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Improving literacy at Diss High School
Diss High School is a comprehensive academy in the rural market town of Diss, Norfolk. Results are always above county and national averages. One of the school’s priorities is to help shape students so they can participate successfully in a global society. A clear focus on language speaks to that priority, as well as to their commitment to achieving the best possible academic outcomes for the students they teach.
Diss High School has used Bedrock for three years and has also encouraged feeder primary schools to use the programme to ensure a smooth transition for their Year 7s.
A conversation with Suzie Johnson, Director of English
How does Bedrock tie into your priorities as a school?
From an exam perspective, obviously the demands of GCSEs mean that all our students have got to cope with 19th- and 20th-century non-fiction, 21st-century fiction, etc. The vocabulary in those texts is quite demanding. We see an improvement in their understanding of that, which also ties into our starter activities because we’re trying to expose them to lots of little chunks of text so they can see lots of different text types.
But then we realised as well that the vocabulary demands of History and Geography have gone up massively too but the students didn’t really know what to do about it, so we feel like we’re underpinning and helping the whole curriculum as well.
In terms of thinking about the individual student, one of our whole-school priorities is to create students who can function successfully in a global society. So, again, as language allows access to all of those things, being a great communicator is crucial. So by giving students that language, hopefully it’s going to make them more ambitious and aspirational and see what’s happening beyond their local community as well.
How do you implement Bedrock Learning?
We use Bedrock in lots of different ways. Bedrock is now used in Year 7 and 8 tutor time one morning a week. It’s been really good for students to see that it’s not just something that is isolated to English and it’s got staff from across the curriculum aware of what Bedrock does as well.
We’ve heard some good feedback from the tutors too. We also do it as homework because we’re saying that roughly it takes 15 minutes to do one lesson, so the target is to do two lessons a week and then we follow that up in lessons, particularly in starter activities where we use the new grid to show what words we’re learning.
In addition to that, we’ve now got three literacy groups: Year 8, 9 and 10. Bedrock is used to structure part of that lesson as well, whether it be the start of a lesson or the end of the lesson, just because the focus is on improving their spelling, punctuation and grammar. So in my opinion, the more exposure they can have to a range of texts from different genres and different topics, it’s crucial in getting them to recognise how language is used in those different contexts.
What does Bedrock offer you as a department head?
What I liked about Bedrock straight away is you’re really personal: we can send an email to you and get a really nice reply that feels like it’s just for us and not a bog-standard ‘sentence starter’ where you’ve changed the end! I like the fact that you don’t mind us emailing you about an issue, no matter how big or small.
I really like the charts that you send to us so we can monitor the usage of students in all year groups. What’s been particularly useful is the reports that you’ve done for us at the drop of a hat, when we’ve had governors’ meetings or Ofsted coming in. You’ve looked particularly at groups, like Looked After Children, Pupil Premium children, SEN children, and you’ve been able to break the data down about how it’s actually impacted their learning.
Varda, Year 9, EAL student
It has a lot of words that we can meet in our usual life. If you don’t understand the word or the definition, you can look at the picture and this is really helpful because you can understand what’s happening and there are examples, like ‘how to use this word’. It’s very helpful because it has a lot of exercises, like putting words in one sentence. You have to think about it, and it’s helpful.
Dr Jan Hunt, Headteacher
What has your experience been with Bedrock Vocabulary?
There’s an old adage, ‘words give you power’, isn’t there? That’s something I believe in. It’s not just about passing exams – it’s about youngsters using words to communicate what’s going on inside.
Bedrock works because it gives an immediate sense of progress to students. It’s something that’s just for them; it’s private to them. I believe Bedrock is effective because it is empowering them to experience vocabulary they wouldn’t have done before.
This has become something that really works in our school; we know it’s working for our students. I’ve never recommended a tech product before, but we’re happy to recommend Bedrock.
A parent from Diss High School
What does Bedrock Learning offer you?
From our perspective, it just means we’ve got something where they know what they’re doing – there is challenge there with it. Our youngest, in particular, is very good at stopping and asking, whereas our eldest just sort of got on with it and did it. But the younger one who likes to get things right has then had conversations about it, so it’s meant that we’ve talked about the words with her and I think it’s had that impact. They’re using words that they wouldn’t generally use, but that we know are going to come up in academic texts later on. They’ve got that understanding from it.
What does Bedrock Learning look like in your home?
It’s just one of those things: "have you done your Bedrock? Yes? No? Get the computer out, get on with it."
It’s something they can do reasonably quickly but they can see they’ve achieved it and get that sort of immediate feedback, so that works quite nicely for them.
Also, as parents, you get that feedback as well, so you’re able to see what’s going on. You can stick your head over their shoulder, see what’s going on – quiz them a little bit over what they’ve used. So, if it’s something that’s come up – ask them a couple of days later, you can put it into their context, how are they going to use it, just to check that it’s gone in.