Teachers are reporting that a Direct Instruction literacy program, championed by Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, is having a dramatic impact in the Pilbara.
“Last Thursday afternoon we were practising,” said Greg Grant who teaches the high school boys at the Jigalong Remote Community School.
“Without a word of a lie, he read it and he got it all right. I was blown away. Dead set. It nearly brought me to tears and I’ve never cried in the classroom ever.”
Last year barely any students at the School, including the high school students, could read beyond Year 3 level.
But after community chairperson Brian Sampson visited Cape York with Noel Pearson to see how Direct Instruction was working there, he decided to implement the program in some Martu schools in the Pilbara.
“I really wanted to make it happen because our kids’ future relies upon education, so they can travel the world,” Jigalong Remote Community chairman, Brian Sampson, said.
Mr Grant was initially sceptical about learning a whole new teaching method, which involves reading from a script.
“I have to be honest. I thought, I can’t see how it’s going to work with these guys,” Mr Grant said.
“But if I hesitated, the boys would have sensed it in term one. Then I would have done a disservice to their education.”
The program has only been running since the beginning of the 2015 school year, but teachers at Jigalong say the students, parents, and community have embraced the program.
“It’s working. Dead set. The kids are code switching a lot easier. They can look at the words and confidently read them,” Mr Grant said.
School Principal Shane Wilson says training and support needs to continue to ensure that the Direct Instruction program can be sustained in the community.
“I think for the changeover of staff in remote community schools, such as Jigalong, it’s essential that we’re training and up-skilling our local Aboriginal education workers in making this program a sustainable initiative for Martu schools including Jigalong,” he said.
“We need to provide ongoing support to all staff in monitoring the school’s success.”
Toni Lewis is the in-school Direct Instruction coach at Jigalong Remote Community School.
She says she’s very proud of the early results.
“For students who are attending regularly we’re getting extremely good results. For those that are coming in perhaps three or four times a week, their results are still at a fairly good level. Some need to be re-tested but they’re still moving through at a good pace,” said Ms Lewis.
“But those students who have very poor attendance, it makes it very difficult for them and for us because we have to go back and catch up on the work they’ve missed.
“It gets to a point where they can’t just move back into their group – that’s the hard part.”
Despite problems with attendance, Ms Lewis says the new approach to literacy is having a noticeable impact.
“It’s busy and it’s intense but I love the challenge. I love seeing the kids achieve and you can see just the change in attitudes and they’re feeling a lot prouder,” she said.
Ms Lewis would like to see Direct Instruction implemented in other surrounding schools so transient students can slot into DI classes in Hedland or Newman.
However the Department of Education’s Sue Cuneo says this won’t necessarily work.
“When students are transient and do move beyond schools, their programs are disrupted and the implementation of simply assigning DI to schools is not going to combat that,” Ms Cuneo said.
While acknowledging the effort schools like Jigalong are making in implementing Direct Instruction, Ms Cuneo says she doesn’t see a need to extend the program into other schools right now.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for schools to do things differently but, in saying that, not one size fits all. As the Department of Education, we don’t subscribe to just one way of doing things.”