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Liberating students’ potential: learning support

The Learning Support department consists of five Learning Support teachers and a teacher’s assistant. They also work closely with three College counsellors. The teachers and activities are carefully integrated into the whole school setting, so that any student, at any level of ability, can take advantage of extra help in a particular area. The main focus of the Learning Support program is to ensure that all students have the opportunity to discover their individual skills, and reach their potential in areas of study that are important to their future career, as well as those areas that interest them the most.

“[Learning support teachers] provide that sense where you just feel secure, and know that you can do it.”

JOSHUA BALE, YEAR 10

Head of Learning Support, David Parnell, with students Joshua Bale, left, and Joel Ellis, right

Students and teacher in senior library

DAVID PARNELL:

The main reason for Learning Support is so that we can identify students who may need assistance to catch up with their peers. Every student learns differently. Often there is a student who will be excelling in some areas, but is working with Learning Support in a particular area where they are struggling, like spelling for example. Some of those students, we may see for two or three terms, where others will stay for a number of years.

JOSHUA BALE, YEAR 10:

Yeah I agree. I started Learning Support in Year 7 and I thought I was doing well so I dropped out in Year 8. But then I realised I did still need some more help, so I came back in Year 9 and continued in Year 10. It’s good because I feel just so secure. Plus I get to meet new teachers who I know will help me and provide me with new information as well.

Teacher listening to student in library

Head of Learning Support, David Parnell

DAVID PARNELL:

There are different facets to the Learning Support program, but one of the main things we do is screening: picking out students who need to be taught some of the basic skills, and making sure they are receiving explicit instruction to develop those skills. In phonetics, reading, spelling mastery or maths, for example. The other component would be supporting the mainstream classes. Making sure that students understand the assignments they have to do and the concepts that come up in class, in case they need any extra instruction in that regard.

JOSHUA BALE:

I need help with English, spelling and reading. Because I just wasn’t that strong when I was younger. Learning Support gives me the option to have that help and gives me an idea how important those things are for my future, and helps me to strive to get better at it.

DAVID PARNELL:

There are quite a few skills that may not be taught in the regular classroom. Particularly from Year 5 through to Year 12. Sometimes we might have a second teacher in the class sitting with some of the students. Other times, the students are out sitting in different classrooms and working with Learning Support teachers.

JOEL ELLIS, YEAR 11:

I’ve done this Learning Support program since Year 5. Miss King from the Junior School helped me through Years 5 & 6, and I’ve been with Mr Parnell from Year 7 to 10. And he still helps me now. In Years 7 and 8, I went twice a week and we did Spelling Mastery and reading.

JOEL ELLIS:

Now in Years 11 and 12, Mr Parnell comes down if we need assistance with assignments and with any work that is late, we just catch up down here in the library. This is during school hours, so when we have a study period, Mr Parnell is actually our teacher for the study period and helps us. It’s helping me through high school – with my difficulties in spelling, Spelling Mastery is helping me all the way through. Now I have gotten better, I feel better through class as well. Now I am writing essays and stuff.

DAVID PARNELL:

As Joel mentions, our programs are the same from Year 5 right through to Year 10. That’s one of the features that we pride ourselves on at the College, that there is consistency right through from Year 5: so the teachers who are working in the Junior School are using the same program and the same approach that we use in the Senior School.

DAVID PARNELL:

We’re also very well integrated into the whole school setting. For example, there are many students who attend Learning Support in some areas who excel in other parts of the school, be that in sport or in drama or a whole range of areas, like becoming a prefect. So there’s no separation at all between someone who receives Learning Support and someone who doesn’t receive Learning Support. Would you agree Josh?

JOSHUA BALE:

Yeah I agree, plus I think the teachers are an important part of Learning Support. They are with you all the way through and are very helpful during every class. If you are struggling, you can send them a quick email and they will reply straight away and work out how to give you assistance. They provide that sense where you just feel secure and know that you can do it.

DAVID PARNELL:

It’s good that you say that you feel that way. We value people like Joshua and Joel because they have so much confidence and they are so talented in so many ways. One of our other goals with Learning Support is not just working with students like Joshua and Joel, but is working in with other teachers. Assisting teachers to use better strategies so that, for example, students can approach an essay in a manageable way.

JOSHUA BALE:

Yeah, so other teachers know there’s an easier way for us to learn how to write an essay, or figure out Maths equations. Mr Parnell would have taught us that, and then communicated with other teachers to let them know how we are learning, so it’s easier for us.

DAVID PARNELL:

I started out as a primary school teacher and discovered I had a real interest in identifying students who were struggling and who were falling behind. Working with older students was also something that interested me. From a social justice perspective, I’ve got a strong belief that every student should have the best opportunity possible. To make sure that they have all the options available to them that anyone else would have. With really strong numeracy and literacy skills, students can springboard into whatever career they are interested in.

This conversation has been posted in the following categories.

Academic Development Wellbeing