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LEARNING SUPPORT OFFICER: A DETAILED GUIDE

Learning Support Officer: A Detailed Guide

Overview and guide of working as a learning support officer

Learning Support Officers support students in mainstream and special needs school.


Learning Support Officer’s (aka teacher’s aides or teacher’s assistants) can undertake a range of tasks in a school - primarily supporting teachers and students in a range of classroom activities. These include supporting reading and writing lessons and other academic support tasks. They may also perform non-instructional tasks such as assisting with administration, logistics, preparation, cleaning and so forth.


Learning support officers are effectively teacher’s assistants or teacher’s aides employed typically in schools in New South Wales. Sometimes you will see learning support officer positions advertised in other states, particularly Victoria. The term learning support officer is however mainly used in NSW (and in my personal experience have never seen it in WA, QLD or Tasmania).


It is interesting to note that learning support officers, can take on a range of different positions. It is a broad-based classification used by schools for people who assist teachers and students in or outside of the classroom and predominantly with learning activities. For example, sometimes LSOs, or learning support officers, can be used in a range of different programs such as academic support for gifted or talented, aboriginal and indigenous programs, literacy programs, numeracy programs, so on and so forth. They may also be used in special needs schools or mainstream classrooms especially in younger grades. Most learning support officers work with special needs students.


In this article we do our best, based on years of experience and thousands of graduates, to answer all of the common questions you may have about becoming and working as an LSO, to ensure that you make the right choice for you and your career.

Question 1: What is a Learning Support Officer?

An LSO, or a learning support officer, is quite simply a teacher’s assistant or teacher’s aide. They are also called integration aides in Victoria, education assistants in WA and school support officers (or SSOs) in South Australia. Typically speaking the term teacher’s assistant or teacher’s aide is the most common term used by people who are not currently employed in the industry, and hence we use the term ‘teacher’s aide’ most often as to not confuse people.


Learning support officers, or LSOs, as the name suggests, assist and support students with their learning. What do we mean by assisting students or supporting students with their learning? Well this really depends on the teacher, the classroom, the student (such as whether they have a disability, disorder or difficulty), and the topic or subject being delivered. One of the main tasks that learning support officers undertake is supporting students with disabilities such as Autism and Foetal alcohol syndrome) with activities such as reading, writing, pronunciation, spelling, grammar, and completing activities as pe the teacher’s direction. However, LSOs will also assist with other tasks including administration and logistical support. Some will even undertake instructional design and development, curriculum development and facilitate mini-classes.


Learning support officers are also all-rounders who help out in the classroom. When you apply for a position, the job description form, and information provided by the school will give you a good indication of what is expected. For example, a learning support officer may work in a lower primary school year supporting one or more students with a disability in a mainstream classroom. They will also assist other students and circulate from time to time around the room. Another learning support officer however, might work in a specific program such as literacy or numeracy. Another LSO in the same school, may work with high needs (high needs generally means that the student requires full-time support).


One of the issues commonly noted by academics, researchers and trainers is role stretch. Role stretch is a big problem with learning support officers. Role stretch simply means that your role keeps expanding in terms of the number of tasks, responsibilities, activities, content knowledge etc. For example, you may be initially hired in a year 1 class for a particular student, and soon find that you are soon supporting several students with very different needs. While role stretch is a problem in one sense, it can also be an opportunity at the same time. For staff that are flexible, can adapt and enjoy learning, role stretch may be a blessing.


Defining exactly what teacher's aides are expected to do in the classroom has been the topic of a number of studies and academic research especially in the past decade or two. Some key findings of these studies are shown below:


One study from 2018, investigated the effectiveness of teacher's aides in 105 schools and found that trained teacher's aide are much more effective especially when working closely and in cooperation with the teacher.


Other studies such as this one in 2016, found that 'students with disabilities in full-day kindergarten have higher reading and mathematics outcomes at the end of kindergarten when the classroom has a teacher's aide.'


A Victorian study published that ‘one of the major roles of the teachers' aide' and the four main areas where teacher's aides are focused on are 'a) inclusion in the school community, (b) curriculum, (c) classroom management, and (d) student support.'

Question 2. How do I become a Learning Support Officer?

steps to becoming a learning support officer

Most students become a LSO by completing a course. FTTA students pictured in class.


The most common pathway to becoming a learning support officer is to complete a nationally recognised learning support officer qualification. There are two nationally recognised qualifications - the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support and the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support. These are the qualification that schools, school managers, teachers and your colleagues will expect that you hold and have become the benchmark standard for learning support officers in Australia.


You will also need to undertake several other activities in order to become a learning support officer. One of the most important activities you will need to complete is obtaining the necessary clearances, such as a working with children check also known as a Blue Card in Queensland. This is a relatively cheap clearance that is obtained through a state government office such as the working with children check office. Check with your local state to determine what you need to do in order to work in a school as far as clearances are concerned as this requirement can change from time to time.


Another task that you will need to complete is to develop your resume, a list of certificates and preferably complete a range of online short courses. This is because it shows you are continually improving and helps you to stand out from everyone else. For those enrolled at FTTA, you will complete a range of short courses as part of your qualification. Most short courses take between 30-90 minutes and they are generally not that challenging. You can find plenty of free online courses by using your preferred search engine and using different search terms.

Question 3: Are there different types of Learning Support Officers?

There are a number of different types of learning support officers as we have touched on earlier in this article. The majority of learning support officers work with students with special needs students – Autism (ASD), Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Down Syndrome, Dyslexia, Global Developmental Delay, and a range of physical, neurological and learning disorders. In fact, the majority of funding to school for learning support officers is due to special needs students.


Special needs learning support officers often work in a special needs schools. This is a type of school (often located within the larger school of a similar name), or a school on its own that is devoted to supporting students with special needs. Quite often students in these schools have high special needs. This means that they need ongoing and regular support and generally cannot function, socialise or learn without adult assistance in some form. Special needs schools also have a range of specialist materials, support services, resources and technologies. These technologies are often in the form of assistive technologies. Assistive technologies are devices, equipment or software designed to assist people to undertake activities of daily living such as learning, socialising and communicating. A hearing aid is an example of a common assistive technology.


LSOs can work in specialised programs with indigenous or aboriginal students, in regional and rural areas, in high schools, primary schools or in libraries and may take on several part time roles within a school. They may work in traditional classroom roles, in administration, home economics or undertake range of other tasks as needed by the school. For example, some boarding schools have learning support officers who undertake a range of tasks on weekends and outside typical school hours. Agricultural schools for example, can employ learning support officers to support agricultural based activities.


Generally, people employed in these areas have specialist skills and experiences. As you can see there are lots of different types of learning support officers, however the great majority are employed to support students with special needs.

Question 4. What is the best LSO course for me?

Generally speaking, we advise students to complete the highest-level course that they are comfortable undertaking. This is normally the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support unless you are a school leaver, ESL or have a learning disability. The reason this qualification is recommended is that it is the highest available learning support officer - this will give you an advantage in the job market and means that you don’t need to study two courses (unless completing the combo – which we also recommend).


The CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support is considered the qualification for students who wish to work with special needs whether in mainstream or special needs schools. Is should be noted however that this qualification is not a disability qualification per say, although you will learn a lot of skills and knowledge relevant to working with students with disabilities.


In all cases learning support officers are under the instruction and supervision of a qualified teacher. If you intend on working with special needs, then certainly this is the qualification for you. If however you intend on working in mainstream, such as in lower kindergarten, you may potentially consider enrolling in the lower level qualification - the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support. This course may be a little easier however it takes approximately the same amount of time as the higher-level CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support. It should be noted however that while being slightly more difficult, the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support is not beyond the reach of the majority of students. This is in fact our most popular course.


A lot of students also choose to enrol in the teacher aide combo. This is very popular due to the fact that students can complete both the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support and the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support in one streamlined, cost-effective program. Schools really like the fact that students hold both qualification because it indicates a more in-depth understanding of your role, classroom practice and background knowledge. In other words, two qualifications are better than one. It will also give you a head start in the job market and help to establish your permanent place in the school community.


So which qualification is best for you? We recommend the teacher’s aide combo first and foremost. This ensures that you are confident in your abilities and it gives you a leg-up in the job market. By completing the teacher’s aide combo, you will also know that you aren’t missing out on any key pieces of information, strategies or techniques, found in one course but not the other. You will be a more well-rounded LSO with a very solid educational background for you to begin your career.


If you are ESL (English as a Second Language) and are not that confident in your English skills, you may consider the lower level qualification. However, you should speak with your preferred provider first, as they will give you the best advice.

Question 5. How much does a Learning Support Officer courses cost?

The cost of enrolling in a learning support officer course varies from provider to provider. Please check our website for current information regarding the cost of our LSO courses. We always like to remind students to consider the fact that the cost of your course is only a small portion of the total cost your studies. For instance, be careful that you don’t sign up for a course that has ongoing costs such as additional textbook costs, unit by unit fees, administration fees, placement fees, etc.


Hint: Ensure that you enrol with a provider who visits you in the workplace. This is absolutely essential in our opinion. Even the best students have minor issues from time to time. These issues are very easily sorted when a trainer visits the school. It’s also important that your trainer observes you in order to provide feedback about your performance.

Question 6. Are Learning Support Officer jobs hard to find?

jobs that are available to learning support officer

LSOs often find work where they complete their placement. Pictured: FTTA student on placement.


Generally speaking, learning support officer jobs are not hard to find provided you have a nationally recognised qualification, a working with children check and have put together a professional resume. Obviously, we can never guarantee any of our students find work, however there are thousands of schools in NSW alone and almost every school has a few dozen learning support officers. Additionally, many of these learning support officers are part-time meaning more positions are available. Many people work part time in order to supplement their income, for the social aspect and to add a challenging, rewarding career to their resume that suits their lifestyle and family commitments. Many people like working in schools as learning support officers as it fits in well with their family commitments (starting time, finishing time, school holidays off etc.).


If you are hoping to work as a learning support officer in a particular year group or school, you may struggle to find work initially. This is because the position may not become available for quite some time. However, if you broaden your horizons and consider areas where you may not have considered before such as high school and special needs, you are much more likely to be successful.


This is especially the case if have the right demeanour and personality, hold a nationally recognised qualification and put your name down at 20 or 30 schools within driving range. This is the most common way that our students become contract, full-time or permanent employees. They begin as a relief or casual employee, and then once the school is happy with you, hopefully pick up more stable employment such as a contract.


Certainly, it’s possible to walk straight into a full-time permanent position, however in our experience it’s not that common – schools prefer to get to know people before hiring them and hence, causal and relief is a popular first step.

Question 7. How much do Learning Support Officers get paid?

Full time learning support officers are paid on average $1000 per week or $30 per hour. Full time for most learning support officers is calculated at 32 hours per week. You may have seen some sources on the internet claiming that learning support officers earn between $23 and $28 on average. We believe this is incorrect due to the fact that the majority of LSOs work with special needs; special needs LSOs are paid a higher salary; therefore, the true average is closer to the top of the pay scale being approximately $30 per hour.


Learning support officers can also be paid small additional amounts for things such as overtime allowances, travel and meals when on camps, and other allowances. There is also the standard personal leave which incorporates leave for illness and medical issues, care of children etc. Other types of leave may be available such as cultural leave, maternity leave, leave for military service and for training (such as a nationally recognised qualification). All staff, other than casual are eligible for annual leave and accrue long service leave.

Question 8: what is the difference between LSOs and teacher’s aides?

As discussed earlier these two terms have the same meaning in almost all cases. An LSO or learning support officer supports students particularly in primary school and high schools and those with special needs in a variety of different tasks. Learning support officer is a term used mainly by people already working in the industry and you will see it used official documents such as job advertisements for example. The general public normally use the term teacher’s aide (or teacher’s assistant) although use of this older term can sometimes be frowned upon by school staff.


Teacher’s aides or teacher’s assistants is a broad term encompassing a vast array of different roles and responsibilities of those who work under the direction of a teacher in a school. Learning support officers typically undertake more specialised tasks such as working closely with students with complex needs including students with multiple disabilities, high needs and learning or behavioural problems.

Question 9. What is the hardest thing about being an Learning Support Officer?

Obviously, the answer to this question will depend on who you talk to. If you ask an accountant what the hardest thing is about being an accountant, one accountant will say something different to another accountant. If you ask a truck driver what the hardest thing about being a truck driver is – he or she would say something different to the next truck driver.


Many people however will tell you that supporting challenging students such as those with behavioural issues is probably one of the more stressful parts of their job. This is why it is important to enrol with an experienced and reputable provider who will equip you with the tools required to manage challenging situations.

Question 10. Can I study a learning support officer course online?

Student can choose to study a learning support officer course online with most providers. Learning support officer courses can either be the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support or the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support. Alternatively, many students complete the teacher’s aide combo which is unique to FTTA.


Studying online no longer means that you are sitting in a dark and dingy basement for 10 hours a day, staring at a small computer screen. Online actually means that you stay in regular contact with you trainer, complete a work placement (which certainly isn’t an online component), attend live webinars, watch pre-recoded webinars as if you were actually in the class, keep in contact with your trainer via email and phone your trainer and a range of other similar activities. It certainly does not mean that you are studying all on your own with no support.


Generally speaking, students who enrol online are relatively independent and work through the material at a pace suitable to them. This is why online is so popular especially for mature adults, who have the motivation to study but can’t afford to be in class every day due to family, work or other commitments.

Question 11. Are Learning Support Officer courses government funded?

Please check FTTA’s website for the latest information regarding learning support officer courses that are government funded. At the time of writing there was no government funding available for learning support officers through Fast Track Training Australia in NSW.

Question 12: Can I study an LSO course at TAFE?

Learning support officer courses at TAFE are available throughout New South Wales at various campuses. TAFEs are suitable for young students and high school leavers.

Question 13: Are the assessments difficult and how long do they take to complete?

students studying a SSO course

Motivation and engagement are key behaviour management strategies you will learn in your course.


Generally speaking, we advise that the assessments in our nationally recognised qualifications are not overly difficult. In comparison to courses with a technical component such as accounting or IT, the course is relatively easy for most students.


Generally speaking, students who have worked with or raised children shouldn’t have too many problems with this course. Everyone is different however and if you are concerned please speak to one of our friendly student advisors.


If you are stressing out about returning to study or you have never studied before, remember that everyone is in the same boat. Your trainer can easily be contacted for support and assistance at any stage. The biggest hurdle is getting started.


Most of the assessments comprise of short answer activities, mini projects and case studies. There are no long-winded essays or reports. To give you an idea of what to expect in your course, you can see a few page from our learner guide at the end of this article. *

Question 14. How are Learning Support Officer course structured?

As you can see below the LSO courses at FTTA is structured using a clustered model of delivery. This is done to prevent unnecessary repetition. Even if you don’t enrol with FTTA, we highly recommend that you enrol with a provider that offers a clustered model of training and assessment. This is because the course is likely to take a significantly longer amount of time to complete when studied on a unit by unit basis.


As you can see from the examples below. There are 17 units however there are only 5 clusters in the CHC40213 Certificate IV in education support. This saves time, money stress and effort. An important part of your course is the work placement which we will discuss in the next question.


Clusters in the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support


Cluster 1 – Health & Safety

Cluster 2 - Literacy & Numeracy

Cluster 3 – Behaviour Management

Cluster 4 – Disability

Cluster 5 – Diversity


Units in the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support:


CHCDIV001 Work with diverse people

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required to work respectfully with people from diverse social and cultural groups and situations, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.


This unit applies to all workers.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCDIV002 Promote Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural safety

The unit describes the skills and knowledge required to identify Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural safety issues in the workplace, model cultural safety in own work practice, and develop strategies to enhance cultural safety.


This unit applies to people working in a broad range of roles including those involved in direct client service, program planning, development and evaluation contexts.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCECE006 Support behaviour of children and young people

This unit describes the skills and knowledge to apply strategies to guide responsible behaviour of children and young people in a safe and supportive environment.


The unit applies to workers in a range of community service contexts.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS001 Comply with legislative, policy and industrial requirements in the education environment

This unit covers the skills and knowledge required to maintain compliance with legislation, policy and industrial instruments that relate to the education support worker role.


The unit applies to education support job roles in a variety of education contexts including schools and other educational settings.


This work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other educational professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS021 Assist in facilitation of student learning

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required to understand and apply a range of principles and processes to facilitate student learning, either for individuals or for small groups.


This unit applies to education support workers in a range of education environments who are responsible for aligning support strategies with teacher facilitation strategies to assist student learning.


This work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS022 Work with students in need of additional support

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required for education support workers to provide support to students who have to face a range of challenges that may limit their access to, participation in or outcomes from the curriculum.


This unit applies to education support work in a variety of contexts and the work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


Education support workers will apply knowledge of appropriate educational responses as part of a team supporting students with learning difficulties.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS024 Use educational strategies to support Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander education

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required to support, contribute to and coordinate education opportunities for students, including those from Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.


This unit applies to work undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


It addresses inclusion of community members in school activities, demonstration that everyone is valued in day-to-day interactions and support for students’ development of their self-concept.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS025 Facilitate learning for students with disabilities

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required by education support workers to effectively contribute to learning experiences for students with a range of disabilities.


This unit applies to education support work in a variety of contexts and the work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS032 Support learning and implementation of responsible behaviour

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required to assist the individual and education organisation to implement responsible behaviour plans.


The unit develops an understanding of relevant legislation and organisation policies.


This unit applies to education support work in a variety of contexts and work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCPRP003 Reflect on and improve own professional practice

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required to evaluate and enhance own practice through a process of reflection and ongoing professional development.


This unit applies to workers in all industry sectors who take pro-active responsibility for their own professional development.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCPRT001 Identify and respond to children and young people at risk

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required to support and protect children and young people who are at risk of harm. This work occurs within legislative and policy frameworks and carries a duty of care responsibility.


This unit applies to workers in a range of job roles providing services to children and young people including in community services and health contexts.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

HLTWHS001 Participate in workplace health and safety

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required for workers to participate in safe work practices to ensure their own health and safety, and that of others.


The unit applies to all workers who require knowledge of workplace health and safety (WHS) to carry out their own work, either under direct supervision or with some individual responsibility.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS026 Deliver elements of teaching and learning programs

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required by education support workers to deliver delegated structured learning activities to students.


This unit applies to education support work in a variety of contexts and the work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS020 Support students' literacy learning

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required by education support workers to work with teachers to support students in pre-primary, primary and secondary to develop literacy skills, including oral language, reading and writing skills.


The unit provides skills and knowledge to enable education support workers to work with the teacher to develop resources to reinforce literacy skills across the curriculum and to support students during various phases in the acquisition of literacy competence.


This unit applies to education support work in a variety of contexts and the work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS027 Support flexible learning in an education environment

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required to work with teachers to support flexible learning for students in an education environment.


This unit applies to education support work in a variety of contexts and the work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS031 Provide support to students with autism spectrum disorder

This unit describes the skills and knowledge to provide support to students who have education needs associated with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).


This unit applies to education support work in a variety of contexts and work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

CHCEDS023 Supervise students outside the classroom

This unit describes the skills and knowledge required to supervise students in school grounds, community settings, and other non-classroom environments.


The unit applies to education support work in a variety of contexts and the work is to be undertaken with appropriate guidance, support and supervision by a nominated teacher or other education professional.


The skills in this unit must be applied in accordance with Commonwealth and State/Territory legislation, Australian/New Zealand standards and industry codes of practice.

Question 15. Is there a work placement component?

Yes. All providers in Australia have a minimum work placement component for the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support and the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support of 100 hours.


The work placement is normally completed in a local school and quite often leads to casual, relief or contract work, especially if you do well during your time at the school. If you are concerned about the work placement requirements, please speak to one of our student advisors or read the information provided on our website under your preferred course (or the student handbook).

Question 16. How can I enrol and begin the course?

The enrolment process is very simple. Simply complete the enrolment form on our website by clicking on the ‘Enrol’ tab at the top of this page and then fill in the form with your details. Depending on your situation you may also need to submit a concession card, identification and other documents.


Generally speaking, the process takes between 15 to 30 minutes from start to finish.


It normally takes between a few hours and a few days, depending on how busy we are and how many other enrolments we are processing at the time, to respond to your application and hopefully accept you as a student. Once you receive an acceptance letter you can start pretty much straight away, including contacting your trainer, attending workshops and registering for live webinars.

Summary

We have discussed in some detail, various aspects of working as a learning support officer particularly as it applies in NSW - this is however relevant to most of Australia. Learning support officers or LSOs, are known as teacher’s aides or teacher’s assistants in most other states. Learning support officers generally work with students with special needs, including those with multiple disabilities or in specialist programs such as ‘running reading’ or numeracy programs.


To become a learning support officer, you will need to complete a nationally recognised qualification such as those offered by FTTA. Obtaining work as an LSO, especially on a relief or causal basis, is generally not that difficult for most graduates of the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support of the CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support. If you have further questions relating to your specific situation, please do not hesitate to contact FTTA.


*Example from our learner guide


Chapter 2 - Literacy

school support officer working in literacy

This chapter considers one of the hottest and oldest topics in education – what is the best way to teach children to communicate and interact with the world around them? This chapter will walk you through the definition of literacy, several programs commonly used today as well as some common day to day strategies that you can implement in your work as an education assistant.


It is important to note that this chapter does not aim to teach you any English language skills such as punctuation, grammar, spelling or writing skills. This chapter will however introduce you to some of the tried and tested strategies used by educators to support students in learning English language skills. If you believe that you would benefit from improving your literacy skills we advise speaking to your trainer for advice. As with learning any language, the key is to consistently and incrementally improve your knowledge over a long period of time. Below are some of the ways that you can begin to improve your literacy skills.

  • Watch YouTube videos regularly (such as half hour every week) in areas of interest
  • Read the newspaper daily and look at the spelling, sentence structure, word choice etc.
  • Purchase books and work through them to ensure you have covered the basics (such as the NAPLAN workbooks available at most newsagents)
  • Clearly identify the gaps in your knowledge, set clear goals and plan to achieve those goals (for example, learn to spell the 500 most commonly used words in English)

Interesting!


It’s common to see interviews with politicians or other experts talking about the latest report showing how literacy in schools is falling and that teaching strategies need to improve. However, it’s important to remember that many adults also struggle with literacy related skills. Here are five simple examples of literacy related issues that many adults struggle with:


  • Ask 10 people to spell ‘definitely’ and see how many get it correct the first time.
  • Many people spell ‘a lot’ as one word which is incorrect.
  • When should you use ‘fewer’ and when should you use ‘less’?
  • What is the difference between ‘effect’ and ‘affect’?
  • What is the difference between these two sentences:
    • The dog’s bone is over there.
    • The dogs’ bone is over there.

Did you know?


A lingua franca is a language that is used to communicate between two people who have a different native language. In the Philippines, two people from Bohol will use Bisaya to interact, however Tagalog or English is used to communicate with people from other parts of the country. Interestingly, road signs in the Philippines are in English.


Defining literacy

Before learning about how to support students to improve their literacy skills, we first need to define literacy. An individual who is literate has traditionally been defined as someone who can read and write to a certain level. In most societies, a person who can read and understand a newspaper is considered literate. However, a person does not need to write to that level to be considered literate. Simply filling in basic forms such as a job application is considered sufficiently literate. Obviously the definition of literacy depends on the task that the person is expected to complete.


When a person reads or writes they are interpreting symbols. These symbols change over time and vary considerably between languages. Reading is the interpretation of symbols into a message that can be understood and processed by the reader. Literacy therefore, is the ability to interact successfully with the world by sending, receiving and decoding messages.


In keeping with this definition, to successfully interact in today’s world, our literacy skills must be expanded beyond just pen and paper. For example, you may have received scam emails (such as phishing emails) that pretend to be from a bank or the ATO. These emails can look exactly the same as a legitimate email however they ask for money, credit card details or other information that the legitimate organisation would never request. Being able to determine whether an email is legitimate or a scam is a literacy skill. The skills required for this task include:

  • Reading skills (determining if a sentence sounds like it uses the style of language you would expect).
  • Knowledge of scams (listening skills - media reports, friends or family discussing the latest scams).
  • Knowledge of technology (for example spotting clues in the email address or meta data).
  • Critical literacy - interpreting the structure of the email, comparing it to previous emails, looking at sentence structure, images, logos, thinking about the address or phone number.
  • Procedural skills - calling the organisation directly using a number obtained from a Google search (not a contact detail, link or website provided in the email).

Once you have mastered these skills you will be able to avoid phishing email scams. Unfortunately, some people are yet to acquire these skills and they may fall victim to scammers. Interacting effectively and successfully with organisations and people will become more difficult as the adoption of technology increases over time.


WA ScamNet regularly receives reports about scam emails that claim to be from the Australian Tax Office (ATO). Sometimes you can tell it’s not really from the ATO by checking the sender’s address. Although it might say ATO or something similar in the sender box, the return email address next to those words might be a non-Government email address and usually if that’s the case it will be from a free email account provider. However, a technique called email spoofing means that sometimes scam emails will say dot gov dot au as though it’s from a genuine Australian Government email account even though it isn’t.


Usually the email’s offering a tax refund or it might be asking you to update your details. The body of the email will ask you to click a link – never do this as this is how the scammers will get your details. Source: WA Scam Net, n.d.


In summary, you can think of literacy (or of being literate) as the ability to successfully send, receive and de-code messages. Messages can be seen, heard, read or even imagined! For example, a billboard has an image but no words. The image is a message and it has been purposefully chosen. Even the lack of words is a message in itself. Being able to interpret and understand these messages is an important skill.


Traditional literacies

There are five types of traditional literacy skills that is the cornerstone of a student’s education:

  • Reading – the ability to interpret symbols on a page, billboard, screen etc.
  • Writing – the ability to communicate with another person using symbols
  • Speaking – the ability to use sound to communicate with another person
  • Viewing – the ability to see an image and interpret meaning
  • Listening – the ability to hear a sound and interpret meaning

EXAMPLES OF TRADITIONAL LITERACY SKILLS IN EVERYDAY LIFE

Reading

When people think of literacy and reading, they usually think of books, poetry, plays, magazines and newspapers. These are the more traditional texts used in language classrooms. However more and more, students are being educated in how to read everyday texts such as blogs, comments (such as below a YouTube video), manuals, signs, menus, emails, text messages, police reports, weather reports and other day to day texts.

Writing

Very few students will need to write essays, poetry, short stories, reports or other texts of that nature in their adult life even though they are commonly used in schools to evaluate a student’s writing ability. Students are more likely to write blogs, social media posts, website content, news articles for online media, marketing (such as for small business), fill in forms and write emails. People who work in an office environment may write hundreds of emails in a week. This is why schools are using a range of texts to engage and develop students’ literacy skills.

Speaking

Students need to learn how to communicate verbally with others. This usually begins with basic sounds and words and leads later to presentations, debates and other activities in high school. In the real world, speaking is used in job interviews, negotiations (such as buying furniture or a house), debates amongst friends, during sports and in conducting day to day tasks such as using the phone to enquire about a higher than expected electrical bill.

Viewing

Viewing is the process of seeing one or more images or videos and interpreting the meaning of the messages being conveyed. People commonly watch YouTube videos, vlogs (video blogs), television, adverts, Facebook content, subscription services such as Netflix or Foxtel and a range of other screen-based texts. Many children are more literate than their parents at finding and using information from online sources. For example, a child might watch a video online about how to install a game and be able to follow the instructions with reasonable accuracy. They may also be able to use search engines and sort features to narrow their search down to the video that is most likely going to be able to help them.

Listening

Ever had the feeling someone was nodding and agreeing but had no idea (or desire) to listen to what you were trying to say? Listening is not as easy to teach or evaluate as other literacy skills but it’s equally as important. A person who doesn’t actively listen to their friends probably won’t have friends for long. Good listeners listen carefully, process the information and respond appropriately. Take for example a job interview where the interviewee asks a long question with three separate parts. A person with good listening skills would notice that there are three separate questions and then answer each one separately.

About the author

Adam Green is a former high school and primary school teacher. He is a member of the government’s Education Support Advisory Group and is completing a Doctor of Education program specialising in teaching strategies and behaviour management.


Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is general, may not be relevant to you, is not legal advice and no guarantee of accuracy is provided. Users should seek expert advice before relying on any information provided in this article.

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