Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief


Strengthening early language and literacy teaching in Grade R.

Category: Creative Learners | Early literacy and numeracy development | 19 January, 2014 - 20:00


Project Overview

Over the past two years, through our Stellar programme (Strengthening Teaching of Early Language and Literacy in Grade R), Wordworks has been working in schools in the Metro South Education District to support teachers in gaining new skills and knowledge around early language and literacy teaching and learning.  This programme has a strong theoretical framework and is grounded in evidence around what works in early-years education.

The teachers in our programme attend monthly two-hour training workshops over a six-month period.  Key to our programme’s success is the hands-on nature of the training, and the high quality materials that enable the teachers to immediately start implementing their new learning after each training session. The positive feedback and growing demand from teachers for the programme has demonstrated that there is a need for practical, skills-based, in-service teacher training programmes.

Project Importance

Grade R is a crucial year for laying the foundations for a child’s life-long learning. Good teaching at this level is extremely beneficial to the child. Programmes that invest in the skills development of Grade R teachers not only help them to do their job better, but also help them to feel recognised, valued, and equipped in their important role.  However, current mainstream teacher training programmes are not able to adequately reach all Grade R teachers. As such, Stellar is filling a gap in terms of professionalization of the Grade R year and it helps to contribute to teacher motivation and retention. 

The Stellar Approach and Structure

Stellar uses a respectful approach to working with teachers by facilitating ‘learning teams’. We recognise their prior knowledge and skills, and give them a voice in the learning process.  Teachers respond very well to the concept of a learning team. They express that they feel like equals and that information, theory, and programme objectives are not ‘thrown’ at them.  The key is to respect the good work they are already doing, and to build on their existing ideas and experience. 

We aim to build good practice by engaging in practical activities during the training sessions, and to create opportunities for reflection on teaching and learning in the classroom.  Peer learning and mentoring is a core part of the training – teachers like to share their experiences and ideas and offer support to each other.  There is constant learning going on during the feedback sessions, and the experienced teachers often offer ideas for extension.  Having a space to share their experiences is vital to the teachers’ sense of ownership of their professional development. 

The programme is carefully structured and has clear expectations for teachers and learners. A simple, user-friendly framework provides teachers and children with a platform to build skills and confidence from week to week.  However, there is flexibility for teachers to use the materials in a way that reflects the particular context in which they work, and fits with their own school and class environment. The structure means that teachers start to expect more from children and therefore become more aware of learners who are struggling. The materials and training both complement and supplement the demands of the CAPS requirements – giving teachers the ‘how to’ skills.

Main lessons learnt

We do not offer a general teacher training programme, but rather, we aim specifically to build on teacher’s existing knowledge (i.e. what they have learnt in their initial training). By taking this approach to the programme we have found that:

  • The programme is most effective when teachers already have a basic level of training and where daily teaching routines and practices are established;
  • Teachers most appreciate practical tips; 
  • It is not always easy to get the balance right between respecting teachers’ prior knowledge, and not making assumptions about their capacity to deliver key aspects of the programme. 

Similar programmes may find the following suggestions helpful:

  • Respect teachers and work from what they know. Don’t make assumptions about what they do not know.
  • It is important to talk to teachers about what they need, and to build on what is already working well in their experience.
  • Showcase teachers, classrooms, and schools that are working well and are achieving great success.  These case studies can inspire other teachers, and raise expectations about what both teachers and children can achieve.
  • Feedback sessions are crucial and should be a key component of any programme. 
  • Partnering with the education district helps to raise the status and visibility of the programme and increases the likelihood of sustainable change.

Going forward

In the future we will be sharing our learning experience with a wider audience by writing a training manual for trainers that reflects our approach, principles and methodologies. We are also establishing partnerships with other ECD Service Providers and RTOs to increase the reach of this work. Next, we aim to implement an impact evaluation of the programme on teaching practices and children’s language and literacy development. And finally, we will advocate for degree courses specialising in early-years education so that the country can build a solid, well-respected sector where teachers can learn and become master teachers at this essential phase of learning.



8 Capri RdCape TownSt JamesSouth Africa

 021 788 9233

In Short

The Stellar Grade R teacher training programme provides practical tips on how to adopt a respectful, team-learning approach to professional capacity development. This brief emphasises that the key to such a programme’s success is the hands-on nature of the training, and the high quality materials that enable the teachers to immediately start implementing their new learning after each training session.

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