Now the reading and writing program that's helped transform an entire Adelaide primary school...
These kids were struggling on a number of levels. Their biggest weakness though was numeracy and literacy but in just a short time they've gone to the top of the class.
“We have noticed huge, huge improvements to the point where we are absolutely amazed at what's happening,” says Principal Sally Menadue.
“L-i-a-m”... (Liam sounding out his name with actions)
“Wow that's pretty good, what does the M stand for?”
“Someone was hungry and they needed to eat!”
“It is fun, I find myself doing the actions in my sleep just about, but it's great fun. I see the kids really engaging in it, every body's looking up at the board, everybody's doing the actions and joining in,” says teacher Christine.
These days Jay Jay is always raising his hand in class
“With my dyslexia I'm not really the best speller, and when I find a word that I can't spell I go, first thing I think of is the sound and then the sounds lead me to the actions,” says Jay Jay.
The year six student is overcoming his learning issues by using sounds and actions in a program revolutionising education at one of Adelaide's most disadvantaged primary schools.
“I can't tell you how proud I am of what this school has achieved. It was a struggling school and now… you've seen it for yourself, they are confident, they have a vision, they know where they're going,” says Angela Weeks from SPELD.
Just three years ago O'Sullivan Beach Primary was in crisis.
Poor academic results, unruly kids, falling enrolments and a leadership in turmoil - with no less than four principals in two years.
You had some real challenges coming into this school didn't you?
“I did, yes I did. It was almost a bit unbelievable to how do we even start! It rang pretty large alarm bells,” Says Sally.
Incoming principal Sally Menadue says the turning point came after watching a Today Tonight segment about what was a relatively new literacy program called "Jolly Phonics".
“It was on Today Tonight and I just thought this sounds wonderful, this sounds exactly like what I think we could explore and give a go in our school,” says Sally.
We supplied the school the details of how to tap into the fun, fast-paced program which teaches the 42 sounds of the English language rather than those of the alphabet. Children then blend and segment words to develop reading and writing skills.
There are so many rules to the English language aren't there?
“Yeah I know it's very VERY confusing (laughs).
But implementing Jolly Phonics wasn't easy…
“Initially it was only rolled out in the junior campus, and while the younger students started to soar, the upper primary kids were being left behind.
Teacher Peter Van Dyk explains…
“By the time they got to me, the gap was quite severe, when I had kids two, three years behind in their spelling age and to try catch that up in a short space of time is really hard”.
That gap was clearly evident when the language tests and Naplan results came in.
Nearly all the students using Jolly Phonics caught up and even surpassed the desired literacy benchmarks for their age - some by two and half years.
“Our worst case scenario would be 6 months above where they should be,” says Sally.
“Yeah worst case. We had 24 months in quite a few of our students,” says Sally.
On the other hand the figures were alarming for those not on the program, with some students trailing the national average by up to 50 months.
“It was absolutely frightening because our primary teachers looked at this data and thought ‘oh my goodness how, what can we do to get some of this green data our red data is critically below?”
Eventually everyone came on board with Jolly Phonics and the extension models and classes were ‘streamed’ according to skill level not age.
“With our spelling, um I'm getting like nearly all the words right,” claims one student.
“What I see now that we're all consistently doing the same thing is that children don't fall through the,” says Christine.
Now enrolments are up and even the bad behaviours are largely in check, according to Angela from SPELD... The Specific Learning Difficulties Association.
“To see the confidence of the children, how comfortable they are working with their letters, their sounds, working together as groups, no fooling around, no behaviour problems, everybody on task, even when the teacher is talking to you, ahh that is pretty special,” says Angela.
The school's success recently caught the attention of Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett who paid a visit and wanted to find out more…
You're learning pretty quickly aren't you? (Liam nods)
Do you think it's the most fun thing about school? (smiles and nods vigorously) Really? (nods again).
Despite so many ringing endorsements, Angela Weeks says the South Australian Education Department is still reluctant to widely endorse the teaching tool. A spokesman told us there are a range of learning tools and schools should choose those that best fit.
“It's a huge disappointment for me… we are not teaching phonics in a systematic way, simply put we're not getting the results for all of the children,” says Angela.
For those parents who've seen the difference, there's no turning back…
“I'm really happy with the way the children's learning has increased since coming to this school, their literacy especially has been fantastic,” says mum Rachel.
And then you crack the code?
“That's exactly right. Then you crack the code that's what this is all about. When a child has cracked the code it's the great 'ah ha' moment as a teacher,” says Angela.