“Bedrock is a really powerful tool that gives impetus to our literacy approaches”
Dr Craig Early has been Head of Wygate Park Academy – a primary academy in Spalding, Lincolnshire – for six years. He first heard about Bedrock Learning through the Academy’s associated Trust, Boston Witham Academies Federation (BWAF).
A mentor, content writer (for BBC Bitesize amongst others) and researcher (published in PSTT, RSC and more), he wanted to see how Bedrock could benefit all his Academy’s KS2 learners. And a true scientist, the 2015 Science Teacher of the year told us he “does not implement anything unless there is a clear reason and it will have impact.”
After diligent analysis, his conclusion was:
“Bedrock is 100% a good idea! There is a clear purpose to it. The wide variety of vocabulary students are exposed to gives students the tools needed to develop their writing and oracy skills. Reading is a gateway to everything.”
….. and there is a lot of reading on Bedrock!
We spoke to Craig about the demands of teaching EAL students vocabulary, embedding the teaching of vocabulary across the school, his implementation strategies and bridging the word gap at transition.
Why is teaching vocabulary so important to you?
Vocabulary T&L takes on more importance here as over 50% of our students are EAL. We always say that “reading is a gateway to everything”. Vocabulary and reading go hand in hand – they are the foundation to unlock confidence, oracy and self-esteem. Once you have that foundation you can develop writing and oracy.
This is very much in line with the findings of the recent Oxford Language Report: Bridging the Word Gap at Transition.
As a science specialist, how do you think we should be teaching vocabulary in the classroom?
Across the curriculum, especially in Maths and Science, students have to use technical vocabulary. We teach words so that students can fully understand them, show that they understand them and use them in a range of contexts. For example, when teaching materials and properties in science, students need to experience words using all their senses to grasp the concepts behind them. They need to touch an object to know and understand that it is ‘metallic’ for example.
We favour a fully immersive approach to vocabulary teaching in the classroom – students love nothing more than using new words!
How have you embedded Bedrock into your T&L across the school?
There can be apathy and a sense of going through the motions, so it is important to have a symbiotic approach to literacy.
To give you a few examples:
- I ask students to stop me in the corridor and tell me a new word they’ve learnt on Bedrock.
- Students highlight Bedrock words in their writing.
- Students place a post it note in their reading books if there is a word they haven’t come across and look it up. By the end of the book, they may have 50 post-it notes of new words they have learnt!
- I was observing a lesson the other day and drew from the Bedrock display (which all KS2 classrooms have). The display shows the Bedrock words students are learning with their meanings (written by students, in their own words). I went around the class, “What does ‘shimmer’ mean? Can you use it in a sentence?’ Every single child knew what each word meant and could use them confidently!
Would you say that you are happy with the progress your students are making on Bedrock?
Yes, Bedrock is a really powerful tool. It gives impetus to our literacy approaches. Our Trust improvement team brought it to our attention. It’s been really successful in raising word-consciousness. Much to the teachers’ annoyance, I like to pop in and ask students about their learning on Bedrock – they love that recognition.
Our students were being penalised on the vocabulary questions on their SATs paper. One year they were asked to describe a “recess” – this links to cultural capital and most of our students didn’t know what it meant as they simply hadn’t come across it. Some may have said it is an American word for “breaktime”, but that was about it. None of them knew that it was a dent on a wall!
We knew we couldn’t teach 30 million words and their meanings by ourselves – so the systematic way Bedrock exposes students to Tier 2 words really appealed to us.
I remember Bedrock mentioning the 30 million word gap in our CPD session – and it’s absolutely right – we see it in the classrooms. Students who have had lots of conversations with adults and read at home naturally inquire about new words and their meanings. We have a large percentage of students where that doesn’t happen.
What was it that appealed to you about Bedrock?
The “quality over quantity” approach of constant drip feed, repetition, space learning and the power of practice we get with Bedrock is embedded in everything we do.
How have you implemented Bedrock?
Students are given three sessions a week to access Bedrock. We do need to invest in devices as that can affect timetabling. We will look into the parental engagement features on Bedrock to see if more could be done at home. We wanted it all in school initially for quality control – to make sure students and staff invested in it.
Over lockdown Bedrock formed part of our remote learning action plan.
How has a focus on word gaps helped to ensure smooth transitions between feeder schools in the BWAF Trust?
Across BWAF Boston schools, transitions are managed really well across all subjects. The BWAF transition project was really insightful; secondary school teachers were able to see the terminology we used in primary and vice versa – and it didn’t always match up. It’s helped inform a more uniform approach to language (particularly disciplinary literacy).
Exposure to academic vocabulary plays a big part in the BWAF transition package. Over the summer, students are given knowledge organisers to prepare students for that leap up to secondary school. Just as with the transition from Year 2 to Year 3, it’s all about laying the groundwork!
Going forward it would be astute for us to ask our linked secondary schools whether they use Bedrock as that could really create a sense of continuity and much-needed familiarity for students.
What else do you have in the pipeline to drive progress in literacy?
We are currently in the process of revamping all the classroom libraries to include the top 50 reads for each respective year group. We also plan to open a “reading cafe” where students can share books and relax during their breaks. As I said, reading is the gateway to everything!
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