By Jo Davenport and Dianne Harris
Schools within the James Montgomery Academy Trust in South Yorkshire have used Bedrock Vocabulary since April 2018. We spoke to Jo Davenport, Teaching and Learning Lead at the Trust, and Dianne Harris, Assistant Headteacher at the Trust’s Wath Victoria Primary School in Rotherham, where students in Year 3 have recently joined those in Years 4-6 in using our vocabulary curriculum.
For what reason were you initially interested in Bedrock?
Jo: Many schools in our Trust had identified for some time that reading, writing and oracy were school priorities. Pupils’ poor vocabulary knowledge is a major barrier to their learning – language skills and vocabulary knowledge across the Trust are generally well below average. This had resulted in a lack of understanding of texts and lack of vocabulary knowledge across the wider curriculum.
We were drawn to Bedrock because of the pedagogy behind it. Schools had high expectations of Bedrock. The main objective was for children to show an understanding of a wider range of vocabulary and to use this confidently in their speech and writing. It was hoped that this would close the gap between pupil premium children and non pupil premium children. Some schools referred to wanting the programme to be fun and to foster a love of words and a curiosity to learn new vocabulary.
What was key for us all was for the programme to take pupils beyond their regular reading experience, allow them to work independently at their own level and to provide effective feedback to support them in making progress.
How have your schools implemented Bedrock and has Bedrock impacted whole-school approaches to literacy and vocabulary?
Jo: Each school has taken a slightly different approach according to their unique needs. Some run it in-class, incorporating it into their reading lessons, some use it at home and others target just specific groups, such as pupil premium or EAL, rather than a whole cohort.
Dianne: At Wath Victoria, we have two timetabled lessons each week and, during the early 2021 lockdown, set it as a weekly home learning task.
Jo: At a more strategic level, the two main ‘models’ are using it as a stand-alone programme or as just one action in a whole-school focus on vocabulary development.
The schools in our Trust that have had the most success with Bedrock have embedded it as part of a long-term, whole-school development linked to their school improvement plans – and among those who didn’t initially, many have used Bedrock as a trigger to look at whole-school vocabulary development, such as introducing pupil vocabulary journals and daily reading practice.
Where staff from across schools have got involved, the teaching strategies have reached a wider audience and we can see this impact. Many feel that it is this application of a consistent whole-school approach that will ultimately have the greatest impact on learning, rather than continuing to use Bedrock alone – so effectively Bedrock has acted as a springboard for them to implement their own literacy strategies.
Our schools see Bedrock, and the whole-school development of vocabulary, as an ongoing priority. Many are looking to develop a consistent approach to whole-school teaching of vocabulary based on the Bedrock approach. They overwhelmingly tell us that Bedrock has been a useful tool in supporting them achieve their vocabulary development goals.
How have you monitored and responded to Bedrock usage by learners?
Jo: The usage reports are very useful in helping us to identify any classes/pupils that are not fully accessing the programme and to unpick and address why. They also help us to identify general areas for literacy and vocabulary development – returning to specific vocabulary to help learning stick.
Schools have developed unique ways of celebrating Bedrock successes, from whole-school assemblies to a ‘100% club’.
What impact has Bedrock had on pupils’ learning?
Jo: The most mentioned outcome is that pupils are now using a wider range of vocabulary, with ease, in their speech and writing. This has been matched by a change of attitude. Teachers are describing pupils as more confident readers who are ‘word curious’ – who show enthusiasm for finding and understanding new vocabulary in their reading rather than ‘skipping over’ new words. They value the individual pace with which Bedrock allows them to study and are motivated to improve their own score. They also report using the ‘new words’ at home with their parents!
Other impacts are more vocabulary-rich learning environments and improved teacher confidence in supporting pupils’ learning, with staff reporting that they feel more confident tackling more challenging texts with their pupils.
Dianne: We are interested in the impending ‘Bedrock points’ functionality, which will allow schools to add their own Tier 2 and Tier 3 words to the set curriculum. This will enable us to incorporate themes and science words from our whole-school vocabulary plan.
What next steps have you identified?
Jo: On an individual school level, next steps depend on the approach they have taken so far. Many of the schools who took the ‘programme only’ route now see the need to develop a consistent school-wide approach.
Other key areas for development include maintaining motivation through incentives and drawing on retrieval practice strategies to ensure the learning sticks. Another is applying the Bedrock approach to wider curriculum areas by identifying key vocabulary and following the six-step process to enable that vocabulary to stick.
Dianne: We would also like to engage parents more. I’d like to monitor the impact this has on pupil achievement.
Jo: We undertook a Trust-wide impact case study on the impact of Bedrock. Comparing what the schools had said they wanted to achieve with Bedrock, and the identified impact, Bedrock has definitely been a success.
The greatest reported impact is an improved pupil understanding and use of wider vocabulary in speech and writing. An improved attitude to reading was also a reported outcome.