Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards
JESSICA COLLEU TERRADAS
Como Secondary College (WA)
Intensive individual instruction has produced breakthroughs for struggling students at Como Secondary College, where some have made up to five years of progress in just 12 months.
Special Education teacher Jessica Colleu Terradas was determined to lift the literacy and numeracy results of lower performing students at the Perth school, many of whom were from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Jessica’s formula is to ensure those assessed for the program – about 50 Year 7s to 10s annually – grasp the information encoded in letters, numbers and symbols. Her innovative program with a focus on explicit teaching is attracting teachers from around the State eager to see the program in action.
With neglected basics in place, many students have thrived in regular classrooms, making great strides in other subject areas – and progress has been sustained right through to Year 10.
At first, some families of Jessica Colleu Terradas’s students were worried. The Special Education teacher was pulling children out of regular classes to focus on one-to-one instruction in literacy and numeracy, and parents were concerned about separation from their peers.
Then they saw the results. Through self-designed techniques based on up-to-the-minute research findings, Miss Colleu Terradas was taking struggling students at Como Secondary College in the Perth suburbs and propelling them to achievements they could never have imagined.
In reading, students identified as educationally vulnerable made the equivalent of up to five years’ progress in just one year in her program, and their spoken reading speed nearly doubled. In maths, students made two to four years’ worth of progress over the same period.
Getting those basics in place allowed many of the students to thrive in mainstream classrooms; a number of the participants, who were at least four years behind their peers at the end of Year 6, have gone on to successfully complete the Western Australian Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (OLNA) in Year 10, demonstrating their improvement was no flash in the pan but real, sustained gain.
The crux of Miss Colleu Terradas’ approach is the explicit teaching of sound-symbol relationships in reading, and in mathematics a parallel focus on numbers and symbols and how to manipulate them.
“The programs are designed to give the students immediate and ongoing success and minimise misconceptions and the chance of failure,” she said.
At-risk students are identified through progressive achievement test (PAT) scores, which reliably and impartially ensure the intensive program is offered to those with greatest need – typically about 40 every year. Then Miss Colleu Terradas sets to work ensuring the students grasp the fundamental information encoded in letters, numbers and other symbols – an association that happens implicitly for many people but not for others.
The 825 enrolment Como Secondary includes over one-third of students with a language background other than English, so trust and engagement are paramount. Miss Colleu Tereadas contacts families weekly to discuss progress and ensure parents have resources to extend their child’s learning at home. This has allayed early concerns about withdrawing students from regular classes, and families are now firmly on board.
Miss Colleu Terradas has become a de facto expert on explicit teaching, and Como regularly hosts teachers from other schools eager to see the program in action. Representatives of 25 schools visited Como during 2017-2018, and she has also forged strong links with nearby Edith Cowan University’s School of Education.
The best thing, though, is seeing the effect on the lives of students, who might otherwise have disengaged and dropped out, never having the opportunity to explore what they could achieve.
“I had my first ex-student enrol in a university last year,” said Miss Colleu Terradas. “I believe in rising to the challenge of meeting high standards of achievement. I am personally committed to ensuring that all students, including those with learning difficulties or from typically disadvantaged backgrounds, gain access to high-quality education suited to their needs.”