Universities have a crucial role to play in equipping teachers for the literacy classroom

By Janet Fellowes, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Edith Cowan University and author of Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education (Oxford University Press)

This article first appeared in Education Review

It is very difficult to dispute the need for teachers to possess sounds literacy skills. Communication and literacy are central to teaching success and personal literacy competency is an obvious prerequisite for much of a teacher’s work.

Not only do teachers need to teach children to read and comprehend texts, and to convey meaning in clear, interesting sentences with accurate punctuation and spelling, but they need personal literacy for many other tasks, including designing and administering classroom assessments, writing comments on students’ work and term reports, and crafting letters and notes to parents.

Accordingly, it makes sense to be concerned about the literacy levels of graduating teachers and to desire that those embarking on teaching careers have what is obviously a fundamental prerequisite for performing the job.

Universities have a responsibility to ensure all teacher education students graduate with personal literacy competency as well as with other essential competencies, such as numeracy and information and communication technology.

When students are accepted into teacher education courses, whether via their ATAR scores or other means, their personal literacy skills should become a significant focus and remain so for the duration of their course.

While there is much being done in universities and much that has been achieved, universities must continue to evaluate, refine and add to their practices with the aim of graduating all their students with proven personal literacy excellence. Further consideration might be given to:

  • Instituting on-entry personal literacy assessments to be completed by students in the first semester of their teacher education course; these can be used to determine the precise gaps in their personal literacy and numeracy skills and identify their support needs
  • Providing different personal literacy learning pathways for pre-service teachers so as to differentiate the experiences and the amount and type of support provided for pre-service teachers’ personal literacy growth
  • Establishing precise short-term and long-term goals that guide the teaching and measurement of pre-service teachers’ personal literacy
  • Using carefully selected commercial programs and online resources to support pre-service teachers’ personal literacy growth
  • Ensuring that high level professional literacy standards and personal literacy learning goals and experiences are rigorously addressed in all units of teacher education courses
  • Embedding professional literacy learning goals and experiences in all units of teaching within teacher education courses
  • Ensuring pre-service teachers can articulate the specific skills and competencies that comprise personal literacy excellence and understand the relationship between their literacy competencies and the teaching and school contexts in which they are used
  • Providing pre-service teachers with opportunities for self-reflection about their personal literacy learning, perhaps by asking them to write personal journals
  • Ensuring that authentic assessments are used to monitor pre-service teachers’ literacy growth and to determine their overall professional literacy competency
  • Providing pre-service teachers with opportunities for practical literacy use in a range of teaching situations

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