I have decided I love literacy. Which, I suppose, is a useful trait as an English teacher. Yet I have recently realised this love comes from the fact that I’m not entirely (or even partially) at one with the rules of English grammar. I am not a brilliant speller, I have only a basic knowledge of English grammar and I have no idea at all why it is wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. All I know is Churchill said ‘This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.’. Fortunately or unfortunately for my students I put up with quite a few grammatical mistakes and little wincing is induced. However, in an effort to educate myself and therefore them (the wrong way around I am sure) I have decided to do a lot of reading around the topic of literacy. Reading which (do not worry) I won’t go too far into now…
It would seem to me that literacy across the curriculum really means getting the basics right in as many far flung classrooms and PE corridors of the school as possible. As Caroline Bentley-Davies (@RealCBD) says in her wonderful pocket guide ‘Literacy across the curriculum is high on the agenda in schools’. I really recommend this book (Literacy Across the Curriculum pub: 2012) as it was a great starting point for me with lots of little, understandable and easy to use tips. Other clever people who have helped me in my recent quest include Mat Pullen who sent me some great stuff on digital literacy walls in PE that I’ve started to use with my Prefects and David Fawcett’s presentation and general inspiration through his class blogs and his presentation at TMBrock (See previous post).
I certainly admire those people who have an innate understanding of the complexities of English grammar, but I feel the fear towards the improvement of literacy stems from the belief that you need to know, understand and continually use these rules in order to expect and receive higher standards of literacy from our students. This is and cannot be true because, for a generation of teachers like myself, it is difficult to find the time to ascertain more than the basic knowledge to put right these ‘wrongs’. For me at least, the idea of literacy across the curriculum needs to be simple. In my school I would tentatively believe this method of sharing techniques to improve literacy is starting to filter through and I believe the approach of simplicity to be the correct one. No one likes being told what to do: especially when they are confused by the approach. Every new half term at my school my wonderful Head of Department suggests all teachers may like to focus on one aspect of literacy. This is encourage in both their marking and in lessons to, if nothing else, ensure pupils realise we are aware that literacy continues and matters once you’re past the English corridor. I have no idea if it is working or not but it seems a sensible approach. However, in my classroom, where literacy really does matter I have decided to take a more abrupt and colourful laminated approach.
In my tiny steps towards understanding why literacy across the curriculum matters, what it really means and how I can use it to aid my students’ learning across the school I have created a few tiny resources. In place of classwork from last term I now have a literacy wall. In the 4 days I have been back at school I have used it 5 times (by used I mean pointed out, made sure they engaged with and realised it was there). I asked pupils to engage with it and use it as part of their success criteria for various tasks.
I have today created three literacy mats which I will place in the middle of the group tables depending on which skills we are focusing on in that lesson. A colleague of mine (the great @siancarter1) did kindly give me a literacy guide to use but unfortunately I left this at home when making them – this is probably much more useful than my dinner placemats! The mats I’ve created are basic but contain reminders and word stems to aid pupils in their work. In addition to help the weakest I have introduced small spelling logs to have on their tables at all times. They are personal to them, they can take them home and yes, this does go off on a tangent but the idea was it takes the form of targeted intervention for the weakest spellers in each group. I’m hoping that by having the mats and other literacy aids available for all abilities then the appearance of the spelling logs for the weakest won’t seem an issue.
The literacy mats are available via TES or Dropbox:
In response to Caroline Bentley Davies’ ‘Read, Review, Refine!’ suggestion from her pocket book, which correctly says work can only be improved when edited and refined, I have adapted and created writing and reading improvement sheets (based loosely on the APP grids) to be used after each larger piece of extended writing.
This week after handing back a piece of extended writing I was really pleased with how these sheets worked this week. Specifically, I was pleased with how quickly and easily my quite grumpy year 8s understood what to do and improved their writing after receiving their feedback and a targeted improvement sheet. I used the original idea which I saw elsewhere to create a number of worksheets (each with a different focus) which I then attach to pupils’ (supposed to be formative) work with a target and advice on which paragraph would be best to improve. I then take the work straight back in and mark it again – this time it is much easier to mark as you know exactly what to look for. This can even be done in class. The second marking process is a comment or just ticking the points at the bottom of the sheet to say they have improved. The simplicity of the sheets mean any improvement occurs immediately. The sheets are bright and colourful so finding them in books again to remind students of their last target is easy. No doubt it will help to keep referring to the improvement sheets as often there is a lot of time between extended pieces of writing and these skills are forgotten if not used.
(This idea was based closely on something I read on Chris Curtis’ blog. I couldn’t remember exactly where to find it so I went back to the APP grids with the example I had seen and worked from there. I’m not sure I’m using them in the same way as Chris but it was his idea and he explains it much better on his blog – just click on his name above. Thank you Chris.)
None of this is enlightening or particularly interesting but it is merely a plea and a hello to anyone who also finds literacy in their classroom and across the curriculum interesting. In particular perhaps non English teachers who have any quirky or interesting ideas they wish to share – I would love to hear from you! At the moment I am less worried about literacy across the curriculum and more about literacy with my classes but I have found some of these resources have helped and I hope that the new literacy mats will too. Feel free to take and edit and then send them back to me when you’ve improved them!
Please also ignore all grammatical mistakes – I love literacy but it is a Friday night…