This year, our annual Literacy Conference took place at the wonderful Science and Industry Museum. Before the conference began, we were able to help ourselves to tea, coffee and delicious pastries, and take a first look at the handpicked exhibitors. Without even sitting down, we were off to a great start!
Ahead of the first keynote, we received a warm welcome from One Education’s Jo Gray, Head of School Development & Literacy, and Rachel Foster, HR and Education Strategy Director, who reminded us that today’s conference was dedicated to supporting everybody in schools and trusts – as the foundation for all learning, every teacher needs an awareness, understanding and interest in Literacy, and One Education are committed to ensuring all staff get the support they need.
Reflecting on the theme of Literacy Rich Experiences, Jo explained the importance of adapting the national curriculum to place emphasis on the locality and culture of a school, bringing out the best in both staff and pupils. Exploring many different strategies to create literacy rich experiences for all children, today’s event would help schools to expand beyond the top-down approach to teaching, and focus on fostering connections inside the classroom.
Ross Young – Writing for Pleasure & The Role Children’s Emotions Play in Exceptional Writing Classrooms
Our first keynote speaker was Ross Young, founder of the Writing for Pleasure Centre. He built his own writing pedagogy from scratch after realising that many teachers – himself included – were trapped within a cycle of poor writing teaching. After doing some research, Ross discovered that ‘there is a profound relationship between the affective and effective practice.’ This led him to develop a whole-child approach, encouraging pupils to draw a sense of pleasure and achievement from writing in order to accelerate their progress.
Ross discussed the different building blocks of writing for pleasure, sharing some inspiration from the schools that he has worked with. For example, schools have set up their own pupil-led publishing houses under various themes, from Super Sports to Fantastic Feminism, allowing children to decide how to publish their writing to promote their self-efficacy. Others have inspired children’s sense of purpose and motivation by writing poems for the local community and posting them through letterboxes, or displaying texts in public places such as the local garden centre and chip shop.
By the end of the keynote, delegates had dozens of new ideas to take back into the classroom. The possibilities were truly endless! Most importantly, Ross reminded us that children aren’t blank slates – they come into school with their own ideas and cultural capital. This means pupils can play an active role in their education, co-creating the learning experience with the teacher and expanding their horizons.
Laura Lodge – Unpicking the Golden Thread: Using Literacy to Widen Children’s Experiences
After the break, delegates headed over to the first workshop of the day. With lots to choose from, I attended a workshop led by Laura Lodge, Literacy Team Leader at One Education, as well as Curriculum Expert for the Department for Education.
Laura helped us think about how to plan for progression, making purposeful links between English and other subjects to help children access learning across the curriculum. She explained how prior knowledge is essential to pupil attainment, reminding us of the famous baseball experiment by Recht and Leslie in 1987.
With this in mind, we were encouraged to ask ourselves about the background experiences children need to understand their reading material, writing projects and oracy tasks in school. Laura explored each topic in-depth, showing us how to make meaningful connections and build upon children’s cultural capital. By using literacy to widen children’s experiences, we learned how we can spark pupils’ curiosity and inspire learning both in English and beyond.
Breaking for lunch, we got the chance to enjoy some fabulous food and chat with exhibitors. They brought so many different resources for delegates to look at and consider how they might expand their own provision – from comprehension guides and literacy magazines to the exciting peg-to-paper programme, and of course lots and lots of books!
There was a great buzzing atmosphere as some lively discussions took place. It was lovely to see delegates getting to know each other and exchanging ideas. We could tell just how passionate everybody was about Literacy and all the wonderful opportunities it opens up for pupils.
Dr Rachael Levy – “No one would sleep if we didn’t have books”: Understanding Shared Reading Practices in Families
Soon after, we gathered together to listen to the next keynote speaker, Dr Rachael Levy, Associate Professor at UCL, Institute of Education. In a recent study, Rachael identified the primary motivators and barriers to reading in the home. By sharing her findings with us, Rachael allowed delegates to consider new ways of supporting parental engagement with reading.
Rachael showed us how family reading practices are highly child-led; parents are motivated by their children’s enjoyment, rather than the academic advantages it brings. Often, parents are not constrained by the text, instead it acts as a springboard to facilitate conversations with children or inspires them to create stories of their own. Rachael clarified that ‘reading to a child is not just about reading but talking, bonding and being together.’ Interestingly, we learned that parents who do not consider themselves as readers, or had poor experiences of reading at school, were still able to enjoy a strong reading relationship with their children. They considered shared reading as its own separate and unique experience.
To sum up the features of shared reading, Rachael introduced us to the Four T’s: Text, Talk, Time and Togetherness. With this insight, Rachael prompted us to consider interventions in a new light – rather than encouraging families to “do” shared reading, we first need to understand that shared reading is already a part of “doing family.” Taking on this new perspective, we can help parents find the value in shared reading and embed it into everyday family life.
Catherine Delaney & Simone Nixon – Developing Oracy in the Classroom
I was excited to take part in the next workshop with One Education’s Lead Practitioners, Catherine Delaney and Simone Nixon, discussing the importance of oracy and how we can develop this in the classroom.
Although children are hardwired to communicate from birth, Catherine and Simone reminded us that communication doesn’t just develop on its own. Catherine showed us a very cute video of her son to demonstrate a child’s journey to developing oracy from an infant to the age of five. To help pupils achieve their own milestones, we discussed how to create a language-rich environment in school.
Next, we got to try out some oracy activities together, taking part in Echo Reading or thirty-second Talking Bursts. I was slightly taken by surprise when Catherine and Simone introduced us to the idea of Mamamoo – where a teacher chooses a pupil to communicate a given emotion with the word “Mamamoo,” using vocal expression and body language – but they were very kind not to put us on the spot! It was great to interact with other delegates and we left with lots of new ideas to help children practise their oracy skills.
Onjali Raúf – Children’s Literature: Open for all
With our final keynote about to take place, we were greeted with a lovely surprise from Onjali Raúf, who came to deliver her virtual keynote in person. It was a pleasure to meet Onjali and she was generous enough to spend time signing books, taking photos and even sending video messages to pupils back in school!
In her keynote, Onjali talked about the power of reading and all the lessons that children can take from it. As an author of children’s literature, Onjali often reflects on her own experiences of reading as a child. For her, reading was always ‘the portal to questions answered and adventures sought.’ But Onjali reminded us that as well as learning about the world, it is equally important for children to learn about themselves and discover their own place within it. That’s why seeing characters that reminded her of herself in stories like Roald Dahl’s Henry Sugar and the Tintin comics had such a profound impact on her as a child – it showed that she could have her own story to tell.
Now, as a best-selling author, Onjali demonstrates the power of representing all realities in her own writing, tackling important issues from homelessness to domestic violence. She discussed how reading can empower children to take action, sharing examples of how her own work has inspired pupils to raise funds for refugees and write letters to the late Queen. By using books to reflect the rich diversity of the world we live in, schools can promote a wider sense of belonging inside the classroom, and advocate for voices beyond.
Goodbye for now!
As the day drew to a close, there was only one thing left to do – find out the winners of our Exhibitors Prize Draw and the Book Review Competition! Throughout the day, delegates were challenged to speak with every exhibitor and collect stickers in order to be entered into a prize draw. There was a great selection of prizes to be won, from staff training and reading support packages to a wide variety of children’s literature, all donated by our wonderful exhibitors. Congratulations to all our winners, we hope that your schools enjoy their extra surprises.
A huge well done to April from James Hornsby School, the winner of our Book Review Competition. For her fantastic review of The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Raúf (we promise it wasn’t a fix!) April won training for her school and a marvellous bundle of books. Thanks to all the schools who shared their pupils’ book recommendations with us, it’s great to see so many children expressing their passion for reading.
And with that, the conference came to an end. I had an amazing time and I hope all the other delegates enjoyed their day just as much as I did. We look forward to hearing your feedback and hope to meet you all again very soon.
We would also like to thank our incredible keynote speakers and workshop hosts for making the day such a great success. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Don’t worry if you missed out on our Literacy Conference this time round, we will be back again next year! Visit our Training Courses and Conferences page to see what else we have in store and book your place on our next event.