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ALRU Projects

The Embedded Literacy Coaching

From the experiences and lessons learned from the Reading is FUNdamental  project (2005-2009), the ALRU project team found that teachers need a lot of support and role modeling before they accept and internalise new ways of teaching reading and incorporating literacy practices in their classrooms.

The Embedded Literacy Coaching project under the leadership of Prof Lilli Pretorius started at the school in 2010 as a two-year pilot project, with funding from the DG Murray Trust. The next project was based on a relatively new model of effecting changes in classroom instruction.

Core members included Jane Tsharane (principal), Sally Currin (project coordinator), Hannalie Knoetze (library manager, from the Department of Information Science, Unisa), Letta Machoga (school librarian) and Lee Anne Walter (literacy coach).

When the annual national assessments (ANA) were administered in 2008 the Grade 3 Zulu literacy mean at the school was 19%, before project intervention. When the ANAs were administered to the 2010 cohort of Grade 3 learners, the Grade 3 Zulu literacy mean at the school had risen to 49%, and in November 2011 the Zulu literacy levels were 58.6%. We attribute these improvements to the efficacy of the coaching model.

The main features of the embedded Literacy Coaching model

The project appointed and paid an experienced Foundation Phase teacher as a literacy coach/facilitator to work full time in the school. The literacy coach was an experienced Foundation Phase teacher with a strong track record of successful literacy performance in the Foundation Phase. She formerly taught at Crawford. As the literacy coach, she inducted the teachers into good literacy practices and functioned as guide, facilitator, mentor and role model in a professional yet supportive and nurturing way.  She helped the teachers with weekly lesson planning, resource development and management, literacy assessment and record keeping, daily teaching tasks and classroom management. The literacy coach also facilitated a hands-on Family Literacy programme, showing parents/caregivers how to stimulate and enrich their children’s literacy development.

The project assisted the school in setting up a computerised library lending system and helped the school build up its library resources. A member from the community, Ms Letta Machoga, was been trained as the school librarian and paid from project funds. Mrs Hannalie Knoetze from the Department of Information Science, Unisa, managed the library component of the project. The school now has a small functional library with 3,248 books of which 50% are fiction books in English, 21% Zulu fiction and 3% N Sotho fiction.  The rest are non-fiction and reference books.

Graded reading boxes: The literacy coach, Lee Anne Walter,
with enthusiastic Grade 3 readers waiting to exchange their
graded readers.

The project team held regular meetings, interviews and workshops with the literacy coach, teachers and principal to discuss project progress, to address potential problems and to keep the stakeholders motivated and on target. 

A Teachers’ Book Club was also started to help build literacy capacity and broaden knowledge. On the assumption that if teachers need to develop strong literacy skills and habits in their learners, then they themselves need to be skilled and knowledgeable readers, the book club was started in 2011. The emphasis was on children’s books, to help make the teachers aware of the genre of children’s books and what different kinds of books were available in the different official languages in South Africa.

The book club met for an hour on a Tuesday afternoon after school, from 2-3pm, once a fortnight, to discuss children’s literature and books and to share information about the books that the teachers had read . Teachers were also encouraged to become members of the local township library which was situated a few blocks from the school. The teachers were encouraged to take out and read books in Zulu and Northern Sotho as well as English. In fact, the project stressed the importance of developing strong literacy skills and encouraging a love of reading in the mother tongue. If the teachers themselves develop a love of reading in their home language then it is a legacy that they can pass on to their learners.

A variety of quantitative and qualitative tools were used to see how the teachers were responding to the literacy coaching. The project co-ordinator, Mrs Sally Currin, did regular classroom observations to give teachers support and feedback on their literacy instructional practices. Dr Paula Gains from the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy was an external evaluator of the project and undertook regular visits to the school.

Using a pre/posttest design, the project leader, Prof Lilli Pretorius, administered literacy tests at the start and end of the year to Grade 1, 3 and 4 learners to see if the literacy coaching was having an effect on the learners' performance. There is still much data that need to be analysed and written up.

In 2011 the Gauteng Department of Education implemented a literacy intervention, the Gauteng Primary Literacy Strategy (GPLS), in 792 underperforming primary schools in the province. The Literacy Coaching project’s approach to early literacy instruction aligned well with the GPLS, except that we provided far more hands-on support and role-modelling for the teachers. As a result of the literacy coach’s support, the project teachers  found it relatively easy to adapt to the GPLS, whereas the teachers at surrounding schools found it more challenging.

Left: A Foundation Phase teacher preparing literacy resources
Middle: Letta Machoga, the school librarian, with a growing book collection in English, Zulu and Northern Sotho
Right: Discussing children’s books in the Teachers’ Book club

Research outcomes

Pretorius, EJ & Knoetze JJ.  The teachers’ book club: Broadening knowledge and building confidence and belief in skill. (In press)