Successful Literacy/Numeracy Instruction using Organic Learning

Some may assume that our Organic Learning Cycle is another version of an inquiry OLC.pngmodel. The truth is that it is purely a ‘learning model’. Indeed the cycle is designed to help pose, find and solve problems in an inquiry sense, but the model just as brilliantly aligns itself with explicit/guided instruction, and in particular, the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). Further to this, our work with Dr. Lyn Sharratt has enabled us to hone our thinking and practices to ensure that they are visible, transparent and articulated.



Pearson & Gallagher (1983) state that the “Gradual Release of Responsibility model of instruction suggests that cognitive work should shift slowly and intentionally from teacher modeling, to joint responsibility between teachers and students, to independent practice and application by the learner”.

Dr. Douglas Fisher then suggests, “As part of a gradual release of responsibility model, curriculum must be vertically aligned. Vertical alignment is both a process and an outcome, the result of which is a comprehensive curriculum that provides learners with a coherent sequence of content. Vertical alignment ensures that content standards and reading
skills and strategies are introduced, reinforced, and assessed. Vertical alignment 
guarantees that instruction is targeted on the intersection between student needs and content standards. In curricula with strong vertical alignment, content redundancy is reduced and the curriculum is rigorous and challenging”.

After thorough and ongoing collaborative planning sessions using Hexagonal Curriculum Mapping, staff ensure that there is rigorous vertical alignment in the ‘intended learning’ for students. Following an informed approach in collecting relevant data through assessment of/for/as learning, the process that our staff use in the teaching of effective literacy and numeracy instruction can be explained as follows using the Organic Learning Cycle:

Explore can be, but isn’t limited to, the ‘Demonstration’ phase where teachers model new knowledge and skills to students. It is more or less the  “I do, you watch” part. At the same time, students explore how this new learning is applied in life and what the purpose is of learning it, often referring to Learning Intentions. Students may or may not be aware of their competency with this knowledge and with these skills and refer to the Competency Rubric to map out their initial thoughts.

Connect is where learners make connections with new learning. It is like a ‘Shared Demonstration’ between both teacher and student, ensuring that new knowledge and skills are correctly understood, to eliminate and eradicate ambiguity. It’s like “I do, you help”. Students can also use the help of their peers in this phase, who are Unconscious or Reflectively Competent on the visible thinking Competency Rubric on the classroom wall.

Create can be aligned with the ‘Guided Practice’ phase where students make sense of their new learning and thinking how it can be applied in a variety of contexts and ways, creating a sense of competency through “You do, I help”. This is undertaken in conjunction with co-constructed Success Criteria to scaffold and show students how to achieve success in their learning.

Innovate is where students conduct ‘Independent/Interdependent Practice’ of new knowledge and skills and can transfer this into new situations to consolidate and further refine their thinking. When learning experiences are open ended and differentiated, students have the potential to surprise themselves, as well as their teachers. There is no ceiling placed on learners and their output has purpose, is meaningful, is relatable, challenging and motivating.

Impact is always measured to ascertain learning growth. This is when students will again plot their thinking on the visible Competency Rubric and can evidence, explain and articulate their growth. In addition to this, ongoing teacher developed and diagnostic assessments are conducted by staff to ensure that syllabus outcomes/standards have been achieved/addressed.


Through our involvement in the innovative ‘Cluster 5 Project’ (Sydney Catholic Schools), we were cognisant of the need to connect the project’s requirements to Organic Learning. Its salient components were critically aligned with our organic methodology. As part of the Project, we were also fortunate enough to meet and work with international guru Dr. Lyn Sharratt.

Putting Faces on the Data – Reading Wall aligning Reading Levels, DoE Literacy Continuum Reading Clusters, EAL/D Learning Progression & Benchmarks.

An existing practice that is continually refined are our visible data walls for literacy and numeracy. These walls practice what is preached in terms of being ‘visible, tangible and critique-able’. Our version of ‘Putting Faces on the Data’ has immensely encouraged our staff  to have deeper conversations around data and even more so, allowing them to see patterns in student achievement (or lack thereof), that were not previously evident. This allows staff to conduct rigorous conversations around ‘data analysis and interrogation’, and set collaborative short term learning plans for students. Below you can see the process staff undertake when interrogating data (Adapted from Sharratt 2012). Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 4.04.58 pmscreen-shot-2017-12-29-at-4-05-05-pm-e1514596470607.png
One of the principles Organic Learning espouses is ‘transparency’, and Sharratt’s 14 Parameters add further rigour to our shared language and ability to collectively walk what we talk. It is a requisite for all stakeholders at our school to have ‘Shared Beliefs and Understandings’ (Parameter 1 – adapted from Hill & Crevola 1999) and ‘Shared Responsibility and Accountability’ (Parameter 14). Our work with Lyn Sharratt sat well with what was already happening within and across our Organic Learning community, and helped us align our practices so that we could make further sense of them.

Below is our school’s 14 Parameters & Organic Learning in Literacy/Numeracy Watermark, which outlines how we address the 14 Parameters to ensure effective literacy and numeracy practices are evident and align with our work in Organic Learning:

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Further work with Sharratt has allowed us to hone our practices in effective literacy/numeracy by using the Assessment Framework (Sharratt & Harild 2015). This is still a work in progress and requires further critique and refinement.

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 3.42.23 pm.png

In conclusion, we are finding our Organic Learning Cycle can be applied to all school practices, and particularly (in the case of this post) where explicit teaching and learning takes place. It helps staff and students alike use a common language and process for learning, especially for implicit and explicit knowledge and skills. It is through using consistent and shared practices that ensures our whole teaching staff have the same approach, seek peer feedback and set collaborative data informed and differentiated learning goals for all students with verified success.

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