Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Jan Gray

Second Advisor

Emeritus Professor Judith Rivalland

Abstract

Children in rural and remote schools typically underperform in measures of literacy achievement (e.g., NAPLAN) from as early as year three. Data collected over time indicate that as children get older, the gap increases between those students who meet the national benchmarks and those who do not. Additionally, Indigenous children are overrepresented in this group of students who are underperforming in measures of literacy achievement. This study seeks to explore the conditions surrounding this phenomenon and to tease out the complexities present in rural and remote contexts that might contribute to this underachievement.

One remote and six remote‐rural schools in Western Australia were the focus of the study. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were used to collect data over three years. Qualitative data were collected using an ethnographic approach, through classroom observations and informal and formal interviews with students, teachers, school leaders, support staff and some parents. From these observations and interviews, teacher and student case studies were constructed. Quantitative data were collected from children through a range of early literacy assessment tasks. Around 60 children were assessed each year for three years. Approximately half of the children each year were Indigenous and half non‐Indigenous.

The notion of educational criticism and connoisseurship (Eisner, 1985) was used as a way to describe, interpret and evaluate the literacy teaching practices which occurred in schools and classrooms. Habermas's (1971) “knowledge constituent interests” were used as lenses through which to interrogate the data. The quantitative data informed the technical interest, while the qualitative data were interrogated using the practical and critical lenses.

The study indicated that barriers to children’s academic success may exist at a number of levels. First, many children enter such schools with limited knowledge to support the development of school English literacy, therefore particular attention needs to be paid to this during their first years of schooling. While all children are likely to make progress in developing school English literacy, for many children the extent and rate of progress is dependent on focussed and knowledgeable teaching.

Second, such schools are typically staffed by teachers in the early years of their career, who need support to develop their pedagogical, content and cultural knowledge to the degree necessary for successfully teaching early literacy in such contexts. Additionally, the relative remoteness of the context in which they are working often makes it difficult for them to access ongoing professional learning and support. Third, school leaders are typically in their first position in that role, with the consequence that they may be less able to support new teachers at the classroom level.

This study is significant because it seeks to unravel the complicated web of factors that impact on the quality of literacy instruction that is provided for children in in remote and remote‐rural schools in Western Australia. There needs to be available a range of measures at every level, that can be tailored to fit the needs of a particular school at any given time.

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