In Semester 2 of 2014, five Broken Bay primary schools took part in the Australian Catholic University’s Teaching and Learning Consortium (TLC). This initiative saw Second Year Bachelor of Education (Primary) students placed in schools one day a week for a nine-week experience. The participating Broken Bay schools engaged the TLC students to assist in achieving goals identified in their Strategic Improvement Plans. The projects ranged from reducing the teacher to student ratio in literacy groups to implementing social skills programs in the playground. Each of the groups involved – teacher education students, schools and the university – has noted the great success of the initiative.
The TLC differs from a traditional practicum experience as it provides schools with greater agency in organising the experiences of the teacher education student. It allows for the schools and students to co-design the experience to ensure both parties benefit. The TLC involves teachers serving as mentors to the teacher education students rather than supervisors.
One of the participating schools was Maria Regina Catholic School, Avalon. Jane Labone, the Assistant Principal who organised the TLC at her school shares her experience:
At Maria Regina we saw the need to implement a reading program based on individualised instruction. Through analysis of reading levels K-4, Observation Survey data in Year 1, and teacher referrals, a number of children were identified.
The children selected were involved in differentiated reading groups throughout the regular literacy block, however they were chosen for individualised instruction in areas such as comprehension, fluency, expression, and using a wider variety of strategies to assist their reading. We saw the opportunity to involve the TLC students in an individualised reading program for these students.
It was important that the TLC students were prepared to assist the children so they participated in a reading presentation before they started working with the children. This ensured that they understood and shared Maria Regina’s beliefs about teaching reading and they were clear about what was expected of them. This presentation provided the students with the opportunity to build on their knowledge about reading that they had learned at university as well as giving them the knowledge, skills, and strategies which they could use during their individualised reading sessions. The Acting Principal modelled a reading session for the TLC students and observed the students regularly to give them feedback on their practice.
The program took place in the regular literacy block. The students met with the same children each week which provided opportunities to develop rapport as well as allowing opportunities to observe growth in reading skills from week to week. The TLC students completed observations for each child. These notes were used to discuss the progress of the child with the child’s teacher. The TLC students regularly discussed their observations, any issues, or concerns with the class teacher as well as the Acting Principal.
The TLC students were given professional reading to provide background knowledge and ideas to help develop the reading skills of the children. They looked at the class teachers reading level data tracking sheets so they could see the importance of collecting data on individual children. They became more familiar with levelled reading texts and the reading behaviours expected at each level.
In addition to the reading program, the TLC students had opportunities to observe all of the class teachers in the school as well as the Learning Support teacher. They commented that this gave them the chance to experience a variety of teaching styles, behaviour management strategies as well as implementations of technology.
The program was beneficial to the TLC students, the teachers and the children. The TLC students had an opportunity to put theory into practice and were able to reflect on and evaluate their own teaching practice. It helped the children because they were given explicit reading instruction based on their individualised needs which will have a positive impact on their reading development.
The program was successful due to the enthusiasm and initiative demonstrated by the teacher education students and the commitment of the class teachers to the program. The specific program and structure each week helped in the planning and organisation of the teacher education students as they knew exactly what to do and they didn’t need detailed instructions. They felt empowered because they had a specific program with clear goals.