“86% of our students say they use their Bedrock words in class”
Becky O’Neill joined Oasis Academy Oldham, where she is School Literacy Lead and English teacher, in January 2020. She introduced Bedrock at the start of the 2020-21 school year – having previously implemented it in a previous role at Kingsway Park. She has also been an examiner for AQA since 2015.
We spoke to her about the impact she has seen in just a few months of using Bedrock, and the positive feedback students themselves have given.
Tell us about your school demographic and which cohorts use Bedrock
Our catchment area is very deprived and we have an above-average proportion of disadvantaged students. Over half our students are EAL. There is a lot of mobility, with huge numbers of students leaving and joining us each term.
This year we have been piloting Bedrock with our Year 7, and next year we’ll be extending it to Year 8.
Year 7 initially completed two Bedrock lessons a week – one in lesson time and one as homework. However, now we target them with earning 20 Bedrock points each week because there needs to be an extra independent-learning element to this.
Bedrock was great to have during lockdown because it was so easy for teachers to keep tabs on what students were doing – far more so than with teacher-led lessons.
Every Monday morning, having looked at the usage data on my dashboard, I give out chocolates to anyone who’s showing as green [has earned 20 or more points].
Having used Bedrock before at a previous school, did you use this experience to get buy-in from staff to use it at Oasis?
Yes, I established the need for literacy and vocabulary support from the Year 7 NGRT (diagnostic test) data. The fact that I could personally vouch for the benefits of using Bedrock certainly helped!
What impact on literacy skills in Year 7 have you noticed since implementing Bedrock?
We’ve definitely seen an impact. Year 7 students have a really good vocabulary. Our RE teacher even asked me if I’d been teaching the word ostracise, because students kept saying it in her lessons!
Using Bedrock has heightened both teachers’ and students’ awareness of the importance of vocabulary in general. When I teach I have a strip of words along the bottom of the board showing everything I’ve taught that week – for example, duplicitous, malicious, barbaric – so it’s there visually for them.
Bedrock has definitely contributed to a wider interest in reading too, which is amazing. For a while, bubbles impacted use of our library but we’ve recently launched an online library. It’s proving more popular than we expected. The librarian and I created a QR code for every book in the library. Students choose a book online and scan the code with their device to order it. Our librarian does class deliveries twice a week. In the first four weeks she’s distributed 562 books and is getting requests for books that aren’t on the list!
From an oracy point of view, students are more confident in working things out. For example, when teaching Oliver Twist recently, I asked, ‘what word means poor but begins with a D?’ Together, they worked out that the word was destitute.
How do other literacy staff and tutors get involved in Bedrock implementation?
I download the usage and progress reports every week and share them with the relevant form tutors and literacy teachers. If we have any concerns we discuss what the reasons may be and how we can support them.
Form tutors select Bedrock lesson legends each week in their class. These can be awarded for number of points, blocks completed and general work ethic.
Have you done any CPD with teachers to encourage a whole-school approach to literacy and vocabulary improvement?
Yes. In parallel with Bedrock, as part of our wider literacy focus I’ve done some CPD activities with all staff who teach Y7 in any subject. I’ve instructed them all to select either one or two words per lesson to teach – even in practical subjects such as art and PE, they write the words on a white board and to explicitly teach. Luckily going forward the new Bedrock Mapper will make it easier for teachers across the curriculum to teach their subjects’ vocabulary robustly and explicitly, which will save a lot of time! [Mapper is an easy-to-use tool that enables teachers to incorporate their own curriculum into Bedrock’s platform and ensure students learn it using our algorithm – find out more]. Previously I’d manually created my own template for teachers to populate with words, definitions and examples.
Some staff took a bit of persuading to understand why they need to approach vocabulary teaching this way. I showed them our Progress 8 score and GCSE results and explained how students can’t unlock the questions fully because they don’t understand the vocabulary.
To bring home this point, I’ve taken their subject’s GCSE papers to them and challenged them on whether their students can understand all the necessary vocabulary and also use it in their answers.
I’ve even given modelled answers for some papers myself, using academic Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary in one version and basic vocabulary in another to show teachers what a massive difference vocabulary makes. As an examiner myself I know that if you’re bombarded with sophisticated vocabulary it blinds you!
So I’ve taken an approach where we plan backwards and say to teachers, these are the questions for the exam – can our students understand that question and what vocabulary do we need to teach for them to fully answer it?
In my CPD sessions I make sure I tell teachers how far we’ve come. Our Year 7 students, who we’re piloting this approach with, have vocabulary that’s really advanced compared to other years. They’re making unbelievable progress. During seven months on Bedrock, for example, one student has made 1797% progress, another 894%. Sometimes I look at the data and think, that can’t be possible – but it is!
One of my next steps is to encourage teachers to use their Tier 2 words outside lessons – in the corridor, for example. In my previous school I managed to incorporate words from the behaviour policy – ‘stop lingering’, ‘don’t procrastinate’ – and students quickly recognised them.
Another CPD next step for faculty literacy leads will be for them to provide evidence that their students are using Tier 2 and Tier 3 words. They are learning that the words they are teaching must be explicitly linked to their learning objective, and can’t be shoehorned in.
How do you motivate students and celebrate their progress?
Every Year 7 assembly shows updates on our three Bedrock leaderboards, which I download the data for from my teacher dashboard. The first is the points leaderboard, which shows who’s earned the most Bedrock points so far this year (below). We have one student consistently way out in front and the others in the top ten keep shifting around in their attempts to overtake him! Our other two are a progress leaderboard and a time spent on Bedrock leaderboard. The top places on these shift around all the time.
All students who appear in the leaderboard go into a prize draw to win prizes such as a £25 voucher, or three books of their choice – so we push through rewards to drive forward students’ motivation.
Beyond our own school initiatives, I’ve displayed the posters for the Bedrock Stars prize draw [which runs every half term]. One of our students won a £10 voucher which was motivating for everyone! We mentioned that on our website and social channels.
Tell me about your experience with parental engagement.
When we launched Bedrock I sent a letter to all parents with their unique access codes so they could easily log into their free accounts and find out what their child was learning. Our demographic means it can be hard to engage parents, though.
For the upcoming Year 7 intake, I’m sending parents of the current Year 6s a pack that includes a book to read (Onjali Rauf’s The Boy at the Back of the Class), a workbook to complete and a letter describing our expectations and telling them about Bedrock. When the children start with us in Year 7 in September, if they’ve completed everything we enter them into a prize draw to win a voucher and book.
I may also include the Bedrock summer challenge in the summer homework pack for our Years 7 and 8!
Have you got any feedback on Bedrock from students themselves?
Yes, I did some ‘student voice’ after we’d used Bedrock for a few months. The feedback was absolutely fantastic. 84% said they enjoy it and 83% said their confidence had risen since starting Bedrock. 74% said they were incorporating the vocabulary learned on Bedrock into their written work and 86% were doing so in verbal responses in class. They’ve said things like ‘it motivates me and makes me want to do well’, ‘making sentences with new vocabulary is really fun’, and ‘I like seeing my score straight away’. We’re so pleased they’re so engaged!