Agnes Water State School joined the Seven Steps at the beginning of 2016 and committed to implementing the Seven Steps school-wide as part of their efforts to deliver high-quality learning programs that cater for the needs and aspirations of all their students. See the amazing improvements in student writing they achieved in 2016, and learn insights from the Head of Curriculum herself about exactly how she and her colleagues implemented a focused change in their literacy classrooms.
Leigh Tankey, Head of Curriculum at Agnes Water, implemented a school-wide approach to the Seven Steps after identifying consistently low results in writing. After attending the two-day Coaches Course and running a School PD for all teachers, Leigh then focused in on three classes each term ensuring consistency and mastery of each of the Seven Steps.
Leigh’s dedication and hard work (along with her fellow teachers) has resulted in massive increases in student engagement, enjoyment and ability. The graph below was the improvements of three classes of Years 1, 3/4 and 4 (a pre-selected sample of 60 students) over the second half of 2016.
We interviewed Leigh to identify critical insights into the success of Agnes Water and the Seven Steps. Here’s what she had to say.
Leigh, why did you and Agnes Water choose the Seven Steps to Writing Success?
Our school chose to implement Seven Steps to Writing Success at the beginning of 2016 as we were undergoing a process of aligning our school programs in our identified areas of priority. Writing has been an area that is consistently low in our school and the need for a research based whole school program was strongly evident. Seven Steps ensures cohesion and continuity across all the year levels and allows for a common language to be used in every classroom. This allows for student progression to build between year levels and also contributes to shorter transition times each year – students don’t have to relearn a new writing program every year with a different teacher – they understand the language of each of the Seven Steps and so can focus on the implementation of this in their writing.
Were there any results that particularly stood out to you or your fellow teachers?
An area of need initially requested by staff at the commencement of 2016 was how to implement Seven Steps in the Early Years classroom. There was some concern that the program would mostly be applicable to the older years and wouldn’t really work in the younger classes. The results from the Track Your Success [a service offered to all schools hosting a PD] that actually really stood out were the incredible gains from the year 1 class. This teacher had initially admitted some reluctance to teaching writing but once she had the PD in Seven Steps she fully embraced the implementation – this fantastic improvement can be attributed to her motivation and dedication – her student results gave the rest of the school confidence in the fact that ALL classes would benefit.
Have you noticed other results that are above and beyond the test scores?
Students were engaged and excited about lessons – they would see me in the playground and ask when their next Seven Steps lesson was. One student saw me at a social gathering and asked if I liked his Sizzling Start from class that week. Teachers used the examples of student work that I shared on the win boards and in the staff meetings as exemplars in their own classrooms. Often the day after a staff meeting I would be able to walk into rooms and see the same examples being shared.
When I set homework of finding an ad that followed the story graph to be shared in the class the following week they would find me before then and excitedly tell me what they had found.
Imagine a vibrant writing classroom where every student is engaged and contributing great ideas.
Writing with passion, flair and excitement – as if the words themselves are escaping from within.
Where brainstorming and storytelling are times of discovery, filled with hundreds and hundreds of ideas.
That’s what a Seven Steps classroom looks like.
Learn it all in a Seven Steps Workshop today.
We know good results are usually a lot more than just a writing program. What do you think Agnes Water did so well? Why do you think your school saw success?
The reason that our school has had such success in the implementation of the program is because of the very structured and deliberate way it was enacted. Our principal, Trevor Buchanan, implemented a coaching model called Developing a Shared Understanding of Practice with the leadership team (Principal – numeracy, Master Teacher – spelling and Head of Curriculum – writing). Each team member was responsible for implementing an area of priority within the school. Every term three different teachers were taken through a coaching process which involved initial interviews around professional practice and student needs.
For writing, a modelled lesson schedule was collaboratively created and each week the coach would model various elements of the Seven Steps. The teacher was able to use an observation template to give the coach feedback about their lesson. This same template was used at the end of the coaching term where teachers were able to receive feedback around their implementation of a Seven Steps writing lesson.
Another contributing factor to the success of our continued implementation was the provision of professional development to 100% of staff in the following ways:
- Head of Curriculum – Completion of Seven Steps to Writing Success Coaches Course
- Agnes Water State School staff – Completion of the School PD day with the talented Dianne Scott. (Staff who were absent were released later in the term to complete the same workshop in Rockhampton).
- Discovery Cluster Conference workshop – Head of Curriculum presented a hands-on workshop – a Seven Steps Writing Olympics for aides and teachers across our cluster of schools.
- Weekly fun games at staff meetings to allow teachers to walk in the shoes of their students. Provision of resources and summaries from Seven Steps workshops.
- We endeavoured to celebrate gains along the way. Our staffroom has a win board and during modelled lessons work samples from different classes were collected and shared on this win board to show the amazing gains from all year levels. These samples were also shared in the school newsletter along with some fun ways of improving students writing at home.
We also had success because of the high level of support shown by the Seven Steps team. We were able to email various resources created for feedback and double checking, share success and ask questions – and receive a lot of encouragement and guidance. Rather than a one-off dissemination of information in a workshop, we received mentoring throughout our implementation back at school.
On a personal note, I got to put some of my Seven Steps training into practice with my son one weekend. Sam found a competition in a magazine to win a PS4. I told him that I would never buy one and that his only chance would be to win one…. he had to write 25 words or less and this is his first attempt:
“I need a PS-4 because all my friends have them. My mum won’t let me but one and the only way I can get one is winning this competition.”
I gave him feedback – this not persuasive or original. I suggested a poem with dialogue and action….
This is his second attempt:
My eyes are stinging
at the school bell ringing,
I stomp my leg and I
BEG, BEG, BEG.
He didn’t win but he was really proud of his second attempt and I know that unless I had done the Seven Steps training earlier that year I wouldn’t have been able to give him such specific feedback. It’s given me the tools to help him and I love it.
What are your plans moving into 2017?
The coaching model has evolved from 2016, with all teachers having undergone a term of weekly modelled lessons in Seven Steps. We are now moving to take the training wheels off in our classrooms. Teachers have been given the implementation plan and we are very excited that all classes will be participating in the Track Your Success program. Teachers have been requesting refresher lessons in specific steps, with already five lessons modelled by the second week of school.
We also commenced our year with a whole school unit of work called ‘How do I Learn at AWSS?’. This unit is a great way to start the year – particularly if we have movement between classes around Day 8. It also has an added benefit of reassuring parents if their children are moved that the common unit has been taught so the transition is as smooth as possible for their children. Each class completed a mini unit of work based on the routines and transitions of the school. We have woven resources and activities from Seven Steps into this unit to further refresh and familiarise teachers with what is expected.
Any final words?
I just wanted to thank you for the extremely valuable Track Your Success tool. I know that staff are very appreciative of this depth of analysis because it has saved them an immense amount of time… I am strongly encouraging all of our teachers to start next year with this process again – we can use it to have a very focussed cycle of improvement. I’m really grateful for the support of your team and for the positive, encouraging and practical feedback. It has made the world of difference in this process. – Leigh Tankey, Head of Curriculum, Agnes Water State School