30 Mar 2022By Kate Bibby
Improving literacy skills in the classroom: a unity of vision
Bedrock’s Alexandra Randle, Head of Engagement and former English teacher and GCSE examiner, led a webinar on how a unity of vision can drive student progress.
At Bedrock, and at our schools, we’ve found the following things are crucial to creating a unity of vision within a school and to driving progress:
✓ The role of reading – whether for pleasure, knowledge or purpose ✓ Consistency across the board – the SLT are imperative in driving a consistent approach ✓ Mapping a rich curriculum – in order to prepare students for exams
Improving literacy skills in the classroom: the role of reading
The Education Endowment Foundation has three key recommendations for literacy in schools - we run monthly webinars covering each of these recommendations, which can be found at the links below.
- Prioritise disciplinary literacy across the curriculum – ensure learners are clear on ways to read in science, maths, history, geography and more.
- Provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject – this is emphasised in the Oxford Language Report too: everything we do is centred around explicitly teaching Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary.
- Develop learners’ ability to read complex academic texts – at Bedrock, we make sure learners read knowledge-rich texts that will boost their literacy skills.
1. Reading for pleasure
This finding certainly emphasises the challenge facing schools in creating a culture where learners read for pleasure: it brings home to staff the importance of library lessons, of ensuring learners borrow library books, and of modelling guided reading in class.
Another startling statistic is that just 15% of parents read aloud to their children every day. Much research shows the amount children learn from being read to from a very young age, and in classes we see evidence of the word gap widening as students go through school: when they start secondary school in particular, learners often struggle with the jump across the curriculum to more academic language.
Looking at both of these findings, it’s crucial to embed reading for pleasure into school policies and practise it across all key stages and all subjects.
2. Reading for knowledge
In the Oxford Language Report, Dr Ricketts stresses that learners need a broad and general knowledge of the world; it’s hard to fulfil their potential if they don’t have a frame of reference to understand the words and concepts described on their exam papers.
It’s up to us as teachers to ensure that in our planning we pre-empt what learners may find tricky and that we guide them through their reading, thinking about the key skills they need, such as predicting, clarifying and questioning. This is explored further with Bedrock Director Olivia Sumpter in our podcast, The Final Frontier.
3. Reading for purpose
We mustn’t assume that because learners have a decent reading level, they implicitly know how to read in different subjects: the invisible needs to be made visible.
The following excerpts are from GCSE papers in various subjects.
Even in subjects outside of English, a deep, contextual understanding is essential for learners to access their lessons – it requires disciplinary literacy across the curriculum.
25% of 15 year olds have a reading age of 12 or under – meaning they can’t fully access the questions in the exam papers. To unlock that knowledge, we need to unlock that vocabulary - Bedrock Vocabulary and Bedrock Mapper can help support this.
Improving literacy skills in the classroom: consistency across the board
There are three key ways to make reading consistent across the board:
- Teach Tier 2 vocabulary within a range of contexts – Beck, McKeown and Kucan emphasise the need to teach Tier 2 vocabulary for learners to succeed.
- Give learners meaningful feedback – For self-regulated learning and metacognition to work successfully, learners need constructive feedback that outlines clearly what they need to succeed.
- Track progress – High-quality teaching and learning is impactful. Systematically measuring and reviewing literacy improvement at your school will ensure consistency and data-driven targeted intervention.
This example shows two sentences that make exactly the same point. It starkly illustrates how a learner can have the cognitive understanding but not the relevant Tier 2 vocabulary to access and succeed within the curriculum.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary to the Association of School & College Leaders, refers to academic language as the “language of power”.
If we teach our students this language explicitly and across the board, we’ll empower them.
Improving literacy skills in the classroom: mapping a rich curriculum
Literacy is crucial to attainment across the curriculum – not just in English. In fact, GL Assessment found that there is a stronger correlation between reading age and GCSE outcomes in maths than in English Literature.
Mapping a vocabulary-rich curriculum isn't just relevant in English, but in every subject across the curriculum. The Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary learners need to thrive, both in the classroom and beyond their academic lives, must be taught in every subject as part of a whole-school literacy strategy - this concept links to disciplinary literacy.
If you're looking to get started incorporating disciplinary literacy into your literacy strategy, Ellie Ashton's webinar is a fantastic place to start. As well as this, Bedrock Mapper provides a time-saving solution for whole-school curriculum mapping using the Bedrock Learning deep-learning algorithm - it's a great place to start when building a curriculum-wide vocabulary strategy.
Summarising the key points for improving literacy skills in your school
- Reading plays a crucial role – bear in mind the importance of disciplinary literacy.
- Be consistent across the whole school – use regular tracking and ensure teachers in all subjects teach Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary.
- Map a rich curriculum – go deep into the knowledge of each subject so learners gain invaluable cultural capital.