The curriculum-wide impact of improving literacy

The curriculum-wide impact of improving literacy

Strong literacy gives students the skills to:

read or listen to information on a particular subject
assimilate and order their thinking
show their learning, whether by writing or speaking.

Improve literacy in your school

Clearly, this process isn’t confined to English Literature lessons. In every academic subject, teachers direct students as they learn new facts and information, consider it against prior knowledge and demonstrate their conclusions – the essence of literacy.

However, it’s hard to grasp these new facts if the terminology is unfamiliar. Certain Tier 2 words – like ‘evaluate’, ‘compare’, and ‘demonstrate’ – are used across the curriculum.

But much terminology – referred to as Tier 3 vocabulary – is more niche. Typically, it’s only encountered in subject-specific contexts (‘integer’ in maths, ‘tributary’ in geography, ‘chromatic’ in chemistry, for example) and often relates to abstract concepts that have no direct visual reference. This makes Tier 3 words harder to learn. Only a solid understanding of all the terms in a text will give students a solid understanding of the concepts and ideas.

Literacy is therefore a whole-school issue: all teachers are teachers of literacy. The key to successful implementing a curriculum-wide commitment to literacy improvement is to emphasise the opportunities, rather than viewing it as a challenge.

As our own customer Jo Davenport, Teaching and Learning Lead at the James Montgomery Trust in South Yorkshire, confirms:

“The schools in our Trust that have had the most success with Bedrock have embedded it as part of a long-term, whole-school development linked to their school improvement plans – and among those who didn’t initially, many have used Bedrock as a trigger to look at whole-school vocabulary development, such as introducing pupil vocabulary journals and daily reading practice. Where staff from across schools have got involved, the teaching strategies have reached a wider audience and we can see this impact. Many feel that it is this application of a consistent whole-school approach that will ultimately have the greatest impact on learning, rather than continuing to use Bedrock alone – so effectively Bedrock has acted as a springboard for them to implement their own literacy strategies.”

Read the full interview with Jo in our case study.

The personal input of individual teachers from across the curriculum in ensuring their students can read, understand, order and articulate information will boost their students’ chances of success across the curriculum.

If further endorsement is needed of the opportunities a curriculum-wide approach affords, it’s provided by both Ofsted and the EEF. Ofsted’s Removing Barriers to Literacy report explains that literacy supports learning across the curriculum: “pupils need vocabulary, expression and organisational control to cope with the cognitive demands of all subjects”. It concludes: “literacy is a key issue regardless of the subject taught”.

Similarly, the EEF’s Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools notes, “by attending to the literacy demands of their subjects, teachers increase their students’ chance of success in their subjects. Secondary school teachers should ask not what they can do for literacy, but what literacy can do for them.”

Among the report’s recommendations is one for ‘disciplinary literacy’. This approach to improving literacy across the curriculum recognises that “literacy skills are both general and subject specific”. It adds: “every teacher communicates their subject through academic language….reading, writing, speaking and listening are at the heart of knowing and doing Science, Art, History, and every other subject.”

While this article focuses on whole-school literacy in KS3-4, the EEF has also reported on literacy in KS2: read their Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2 report.

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