Engaging students to achieve

“Every child is entitled to the promise of a teacher’s optimism, enthusiasm, time and energy.”   Carol Tomlinson, expert in differentiation.

At St Catherine’s School, no day in the Learning Plus classroom is ever the same and that is exactly how we like it. What is the Learning Plus classroom? What happens in this classroom?

The Learning Plus classroom is for Year 7 to Year 12 students who require extension and support in their learning. For the Learning Plus Educational Support we apply the research based Response to Intervention model (RtI) in our approach to assisting students with learning challenges. This is a three tiered approach, with the classroom, the therapist and the Education Support classroom coming together for the benefit of each student. There are three highly experienced Educational Support teachers in the Senior School. We all work closely alongside a range of specialists, including Speech Therapists and Psychologists. These specialists are an integral component of the Education Support team and collaboration with them is key to our programs. Together, we design and implement a wide range of programs that support the different learning needs of our students. We also support teachers in the planning of programs to meet individual needs in the classroom. In addition, we also run Parent Support Group meetings when necessary. The aim is for students to develop skills that are transferable to life beyond the gates of St Catherine’s School. Students can achieve when they are provided with meaningful and engaging learning opportunities. It is also important to note that the most valuable resource available to us are our own colleagues at St Catherine’s, because without collaboration, our growth is limited to our own thinking.

It is our responsibility to create a classroom environment where students feel comfortable expressing themselves and where students feel they are supported across the curriculum. Two Year 11 students recently made the following comments “the pre-teaching in the Education Support classroom helps us to keep up with the pace in our mainstream classes and gives us a head start on the topic or novel” and “the atmosphere is conducive to helping me work and ask questions … in the classroom I do not feel as confident to ask questions.” We are committed to authentically engaging our students in their learning and developing their self-efficacy and self-esteem as learners. Psychologist Albert Bandura defines self-efficacy as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. Our self-efficacy can play a major role in how we approach goals, tasks and challenges.” In other words, as teachers we have an obligation to ensure that we are continually confirming that our student’s levels of self-efficacy are high so that they have every opportunity to engage and experience success in their own learning.

Educational testing occurs when necessary (this may occur internally or be conducted by our therapists) and results are summarised into a Personalised Learning Checklist (PLC) for staff to access. The PLC also has the voice of the student and parents after consulting with them on what strategies work best in the classroom. The PLC provides subject teachers with a summary of each student’s strengths and weaknesses, highlighting the particular areas that a student experiences difficulties in, for example, vocabulary, reading comprehension, memory, organisational skills or written expression.  The PLC also provides staff with strategies to increase classroom success.

We have a scope and sequence chart for our Learning Plus – Education Support classes which guides the structure of each class. Each lesson has at least one literacy focus. The teaching focus may be speaking and listening, spelling and derivatives, reading and comprehension or writing (grammar and punctuation). These are based on John Munro’s (2011) High Reliability Literacy Teaching Procedures which are required for competency in literacy. There may be occasions where, due to the sequence of teaching, several literacy foci will be included.

A focus on vocabulary is integral to every lesson. Vocabulary development is essential to academic success, particularly as language becomes more complex as a student progresses through the School. Students need the specific vocabulary and language of different subjects. Our girls make use of assistive technologies, such as quizlet.com or vocab.com – online learning tools that enable students to study the key vocabulary associated with their subject areas. Vocabulary is a key indicator of language development and in particular, of success with written language. Vocabulary also accounts for a major portion of reading comprehension. If vocabulary is not mastered, this will impact on a student’s written and spoken language abilities.

The focus in Years 7 and 8 classes is primarily on students building their spelling, reading decoding, fluency and comprehension skills. Programs such as Toe By Toe and Stride Ahead are evidence-based programs that build student competencies in reading and spelling, critical for learning. Our SRA Reading programs support our students with the strategies required for reading and comprehending the text they read. The SRA Expressive Writing programs assists students in developing their written and grammatical skills.

The focus in Year 9 is curriculum has elements of basic literacy skill development, in conjunction with a curriculum specific focus. Our team assist students with developing efficient spelling, writing and reading strategies for subjects they are learning. Organisational and study skills, glossary development play an important role in supporting students as they move into their exam years.

The focus in Years 10, 11 and 12 is purely subject specific. There is a focus on vocabulary development with quizlet.com, writing skills, exam literacy and study skills, all curriculum based and directly connecting with the work tasks required in the girls’ respective subjects. Support becomes more personalised with one to one support provided.

We have introduced mindfulness into our classrooms with many girls finding it extremely valuable. Mindfulness can assist in dealing with the pressure and challenges of daily life. Regular practice can help combat stress, improve focus and increase resilience. Mindfulness is particularly useful during examination periods and times when assessment tasks are due.

We are committed to nurturing and empowering independent young women and to this end we must continue to differentiate (plan for student differences in the classroom) for individual students through the curriculum, striving to ensure that each student is engaged and enabled to access the curriculum throughout their years at St Catherine’s School.  The School has the pleasure of seeing individual students with learning needs achieving their goals and finishing their VCE.

We are dedicated to teaching and supporting our students.

Mrs Melissa Braddy

Learning Plus Teacher

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