Literacy and the National Curriculum
The National Curriculum reflects the importance of spoken language in pupils development across the whole curriculum – cognitively, socially and linguistically. The quality and variety of language that pupils hear and speak are vital for developing their vocabulary, grammar and their Literacy is the ability to read and write, but also the ability to use language, numbers, images, computers, and other basic means to understand, communicate, gain useful knowledge.
The key to literacy is reading development, a progression of skills that begins with the ability to understand spoken words and decode written words, and culminates in the deep understanding of text. Reading development involves a range of complex language including awareness of speech sounds (phonology), spelling patterns (orthography), word meaning (semantics), grammar (syntax) and patterns of word formation (morphology), all of which provide the platform for reading fluency and comprehension.
When acquired, the reader can apply these skills to critically respond to texts, develop inference and synthesis; to write with accuracy and coherence; and to use information and insights from texts for informed decisions and creative thought. Our aim at St Luke's is to have the highest expectations of each of our children to maximize their abilities within literacy to function as effectively as possible with skills for life beyond childhood into adulthood. All our teaching supports children's access to literacy with the intention of enabling them to have an informed personal view and question what they read.
The development of language and literacy is a focus throughout the school day. All pupils are individually assessed in relation to their levels of language and literacy skills. There is a strong focus on the early stages in language, reading and writing, for example understanding that the printed word or symbol conveys meaning.
Our children have many different learning profiles. Some of our children can read complex sentences and texts, yet face significant challenges in understanding the meaning of what they read. As such, specific interventions, levels of questioning and strategies to help them de-code text for cognition are key to planning for this child's progress in learning. The reverse if also true, with some learners with their comprehension age exceeding their skills in decoding, requiring intervention and alternative technologies to support their access to texts.
Literacy and English - St Luke's Curriculum
- Understanding for reading and writing.
- Vocabulary in context is emphasised across the curriculum and teachers work closely with speech and language therapists.
Reading consists of two dimensions:
- Word reading
- Comprehension (listening and reading)
Writing consists of two dimensions:
- Transcription (spelling and handwriting)
- Composition (articulating ideas and structuring them in speech and writing)
Spelling, grammar, punctuation
- Taught to control their speaking and writing consciously and to use Standard English
- Taught the vocabulary needed to discuss their reading, writing and spoken language.
The Teaching of Literacy
Children with LDD tend to exhibit spatial relationship difficulties resulting in handwriting problems. Numeracy tends to be a challenge as a result of the abstract reasoning deficit our pupils with cognitive disabilities have. Word identification and phonics are often stronger than comprehension skills, which requires more abstract reasoning and, in general, the ability to go from parts to a whole. Comprehension also requires the reader to be able to understand implicit semantic relationships among words and be able to make inferences.
Some of our pupils are very sociable and outgoing and others tend to be shy and withdrawn. There is a common factor however, that all our pupils have difficulty reading nonverbal cues, which are often inappropriate in their social interactions.
Functionality in literacy, in a cognitive sense, involves visual processing and the harder to describe idea of perception. The affected individual does not form visual images easily and does not revisualise well (i.e. from memory). S/he also perceives the world differently than someone whose perceptual ability is seen to be intact. In a way, perception is the more spatial aspect of cognition, e.g. going from parts to whole, understanding cause and effect, etc. So a child with a deficit in this area would tend to focus on the details (and even perseverate on them) but fail to grasp the complete picture.
Direct instruction can be helpful. As the name implies, it involves directly teaching each aspect of a skill. It also engages the student orally, to ensure that they become an active part of the process. Direct instruction programmes are very sequential in nature, progressing in a building block way until the target skills are acquired and mastered. These take account of developments in cognitive research and the proven benefits of interleaving, chunking and spaced retrieval practise; these principles underpin our approach to the teaching of literacy at St Luke’s.
A common element of all of remedial interventions on learning disorders is the use of verbal mediation and verbal self-direction, both for analysing information and for organising to perform a task. This means the child, when taught through direct instruction; how to talk him/herself through various steps, supports a more successful completion of the process or task.
This concept can be used to improve verbal reasoning, vocabulary development, reading comprehension, and social skills. Because writing involves cognitively difficult processes requiring idea development, organisation, and the ability to go from parts to a whole, it lends itself well to a verbal mediation approach.
Read our Reading Subject Rationale below:
Pupils at St Luke's School have access to a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction reading materials including several reading schemes so we can select the most appropriate for your child. Pupils are encouraged to use all our library areas as well as those at College and our local library in Redbourn. Children’s understanding of texts are monitored in order that they are reading a range of materials.
For pre-reading pupils, we use a range of activities to build up picture, symbol and then word processing skills. We teach reading skills through phonological awareness and phonics as well as through a whole word approach. Children are supported to develop a range of functional vocabulary, including food items, names, places and day-to-day curriculum areas and activities as well as the engagement in abstract concepts.
Why our approach to teaching reading is effective
- We create meaningful, motivating and age-appropriate contexts and are particularly aware of pupils’ experience and comprehension levels. For example, we are aware of hyperlexia, and we may use personalised reading books.
- We give children the opportunities to experience a range of symbols and texts for information and pleasure.
- We reinforce the written word with symbols and photos and other communication aids such as PECS books and relevant software like Phonics Shark to build vocabulary in different contexts.
- We present and refer to the written word across a range of contexts and environments. This helps your child to generalise their learning in reading.
- We use real-life and functional situations to provide meaningful and motivating contexts for reading. For example, using instructions and, writing lists for aiding our memories
- Seek to ensure that decoding skills have been mastered first (the pupil should read words accurately before s/he can understand meaning). Work within a phonics based reading curriculum where possible
- Teach reading comprehension skills clearly, e.g. making inferences, deductions, understanding cause and effect, etc.
- Develop self-questioning techniques to monitor comprehension
- Teach pupils that they must interact with the text
- Encourage verbalisation of strategies to enable students to internalise comprehension strategies (who, what, why, where, when, etc.)
- Teach the organisation and structure of paragraphs
- Teach signal words indicating transitions
Make concrete associations for unknown words whenever possible
- Be "child centered", i.e. use words they encounter in their own reading, define words they want to know, work from known associations and understandings
- Encourage pupils to verbalise and paraphrase their understanding
- Work towards a depth in understanding - don't let them slide by with surface understandings
- Connect words into meaningful semantic categories
- Teach multiple meanings
- Build semantic maps or webs
- Highlight morphological rules and patterns, directly teach prefixes, roots, suffixes.
- Provide brief daily practice to improve handwriting and legibility for those who can
- Teach pupils to use verbal self-directions to guide those practices
- Address posture, position of hand and paper, grasp of pencil, directions for forming individual letters
- Teach keyboard and word processing skills to the student at a young age
- Focus on only one aspect of writing at a time (e.g. pre-writing, writing, editing)
- Use Shape Coding strategies to support children's improving comprehension
- Hold high expectations for the pace and volume of written work, based on the pupil's demonstrated abilities
- Teach transitional words
- Teach organisational patterns for writing paragraphs, then for longer pieces of writing
- Provide a purpose and structure for writing
There is a strong focus on functional literacy that fosters learners ability to engage with world around them and empowers them to play an active role in the wider community.
Handwriting without Tears
Developed by a registered occupational therapist, Handwriting Without Tears is a developmentally-based handwriting program. That means it pays attention, in a way that no other program we know does, to the developmental needs of people — of whatever age — who are trying to learn how to write.
SSAT, previously known as the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, has published guidance for heads of English on creating a vision for the department.
The document suggests steps to take when formulating and implementing a departmental vision.
Develop and implement a vision
How can we develop and implement a vision for a subject? We link to advice on creating a vision in maths, English and geography and relay advice on promoting a subject vision from one of our experts. You will also find case studies from two schools.
- Expert advice
- Case study: developing a vision for English
- Case study: implementing a vision across various subjects
Below, we refer to guidance on creating a vision for 3 particular subjects. Some of the underlying principles may also be useful in developing a vision for other subjects.
The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) has published a self-assessment tool that you can use to develop a whole-school vision for maths.
The tool invites you to asses your school's vision of maths by selecting one of four categories. These are:
- Category 4 – there is no whole-school vision. There is little or no dialogue between the maths department and other departments in which maths may be used
- Category 3 – the maths department has a vision, but there is no system to spread this throughout the school
- Category 2 – the maths department shares its vision with the whole school during INSET days and meetings
- Category 1 – the whole school understands and supports the vision of the maths department
Each category has a number of associated questions that leaders can ask themselves to develop their current practice. For example, schools in category 4 may ask themselves:
What is it about mathematics that you believe is special?
- What does your department believe maths to be?
- What is it about mathematics that you believe is special?
- What encouraged you and your team to become maths teachers?
- How can you further other departments’ mathematical subject knowledge?
- What content from maths might be included on other subject areas?
The Geographical Association has advice on creating and promoting a vision for geography in primary schools.
We spoke to David Driscoll, one of our associate education experts, about implementing a subject vision.
David said that subject leaders should share the subject vision with necessary staff such as:
- Those teaching the subject
- Other subject leaders
- Senior leaders
Subject leaders should link the vision to the school improvement plan (SIP) to ensure that everyone in the school has the same goals. He added that getting other members of staff to contribute to the vision also encourages this.
David said that it may be worth making the subject vision visible for staff, for example by having it available in a departmental office. This may help to embed the vision.
He added that it is easier to implement a vision if it is concise and doesn't have too many priorities.
Case study: developing a vision for English
We spoke to John Hardy, the head of English at George Abbot School, a teaching school in Surrey, about how he led the development and implementation of a new strategic vision for the English department.
Identifying priorities as a team
John told us that when he became head of English, he wanted to create a “cohesive direction” for the department, with all staff working towards a common and mutually-agreed goal.
He said there was a lot of excellent practice in the department at that point, but it was “patchy”. John wanted all pupils to experience the same high level of teaching.
Staff discussed, in pairs or threes, what they wanted to improve and how
First, John and the Key Stage managers looked at the SIP and decided what they wanted to improve in English specifically. They then held a department meeting during which all staff discussed, in pairs or threes, what they wanted to improve and how.
Each pair or trio then presented their ideas to everyone, and the best ideas were taken forward. John said that this approach was effective because it was democratic, meaning that ideas for improvement were not imposed on staff from above.
The English department did not produce a values or mission statement. Instead, it updated its policies to reflect where staff wanted the department to go in the long-term and to ensure the department’s goals became part of actual practice.
John said that the new policies have had a positive impact on pupil outcomes. There is also now more dialogue and greater consistency in feedback.
John explained that some staff resisted the new policies when they realised that implementing them would require a different way of working or additional working time.
To compensate, John tried to reduce other responsibilities. For example, some homework tasks were self-assessed by pupils so that teachers could focus on implementing new working methods.
Some homework tasks were self-assessed by pupils so that teachers could focus on implementing new working methods
John said the best way to reduce the number of challenges is to introduce a limited range of policies or changes. He also said that when sharing the department’s new direction with the whole school:
- It is important to avoid an 'us and them' culture
- The department’s vision should feed into the direction of the whole school.
John advised that the person in charge of developing, implementing and promoting a new subject or department vision should lead from the front. This does not mean that he/she must do all of the work, but he/she must be committed to the process.
John said that this process did not cost a great deal. If staff requested materials to help implement the department’s goals, they had to demonstrate that the purchase was good value for money and fit with the school's long-term plans for English.
In terms of time required, Key Stage managers met once a week to oversee the department’s change of direction.
Case study: implementing a vision across various subjects
We visited Belgrave St Bartholomew’s Academy, a teaching school in Stoke on Trent, to find out how the school implements its vision for pupils across different subjects. We spoke to Luci Kendrick, the curriculum leader, and Charlotte Whitmore, the Key Stage 2 literacy leader, about this.
Creative learning journeys
Luci and Charlotte told us that many pupils at the school are eligible for pupil premium funding and speak English as an additional language (EAL).
Therefore, the overarching goal and vision for the curriculum is that all pupils should have the same learning experience regardless of their backgrounds. This is often achieved through enrichment activities linked to pupils’ ‘creative learning journeys’ (CLJs).
The overarching goal and vision ... is that all pupils should have the same learning experience regardless of their backgrounds
At Belgrave St Bartholomew’s, literacy, maths and science are taught separately and other subjects are taught as CLJs, encompassing history, geography, art, and design and technology in one topic.
Pupils are given a CLJ topic each term and enrichment activities are planned around those topics. For example, if a class is studying the Egyptians as topic, they might visit a museum.
Luci and Charlotte said that every class goes on a trip each term and all pupils (except those in reception and the early years) have 6 weeks of swimming lessons. The school also employs a number of specialist teachers, such as dance, drama and forest school specialists.
Luci and Charlotte added that the additional support and activities demonstrate the school’s commitment to ensuring that all pupils have access to rich educational experiences in each subject.
Showing evidence of impact
Luci and Charlotte told us that where enrichment activities have a positive effect on pupils in literacy and maths, this can be evidenced through attainment data.
The positive outcomes of CLGs are demonstrated through:
- Pupil books
- Photographic evidence
- Termly ‘outcome afternoons’
During outcome afternoons, parents are invited into school to watch pupils put on a showcase about what they have learnt while studying a topic.
The additional costs of enrichment activities are met through pupil premium funding and funding for pupils with SEN
The school meets the additional costs of enrichment activities through pupil premium funding and funding for pupils with special educational needs (SEN).
Extra income is also generated by the school’s activities as a teaching school.
We asked Luci and Charlotte how much staff time is spent on organising enrichment opportunities. They told us that the headteacher ensures time is set aside for staff to plan for them.
If a member of staff needs additional time on top of preparation, planning and assessment time or time allocated for a teaching and learning responsibility payment, the headteacher will try to accommodate this, provided the teacher can make a case for it.
David Driscoll is an independent consultant and a senior partner with an education consultancy. He has considerable experience of supporting schools to analyse their data to improve achievement, teaching and leadership.
This article was written in response to a question from a deputy headteacher at a large primary school in London.