Catholics schools across Tasmania to raise the bar for literacy

By Catherine Sheehan

A new literacy initiative will be implemented across all Catholic schools in Tasmania beginning this year, as a long-term strategy to combat the low rate of literacy in the state.

Executive Director of Catholic Education Tasmania, Dr Gerard Gaskin, said the Literate Learners for Life suite of nationally recognised resources would become “the major curriculum focus” for the Catholic school system over the next five years.

“Literacy skills are the fundamental building blocks of learning,” Dr Gaskin said.

“We know that here in Tasmania adult literacy levels are very low. We know that students with low literacy have poor education and life outcomes.”

Currently, less than fifty percent of adults in Tasmania are functionally literate.

Dr Gaskin said the new initiative will adopt “internationally recognised and approved literacy programmes” developed by Macquarie University and will be rolled out across Tasmania’s 38 Catholic schools and colleges.

Catholic Education Tasmania’s Dr Gerard Gaskin, Lisa Fenning and Jennifer White in the Literate Learners for Life studio. Photo by Mark Franklin

The motto of Literate Learners for Life is “Every student, every subject, every year”, and Dr Gaskin said this would be reflected across the Catholic school system with every subject taught having a literacy component. The progress of students would also be tracked over time, he said.

“We’ll be recording their progress, testing their improvement, and logging that data and using that to inform what we do next. And that’s going through the whole system, so it’s very exciting.”

Catholic Education Tasmania’s Literacy Education Officer, Lisa Fenning, said the new literacy initiative was based on the “science of reading principles” derived from an understanding of how the brain learns to read.

“It must begin with decoding, working out what those squiggles are on the page, and what speech sounds they make,” Ms Fenning said.

“We’re not putting comprehension to the side, but if you can’t get those squiggles off the page, how can you really understand anything?”

Catholic Education Tasmania’s Literacy Education Officer, Lisa Fenning, is excited about the new literacy initiative based on “science of reading principles”. Photo by Mark Franklin

The strategy will also involve evidence-based reading interventions for all year levels, developing literacy frameworks to support primary and secondary teachers, and supporting teachers to develop pedagogical content knowledge and literacy teaching practice. Each school will also have a dedicated Literacy Practice Leader who will be trained in the “science of reading”.

CET recently ran three days of livestreamed workshops for Catholic teachers around the state who were able to listen to experts in the field of literacy on best practices for teaching, reading and writing. Ms Fenning said the information provided would be unpacked over the next 12 months.

“Our educators are learning themselves about this, and as a system, we have learned more. We’ve become excited about how we can improve our results. This will hopefully be a change in practice for our teachers.”

Ms Fenning said Catholic Education Tasmania’s leadership has been extremely supportive and is backing up this support with substantial financial resources.

“Our schools are heavily supported, the office is heavily supported… Every one of our students will receive evidence-based reading and literacy instruction they require and deserve.”

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