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Facing Literacy Challenges Head On

Goal setting is important for students. Indeed, it is important in life. No matter where we go, we will be faced with challenges. The mark of a human being, is how well they face those challenges. Schools are no different. It would be nice to think that the perfect school exists. It would be nice to think that you can buy a problem-free education. Such thinking is myopic.

It’s not the mountain that we conquer but ourselves.’ Edmund Hillary

Ambrose Treacy College, like all schools, faces its share of challenges. As a staff, we compare starting a new school to climbing Mt. Everest. Much of what we do is done, at least initially, for the first time. It takes extra thinking to nut out a way forward. It takes extra effort to build something afresh. At times, it would be easy to lose heart. However, with great challenge, comes great opportunity.

Last year, I wrote unashamedly about the fact that we have a writing challenge at ATC. Indeed, we have a writing challenge across Australia – particularly where boys are concerned. As a community, we could choose to bury our heads in the sand, but doing so yields us nothing. As a community, we could blame others and point to the rise of technology as a scapegoat, but doing so yields us nothing. The best way forward, as ever, is to face the challenge head on.

In 2016 and 2017 the College demonstrated its commitment to improve written literacy by:
1. Forming a professional learning committee for literacy research and strategic planning
2. Engaging the services of a critical friend in Dr Ian Hunter – Write that Essay
3. Engaging in a whole staff professional development roll out – one of the most comprehensive of its kind
4. Benchmarking student written standards at intervals, and reviewing evidence of the effect of curriculum interventions
5. Introducing an online writing tool, to enhance the common language of boys and teachers, around the writing process
6. Increasing the volume of on-demand writing in classes
7. Introducing philosophical discussions in the Junior School, in order to improve the quality of student ‘talk’ and ‘argumentation’ – areas the research indicates impacts student outcomes
8. Hosting a parent evening with Dr Ian Hunter, to enhance the capacity of parents to partner with us, in using a common language with their sons.

I am happy to report that the efforts of 2016 and 2017 have been particularly effective in improving the writing standards of boys across the College. Data would indicate that there has been exponential growth in student compositional scores, across cohorts. In one cohort, the growth was as much as 250%. No cohort’s value add was less than 175%.

While I celebrate the success, all staff are aware that the challenge is far from over. This year already, all staff have completed further training with Dr Ian Hunter, with more to follow. Other opportunities throughout the year, will include further parent education evenings and writer in residence programs. We remain absolutely dedicated to improving the writing of boys across the College, sure in the knowledge that in doing so, we are maximising their learning potential and post-school outcomes.

Kath Little, Dean of Learning
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