Update – our data wall populated below…
Throughout Term 1, in our Professional Learning Teams, we have been working on a whole-school literacy initiative focused on improving students writing. The DEC Literacy Continuum provided the framework for our work. As the continuum is so broad, encompassing 8 literacy foci, we took the decision to focus only on the Aspects of Writing component of the continuum. The reason for this is that our NAPLAN data for the past three years had seen our Year 7 and 9 students demonstrate improvement in some areas of their writing, but this was still a weakness our students were demonstrating, in comparison to the Reading and Numeracy components of NAPLAN. The Aspects of Writing component of the Literacy Continuum is also one the 8 elements that is not considered ‘constrained’, based on the work of Paris (2005). These ‘unconstrained’ stills are those that continue to grow and develop throughout a child’s lifetime and therefore are the areas on which we are more likely to have an impact with a whole-school literacy initiative. See image below from here.
We launched our PLT focus at the beginning of the term and charged our teachers with examining a variety of samples of student work and using the Aspects of Writing component of the Literacy Continuum to map students on our Data Wall.
Using the Technology
Our school has recently switched to using Sentral as our main student data management system (administration, assessment, attendance, communication, etc). Sentral includes as a part of its package a Continuum Tracker, which was a great tool to help us track student placement on the Aspects of Writing component of the Literacy Continuum. This was particularly important as we often had numerous teachers examining work for the same student and making independent judgments in regards to which clusters students were presenting at on the continuum, at that point, for the sample of writing the the teacher had chosen to examine. The Continuum Tracker allowed us to click on and off individual markers on the continuum so we could keep track of where students were at any point. When you hover over a marker that has been clicked on, a pop-up indicates which staff member had flagged this marker and the date. Sentral also allows you to see at a glance an overview of where students are placed on the various aspects of the Literacy COntinuum. You can see an example of this feature below. Any cluster where students have a marker highlighter will be shown in green and yes, that is me …
Introducing Literacy Interventions
The work did not stop with the mapping of students on the continuum. Staff were also challenged to develop and implement literacy interventions that would serve support the needs they had identified for students in their classes. A raft of writing strategies and activities were provided and our teachers had time and opportunities to discuss in their teams what they felt would best serve to support the learning of their students. They were also able to to unpack how much success these interventions had on the learning of their students each fortnight.
Our diocese has been successfully implementing Data Walls for the past four years, based on the work of Michael Fullan and Lyn Sharratt in their work Putting Faces on the Data. Below you can see Lyn Sharratt discussing how Data Walls support schools as they develop strategies and interventions to support students in their learning.
One challenge we have found with our Data Wall implementation is that, with such a large staff, there was not as much teacher ownership of where the students ‘are at’ with their progression on the wall. Another inhibiting factor was that the students were placed on the Data Wall based on the PATR test, an excellent diagnostic test, but one that teachers were not involved in developing or for which they needed to provide feedback. We hoped that by utilising the literacy continuum, with each teacher involved in examining student work and physically placing students on our Data Wall, we would see much more ownership of the wall itself and subsequently, of student writing.
The Professional Learning Team focus was a replacement of an earlier iteration of a whole-school literacy initiative called Hot Paragraphs. I have previously blogged about the successes and challenges of this initiative. We had thought that this new approach to literacy would be somewhat less taxing on our teaching staff and somewhat easier to implement.
We were wrong. This was very challenging for our staff who found it difficult to engage with the complex language of the Literacy Continuum. Staff were also concerned about placing the students on the Data Wall as they feared they might ‘get it wrong’. This provided us with opportunities to work with each team to allay these fears and remind them that more important than perfect placement on the continuum was that we had begun what was to be an ongoing discussion about the literacy needs of our students and how we can support them with their writing. What was terrific was the genuine concern of our teachers to ensure that they were doing justice to this process and that their students were fairly represented on the Data Wall.
I think for most teachers, the act of physically placing the students on the data wall was very powerful. The discussions it generated around student writing and what we are all doing in our classes to improve writing were deep and thought provoking.
One of our Professional Learning Teams placing their students on our Data Wall
Where to from here?
The work doesn’t stop here… To maintain ownership of our Data Wall, our staff will continue to examine student writing samples from their allocated class during our PLT sessions throughout the remainder of the year. While the placing of the students on the Data Wall was exciting, looking forward to seeing our teachers owning the process of moving their students’ profiles into higher clusters on the Literacy Continuum as we progress through the year.