Alice Springs Education (Mparntwe) Declaration:
Education plays a vital role in promoting the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development and wellbeing of young Australians, and in ensuring the nation’s ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion. They need to deal with information abundance, and navigate questions of trust and authenticity. They need flexibility, resilience, creativity, and the ability and drive to keep on learning throughout their lives. (Education Council, 2019, p.3)
The Foundation for Learning and Literacy supports the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration. We are particularly concerned with the role literacy plays in ensuring our children become compassionate, confident, competent and creative citizens in an increasingly complex world. Literacy is about making and communicating meaning. It is a powerful, wide-ranging life skill that includes the traditional notions of speaking, reading and writing as well as new kinds of communication that continue to arrive with new technologies.
The Foundation provides information about relevant research and classroom practices that establishes an evidence base for effective literacy teaching and learning. Our aim is to support teachers and parents who work everyday with children to give them the power, the joy and the skills of reading and writing. The Foundation’s resources will also be of interest to anyone concerned with educational policy making, including politicians, business and the media.
The following touchstones for effective literacy teaching and learning are supported by research, and classroom success. To read more about the research evidence base, or see examples of classroom practice which exemplify each touchstone, have a look around this site.
Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity,
its obligations to its First Nations peoples, and its ongoing migrant and
refugee intakes place great demands on Australian schools to develop the
language and literacy resources of its diverse young people.
Unfortunately, Australians living in poverty are more likely to be poor readers and writers given that those who are poor or dis-advantaged may lack the opportunities we know support learning to read and write. Often they have missed out on factors that are important when learning to be literate including:
- parents who can read and write
- homes full of books filled with rich stories
- meaningful parent-child talk
- real opportunities to share in reading and writing for different purposes
- quality pre-school experiences
One in six Australian children currently live in poverty and the gap between the very rich and the very poor is widening. While we wait for politicians to work on systemic changes that reduce this gap, educators must step in. Quality literature and rich language, along with exemplary teaching must be the mainstay of all early childhood classrooms - including classrooms in disadvantaged areas.
Successful literacy and learning in Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse schools also requires recognition of students who are learning English as their additional language or dialect. It requires commitment to providing targeted, language-based teaching so students can achieve their literacy and learning potential in English.
of parents, caregivers and teachers spending time playing with children
engaging with sounds and words in rhymes and songs; sharing stories; actively
listening and responding to questions meaningfully; wondering together; and
talking about shared experiences cannot be overstated.
and parents can support children and young people to read and write and talk in
response to what is happening in their known community and their wider world.
Engagement and motivation increase when learning is authentic, as this brings
relevance and rigour to learning. It also allows children and young people to
connect ideas and transfer knowledge across content areas. Every child has the
right to be engaged and motivated in their learning – indeed, it is a condition for all learning. Reflect on
the last thing you learned to do – undoubtedly you were
motivated to learn because you either wanted to learn it (those French
macarons?) or you needed to learn it (that new accounting software?).
Children and young people are innately
curious, imaginative and playful. They ask questions about why things are as
they are. Parents and teachers need to foster this inquiry, exploration, sense
of wonder and deep questioning. Hearing and telling stories, sharing quality
literature and imaginative story writing are critical for children’s ongoing
creative language and literacy development. Drawing helps to symbolically
represent or visualise thinking, as does drama and role play. Arts rich
language activities across all stages of schooling foster creative and critical
thinking, compassion, self confidence and a respect for diverse opinions and
perspectives. These activities are part of the meaning-making process – part of
learning to be literate.
The purpose of reading and writing is
to create meaning and communicate. We read to make sense of and respond to what
someone has written, and we write in ways that we aim to make sense for other
readers. Young children understand this from the moment they put symbols on
paper and ask adults to ‘read’ them. Reading and writing instruction must keep
this fundamental purpose of reading and writing at the forefront at all times
throughout the early years of schooling and during the later years.
Classroom teachers need to work
skilfully to identify where individual children and young people are in their
literacy and language learning. They teach learners the skills and strategies
they need in order to understand, construct, reconstruct, create and
communicate meanings through oral language, reading and writing. They support
them to extend their repertoire of strategies so that they apply these to texts
of increasing complexity. The creative arts (dance, drama, media arts, music
and visual arts) are different ways of making meaning - different kinds of
literacies - and need to be embedded within the literacy program. Literacy
development does not happen in a lock-step, linear sequence that assumes all
children are the same and therefore follow the same developmental pathway.
Students need time to read every day, with easy access to a wide variety of quality literature from which to choose. This independent, self-selected reading leads to growth and improvement in vocabulary knowledge, spelling, comprehension and children’s ability to monitor their own reading. English grammar skills, writing styles and even gains on standardised reading achievement tests will improve when children have more time to read and talk about what they are reading. Similarly, children and young people become better at writing by writing every day for real audiences and real purposes. Daily reading and writing need to happen at every stage of schooling ensuring children are part of a community of learners reading and writing across all learning areas.
Effective assessment that impacts
positively on a child’s learning is an ongoing process, occurring before,
during and after learning and teaching every day. It involves many different
strategies to enable children to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.
The most effective assessment strategies are negotiated with learners to ensure
expectations are clear, are linked to instruction and provide insights for the
child and the teacher about what learning is next. It is important that
snapshot national assessments and annual standardised tests are not overemphasised.
Instead our main efforts should concentrate on in class assessments which can
provide clear insights for every child. Thoughtful and clear feedback should be
given to children so they are confident about their next learning.
Once learners are moving beyond early
literacy, we need to sustain their early progress and excitement so that they
engage with and respond to complex texts across all content areas. Ways of
dealing with the complexities of these texts require continued modelling,
discussion, explicit feedback and teacher-led inquiry, to enable students to
infer complex meanings and build rich vocabularies in different discipline
areas. Teachers need to help children use complex and challenging language so
they can understand, question the taken for granted and negotiate the world in
which they live. All students need to master the specialised academic language
of different Key Learning Areas.
Teachers make the difference in
children’s learning at school, just as parents make the difference at home.
Even a good program relies on a good teacher for it to have an impact on
learning for individual learners. Like all professions, teachers must stay in
touch with advance-ments in the field. They must draw on contemporary, valid,
rigorously-conducted and school-tested research to inform their judgements to
target their teaching to support all children in their care. As education
researcher Michael Fullan notes: The solution is not a program: it is a small
set of common principles and practices relentlessly pursued. Focused
practitioners, not programs, drive success. Professionals working together with
focus is what counts. (Fullan 2010, All Systems Go: The Change imperative for whole system reform).
At all levels of the system (school, network, region, state and national)
teachers need ongoing, embedded professional learning that continues to build
their expertise and capability, particularly in literacy.
Language and literacy skills
established during early childhood are critical for later school success.
Parents and caregivers are an important part of their child’s learning in those
early years. the best foundation for children who start school speaking a
language other than English is to develop literacy in that language and build
on the special learning resources they bring to school, including their
storytelling, home literacy practices and other cultural knowledge and
experiences. Parents need to maintain their interest in their children’s
reading and writing all through their school years. Learning to read and write
is an ongoing process that doesn’t end when home reading books stop coming
home. Parents need to continue talking to their children and young adults about
what they are reading and writing at school. It is a wonderful way to see what
is on their minds when they may not be as communicative as they were when
younger. And schools need to keep the doors open for parents, and ensure
communication channels are clear.
In this recorded conversation, author, novelist, documentary maker, lecturer and social commentator, Jane Caro, highlights a number of the Foundation for Learning and Literacy’s Touchstones.