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Language Powers Up Confidence

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Teacher Tammy Collyer and teacher aide Dyella Gibson use a break-it-down-build-it-up method of teaching to get the most from their students

September 6, 2012

By Marcus Priaulx

Children’s learning is booming in Cherbourg because of a new teaching method.

Many of the town’s  youngsters speak a home language with a different grammar structure to the standard Australian English they’re hit with when they start school.

Don’t believe me? Well, if I said “dem ova der em looka dat diddy orse” you’d know what I mean, right?

In case you don’t, it means: “Those people over there are looking at that small horse.”

This language barrier is why some  Indigenous children are deemed as having English as a second language and find it hard to understand the teachers … and vice versa.

Many miss the basic learning steps as a result.

For this reason Cherbourg State School’s Year-4 teacher Tammy Collyer has been trained in the Break-it-Down-Build-It-Up way of teaching, with dramatic results.

How it works

Break-it-Down-Build-It-Up was developed by Education Queensland about five years ago as a way to recognise and value students’ home language while engaging them in learning standard Australian English.

At Cherbourg this involves Miss Tammy’s class using one story from which to base its English lessons.

Students then use body actions to demonstrate the meaning of words and how these words work in a sentence (otherwise known as grammar).

The children talk about the story, unpack the plot, look at how the author put the story together, do daily writing, discuss their opinions and how these changed as the story progresses.

“They become immersed in the language of the book,” Ms Collyer said.

“They become confident and familiar with the story.  It makes it fun.  The children get really excited and animated.

“I love it.  I thrive on their enthusiasm and they feed off each other as well.”

After this, they “unpack” the language used and learning about tenses, verbs, noun groups etc and how they can use them to make better sentences in standard Australian English.

Other books are then brought into the learning.

This term, Miss Tammy’s class started with a Korean tale before it moved on to reading a traditional Aboriginal story written by former students of the school.

It’s called Mundaggara and is about how people who look after others and the land are taken care of by the Rainbow Serpent and the people around them.

The students will finish the term by writing their own story with a moral.

“That’s where all the teaching is leading to,” Miss Tammy said.


The results of the teaching method speak for themselves.

“We’ve gone from students who couldn’t form words to now writing paragraphs,” Miss Tammy said.

“Their language and amount of standard Australian English has improved dramatically; the children’s confidence has soared.

“They’re loving it.”

The school is now gathering data to show how the students’ writing is improving because of the Break-It-Down-Build-It-Up way of teaching and its indicating a massive difference is being made.

Cherbourg State School principal Peter Sansby now hopes to roll the style into all grades.

“It’s allowing our children to show how strong and smart they really are and that they can reach their full potential,” he said.

“It will be part of the education pathway we’re building so they can lead a life of greater happiness.”

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