Whole School Literacy Strategy 2003-2005 implemented in Fitzgerald State School is a very successful example of a whole school literacy program. It is designed in a consistent and comprehensive manner with a view to equip student with all the necessary literacy skills to function effectively in the society.
The strategy opens with the presentation of its vision, goals and definition of key terms. Four Corners Literacy Model follows, which specifies how to link text types to social power. Then two separate models are presented in the fields of composition/making and comprehension/reading.
In order to make results more measurable, a table of code competency level is included. The strategy ends with a precise action plan with a timeline and actors/bodies responsible for carrying out each portion of the literacy program.
The vision of the Whole School Literacy Strategy 2003-2005 program is to create a community of lifelong learners who should be knowledgeable, complex thinkers, socially competent, and effective communicators. Specifying the vision of a literacy strategy is very helpful, since it establishes the connection between different competencies and real-life situations. It is clearly shown how enhanced literacy leads to mobility and access to high incomes, social power, improved chances, and greater engagement of aesthetic and spiritual ways of knowing.
With a view to reducing ambiguity, the definition of literacy is suggested. In Fitzgerald State School, literacy is viewed as a complex, multifaceted phenomenon. Literacy refers to communicating, comprehension/reading, composing/making; it is, in essence, dynamic i.e. changes with time and context, purposeful, essential, and able to shape and enrich our future.
It’s also very important to specify the duration of literacy block for different years. The strategy suggests a daily-uninterrupted literacy block of 2 hours in Years 1-3 and 60 minutes reading and 30-60 minutes making in Years 4-7, it being known that reading and making may be split in Years 4-7. All the specialists in child development come to a consensus that uninterrupted literacy block is very essential in earlier years, thus we may conclude that 2 hours of literacy education is an appropriate period for the mastery of the necessary skills.
The strategy proceeds with Four Corners Literacy Model. This model links certain genres with social power, yet it also implicates that all genres are equally important for the access to social power. Consequently, all of them should be studies more frequently, more consistently throughout the school, and in greater depth. It’s of paramount importance to understand that ‘today’s teachers must assist readers in…actively interacting with all genres to decode authors’ stated and implied meanings’ (Gambrell, Morrow & Pressley, 2007, p.221).
The model describes four existing genres in terms of their purpose, text types, generic structure, and grammar. For instance, narrative aims at solving problems creatively and logically. Typical text types within this genre include stories, anecdotes, ballads and plays. Generic structure consists of orientation, complication(s) and resolution, while grammar used is mostly past tense, temporal conjunctions and complex sentences.
The second genre is persuasive, which is directed at influencing other’s point of view. Debates, opinion surveys and advertising are the examples of this genre. Generic structures include thesis, argument and evidence, and conclusion; grammatical structures rely on the use of the present tense, synonyms, temporal and pronoun referencing.
The third genre is information. Its goal is to translate factual information to others in the form of factual reports, news reports, explanations and procedures. The fourth genre is transactional, and the students are supposed to acquire the ability to behave appropriately according to the demands of the context. Text types within this genre comprise assembly, salutations, question and answers, interviews, business letters etc. Since this is the genre of social exchange, it should be studied in situ rather than made the focus of an entire unit or portion of a unit of work.
The model also specifies the advisable kinds of texts for literacy education. It specifies that texts that have prominence within the culture of the students should be viewed as being more relevant. Indeed, there is a broad consensus among educators that the choice of texts should be to a large extent motivated by cultural considerations. This is because ‘good readers are able to construct meanings from text that are then interconnected with those derived from other texts as well as cultural and social-experiential knowledge’ (Gambrell et al., 2007, p.22).
The model also advises teachers to use authentic texts and real-life examples. The question whether instructional or authentic texts are better for learning purposes is still a controversial one. The opinion of educators and specialists in child development is still divided. However, ‘[s]ome literacy educators argue that young readers learn best when reading and responding to authentic literature, which reflects purposeful use of language, complex natural language, and compelling story lines’ (Gambrell et al., 2007, p.42).
The next area that is discussed in the literacy strategy is composition/making. It reflects four stages of constructing a textual model, namely teacher model, collaborative model, draft and published work. Each model should pass through four distinct stages – scanning, planning, doing and reviewing. Teacher Model implies that the subjects of scanning are others; it’s advisable to detect textual features and use graphic organizers at the planning stage; it’s necessary to use identified textual features and review the purpose for which these texts have been produced. Collaborative Model implies that the areas for scanning are others and mine; instead of detecting textual features it’s necessary to determine them; identified textual features should be used, and the review question is ‘What features should I include?’ Draft model is based on scanning others, mine and ours; the panning stage is identical to the previous model, yet at the stage of doing it’s necessary to assess use of identified textual features and review whether everything was done as intended. Published text implies scanning your own model, adjust textual features if necessary, and monitor ability to self-edit. Review questions for published text are ‘What did you do well? What would you do differently?’
The next area of concern for literacy educators is comprehending/reading. According to the literacy strategy, comprehending/reading should be modeled (across key learning area), guided (in the literacy block) and independent (beyond the classroom). The student in this model is perceived as meaning maker, decoder, analyst and user. This classification is very close to the four resources model. The four resources model implies that students should possess code breaking resources, text participating resources, text using resources and text analysing resources (Department of Education Tasmania, 2006).
This is very similar to the competencies Fitzgerald State School is trying to develop in its students. Students (as meaning makers, decoders, analysts and users) should be able to access prior knowledge and make predictions, relate new knowledge to old, clarify the unknown, generate questions, summarise accurately, and use their knowledge. The model suggests several practical approaches and exercises for making the students effective readers. On of the most widely used approaches is Top Level Structure. This approach implies that text structures operate at three levels, namely the Whole-text level which helps readers to identify the main ideas; the Paragraph level which helps readers see how details that support the main ideas are organized; and the Sentence level which helps readers understand how ideas in a sentence are organized. Student should be able to identify structures that refer to compare/contrast, cause/effect, problem/solution, or which are list-like (Bolton, 2007).
Another useful approach to developing reading and comprehension skills is KWL. As the Education Development Center (2006) suggests, this approach helps students to pose correct review questions and relate the material to previously known facts. Here K stands for Know (What do I already know about this topic?), W stands for Will or Want (What do I think I will learn about this topic? What do I want to know about this topic?), and L stands for Learned (What have I learned about this topic?)
The next major areas of discussion id code competency level. The designers of the literacy plan remind us they student’s competencies may be influenced by individual preferences, cultural preferences, degree of exposure and/or familiarity upon coming to school, and individual child development factors. While society generally values written competency as a measure of literacy in general, it’s very important to develop other competencies, such as spoken, visual, sensory-motor and multi-modal. This is consistent with the theory that all people possess multiple intelligences, namely logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist (Armstrong, 2000).
The Whole School Literacy Strategy ends with a precise action plan with a timeline. It specifies actions that need to be taken within key aspects, such as community profile, shared vision, strategic community partnerships, standards and targets, assessment and monitoring, classroom organization and pedagogy, intervention and special needs, leadership and professional learning.
After tough-but-fair evaluation, it becomes evident that this literacy plan is very effective and carefully designed. It builds on the strengths of uniform scientific models and approaches but also reminds that literacy education should take into account individual needs of every student.
Armstrong, Thomas. (2000). In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences (Rev.Upd. ed.) Los Angeles, CA: Tarcher.
Gambrell, Linda B., Morrow, Lesley M., & Pressley, Michael (eds.) (2007). Best Practices in Literacy Instruction (3rd ed.) New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Bolton, Faye. (March 2007). ‘Top-Level Structures.’ Retrieved March 14, 2007, from http://www.teachingk-8.com/archives/articles/_toplevel_structures_by_faye_bolton.html
Department of Education Tasmania. (January 19, 2006). ‘The Four Resources Model.’ Retrieved March 14, 2007, from http://www.ltag.education.tas.gov.au/focus/beingliterate/FourResources.htm
Education Development Center. (2006). ‘Reading: Questioning.’ Retrieved March 14, 2007, from http://www.literacymatters.org/content/readandwrite/question.htm
Fitzgerald State School. (November 30, 2003). ‘Fitzgerald State School WSLP.’ The State of Queensland, Department of Education, Training and the Arts. Retrieved March 14, 2007, from https://www.learningplace.com.au/deliver/content.asp?pid=15434