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Extensive school-based research, focusing on the role of families in overcoming challenges in literacy development in the early years, will see two Brisbane independent school teachers head to the United Kingdom’s prestigious Oxford University to present their findings.

St John’s Anglican College teachers, Deb Wilson and Ronnelle Sanders, began their research into early oral language skills in 2019 after securing a research grant through Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ).

Now, three years later, Mrs Wilson and Mrs Sanders will present their findings on the world stage after being invited to the World Literacy Summit being held from April 2-4 in Oxford, England.

The World Literacy Summit is a bi-annual event that brings together leaders from 85 countries with a single focus on advocating, championing and educating on the vital importance of improving literacy levels across the globe.

The project underpinning the research involved equipping parents with different sets of questions around a range of topics to support their families to have deeper conversations.

“A key finding from the research was that a lot of engagement between families and children is instructional, which meant they were not having deeper conversations which are crucial in developing early oral skills,” Ms Wilson said.

“To combat this, we specifically asked questions like ‘what made you smile today’, rather than ‘how was your day’.”

According to Mrs Sanders, the research also proved particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, with specific question sets focusing on the child’s wellbeing.

She said the work was now paying dividends, with a marked improvement in oral and literacy skills for St John’s Anglican College students, as well as an overall improvement in parent engagement.

“If a student is thinking and speaking in full sentences, we see this transfer into their written communication skills,” she said.

“With the support of our College leadership, we have moved into different projects where we are currently focussing on what oral language skills look like in specific subjects, like mathematics.”

The research conducted by Mrs Wilson and Mrs Sanders was initiated through an Independent Schools Queensland grant as part of the organisation’s Research in Schools Program.

ISQ Chief Executive Officer Chris Mountford said the key to the ISQ Research in Schools Program was providing a framework to support educators to undertake research and engage in a suitable professional setting.

“The program supports teams of principals, leaders and teachers, guided by the data they have collected, to delve deeply into an area which has been identified as needing improvement within their setting,” Mr Mountford said.

“Teams undertake further research, trial strategies and develop an effective solution that is practical and relevant for their school context.”

St John’s Anglican College Principal Maria McIvor said she was proud that the work undertaken at the College could now be presented on a global scale.

“There are a lot of great concepts uncovered as part of this project that schools can easily implement, irrespective of where they are located in the world,” Ms McIvor said.

Mrs Sanders said the opportunity to present at Oxford University offered a chance to show how this piece of research could be translated into different languages right across the world.

“If you take sleep out of the equation, children only spend 13 percent of their time at school,” Ms Sanders said.

“Teachers can work as hard as possible, but families will play a vital role in the development of oral and literacy skills, so engaging them in the journey is important.”


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