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Improving learners' literacy and outcomes at Harwich and Dovercourt High School
By Ray Gallagher and Kate FinchVisit school
Don’t just take our word for how Bedrock works – find out from those who use it.
Here, we speak to Harwich and Dovercourt High School.
The school is a comprehensive, mixed secondary academy in Harwich, Essex and is part of the Sigma Trust family of schools. The school’s vision is one where all students take every opportunity offered to thrive in school and beyond. It has implemented a whole school reading policy with great success; the reading agenda is front and centre of everything the school does and a focus on vocabulary plays a crucial role in that agenda.
Why did you implement Bedrock Vocabulary?
"I think the starting point is to develop the literacy skills of our students. We did some research into the different ways to implement that and Bedrock just seemed to fit everything that we wanted. It encompasses, obviously, the skills of vocabulary, then it supports reading, it supports writing, it supports oracy and it’s about independence as well, so it wasn’t so much teacher-led. I think Bedrock offers a great opportunity for students to lead their own learning.
"So it’s kind of a double whammy; it supports the teacher by giving them the framework and a structure but then it allows students to actually go and do their own thing as well."
How does Bedrock tie in with your whole-school priorities?
"We are a reading school; reading is something that we promote and one of the reasons is it develops students’ vocabulary, so I think Bedrock fits in with that.
"Also, when it comes to reading, some of the students struggle with not having a substantial vocabulary. I think the research says that a student has to understand 90-95% of a text to be able to engage with a text fully. So, Bedrock is a way into that. A big focus in the school as well is about developing knowledge - and vocabulary is knowledge. The students are learning more words, and that gives them access to greater depth in their learning.
"It also plays into this transfer of knowledge. As a school, we have a lot of successes in single areas and Bedrock allows knowledge transfer between areas to happen, because it is a whole-school curriculum, it’s not just an English curriculum."
What are the specific issues for your cohort?
"I think it varies; we have a great range of students that come in. We have some students who come in with very developed and sophisticated literacy skills and I think for those students it’s about just pushing them even further: not forgetting about them and actually challenging them to the highest level. But also we’re a coastal town, and in coastal towns nationally there is an issue in terms of disadvantage. That’s why we’re trying to give them opportunities in lessons to do Bedrock.
"I think ambition is another issue that we have with some of the students. Being able to communicate is such a strength isn’t it? It gives you confidence and I think that’s one of the things we can give our students, that they’re able to share their voice, to be able to communicate themselves and say what they want to say. I think that’s definitely something that Bedrock helps with."
How do you implement Bedrock?
"We use it with Years 7-9. In years 7 and 8, they have a lesson once a fortnight and we call that a 'read, think, talk' lesson: Bedrock is part of that. Our lessons are 75 minutes, so as part of a lesson they will do some Bedrock activities, then have the opportunity to read a text in addition to the Bedrock text they’re reading, and to have some discussion and debate. So it’s bringing it all together: the 'read, think, talk'.
"Every single lesson we start with knowledge retention. We call it a '5 and 5'. Every teacher asks five questions about the knowledge relating to the last lesson, last week, last month, even last year. There’s always a Bedrock aspect to that, so in every single lesson we’re encouraging students to think about their Bedrock and to bring that vocabulary into play as well.
"In English lessons you will see that quite a lot. In a recent lesson about Macbeth the students were using the word 'conform', so they are thinking about those Bedrock words and how they can use them in lessons. We try to encourage students to think about their Bedrock words in other subjects."
"We’re on a journey. The whole school is improving and it’s because we’re doing the Bedrock reading programme, because we are trying to change. We’re not just sticking plasters over what Year 11 are doing, we’re trying to change it from the bottom - to change their whole experience - and the reading is a part of that. Everything we do - the reading, the vocabulary - it’s a part of that: developing the students with skills that are going to stick with them for life, not just temporary sticking plasters for Year 11 to get them through the exams.
"Bedrock isn't just something that we put in place so we can say, 'oh, look at what we’re doing for literacy'. It’s not that - we actually believe in it. That’s why, if you speak to any Key Stage 3 student, they will talk to you about Bedrock. We don’t just pay lip service to it, we actually believe in it. We know this is changing these students' lives. It’s all down to being empowered by words. You can communicate with people on a certain level; it’s not simply about joining in the conversation, it’s about knowing you can join in that conversation. It’s about being a part of it and being the same as other people and not being held back, and that’s down to words!"
How does Bedrock affect your whole-school strategy?
"It’s part of the building blocks. So the whole-school strategy is all about reading and it’s about oracy, but all of those things can only work if you’ve got the building blocks of the words. It's also about making the links between lessons: we know that the words the students use in Bedrock are relevant to other things that are going on in the class.
"In order to access that and feel empowered, the students need those words in the beginning. But what that also gives them is a sense of success, because they don’t have to have written a huge piece that they’ve got a really good mark on in order to leave a lesson feeling successful. They can go in there and use that word to converse with the teacher and they feel successful. They know they’ve achieved something, and that’s just from saying one sentence.
"You need to say something seven times to commit it to memory and we make sure that those seven opportunities exist within their normal curriculum so actually we are building on their vocabulary every day. Bedrock is so important to give them the beginning. It’s not random, that’s the thing about Bedrock: everything is planned, everything is ready for them, we know that it’s going to be used, so it’s not paying lip service to it. It’s usable, real language that’s empowering them.
"That’s the only way you learn language isn’t it? You have to use it. You have to be able to first of all decode a word that you see, you mechanically decode it. But that’s not enough, that doesn’t mean anything - you then need to be using it. So, we can go through our day being 100% certain that the mechanism is in place for those words to first of all be decoded, then to be learnt and then to be used conversationally - it’s not just haphazard.
"We’ve really committed to this. We’ve got a whole Key Stage 3 strategy to change the school - to change the outcomes, to change lives, to empower them so they can go on and my keyword is always opportunity. That’s the most important thing for me: that every child has the opportunity and they can have choices, they can go on to whatever it is that they want to do. And these words are a part of it, they’re a key part of our Key Stage 3 strategy."
What do you think of Bedrock Vocabulary?
"I find it really fun to do. I quite enjoy it. With some things, I find vocabulary quite hard to understand, but this is quite easy to start understanding."
What is it about the app that makes it easy for you?
"The way it explains it. And if you forget what the word means, it will have it down by the side for you and it will just remind you of what the definition of the word is."
"I think it’s really beneficial for other lessons to help you use different vocabulary. I struggle with using higher-level words and Bedrock makes it easier to understand."
Does your teacher know the words you learn in Bedrock?
"We sometimes do use them, not just in English, but in other lessons too. So we can use ‘adapt’ in Geography for example. In Maths we didn’t expect our teacher to ask us about our Bedrock words but he said 'try and use some of the words. It’s your challenge."