Finding the right tools and techniques is crucial for teachers to engage every student in literacy learning, according to literacy experts Sharon and Phil Callen.
Sharon and Phil Callen are teachers and consultants with decades of experience in teaching literacy.
Talking on the first episode of their podcast The Teacher’s Tool Kit For Literacy, Sharon and Phil discussed the importance of bringing knowledge, help, tools and techniques to the classroom that are responsive to the needs of all students.
“The biggest question I probably get (from teachers) across all of literacy is, what is it that is important to teach? What is it that is important to teach within a restricted timeframe of their literacy block each day?” Sharon said
“Teachers want to know how do I get those (students) who are striving as well as those who are middling and those who are thriving, how do I get them all to engage in literacy, effectively and successfully, every day so that they grow as strong and engaged and motivated literacy learners, readers, and writers?
“We’ve got a lot of children sitting in front of us in classrooms, and we want to know, what can we be doing to not only differentiate for those children every day, but how we can really bring to them happy teachers and happy learners.”
Sharon also elaborated on the ‘filter’ she always considers and uses to determine the tools and techniques that are actually working and effective.
“[The filter] was always, the children sitting in front of me in the classroom, how do I make this work for them? How does that play out to enable every child in my class to have an entry point into this task … because if every child couldn’t enter into it in some way, then it wasn’t going to be a true task,” Sharon said.
Phil and Sharon elaborated on the importance of owning your teaching and being a thinker, rather than just a ‘robotic follower’ or ‘deliverer’ of programs.
“A really good, strong foundational piece for me early on was that I was the teacher who needed to be in charge of what’s going to work for every child,” Sharon said.
“I did try following programs and that never allowed every child an entry point and a manageable way for me to meet everybody’s needs. So, I really had to think long and hard about, how do I maintain an engaging and rigorous literacy journey?”
For Phil, it is about finding authenticity.
“It’s about being a true professional, authentic teacher in your classroom that really owns the teaching,” he said.
“You follow the Australian curriculum, or whatever curriculum you’re on, but it’s the way you then impart that to create those engaged learners,” Phil added.
Phil and Sharon highly recommended using literature, such as a book, compared to other ways of modelling writing.
“A book will bring a whole world of experiences to students that we just can’t recreate, because after all books are written to help us learn more about our world and ourselves and others. So, texts and literature are a critical part of the experiences that we can bring to our readers, to our young readers and to them as writers,” Sharon said.
“Our literacy and our language are all embedded within literature. So, teaching with literature at the core really enables us to do good, strong and solid work.”