six schools focusing on numeracy and five focusing on literacy and numeracy.

What is the best part about working in Indigenous literacy?

The five schools that I am supporting with literacy are implementing Read Write Inc in their schools, as well as using an explicit teaching model.

Seeing the progress that a large number of students are making with Read Write Inc in 2017 has been amazing.  Seeing the excitement on the faces of the students, especially when they have the opportunity to share their successes with other students in their class or in the school is a great reward for me as a trainer. It is equally as exciting to see how proud families are of their children.

Some of the schools have involved their Assistant Teachers in the training of Read Write Inc, which has meant that they are building capacity in their own work. The Assistant Teachers are having conversations with the communities about what the children are learning and how, which has created an increased sense of pride within communities.

Overall, the level of dedication and standard that the teachers are working to is the best part of working in this area. Teachers expect that their Aboriginal students, particularly remote students, can learn and work to a high level, so it’s rewarding to see the positive improvements and sense of pride it ensues.

What are the main challenges you face in Indigenous literacy?

In the Northern Territory, education operates in a unique context given the vastness in location of our communities and the mobility of students between communities.

The benefit of schools implementing an explicit teaching and learning program such as LANE, is that the impact of mobility and their location is minimised. If a student moves between communities throughout a school year, teachers who are trained in the delivery of LANE can easily identify where a student is up to in their learning and can deliver a tailored program to suit. Most importantly, students benefits from this type of program, as they have familiarity in their learning which often results in achieving greater outcomes.

Over 40% of Territory school students identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, which means that for many students, English is an additional language. This can present a challenge in the delivery of a literacy program.

In the Northern Territory, we have a targeted focus on early years education to ensure that students have access to learning literacy and numeracy essentials from the youngest possible age. This learning is extended past the students and to the families, through other programs such as Families as First Teachers which includes mothers, fathers, aunties and grandmothers in the learning journey, so children are learning together with their family.

By focusing on working with children and families from the youngest possible age, we are seeing an impact on school attendance and engagement. This is a result of students and families developing a habitual routine to attend school every day as well as allowing them to develop a deeper understanding of the value of education and the positive impact it has on their future.

What improvements could be made in the way we approach Indigenous literacy?

A consistent approach across schools in terms of literacy is needed. LANE and the Explicit Teaching Model is one way of ensuring this, particularly in rural and remote schools.

Early feedback has shown that this has been an effective and successful model to ensure consistency, not only for our students but also for our teachers who are new to an Indigenous context.

Continuing the focus on early years education will also ensure that students have access to learning literacy and numeracy essentials from the youngest possible age.

Do you have any anecdotes about your experiences?

One remote school I support for literacy, Woolianna School has seen dramatic improvements in student literacy this year. They have seen five-year-old Aboriginal students who couldn’t read, now reading after six months at school.

It is even the little things, like feedback I receive from Assistant Teachers and parents about how their children are using the skills they’ve learnt to sound out words in the local community or even at the supermarket.

What is the future in Indigenous literacy?

The future of Aboriginal literacy, particularly in regards to remote schools in the Northern Territory, is very positive.

We are currently seeing students at Transition and Year 1 levels working at the appropriate levels in regards to the Australian Curriculum and this can only benefit them for the rest of their primary school education and into the high school experience.


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