When her students’ vocabulary standards started to slip,this teacher took parents into class

When teacher Stephanie Salazar saw vocabulary standards slipping in the primary years at her Cherrybrook school she decided to take parents into class.

After months of lockdown triggered mass classroom disruption,Salazar knew it was vital to stop results dipping further. Her solution was to hold “parent masterclasses” in the hall at John Purchase Public School,where she explained to dozens of parents how literacy,reading and vocabulary is taught to their children in the earliest primary years.

Teacher Stephanie Salazar held “parent masterclasses” to explain how literacy,reading and vocabulary is taught to their children in the earliest primary years.

Teacher Stephanie Salazar held “parent masterclasses” to explain how literacy,reading and vocabulary is taught to their children in the earliest primary years.Oscar Colman

“Our check-in assessment data was showing that in vocabulary we were falling behind when compared to similar schools;it wasn’t an area we were focusing enough on in our teaching. Spelling practice across our years was also inconsistent,” she says.

“We modelled to parents how we teach reading,what the kids will be reading throughout term,and ran workshops where parents did role play and pretended to be teachers themselves. We explained that having parents model their love of reading makes the biggest difference to students.”

Salazar has been a teacher at John Purchase for nine years and is now an assistant principal at the school where more than 75 per cent of parents have a language background other than English.

Last year she lured 80 parents into a face-to-face vocabulary masterclass,and in 2020 ran a spelling workshop for 100 parents to demonstrate how students are taught phonics and help give them confidence to help their children at home.

“We spoke a lot about what a logophile is,and how to love language. It got parents got excited about learning new words,” Salazar said.

The assistant principal – who originally studied accounting at Macquarie University before switching to education – is one of 12 Australian teachers,two of whom are from NSW,acknowledged in this year’s Commonwealth Bank teaching awards that was run in a partnership with Schools Plus.

Another four NSW teachers have won awards in the early career teacher category that has been introduced this year,acknowledging teaching achievements in the face of unique challenges.

“It is critical that parents are consistent with their approaches at home. Parents want to be involved and want to know how to support their children,” said Salazar. “And when they understand how students are taught to read it makes it easier. It is very different to when they were at school.”

She is now coaching early career teachers and casual teachers,and will use her $45,000 fellowship money to take professional learning classes in improving literacy in primary years.

Other award winners include maths teacher Holly Millican who started an annual mathematics olympics at South Grafton High School to try and remove the stigma around the difficulties many students experience with maths,and Ian Preston,the deputy principal at Murrumbidgee Regional High School who established the Murrumbidgee Academy of STEM Excellence.

Primary schools across NSW are intensifying their focus on literacy and numeracy this year,with a new syllabus mandating the use of phonics when teaching children to read and the recruitment of almost 1000 curriculum specialists.

Results from the first statewide NSW phonics check showed more than 40 per cent of year 1 students did not read as well as they should and the problem was most acute among disadvantaged children.

After concerns about the pandemic’s impact on students’ academic progress,many schools across the three sectors will this year begin trialling a new kindergarten to year 2 curriculum involving a greater emphasis on phonics,or sounding out letters and letter combinations when students learn to read.

The curriculum will not be mandatory until next year.

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Lucy Carroll is education editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a health reporter.

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