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    Sydney Adventist School defy NAPLAN struggles elsewhere

    24 August 2023

    Sydney Adventist School credits explicit teaching with helping to change its NAPLAN results.(ABC News: Marcus Stimson)


    Nasya Hassan is a skilled classroom operator.

    She’s undaunted by having 34 year 1 students in her class, and is also teaching them how to read and write — skills that will stay with them for life.

    Ms Hassan is a teacher at Auburn’s Sydney Adventist School, in the city’s west, where staff have been trained to focus on direct, explicit instruction informed by the latest science on the way kids’ brains work.

    “We teach phonics explicitly. We teach the kids what sounds look like, what the sounds are and how to decode words,” she says.

    The school’s education model also emphasises strong classroom management, with teachers aiming to engage the entire class in a task every two minutes.

    Principal Danyel Efstratiou says that has minimised the classroom disruption derailing many other schools across the country.

    “It’s really different because all students are involved. Other methods might just pick one student or two but this one requires all of them to be actively involved in their learning,” Ms Efstratiou says.

    The teaching style is a sharp contrast with the student-directed learning popular on university campuses where teachers themselves are educated.

    “There’s a place for that, definitely. But with literacy and numeracy, kids need to know the basic skills,” Ms Efstratiou says.

    “They need to know how to read and write, and teaching them explicitly and showing them ‘this is how you need to do it’ helps them”.


    Nasya Hassan is a teacher at Sydney Adventist School, where NAPLAN results have seen a big turnaround.(ABC News: Marcus Stimson)

    Bucking the trend

    These methods are what Ms Hassan and Ms Efstratiou credit as helping the school turn around its NAPLAN results, which are now well above average in numeracy and literacy.

    The 2023 NAPLAN results were released on Wednesday and showed one in three school students across Australia failed to meet minimum numeracy and literacy expectations.

    This year’s results — the first to be assessed under a tougher, revamped set of criteria — also showed one in 10 students are so far behind they need additional support, and kids from lower socio-economic areas continued to lag behind their peers.

    That makes Sydney Adventist’s NAPLAN scores even more impressive — the school has a much higher-than-average number of students in the lowest socio-educational bands, with 42 per cent of students in the bottom quarter.

    It’s also bucking the national trend of boys performing poorly against girls in literacy, as two-thirds of its students are male.

    Ms Efstratiou says the more explicit model of teaching was initially going to be just for kindergarten to year 2 classes, but its success saw the method expanded to the rest of the school.

    “The teachers have been working really hard in the classroom and just using different engagement strategies, checking that the kids are really understanding what they’re learning and having them involved in their learning as well,” she says.

    “We did a lot of instructional coaching actually where we would demonstrate and model how we wanted the teachers to be teaching the kids, explicitly.”

    Principal Danyel Efstratiou says the school’s education model has been a gamechanger.(ABC News: Marcus Stimson)

    A blueprint to follow?

    Experts say this teaching style is one way to fix poor NAPLAN results.

    Despite significant investments in all schooling systems, Australian students have been sliding down global rankings in literacy and numeracy.

    Glenn Fahey, the education director at the Centre for Independent Studies think tank, says that points to poor NAPLAN results being down to a teaching problem.

    “Unfortunately for so many teachers, they’ve not been given the skills they need to be effective,” he says.

    “That’s a huge injustice to thousands of graduating teachers every year who only get half of the tools that they need.”

    The Australian Education Research Organisation, Australia’s independent education evidence body, says explicit instruction is a “tried and tested practice”.

    “Explicit teaching is a set of practices that seems simplistic but are actually sophisticated techniques that are backed by educational science,” Mr Fahey says.

    Federal Education Minister Jason Clare recently gave universities two years to overhaul teaching degrees, and wants to see them start training teachers in the practices that helped Sydney Adventist School improve their NAPLAN scores.

    “Lots of teachers will tell you that when they first started they didn’t feel like they had all the skills that they needed to teach a child to read or write, to manage a disruptive classroom,” Mr Clare told the ABC this week.

    “So we need to fix that.”

    Ms Hassan says explicit teaching was skimmed over during her university training and agrees teaching degrees need to change.

    “We need to do a lot more practical work at unis. It needs to be a lot more hands-on, if possible.”

    Changing teaching practices certainly helped at Sydney Adventist School — and a more explicit approach is something they wholeheartedly recommend.

    “It’s been a great journey that we’ve been on, and it’s been great to see the kids really respond to the teaching practices that we’ve put in place over the last few years,” Ms Efstratiou says.


    By national education and parenting reporter Conor Duffy and the Specialist Reporting Team’s Evan Young

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