Episode 71 – How your very first lesson can be used to promote literacy with Annette Gray

Show notes

Annette Gray is a literacy consultant and adviser. She has many years’ successful teaching experience in classrooms K-10 across Australia and in international settings.

What is literacy?

  • It is not its own subject
  • You can always improve your literacy
  • It is about communicating meaning

How do we prioritise literacy across our schools?

  • Identify the various “texts” that students will interact with
  • What skills to they need to make meaning and understand them
  • Understand how critical reflection is important for determining the authority of the text

How does literacy create lifelong learners?

  • Literacy is power
  • It is about understanding the world they are living in
  • Students are learning all the time, even things we don’t want them to learn

The importance of the relationship

  • The teacher-student relationship is key to learning anything
  • We need to help them know we are learning together

What can listeners do this week to help improve students’ literacy in their classrooms?

  • Don’t set up your classroom
  • Co-create your classroom with your students so that it is their space as well
  • Do this through collaborative tasks to embed literacy WITHOUT the worksheet


Dan: (00:00)
Well, hi everyone. And welcome to the Effective Teaching podcast. We are up to episode 71 and today I am sitting down at my house in my office for the very first time to interview Annette Gray, who is from Primary Learning and she is an expert in literacy. So we’re going to have a chat today, all about literacy, thank you so much for joining me Annette. So Annette can you just tell everyone a little bit about yourself to get us started.

Annette: (00:24)
My name is Annette Gray. I am a teacher. I did my training many years ago when we went to teacher’s college, which meant that we learned how to be a teacher from eight o’clock in the morning until five o’clock at night. Um, there were very few, um, other subjects that we, we had to deal with. It was all about how do you teach and what do you teach and your philosophy. And so on. I taught for many years in classrooms and, um, then moved towards literacy and it, it became paramount of paramount importance for me. Um, during the 1990s, when, um, the literacy strategy from the New South Wales Department of Education and training began. And, um, then that was when there was a really big focus on, on literacy. And I realized that many of the things that I’d been doing were in fact, essentially literacy. Um, and I became quite fascinated by it all became a literacy consultant and I’ve since worked as a literacy consultant and advisor in primary schools, high schools, um, and internationally. And I’m now working with primary learning with Katherine Cartwright.

Dan: (01:32)
Well, yes, and Katherine was on one of our early episodes, right. And I did say that we’d have you on, and it’s fantastic that we get to actually sit here together and do this today. So can you share with us then what is your understanding of literacy and what it is?

Annette: (01:47)
Well, it’s, it’s a bit, there’s a, a description of it as being slippery and fluid it’s, um, literacy is not a subject number one. So to say we’re studying literacy is a bit nonsensical and we’re having a literacy hour is nonsensical as well. Um, literacy, um, the components of literacy are not ends in themselves. They are all there for a purpose. And the purpose of literacy is to make meaning and to make sure that we are understood and that we understand, and that we comprehend what we’re doing, and we have those skills and abilities to be able to do it. So literacy at described by yet by people as a horizon, rather than a destination. That’s a lovely quote that I like. We’re never literate enough. We go on developing our literacy skills because we need them for different things. Um, but essentially it’s about making meaning. And in our schools, we need to develop a culture of literacy. So that, that goes right across the board so that we are foregrounding literacy, not necessarily foregrounding, but ensuring that literacy is essentially are encompassed in all subjects. Um, in our syllabuses, we’re very fortunate because literacy is described as a general capability. It doesn’t sit in anywhere. It is necessary for informing, learning across the curriculum and to achieve the broad learning outcomes. So when children have well-developed literacy skills, their learning outcomes are going to, uh, are going to improve dramatically.

Dan: (03:19)
Okay. So you’re saying it’s not just the job of the English teacher to teach literacy.

Annette: (03:24)
English is the language we use, but literacy there’s literacy in Japanese and literacy in any other subject as well. It slots into language into English because it is the language that we use, but there’s also the language of visual text. And there’s also the language of gesture and, and meaning, and this suggests that the literature of the literacy of movement and so on, so that we have, we have it’s everywhere. Yes, no, it’s not the role of the English teacher must teach literacy in English in that subject. And we all use the English language to teach literacy in our subjects.

Dan: (04:02)
Yeah. Yeah. I would agree with that for sure. As a PDH teacher, I’ve always seen literacy as something that is a priority in my classroom and that we’ve always made sure that we do really well, basically well I like to think, that I did a good job of it in my classroom at least. Can you talk to us a bit then? How can we go about prioritizing literacy across our schools?

Annette: (04:19)
Well, one of the biggest issues is that the, the I’ll call it the common sense view of literacy is it’s reading and writing. And as long as children can do that and speak and listen, that’s enough, but the demands of literacy, the demands on children of literacy have altered dramatically in, even in the last 20 years, since the advent of the, um, advent and, and, and spread of the, um, of the internet. So what we have now is students have huge demands, um, specifically about the authority of, of a text, the variety of texts that’s available and the conventions of texts. These have changed. They’ve, they’ve altered considerably. And we can see with, um, platforms like Twitter, where we get lots of stuff coming. We don’t know whether it’s information or whether it’s opinion, those lines are very blurred now. And we’re actually seeing some of the ramifications of that.

Annette: (05:13)
It’s very difficult to, to check the credibility of a source, if you don’t have that list of references at the back of the book to be able to look up. Um, so there’s greater complexity of platforms and voices and purpose and audience. Now we need to understand that in our schools so that we can say, all right, when we are looking at the literacy demands of a subject, what are they going to look? What, what are the types of texts that these students are going to interact with? What, what skills do they need to be able to understand, to, um, to summarize, to be able to analyze and to be skeptical about and so on, and then to be able to use, to use the language of that subject. So as a whole school issue, it needs to be what are our priorities? And I’ll use that word. It’s a word that’s overused dramatically in schools, because we’ve got so many priorities. If we’re going to have literacy across the board, then we need to say, what are the most important ones that we can have a look at? And we might talk about those a bit later.

Dan: (06:18)
Yeah. So when it comes to literacy then, how, how does literacy then contribute to lifelong learning and for our students to be able to be self-sufficient in how they go about learning within schools, but even when they leave school,

Annette: (06:30)
Well, students are learning all the time. Um, things that, even things we don’t want them to learn, they are learning all the time as we well know. Um, any parent can tell you,

Dan: (06:40)
Yeah, I’ve tried to

Annette: (06:45)
Stuff that we don’t necessarily want them to learn. So what we need to do is to say, all right, what is literacy in terms of the world? The literate literacy is power. And so if we want our students to be able to understand the world and to be able to have control of their lives, then they need to be able to use, to have to have the skills and understandings, um, to be able to, to make the decisions and make the choices about, about what they’re going to do with, with making meaning, with making themselves understood.

Dan: (07:22)
Yeah. And so we do put in like the four CS get put around a lot, right? In within education at the moment, would you put something like critical reflection and the ability to work out the, um, authority of a text that you’re reading as part of your literacy approach?

Annette: (07:38)
Absolutely. Absolutely. The question is, you know, can you believe this person or who is this person to start with? Who is saying this? And can you believe them? What credibility do they have? Um, and the other one is, is what is their purpose? So it’s coming back to that idea of, of the text and how it’s constructed, who it’s designed for and what is the author’s purpose. Now that’s the power of literacy and it’s about at students need to know that too. So if they’re going to create a text, they need to know what sort of texts they’re going to create. What is their purpose and, um, who is their intended audience. Now, every child needs to be able to make meaning and to make themselves understood every child. Now, the way they do that is to know in the classroom that their opinion, their voice, their ideas are going to be valued.

Annette: (08:36)
And that comes back to building that trust, which the teacher has to do, building that trust between themselves and the students, to be able to say, we’re all learning, we’re learning. And every teacher has learned as much from their students as the students has learned. I’ve learned from them, I’m sure we’re going to together. And we’re going to learn about these things. The teacher is one step away from that by saying, I’m going to guide the students and I’m going to take them here. So the school needs to say, we’ve got this focus or this priority. We’re going to have that. We’re going to look at what is absolutely essential for every child to be able to make meaning and to be understood and to become a confident learner when they are in the school. We have them for seven years in the primary school.

Annette: (09:24)
And it’s as if every year they go to a new class, Oh, it’s a new thing. It’s a new something. We’re going to start all over again, seven years. If we could do planning for the seven years, the child is at the primary school to be able to say, all right, what are their skills? What are their ambitions? What are their hopes? What are their, what are their, um, skills that they have now? What do they need to learn? Do they have to actually learn that in week three of year three? Now they don’t, they don’t, we can, we can build that in. So it’s looking at the child, the whole child.

Dan: (09:51)
Yeah. I’ve got to say, uh, recently I finished reading, uh, Ken Robinson’s book, Creative Schools. I’ve actually, uh, the podcast before. This will be all about that, actually. So, uh, in Creative Schools, he actually talks about the act of the core thing of teaching is actually all about the relationship that exists between the teacher and the student, because it’s the most important thing when it comes to actually helping the students learn, uh, because it’s all built upon that relationship, which is something that you mentioned really quickly.

Annette: (10:17)
Certainly we have to trust the children, but they have to know that they can trust us so that if they are going to have a go at something, it’s not going to be treated with derision within salt or with contempt, which unfortunately we’ve seen teachers do all with being dismissed. Now, it’s not that I was working with a, with a teacher who was, um, dealing with some children about where the wild things are. I know everybody knows it’s a book and I’ve got it here just because it’s one of the favorites that we use for. So thank you, Maurice Sendak. And she’d been talking with the children the day before, and I came into the lesson the next day. And she said, now, remember, we were talking about, um, where the wild things are and this small target to it was. And he put his hand up and he said, Oh, I think it was just a dream. And she said, of course it was. And on, they went with her lesson and I just thought that we’ve lost. That, that was a point that was a point of which could have been rich and rewarding for every one of those children. And that child was dismissed, but you’ve got your little plan to go on. And I was very sad for the child and that teacher, because she’s not going to get the rewards that she, she deserved.

Dan: (11:30)
Yeah. So what can listeners do this week, uh, to help improve students’ literacy in their classrooms? I think like we’re about to start a new school year here in Australia. So what can we do to make sure that we start the will, as we look at literacy?

Annette: (11:46)
Well, for me, it’s that building that trust. That’s where you start right smack at the beginning. The very moment those children walk into that room by recess. They know whether they can trust you or not. What, what the first activities need to be something that says to the child, you are important to this classroom. This is our classroom. We’re going to be here for a year. You don’t have to say all that, but you say your role here is important. Now I know at the beginning of the year, and I’ve been having a look at Twitter and various other sites that I use where people say, Oh, you know, I’ve just bought all this stuff. Where can I buy this to put up posters in my room? And I’ve got this and I’ve got this and I’ve got this so that the child walks into what the teacher often thinks is a welcoming classroom.

Annette: (12:31)
In fact, it’s a very busy classroom and the teacher has said, this is my classroom, and this is what I’ve put up because this is what I value. Now. That’s, that’s, there’s nothing wrong with that. Apart from the fact that you’ve now got 25 children sitting there saying, well, it’s not ours. Even if it’s not a conscious saying a friend of mine a few years ago, um, went back to the classroom after some years being a consultant. And, um, she, she had bought a robot what was going to be part of the class. So when the children came in and this was a year six whether I’d try it with you tried in a different way with other children, when the children came into the classroom, she had the robot, she had the, um, materials that are, you know, the desks, not the desks, the cupboards and things around, I think there was some desks and a bolt of, um, a raw, um, heshan and the children will say from the floor and they want sort of looked around going, you know, where’s our paper. And she said, well, this is our class. So what are we going to do?

Dan: (13:33)
I think that’s a great way to start

Annette: (13:35)
I think it is too. And I was thinking, it’s true. And I thought, if you, even, if you came up with a plan just for the desks, for example, cause you want the kids to come in and not be lost. I mean, we’d just sit on the floor anywhere is a bit demanding for anybody. So to give the children a, you know, find a seat or your name is somewhere, but you could actually set up, um, a class plan online and a digital one, so that you’ve got symbols for the desks and symbols for the children and symbols for the storage materials and symbol for the symbols, for the various things that are going to be in the classroom. And you have that set up last plan and then invite the students to reconfigure and re organize as they want. Now that can be collaborative.

Annette: (14:25)
It could be you and I working it out for our classroom. It could be three students doing it. They could come up with a plan, print it, take it home, and have a bit of a discussion with their parents about what could be possible. The talking that’s going on is authentic. It’s purposeful. The audience is themselves because it’s going to be a value to them. You could go through the syllabus, the speaking and the new South Wales syllabus through the Australian curriculum. And you would find that you have dealt with quite a lot of the outcomes just in having that conversation. Um, you could then go through the, if you do, you’re going to be using the, um, the, uh, national literacy progression, which this is designed for those students who are either achieving extraordinarily well or not quite so well, but they’re not quite in the middle of that where you would expect your grade to be through your careful observation and listening to the children and their contributions to be able to say, okay, I can see that that child didn’t participate orally, but they did make lots of notes or they did organize this, or they did that.

Annette: (15:37)
So you’ve got your assessment. You’ve got in that first week of having that as your focus for how are we going to set up our classroom? You’ve just dealt with literacy every single minute of that process. And you don’t have to then go off and say, well, now we’re going to do a worksheet on something or other, because you’ve done it, you’ve done it. You’ve got it all there. And it is purposeful and authentic and meaningful.

Dan: (15:59)
Yeah, well, I think that’s great. I think it’s a great way to start the year. And even for high school teachers who may not have their own classroom and still having that process of how are we going to set up how the class runs and how it’s going to lay laid out. When we do come together, it’s still a process that’s very valuable and that you can still implement throughout what you’re doing in your classroom. So thank you so much. And that for all these patients, we will ask you, just tell us the listeners where they can go to find you, if they would like more information from you,

Annette: (16:26)
Uh, primarylearning.com.au. Uh, we have a Katherine and I have a website. We only deal with that literacy and numeracy and Katherine’s focus of course is more mathematics. Um, we have a blog, we have, um, numerous resources there for your, for your use. We also have courses that we run. We would love to see you on, um, on primarylearning.com.au.

Dan: (16:49)
Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you for giving me your time. Thanks for coming and visiting me here at my house. So for all listeners, if you would like to head over to TeachersPD.net/71, you can access all the shownotes. Also have links there. If you could get private learning a combination, you come to the teachers, pd.net/ 71, and there’ll be a link there where you can go and see all the stuff that Primary Learning offer you at the moment. But, uh, that’s it for this week. I hope to talk to you again next week.

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