We value literacy in Lower School and see it as our collective responsibility to develop our students' skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening. We also know that it is our responsibility to enable our students to go on to a career or university of their choice through creating opportunities for them to develop these skills. As such, we have used reading age data, Key Stage 2 and internal student data, together with our pastoral knowledge of our children, to create a programme to support them via our Character Programme. This is in addition to the approaches used within individual subject areas. Our Personal Development Programme incorporates oracy skills as well as literacy skills.
Historically, Speaking and Listening assessments formed an actual percentage of the final grade for GCSE English Language; although they no longer count towards the final mark, students are not able to be awarded GCSE Language if they fail to produce at least one recorded piece of Speaking and Listening within the two years of GCSE and so the oracy component of lessons is important for building confidence and competence in this area. Oracy also links in with our mission to enable every child to upskill his or her community since many of our students are from families where English is not the home language and thus many parents do not themselves possess the oracy skills necessary for tasks that many teachers take for granted such as parent/teacher conversations or simply being able to make themselves understood in day to day activities. By raising students’ oracy levels, we enable them to act as interpreters for other family members and to share their own improved oracy skills within the home environment.
In addition to this, both literacy and oracy will impact students’ individual lives as they gain the necessary confidence and competence for college, university and job interviews and learn valuable life skills such as how to decode official letters about tax or healthcare, or to participate in meaningful dialogue with a doctor, dentist or bank manager.
The bespoke programmes offered by Ark Boulton Academy does not merely provide an opportunity for reading and understanding but have been designed so that teachers can not only deliver an academic approach to reading a text but also guide students to make connections between the texts they read and between texts and ‘real life’. The discussion of wider concepts through universal themes such as loss or loneliness inspires students to think deeply about their own response to challenging issues in memorable lessons. Each year group studies a selection of texts which have been deliberately chosen for their treatment of ethical and moral issues that students may encounter in and out of school (eg loss and grief in Y7 and 8, bullying in Y7 and 8, racism in Y9), thus using the text as a vehicle to facilitate character development in students.
Approach 1: Writing Focus
To create cohesion across Lower School we have focused on developing three distinctive styles of writing - Explain, Describe and Argue/Persuade. Whilst creating different text types within the Personal Development Programme the approach remains the same, each text type is created using one of the three writing styles.
Within every 'create' week of the Personal Development Programme, in every year group, students will produce a piece of extended writing. To support staff and students in doing this work our Resident Writing Expert in Lower School has tailored support used in English for each year group. Examples of our ideal written response have been created specifically to align with the content covered within the PDP. Staff have been trained by our Resident Writing Expert in how to use the tools that we are equipping our students with to enable them to write with confidence. This shared approach with English will ultimately help our students know more and remember more and directly improve student outcomes.
Approach 2: Reading Focus
Our Lead Learning Time Curriculum has two main strands within Year 7-9: LLT and Fresh Start. Students are grouped by reading age data and teachers are carefully selected for each tutor group in line with their particular skill sets.
Our LLT programme consists of a daily 30 minute lesson (four times per week) in which students read selected pages of the set text for the term and then have the opportunity to discuss the moral and ethical issues presented by the text linked to their year group narrative.. As part of this, tier two vocabulary is taught each week and students are tested on a termly basis in order to build their literacy skills of vocabulary, decoding and comprehension.
Year 7 LLT begins the same for all, reading an age appropriate text. Students are monitored through check for understanding and guided reading techniques. In October, the LLT curriculum splits into two pathways. Students 6 months or more below their reading age are moved to the Fresh Start programme. Our Fresh Start programme enables students with lower literacy levels to read a variety of texts - mostly fiction, but with some non-fiction and poetry – which support the development of reading skills. Each week students will identify key information from a text; dot and dash the vowel graphemes in the text; identify and explain character traits where relevant or features of non-fiction texts; and complete comprehension questions about the text. Vocabulary is taught every day to enable the Fresh Start teacher to close the gaps in students' literacy and oracy.
Students who are not on Fresh Start continue to read age appropriate texts through guided reading techniques with check for understanding and turn and talk used to explore the theme of the book, linking to the year group narrative.
Year 8 LLT broadens into a wider range of pathways as we learn more about our students. We vary the way we use the Fresh Start Programme continuing to target students significantly below reading age. The programme each class follows is differentiated based on their reading data- their ability to decode and comprehend vocabulary and texts. In the Spring term, the text students read is varied based on data, allowing tutors to focus on the reading needs of the class whilst exploring the narrative of self and community.
By Year 9 LLT we broaden into a single LLT programme for the whole of the Year Group with a small group of students continuing with targeted reading intervention. Year 9 students move to longer texts, focusing on two books over the year. Inference is an important skill for students to acquire - not only because they will need to use this skill across the curriculum as they study different texts and sources and learn to 'read between the lines' and understand what an author might be saying implicitly rather than explicitly but also because inference is used in daily life as we learn to read other people's facial expressions, body language and unspoken language and to differentiate between 'serious' talk and sarcasm or humour. By asking "What might the writer want you to think here?" or "Why might the character have acted in this way?", we are encouraging a more perceptive and questioning outlook on life as students begin not only to explore the world around them but to begin to make sense of it by drawing on the skills they have learned in English and LLT to make connections between seemingly unrelated aspects of life.
Check for understanding questions are designed to check students' comprehension of the content they have just read but will also incorporate some inference as well as linking the text to the year group narrative. Where appropriate, some questions or themes will be explored in more depth through Turn and Talk.
Approach 3: Speaking and listening
Virtues are highlighted thoughout the LLT text and discussed through questions that focus on the section being read and by the means of a discussion facilitated by the Form Teacher. The aim is to encourage students to consider a more specific moral dilemma relating to the extract. Students are encouraged to recognise virtues in the context of the story and then link this to real life situations; where applicable, some of these moral dilemmas are discussed in more detail in Turn and Talk time. Where virtues sometimes present themselves as conflicting - eg should we always use honesty even if it means doing so might put someone else in danger? - questions have been incorporated into Turn and Talk time in LLT to enable more in-depth discussion between students so that they have a chance to explore these conflicts within a 'safe' environment without being afraid of giving a 'wrong' answer.
Our aim is for students, no matter where they started off in terms of prior knowledge and experience of a virtuous lifestyle, to be able to learn from the moral dilemmas faced by the characters in the stories they read how to make sensible decisions regarding their own life choices. In some cases, this will come from seeing characters making mistakes and facing the consequences, and by discussing these mistakes, students will be able to apply critical thinking to help them explore a ‘better way’ of responding in certain situations. This then provides students with a ‘safe space’ to get it wrong – as well as teaching them that it is possible to learn from mistakes and go on to become better versions of themselves.
Turn and Talk is the pedagogy used to facilitate discussions on the moral dilemmas that occur in the text. This is the vehicle for supporting students' skills in listening to others as they present and engage in viewpoints that are different to their own, as well as building their confidence to articulate their thoughts and opinions on the themes of the books.The Turn and Talk lesson enables teachers to focus on some of the most important themes and concepts and explore these in more detail, developing the skill of making reasoned judgements of conflicting virtues ('phronesis'). By using paired peer discussion, teachers are able to learn their students’ views on the various ethical and moral dilemmas that are presented, enabling the teacher to identify and respond to those with more extreme views. This allows teachers to ask probing and challenging questions so that students can do this with their peers.
Both written and spoken answers can potentially alert teachers to hidden problems which can then be referred to the Welfare Team. Turn and Talk is also a powerful tool for building Emotional Literacy since students are given the opportunity to articulate their emotions – an important step in their growth as virtuous people – as well as reading stories in which children’s mental health is adversely affected when they ‘bottle things up’. Themes that may cause distress to some students are signposted on the Learning Journey so that the Welfare Team are aware that extra support may be needed after class discussion.