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Whole school strategy for improved literacy
‘We know that poor literacy blights life chances. We know being able to read, write and speak with confidence and accuracy opens doors otherwise barred and bolted… In the vast majority of lessons, pupils are asked to read stuff and then write it down. Even in those where printed material and pens are seldom seen, there is almost always a requirement that pupils listen, if not speak. This means that every single lesson is a golden and unmissable opportunity to take responsibility for pupil literacy. Without this, the gap between the haves and have-nots will only get wider.’
David Didau, The Secret of Literacy
Our strategy applies to all staff with a teaching responsibility, including Teaching Assistants, ITT students and volunteers. We all share responsibility to ensure a consistent approach, across the school, to underpin students' mastery of literacy. This is achieved through:
- Ensuring a range of opportunities are provided for students to practise and develop extended writing skills;
- Developing the technical accuracy of students' written communication;
- Providing a range of opportunities for students to become competent readers who are able to access all areas of the curriculum;
- Planning for effective spoken communication.
The importance of writing
We will improve the literacy skills of our students is by increasing the opportunities they have to produce extended writing. By creating such opportunities we foster students’ abilities to: make predictions; build connections; raise questions; discover new ideas and promote higher-level thinking.
To achieve the best outcomes, we set writing within a rich and varied teaching and learning experience with active approaches and appropriate scaffolding. This ensures students are supported but also stretched, challenged and encouraged to grapple with challenging concepts. In the vast majority of our subjects, students will ultimately be assessed by the quality of their written work.
Shared understanding of extended writing
At CVHS, our definition of extended writing is that students write a minimum of three paragraphs. As a guideline, for subjects where writing is an integral element, extended writing should happen at least every four lessons to enable our students to process, organise, formulate and extend their thinking about what they have been learning.
Students can be supported to build up the length and detail in written responses through carefully chosen scaffolds. Scaffolds are anything that gives a structure or outline in order to help students organise their ideas and can easily be differentiated. Teachers need to be mindful that the scaffold still requires the students to do the cognitive work – any scaffold that does the thinking for the student is not going to be effective in developing their skills. Scaffolds should be created in a way that means they are able to be gradually withdrawn with the student achieving the same or better standard with increasing independence.
Spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG)
When marking, staff in all subjects use SPaG codes, relating to fourteen key elements of technical accuracy students, to raise awareness of literacy skills.
Staff should use their professional judgement on how to apply the SPaG marking codes for individual students. Different ways the codes can be used in marking include:
- The teacher identifies and corrects errors. The student rewrites the sections accurately.
- The teacher identifies errors. The student independently corrects.
- The teacher identifies the line(s) where there are errors. The student independently identifies and corrects.
- The teacher writes the code(s) at the end of the piece. The student independently identifies and corrects.
Corrected spellings should always be validated by the student using their dictionary. Peer support can also be a helpful way for students to improve their literacy and SPaG where the teacher feels this is appropriate.
All students in Years 7-10 follow the Accelerated Reader programme.
In Years 7-9, students are provided with a one hour a fortnight dedicated Accelerated Reader lesson taught by an English teacher. In Year 10, STAR testing is facilitated by the English teacher. Reading levels and frequency are monitored by the student’s form tutor. Full details of responsibilities and how the data is used for targeted intervention can be found in the Accelerated Reader Strategic Plan.
Well-read Academy Monthly high profile reading events, including the Read-a-thon, #getcaughtreading and World Book Day, form the CVHS Year of Reading initiative, designed to engage, inspire and enthuse students, increasing reading for pleasure and boosting the results of the Accelerated Reader programme.
Reading within the curriculum
In curriculum areas where reading is part of the assessment process, students should be provided with regular reading opportunities. Texts should be sufficiently challenging and stretching, with techniques such as skimming, scanning, information retrieval, explicitly planned for to ensure accessibility for all students.
Command words - key words to note when answering exam questions
An understanding of command words is an essential element for students to perform optimally in exams. Teachers should draw attention to these in lessons. The command word poster packs personalised for each subject area should be displayed and referenced regularly.
Talk is one of the most powerful levers for cognitive change; if we want to improve pupils’ ability to write, we need to improve their ability to think and verbalise those thoughts.
Use of verbal scaffolds can support students in articulating a developed response, maximising the quality of written outcomes. Suggestions for effective verbal scaffolding approaches, including ‘stretch it’ and ‘step it up’, are published in our guidance for teachers.
- Tier 1 – high frequency in spoken language (table, slowly, write, horrible)
- Tier 2 – high frequency in written texts (gregarious, beneficial, required, maintain)
- Tier 3 – subject specific, academic language (osmosis, trigonometry, onomatopoeia)
Teacher questions are planned for to promote higher level thinking.
Some students require additional support to develop competent literacy skills and remove barriers to their progress.
- Wave 1 Intervention: Referral to the English Department’s Literacy Lead. Any member of staff who is concerned about a student’s literacy contacts the Literacy Coordinator who will liaise with the student’s English teacher. The English Department explicitly teach the different literacy elements, using in-class and home learning intervention approaches as appropriate.
- Wave 2 Intervention: Literacy Mentors. Peer support from trained Year 9 and 10 students to boost the literacy skills of students who need additional input following Wave 1.
- Wave 3 Intervention: Referral to the Literacy Support Worker/SEND.