Case Study: Pakenham Springs Primary School, Victoria
Pakenham Springs Primary School is in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne. They have around 800 students -their Prep and Year 1 cohorts both have around 100 students in each. Around 35% of our students have an EAL background. The school have been exploring teaching with Little Learners Love Literacy® for a few years, and moved to use LLLL exclusively in 2021.
Our school began teaching with Little Learners several years ago. Prior to implementing LLLL, our junior school (P–2) team were concerned with our reading results and we didn’t seem able to close the gap between those that learnt to read relatively easily and those who really struggled. We had some staff who were familiar with Little Learners and had been exploring it as part of their phonics instruction in Prep. When we began to review our teaching practice and instructional methods, Little Learners seemed the obvious choice for us. We were impressed with the systematic approach and how it aligned with the science of reading, and being Australian-based was a big advantage over similar programs. We could see from the Prep classrooms how much the students engaged with Milo’s Birthday Surprise and how that engagement and explicit teaching was translating into results.
However, we still had students struggling. We were using predictable readers and benchmarking assessments that didn’t align with our teaching. We observed that students were being forced to use pictures and word patterns to guess, and those who were trying to decode using the phonics knowledge were unable to do so due to the nature of the texts they we were asking them to read.
Our struggling readers were being sent to Levelled Literacy Intervention where they were receiving instruction that contradicted the instruction they were receiving in the classroom in the literacy block. Struggling students were receiving contrasting information and strategies.
So, the biggest change occurred last year (2021) when we overhauled our take-home readers and classroom reading sets. To ensure we were getting the best out of our teaching practice, we needed to make sure our students were only being given books they could read successfully and independently. We purchased classroom sets of Little Learners books for every Prep and Year 1 class and replaced all the levelled take-home books with decodables. We are already seeing the confidence of our students increase as they weren't left to guess; they could apply the knowledge to read accurately.
What challenges have you faced, and how you have worked to overcome them?
We are a large school and staff turnover can be significant. When you are taking on something like this, you expect newcomers may have little or no experience so sometimes it feels like you’re continually starting over. But as we all continue to learn and our knowledge base grows, it is becoming easier to ensure that teachers are given the tools they need to teach Little Learners successfully.
Another challenge was access to resources. Once we decided that it was time to commit to change and implement the LLLL program, a group of junior school teachers put together a proposal that included fundraising ideas and a two-year plan to achieve our goal of replacing our predictable take home readers and classroom reading sets with decodable books. Our proposal was quickly approved – the leadership team decided that if this is what the teachers wanted and the students needed, then we shouldn’t wait. They were able to provide the budget we needed to start immediately, no two-year plan! We are fortunate to have a supporting leadership team and school council who value what we are trying to achieve and were happy to provide the resources and training we needed to be successful.
What has success looked like for you?
With the staff onboard and willing to rethink their teaching practice, we were well on the road to success. A bonus for us has been how much the students engage with the program and enjoy having the structure and routine embedded into their literacy block. In Prep, our students are keen to meet each new character in Milo’s Birthday Surprise and it’s been amazing to see how quickly they are translating that to their reading and writing. It’s so great to see the students read with enthusiasm and excitement but what is really encouraging is how proud they are of themselves as they continue learn and demonstrate their knowledge.
It has also been really exciting to see how confident our students are when writing. As a Prep teacher, seeing students applying their knowledge not only to reading but as they write has been very inspiring. The systematic approach of LLLL has meant that students have the tools and confidence to have a go and feel successful. Our Prep students love creating little stories about Pip, Tim, Sam and Tip and our Year 1 students often use the character cards and sound cards as writing prompts.
The last two years have been challenging in terms of collecting and tracking student data due to lockdowns and remote learning. However, the results we have been able to analyse are showing significant growth for our students reading ability.
The following data is from the LLARS – the unseen text component. We are really excited about the comparison between the Year 1 data from Term 1, 2021 and the Year 1 data from Term 1, 2022, as there is a significant difference in achievement level. Both cohorts were impacted by COVID and remote learning, both cohorts received similar classroom instruction.
Our current 2022 Year 1 students had access to decodable books in Prep and Year 1, whereas the 2021 cohort were using largely predictable books. The results show that the dedicated use of decodable readers and the LLLL sequence meant that Year 1 students in 2022 were more advanced in the program than their peers a year prior.
Year 1, Term 1 2021 and 2022
Our tips for schools
The biggest recommendation I can make is commit to the program wholeheartedly. Train your teachers, communicate with parents about what you’re doing and why and make sure you have the resources for the students to apply their learning.
Having access to decodable books and supporting resources is essential. The biggest change we have noticed has been since our students have been able to really embed their learning by having plenty of good quality decodable texts to read, both at school and at home.
Sharing the journey with parents has also been valuable. As part of our kinder transition program for the last couple of years we have been discussing our approach to teaching literacy using Little Learners Love Literacy® at our parent information sessions. This ensures that from the beginning parents are clear on how we explicitly teach literacy and how they can best support their child at home.