Improved Boys’ literacy & wellbeing research

Improved Boys’ literacy & wellbeing research

25 September 2020 Life Writing Autiobiography Memoir Collaboration

Melissa Carson, the Director of learning at Champagnat Boys College Sydney, presented her research case study: ‘In what ways can family engagement and digital platforms support literacy development in adolescent boys’, to the Teachers’ Guild NSW research awards panel yesterday.

This research was based on the recent Year 7 English ‘Life Writing’ project, using the FamilyBookform online dashboard to scaffold students to interview someone about their life and create a printable digital book.

Life writing project Dec 2019

An excerpt from the research project; “The literacy levels of the Year 7 cohort were of extreme concern and the attainment of any level of success for a significant proportion of the students was virtually impossible. The impact of seeing the classroom as a place of failure, rather than achievement, was palpable. High levels of disengagement and disorderly classroom behaviour made a difficult job almost impossible for classroom teachers.

The English faculty decided to use writing and family connections to build ownership and a sense of achievement in learning for each student.

The FamilyBookform platform offered an online template to scaffold student’s writing, with question prompts and speech-to-text, allowing students to interview a family member and record their voice. Students used technology as a tool to collect authentic content and their content enriched class lessons. They could play audio files in the class for fun story-sharing & collaborative editing discussions. Teachers provided assistance with grammatical structures and editing, while students worked in a self-paced, project style lesson cycle.

By using a multimodal, blended learning approach to explicit instruction of writing and reading, researchers sought to increase engagement in literacy amongst the cohort, as well as identify growth in the reading and writing data to meet national minimum standards.

Another key aim of the project was to increase student engagement in learning and there was considerable growth in this area. One feature of the project that most certainly contributed to this growth was the inclusion of student choice. Students had the flexibility to choose who to interview and what question or topic prompts to use, or turn them off and create their own interview questions. Students had agency and were emotionally connected to the content through creating a family biography, so therefore were more motivated to learn how to edit and polish their written text.

Students had the opportunity to present their printed books to their very proud family members and teaching staff at an informal presentation in the newly refurbished library. 

The way the students spoke about the experience of connection to their family and the challenge of engaging in the full writing process was inspiring and something that was new in the Champagnat environment. Most often family engagement in the College was as a part of formalised information presentation or structured parent-teacher conferences. This was an opportunity for students to showcase their learning to the College with genuine authenticity.

In conclusion, although final assessment of students literacy results will not be released until November, there has been a significant improvement in the whole cohort’s academic ability and interest in learning. The culture of learning and engagement with reading and writing has improved dramatically. At the start of this project about half of the Year 7 cohort was below the minimum standard of literacy required and now the whole cohort of 135 students are above the minimum standard. This will have an immediate affect on those student's prospects for success in life.

Boys who had never borrowed books from the library are now interested and borrowing books regularly.

The project was a very successful intervention strategy for low literacy and low levels of class engagement. We look forward to using this technology in more classes.”

Melissa Carson was awarded by the Minister of Education in 2019 for this project, presented at EduTech Sydney and will be featured in upcoming Sydney Catholic Schools publications.

For the full research document contact:

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