A New Year of Literacy


By Laura Lodge
on 25 August, 2017

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Starting a New Year: Literacy

The start of a new academic year always brings a raft of changes and challenges, regardless of whether you move settings, switch year groups, change job titles or stay put.

Training days bring ideas and inspiration; new staff need time to adapt to a school’s ethos and most importantly, we all need time to build good relationships with our pupils. With so much else to juggle, how can you ensure that you hit the ground running with the literacy curriculum?

Learn from your triumphs as well as your mistakes

As teachers, we are constantly reflecting on our practice but we can spend too long thinking about what we should do differently and not long enough on what we should celebrate and do more of. Obviously, reflecting on what you would change is a worthwhile pursuit, but so is taking time to think about what you would repeat. Which texts made your class smile and laugh out loud? Which stories made them clamour for more and complain when you stopped reading? What did you do that made a tricky concept engaging and accessible to all? Take a little time to think back and use those great moments to propel you into the new year.

Make time for transition

Hopefully, you will have already spent some time with your new class and discussed their needs with their last teacher, but we all know that it is only by being their teacher that you truly get to know them. Still, when it comes to literacy, there are a few things you can do to get a head start. First and foremost, you can interrogate your data and use a thorough gap analysis to help you to plan for learning. Depending on your school, this might be from baseline assessments in September, or earlier end of year assessments from July. Once you’re back in the classroom, find time to conduct pupil and parent voice activities about literacy and use this to guide your plans for the year. Our family reading survey is a great place to start.

You also need time to transition between your different classes, classrooms and roles. Above all, make sure you think critically about your own subject knowledge and brush up on any key grammar concepts for your year group. With our current curriculum, you really do need to know the difference between your past progressive and your subjunctive!

Plan for texts to be at the heart of your literacy curriculum

Whatever your school’s teaching sequence, planning opportunities to expose children to high quality texts is crucial. Only by experiencing the work of real world authors, playwrights and poets, will children become effective writers themselves. These texts can be extracts or whole books, films, songs, picture books – the possibilities are endless. What is important is that children are interrogating many different texts and using them as inspiration across the curriculum. By using a real world text to inspire and model learning; reading, speaking, listening, and GPS are integrated to become the building blocks for writing. The One Education P.I.C.C a Text approach is one way of structuring your English curriculum to enable text-based literacy to flourish in your school or classroom. The P.I.C.C. a Text approach will be explored in more detail at a workshop at our Literacy Conference on 12 October. 

Create a reading culture in your classroom

All teachers want their pupils to love reading. This starts as soon as they walk through the door on their first day. Ask yourself, if you were a child in your classroom, would you think reading was important? A love of reading will only happen if your pupils have access to good reading role models, so build as many reading opportunities as you can into your weekly timetable.

In terms of reading for understanding, whether you favour a carousel or a whole-class approach, organisation is key. At the start of the year, spend a week teaching what each stage in a reading lesson looks like and your expectations for learning. This way, your subsequent teaching can be focused on what really matters – children learning to read. Familiarisation with the reading content domains is also very important. As part of the One Education Reading Award, we have developed a range of resources to support the teaching of specific reading skills; a selection of these for you to use can be found here.

Make vocabulary a priority

The increased challenge of the key stage two reading test has brought vocabulary into sharp focus. Ensure you make your environment as word-rich as possible and plan for specific vocabulary-building opportunities. Unknown word boxes, words of the week and word investigations are all worthwhile. Learning new words is the main aim, however it is by giving children the skills and opportunities to make links between known and unknown words that their vocabulary knowledge will truly expand. Perhaps hold a vocabulary amnesty at the start of the year to find out which words children do not know. The results may surprise you, but what is important, is that you know where to start. You must balance appropriately challenging vocabulary with the basics and without dumbing down the rich tapestry of language. For some great ideas, please follow @Mr_P_Hillips and have a look at his blog.

Don’t forget about speaking and listening

Speaking and listening forms a key part of the curriculum, but many schools feel pressure to produce written evidence at the expense of speaking and listening, despite all the academic advice to the opposite. At the beginning of the year, it is important to start as you mean to go on by planning explicit speaking and listening learning opportunities into your whole curriculum. By incorporating speaking and listening into your English teaching sequence (as in our P.I.C.C. a Text teaching sequence) you can ensure your pupils are building skills that will not only support their whole school careers, but their future lives as well. The Communication Trust produces a wide range of useful resources to support the teaching of speaking and listening, including communication-friendly checklists for your classroom environment. To show your commitment to speaking and listening, why not plan to join in with ‘No Pens Wednesday’ on 4 October 2017!

But what if you’ve been handed the baton of ‘Literacy Leader’?

Being given the role of ‘Literacy Leader’ can be daunting, as it is unlike any other subject leadership position. Literacy is all-encompassing and whilst it can be tempting to see it purely as your ‘English’ lesson, in truth it weaves through the whole curriculum. So, where to begin?

Completing a whole-school audit to look at strengths and areas for development is definitely step one. Depending on your context, this may have already been completed. If not, your school development plan or self-evaluation framework is a good place to start. From this, you can create your subject action plan and monitoring calendar which will guide your leadership and priorities in the year ahead.

One Education run a number of engaging courses which will support you and your staff, including ‘Achieve the Best Outcomes in English: Year 3 and 4’ and the ‘New to Teaching’ network for NQTs. Jo Gray and I also run network meetings designed to support literacy leads throughout the year. These sessions will cover a wide range of useful subjects including action planning, moderation and developing subject knowledge. To find out more or to book a place, please visit the ‘Literacy Leaders’ Network’ page.

One Education’s Literacy Team can support you to develop your Literacy curriculum in a wide variety of ways. For more information please contact Laura Lodge via our enquiry form, or call 0844 967 1111.

Comments (2)

  • Naomi Sergeant avatar

    Naomi Sergeant

    I'm new to Literacy lead and was hoping for some pointers in starting a coherent whole school approach to reading and spelling. Are there any websites or training courses that you could recommend? I'm based in Leeds

  • Jo Gray avatar

    Jo Gray

    Hi Naomi,
    Congratulations on your new role. We run Literacy Lead network meetings in Manchester each term which would only be around an hour commute from Leeds. Alternatively, we can offer school support for Literacy Leads where we can come in and support you within school. Our blogs will also give you lots of information as a starting point. Please do let me know if you would like to discuss any of this further.
    Best wishes,

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