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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Secondary School Reform in Literacy: A Case Study

Dr Carol A. Christensen.

The paper reports a case study of a secondary school that successfully implemented reform in literacy. The school was located in a low socio-economic area outside a major city in Queensland, Australia. Historically the school experienced many of the problems associated with areas with high levels of social and economic stress. It had high rates of academic failure and student disaffection. Widespread low levels of literacy impacted across the curriculum. For example, many students did not have adequate literacy to respond to exams in their subject areas. Thus, a peer culture of failure had developed where students avoided or actively resisted learning and achievement. Eighty five percent of students scored more than one year below grade level on a standardised measure of reading comprehension. Fifteen percent scored below grade 3 level. The school implemented a whole school literacy program in which all students and all teachers participated for one half hour each day. As no teacher in the school had been trained to teach literacy, particularly at the level of early reading and writing skills that the students required, a program of intensive in-service education was developed. After one year of implementation remarkable gains had been achieved. Students who were reading at early primary level as well as those reading at upper primary level gained a mean of approximately two years in reading comprehension. In addition to its effects of achievement the program impacted on the school in a multiplicity of ways. Students reported using literacy strategies in the other subject, teachers develop new skills that they were able to apply to their regular teaching, student behaviour improved and students motivational perspectives changed from the expectation of failure to a sense of pride in achievement. The paper will discuss the factors that account for the success of the program including curriculum and teaching strategies, program organisation, structure and management, school leadership and organisation, and social relationships developed by teachers and students in the school.


Dr Carol A. Christensen  (Australia)
Senior Lecturer in Educational Psychology
School of Education
The University of Queensland

Carol Christensen’s research focuses on issues of teaching and learning. She is particularly interested in how to promote learning, particularly for students who are experiencing failure. She has published research on the efficacy of programs to enhance early reading and writing as well as work on the social construction of learning difficulties.

  • School Reform
  • Literacy
  • Secondary School

(30 min Conference Paper, English)