Last week, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published their latest guidance report, ‘Improving Literacy in Key Stage Two’.
The report builds upon the key stage one version issued in September 2016 and evaluates a number of common approaches to literacy in primary schools, providing objective opinion and evidence to promote best practice.
In the report’s foreword, Sir Kevan Collins sets out the EEF’s belief in the power of evidence to break the link between income and educational attainment. Conveying the need for clarity in an educational world overwhelmed by countless strategies and interventions, Sir Kevan views the EEF’s work as crucial and rightly so. The report sets out seven pedagogical recommendations that take into account international research and expert opinion.
DEVELOP PUPILS’ LANGUAGE CAPABILITY TO SUPPORT THEIR READING AND WRITING
The available evidence for this approach is extensive. It shows that the development of speaking and listening skills is key to extending pupils’ vocabulary. The report recommends splitting approaches to vocabulary learning into two groups: the explicit teaching of new vocabulary and exposure to a word-rich environment which encourages experimentation with language. Furthermore, the research evaluated also showed that teaching pupils to use morphemes can support vocabulary development at the same time as improving phonological awareness, spelling and decoding strategies.
The guidance emphasises the importance of exposing pupils to a wide range of texts, including by reading to pupils and discussing books. It advocates “The opportunity to explicitly teach the features and structures of different types of text, which can develop more advanced comprehension and reasoning skills.” This supports the use of text-based approaches to literacy, where all outcomes for speaking and listening, reading and writing are based on the analysis and understanding of a range of texts. One Education’s text-based approach, ‘P.I.C.C. a Text’ is one way of supporting your pupils to develop the links between language, reading and writing.
SUPPORT PUPILS TO DEVELOP FLUENT READING CAPABILITIES
The available evidence for this approach is moderate. Despite a wealth of research showing the benefits of balanced approaches to reading, there is limited evidence for its long-term benefits and how best to combine approaches. Exploring models for reading, the report makes reference to the Scarborough Reading Rope which shows reading as comprising a number of strands that must be interwoven before fluency can be achieved. The guidance extolls the virtues of using the model to diagnose areas of need, though it notes that every strand does not necessarily require the same amount of curriculum time. In terms of approaches to develop fluency, the report notes that two are well-evidenced:
- Guided oral reading instruction, where fluent reading is modelled before pupils read the same text aloud and are given feedback
- Repeated reading, where pupils re-read a short text until they become fluent.
TEACH READING COMPREHENSION STRATEGIES THROUGH MODELLING AND SUPPORTED PRACTICE
The available evidence for this approach is very extensive. It shows that reading comprehension can be improved significantly by teaching pupils specific strategies:
- Activating prior knowledge.
However, the report notes that students will need to be supported to ensure impact by learning what the strategy is; how it is used and why and when to use it. This must be done by explicit teaching and supported practice. A ‘gradual release of responsibility’ model is advocated, where:
- Staff explicitly describe the strategy, when and how it should be used
- Staff and pupils model the strategy
- Pupils use the strategy collaboratively
- Pupils practice the strategy under guidance from staff. Responsibility is gradually released
- Pupils use the strategy independently.
One Education Literacy has created a wide range of materials (based around the KS1 and KS2 content domains) which are designed to support staff to teach comprehension skills explicitly. For more information, please contact Laura Lodge.
The guidance also explored how to choose suitable texts to extend children’s comprehension skills. It recommends that staff consider:
- The opportunities the text provides to use the strategies taught
- The vocabulary level
- Any background knowledge children will need to understand the text fully.
One way in which One Education can support your school’s reading provision is through the One Education Reading Award. The Reading Award is designed to demonstrate the skills and commitment of schools who build a successful reading curriculum and inspire children to read. The award provides resources for the classroom, CPD materials and leadership support. It can be purchased and completed online, with the option of purchasing bespoke school support to complement this.
We are holding a free introductory course for anyone interested in working towards our Reading Award on Thursday 6 July. Book your place now.
TEACH WRITING COMPOSITION STRATEGIES THROUGH MODELLING AND SUPPORTED PRACTICE
The available evidence for this approach is extensive. It shows that writing is a process made up of seven individual components which must be modelled and practised extensively:
The guidance makes particular reference to the importance of pupils having a purpose and audience to write for, as well as the positive effects of using digital technology. Again, the guidance espouses the use of the ‘gradual release of responsibility model’, however it notes that the learning of these strategies is not linear. Nevertheless, the report suggests a process such as:
- Introducing each strategy and describe how and when to use it
- Model the strategy
- Complete shared writing to model the thought process.
This would then move on to the guided and independent application of the process. The vast majority of teachers probably use this approach already, however the report makes it clear that observations of pupils’ practice should be made to ascertain where repeated modelling would be beneficial.
DEVELOP PUPILS’ TRANSCRIPTION AND SENTENCE CONSTRUCTION SKILLS THROUGH EXTENSIVE PRACTICE
The available evidence for this approach is limited. It is made clear that the basic skills of writing must be promoted and become automatic so that focus can be kept on composition. Research shows that practice is essential and should be extensive, motivating and supported by effective feedback. There is limited evidence about the teaching of spelling, however it is clear that it must be taught, not merely tested. Links to current content being studied are viewed as beneficial, as are paired learning approaches and the investigation of word patterns.
TARGET TEACHING AND SUPPORT BY ACCURATELY ASSESSING PUPIL NEEDS
The available evidence for this approach is moderate. The report explores the need for teaching to adapt to children’s needs, ensuring that the level of challenge and support is suitable. Monitoring can identify pupils in need of targeted support, which can be followed by diagnosis of a child’s specific capabilities and challenges. Although the guidance recognises that diagnostic assessments should be used and staff trained to interpret them, these should not be used to replace professional judgement. After identifying pupils’ specific needs, the report recommends teaching to be adapted by changing the focus or approach.
USE HIGH-QUALITY STRUCTURED INTERVENTIONS TO HELP PUPILS WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH THEIR LITERACY
The available evidence for this approach is extensive. Once classroom-based strategies have been put into place, the need for additional support should decrease. However, some pupils will continue to need additional support and interventions. The report suggests that regular monitoring should be used to identify pupils, followed by diagnostic assessments to match them to specific interventions. The EEF has conducted a number of studies of literacy interventions, all of which are available free on the organisation’s website. Nevertheless, few interventions are backed up by robust evidence, so the EEF endorses considering whether an intervention fits the following criteria:
- It is timetabled consistently and is brief (30 minutes), regular (3-5 times per week) and conducted over a sustained period (6-12 weeks)
- Staff running interventions have extensive training (5-30 hours) from experienced teachers or trainers
- There are lesson plans and/or structured resources included
- It involves assessments to identify pupils and track progress
- It is in addition to lessons in the classroom
- It is linked to other lessons and learning.
The guidance also explores the best way to implement intervention programmes. It proposes taking into account the school’s context beforehand to assess whether the intervention is likely to work within the school. Furthermore, the report remarks that “Faithful implementation is critical to the success of any programme.” This should be followed by regular reviews of training and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. In terms of the personnel best placed to deliver interventions, the guidance refers to the fact that teaching assistants tend to have less impact than teachers when running interventions. However, despite this, they still have a positive impact and children make progress. Therefore, when costs are taken into account, using teaching assistants may be more cost effective. Nevertheless, the positive impact on progress only occurs when teaching assistants deliver structured programmes with high-quality support and training. Without this, research shows that teaching assistants can negatively impact pupil outcomes.
Although providing a number of recommendations, the report makes clear that they “Do not provide a ‘one size fits all’ solution.” Instead, schools must take into account their context and pupils’ needs when considering their implementation. Furthermore, the guidance stresses the need for the recommendations to be contemplated as a group and not selectively. It is only by appropriately effectuating every recommendation that schools will see true improvement.
We will be reporting on the EYFS version when it is released later this year. Having an objective viewpoint on the curriculum is useful and I am sure the report will be welcomed by the primary education community.