International schools

How literacy learning can enhance attainment in international schools

By Natilly Macartney

08 Dec 2022

Students in a group smiling

Learning in an international school provides a gateway to global citizenship through the study of English, foreign languages, and cultures. This article provides insights into the effects of literacy on learners' attainment in school and beyond.

The benefits of learners attending international schools

A globalised focus: International schools actively prepare learners for working in a globalised world and offer a wealth of opportunities beyond the traditional curriculum. The nationalities among students in international schools are diverse, meaning learners grow up with peers from different countries and cultures. This valuable experience encourages learners to be open-minded and have a positive attitude towards working with people from different backgrounds. Due to the diversity in students’ profiles, international schools are inclusive learning environments that have a strong sense of community. Learners in these settings typically form friendships and networks that last a lifetime.

Enhanced language learning: International schools stretch the limits of the standard curriculum by embedding skills such as intercultural competence and foreign languages into everyday learning. Unlike traditional schools, international schools adopt a teaching approach known as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). In CLIL classrooms, learners are taught subjects such as Geography and Science through the medium of a foreign language. This means they learn a subject and language simultaneously and develop specialist vocabulary in multiple languages.

Advanced facilities and opportunities: In addition to classroom learning, international schools are typically well-equipped with modern sports facilities and access to technology. Learners are typically encouraged by schools to participate in competitive sports, learn a musical instrument, and go on excursions. Some schools even provide opportunities to take part in exchange semesters with partner schools so that learners can experience academic life abroad.

Broadening horizons: Those who attend international schools typically have a wider outlook when it comes to further education and employment and tend to compete in the global market. They are open to travelling and working abroad in order to study at the best universities and obtain well-paid jobs. Being an international school student proves to universities and potential employers that individuals are open-minded, adaptable, and resourceful. These are important skills; however, to be successful with university applications and job interviews, learners need to prove they have strong literacy skills too.

Why is it important for every learner to develop excellent literacy skills?

Reading, writing, speaking and listening: these four skills form the foundations of literacy and are fundamental to all areas of learning. Let’s explore why these skills are so crucial for academic success.

Firstly, let’s begin with reading. Having strong comprehension skills supports learners in understanding content across the curriculum; this includes understanding word problems in Maths or theories in Science. When learners are in the practice of reading critically, they develop their higher-level thinking skills, meaning they are more successful at tasks which involve forming opinions and drawing conclusions. These skills help learners formulate written responses to comprehension questions.

Learners with strong writing skills are able to express themselves well and communicate ideas clearly. These strengths are also reflected in their speaking and listening skills. Learners need not only to be attentive but also capable of using spoken language to communicate ideas effectively. This requires learners to organise and construct thoughts so that they are understandable by others, which involves a strong understanding of text structure and grammar.

Literacy in the 21st century

There is an increasing need to have strong literacy skills as the range of media we use to interact with one another continues to expand, as does the speed with which we share and receive information.

In the last twenty years, a new form of literacy has emerged known as digital literacy. Digital literacy aims to help learners develop skills, such as finding and selecting reliable information and forming cultural and social understanding. With more people than ever before learning English and communicating online, English literacy has gone global, and learners in international schools are aware of this more than most young people. For learners in international education, the benefits of strong literacy skills are more prevalent than other learners their age as they unlock conversations around the globe.

How literacy promotes important skills for international learners

Reading comprehension

When we comprehend a text, multiple skills are at play. We are actively processing the meanings of vocabulary and sentence structures, while also filtering through the main ideas in a text, building mental images and segmenting information into our long-term memories. From there, we go on to make predictions, identify connections and compare them to prior knowledge - a lot is going on up there.

Literacy is the language of learning - for learners to make the most of a text, whether it’s a fictional text in English or a textbook in Science, learners must be explicitly taught the reading comprehension strategies they need to thrive. Through reading fiction and non-fiction texts, learners develop their ‘receptive’ and ‘active’ vocabularies. This means that they start to recognise items associated with specific fields, and if they encounter them enough, they begin to use them actively in their writing and speech.

Research conducted by Nation (2006) showed that learners need 98% target coverage in order to read a text effectively withoutthe aid of a dictionary or other outside source. As soon as this coverage drops to 95%, which would mean one unknown word in every two lines of text or 7 unknown words in every minute of speech at 150 words per minute, then a learner would need the support of a dictionary or other resource. Therefore, when taking 98% as the ideal coverage, an extensive 8,000–9,000 word-family vocabulary is needed for dealing with written texts, and 6,000–7,000 word family vocabulary for dealing with spoken texts. Achieving a word bank of this size is no easy feat and requires consistent, explicit vocabulary instruction throughout a learner’s education.

Social skills

Research conducted by the National Literacy Trust explored the relationship between children’s mental well-being and their reading and writing enjoyment.

Findings showed that children and young people who are the most engaged with literacy have better mental well-being than their peers who are the least engaged. Enjoying literature can have a positive impact on a young person’s mental health for many reasons; one of the reasons most cited in the literature is that it gives learners confidence.

From this research, it’s clear that strong literacy skills not only gives learners the ability to communicate on exam papers and in essays, but also amongst their peers, which has benefits in many aspects of their life.

Creative thinking

When we read, we often picture the events in the text in our heads, whether that means scientific concepts and diagrams or fictional characters and worlds - in doing this, we strengthen our creative thinking skills.

Imagination is something that needs to be trained and maintained, so reading regularly is essential. Reading fiction also supports learners with their own creative writing processes, enabling them to put their thoughts, feelings and ideas into writing.

Research into connections between reading and psychology has shown that reading has the potential to reshape emotions and outlooks on various topics and ideas, which can contribute to a more positive mindset. Furthermore, being able to visualise ideas in our minds’ eye helps with learners’ problem-solving skills, boosting their ability to think outside of the box and find innovative solutions.

Problem solving

Problem-solving is about finding alternatives to a common situation and reducing those alternatives to a solution that meets the demands of a problem; reading itself is a problem-solving task. Garner (1984) states that reading involves the following psycholinguistic strategies: sampling, predicting, confirming, anticipating, and correcting. Readers use these strategies simultaneously whilst reading to work on solving the problem of ‘making sense out of text.’ This means when we are reading, we are actively working on our ability to problem solve.

Setting your learners up for success beyond school

Literacy is a lifelong skill that learners need regardless of whether they choose to pursue further study or go on to employment. It is a skill that will support learners with their self-expression, understanding of the world, and perception of self.

Learners in international schools already have a head start because they are regularly working in a multilingual environment and training important skills such as communicating ideas, adapting to the needs of others, and developing their intercultural competence. They will be able to transfer these skills across languages and contexts in the future.

How Bedrock can ensure these skills are embedded for all of your learners

Bedrock goes beyond being an intervention, it is a method of learning that can easily be implemented into teaching and become part of a classroom’s daily routine. Bedrock’s approach to literacy learning is fun and engaging and actively supports the development of digital literacy skills.

Bedrock offers a range of English programmes for learners of all levels and ages, including a vocabulary curriculum and GCSE English. Each programme provides a wide variety of texts which span different genres, cultures, and subjects. Throughout Bedrock’s programmes, a wide range of topics are covered, including literary techniques and devices, text analysis, grammar, and subject-specific vocabulary. These topics ensure that learners work on all the skills needed for successful literacy learning.

Vocabulary, grammar and disciplinary literacy

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