Geoff Maslen steps out in western Australia
It was Aboriginal culture week in Western Australia and Kate Bunney thought that was a good opportunity for her class to learn about bush tucker.
So off she went with her 30 senior primary pupils to the local Aboriginal Community Centre in Albany, in the south-west of the state. There the children listened to tribal elders talk about the food that could be found in the bush and how indigenous people used it.
Later, the class had lunch of kangaroo stew and damper - the outback bread baked over an open fire. Then it was back to Yakamia Primary School to write up a report of the excursion.
Everyone was enthusiastic. Even Tammy, the lowest achiever in Ms Bunney's class as far as writing is concerned. After her report was typed up and printed, it was presented with the other children's work for all the grade to see.
"They were asked to write a report on bush tucker in a scientific way, " Ms Bunney said. "Before First Steps, being primary kids, they would probably have just written a narrative. But this time they knew the right format so that even Tammy had a framework in which to set her report out."
Tammy was very proud because her report looked just like a scientific publication, even if the content was not as substantial as some of the other children's. Tammy wrote only a sentence or two under each heading that forms the framework of report writing in the First Steps programme while others composed several paragraphs - yet she completed the task.
There are 800 children and 30 teachers at Yakamia, the biggest primary school in Albany, and each class is now taught reading, writing, spelling, and oral language skills using the First Steps system. Kate Bunney says she has been teaching for 20 years but out of all curriculum developments she has seen this is easily the best.
"Once you get into it it is very accessible. You can use it either with the whole class or with individuals and you know exactly where the children are and what they have to do to improve their skills."
Ms Bunney says her teaching is now much more focused and that after three years with the programme across the school she can see a big difference in the literacy capabilities of the children.
"They are much more self-directed. For writing, they know the purpose, they know what form to write in. After we came back from the Aboriginal centre they discussed what they would do and they said: 'Oh, you can't do a recall on this because it would not answer these questions. This will be a report'."
The continua that form the backbone of First Steps are the focal point of teaching and reporting to parents at Yakamia. Ms Bunney says that because the record-keeping replaced what teachers used to do, it did not add to the workload.
"Once you've plotted the kids you know the next strategy they need - that's the most important thing. There is a lot of observation but the system provides an analysis of skill formation and a much more systematic approach."
First Steps incorporates elements of the whole language approach, conference writing and reading for a purpose but in a package that Kate Bunney says is more accessible. Whole language was "a bit hit or miss - this takes the hit and miss out of it altogether".
For information on First Steps contact Longman Australia, Longman House, 95 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, Victoria 3205. Tel: 0061 3 697 0666; fax 0061 3 690 1838.