I rather like the line from Alex Quigley that we’re all teachers of English because we all teach in English. Similar thinking follows for being teachers of literacy and teachers of reading. When I was teaching Science, many moons ago, I’d probably have rolled my eyes at the statement and thought another thing for me to do rather than seeing literacy as the golden thread that potentially runs through all subjects. Crack literacy and you are likely to succeed at school and arguably in life.
This Tuesday I met for almost the full day with teachers and leaders, from across the Trust’s primary and secondary academies, to discuss literacy and how we could ensure all our pupils became more literate. We have some bright spots of practice but not an inevitable, sustainable approach to ensuring high levels of literacy for all.
Starting with the diagnosis, our pupils are broadly or slightly above average on entry according to the national referenced assessment test we now use. That’s a significant change for us as the last two Year 11 groups who left us were well below average attainment on entry. However, boys are already well behind the girls in both English and reading on entry and we are not closing the gap. We now have English and Mathematics data for all six hundred pupils in lower school and reading data for eight hundred pupils across Years 7-10.
There’s probably more detailed analysis to do but we have a group of pupils for whom word recognition and general fluency are a challenge. If these pupils are going to have any chance to access the curriculum and later on examination papers we’ve a lot of intensive bespoke work to do; well researched, effective interventions with well trained teachers/teaching assistants afforded the necessary time will be needed.
For a group of readers, who are fluent and comprehend at their age expected level, we need to think how best to enhance their reading. There are some off the shelf interventions to be looked at versus the option of developing our own reading canon. With some very able readers identified in the data we also need to think about how to extend the reading of our most able; one idea was to identify a set of challenging and varying texts which small groups of able readers could read together and support with some master classes from interested teachers.
One quirk in the data that I didn’t expect was the group of readers who aren’t particularly fluent, struggle to access the text, who actually scored highly in comprehension. I had no idea this could happen but have been told that they may well have good background knowledge which enables them to get a greater sense and understanding of the text than expected. Think of the live wire child who orally amazes you but then shows little when it comes to writing things down. This approach to reading may well require St. Mary’s to think about a different structure to the day that will provide time for reading every day.
The issue of background knowledge, the ability to place the text you are reading within a greater and wider understanding, is likely to hamper many of our pupils; the disadvantaged will be most disadvantaged. Breaking the rule of fidelity towards an intervention, one group is going to look at Oral Intervention Interventions and Reading Comprehension Strategies to develop a systematic and structured approach that teachers may use and pupils can learn when reading an extended texts. We need to do a lot more of this in class including potentially using short extracts of film to help develop pupils wider understanding of what they are reading (thanks to Philippa Cordingley from CUREE for this gem).
As for writing we didn’t even get there; there’s more to follow.
#ThursdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week. The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short. It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger. The intention is for it to be read in two/three minutes as you’re busy running around at the end of the week or relaxing on your day off.