The classroom has changed for the better at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School in Calwell after several terms implementing InitiaLit, an evidence-based literacy program designed to assist teachers in providing strong reading foundations for all students. Literacy coordinator and Year 2 teacher, Lauren Macdonald, has been a driving force in transitioning students and teachers to this whole-class program and a first-hand witness to the positive uptake and impact of InitiaLit.

Mrs Macdonald said the program has introduced a new level of consistency and collaboration across all classrooms, without requiring extensive experience with the program. She feels there is a great opportunity to upskill not only students, but teachers to better understand how language works as they explore the program and its structure. After some initial hesitation around autonomy and program flexibility, teachers have truly become advocates for the program, finding room to experiment and incorporate their own interests and flare into lessons.

Teachers at St Francis believe InitiaLit has provided consistency in learning outcomes across classrooms, laying the foundation for more effective collaboration. Mrs Macdonald and her colleagues have experienced an increase in understanding of how language works and have found a better use of meta language, or language used to discuss literacy learning. Further, Mrs Macdonald reports that teachers and students are now being exposed to a higher level of grammar terminology, such as noun groups, prepositions, and conjunctions, that would be otherwise left until later stages of student learning.

Lauren McDonald teaching an InitiaLit lesson in her Year 2 class.

Students have been the real winners from this change, with teachers across grades being able to provide more support for students who are capable of accelerated learning, and better learning retention, a result of the repetition and pace offered by the program.

As part of the program, each students’ learning is now supported by decodable readers, replacing their whole language readers with both physical and online offering options via Wushka. Such is the success of this transition, other schools have been visiting St Francis of Assisi’s classroom to see InitiaLit in action.

“My Year 2’s love it,” said Mrs Macdonald, “their phonics knowledge has increased significantly, and we are able to monitor to see if they are retaining what they are learning.” Students also enjoy the Storybook component, exposing them to quality literature, exploring new vocabulary and embedding the joy of reading.

Mrs Macdonald has found that parents are not experiencing too much change, only the benefits of systematic synthetic phonics method of learning. Parents are starting to notice their children showing off new and interesting words alongside improved spelling.

To complement InitiaLit, several teachers at the school have also been participating in SOLAR Lab, a research project by La Trobe University, which facilitates and tracks the efficient translation of new knowledge into the classroom. This support has been particularly beneficial for those teachers interested in the science of reading, complimenting the transition effectively and will be a great gauge for the long-term success of InitiaLit at St Francis of Assisi.

Still curious about InitiaLit? Find out more here.

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