Date of Award

1997

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Education Honours

School

School of Education

Faculty

Faculty of Education

First Advisor

Judith Rivalland

Abstract

The First Steps Project was developed by the Education Department of Western Australia to facilitate literacy learning of students who were perceived to be "at risk". The project has resulted in state-wide professional development for teachers, and the subsequent marketing of the program interstate and overseas. The purpose of this study is to present an insight into the various ways that teachers use First Steps in their classrooms and to discover where different teachers stand within the theoretical framework of language learning, and what orientation and experiences lead them to make the planning, teaching and evaluation choices they make. The study examined the literacy teaching practices of teachers in four classrooms in Perth metropolitan schools. In two of these classrooms, two teachers taught together in team-teaching situations. The teachers reflected a diversity of professional development experiences related to First Steps. One teacher had received First Steps professional development in a Core School, which was supported by four Collaborative Teachers. Another teacher had learned about First Steps as part of her teacher education program at University. The other teachers in the study had received their professional development through Central or District Office, and two of these had received further training as First Steps Focus Teachers. Data was collected through participant-observation and interviews. Using a form of educational criticism (Eisner, 1985), a case-study was constructed for each classroom and a cross-case analysis was performed to identify patterns of shared or conflicting understandings and the ways in which these understandings influenced language learning events. All the teachers in the study used a variety of First Steps teaching strategies, and all teachers, to varying extents, used the First Steps developmental continua. Teachers who appeared to have a deeper understanding of the philosophies of literacy development underpinning First Steps were more able to manipulate First Steps resources and teaching strategies to suit to needs of their own particular teaching situation. While all teachers made planning decisions on the basis of the assessment of their students' progress, this process 'most often happened in teachers' heads, rather then being recorded in any documents. Teachers who demonstrated a deep understanding of First Steps theoretical principles appeared to have internalised the First Steps developmental indicators as part of their tacit monitoring system. Other teachers seemed to have their own sets of indicators, which they translated to "First Steps language" when the time came to record students' progress on the developmental continua. The study demonstrates that, while all case-study teachers used a variety of First Steps practices in their classrooms, both for teaching and assessing students' learning, the extent to which teachers used and adapted First Steps materials was influenced not only by their professional development experiences, but also by their own life histories and the context of their teaching situations, and the ways in which these factors impacted on their understandings about the nature of literacy development.

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