The Love of Words at Calderstones
Words can change lives. In the UK, the richest areas have the highest reading ages and, tragically, those who are poorest amongst us have lowest. This affects a person's access to education, work, social groups and vast parts of culture.
The statistics are staggering surrounding this. A boy growing up in one of the areas of the UK with the lowest Literacy levels will, on average, die 26.1 years earlier than a boy in one of the areas with the highest Literacy levels. For girls, the difference is 20.9 years.
Now, we're not saying that having a larger vocabulary will provide instantly reverse this; clearly there many socio-economic factors at play here; but Literacy is an area that we can have some control over and it is a way to combat poverty by opening up new opportunities.
So, here at Calderstones, we understand that words really can change lives. By providing thorough vocabulary training, Reading Age assessment and chances to find the joy in words, we can help to provide a fuller, and maybe even longer, life for our students.
Statistics provided courtesy of the The National Literacy Trust's 2018 report, 'Literacy and Life Expectancy'.
Hello, I'm Miss McMullen and I have the honour of leading Literacy here at Calderstones.
For me, words are the bedrock of all learning and having the ability to command a language as complex and varied as English is quite a feat! It's my job to facilitate our students as they navigate the highs and lows of vocabulary development, reading, writing and oracy.
Sometimes, that involves recommending really challenging books to a Year 7 pupil who just consumes all literature. Sometimes, it involves sitting with a Year 11 student who struggles with verbal fluency when reading, or spelling, or whose confidence needs a boost. Sometimes, it's analysing data, checking progress, or researching initiatives into developmental linguistics or sociolinguistics. Mostly though, I get to share my love of words with young people while constantly looking for new ways to give them access to a beautiful, and difficult, language.
Literacy Assessment at Calderstones
At Calderstones, we use Literacy Assessment Online to accurately track a student's Reading Age and Spelling Age.
- This involves two tests, one in which they hear a word, which they then type, and the other, in which they choose the appropriate word to complete a sentence.
- For students with additional barriers to development, such as those for whom English is a Second Language, for our SEN students and for those who are taking a little longer to acquire words, we may also decide to test phonics.
- Phonics testing is particularly good at identifying student who experienced 'glue ear' as a toddler, which can cause children to miss important stages in language development and often leads to a misdiagnosis of dyslexia at a later stage.
- Year 7 students are assessed three times a year.
- Year 8, 9, 10 and 11 students are assessed once a year.
- Students with lower than expected Reading Ages are tested more frequently to track the impact of intervention.
Of course, data is only as good as what you do with it. See 'Reading Levels at Calderstones' to understand a bit more about how I transform Reading Age data into usable information that forms the bedrock of teachers' approaches to classroom instruction.
Reading Levels at Calderstones
In the past, teachers would have access to each student's Reading Age to inform their teaching, and they still do. However, when faced with a class set of data like this, we are naturally drawn to those with the most concerning results and focus on strategies to help them to engage. At Calderstones, we know that the educational experience of each individual student is precious; so, to ensure that teachers can easily identify and differentiate strategies to use in the classroom for each student, I have also provided them with 'Reading Levels', along with suggestions for how students within these levels could be helped to access and make the most of the texts within their subjects. Below is a list of the levels.
Green Readers - these are students whose reading age is at or above their chronological age. They should easily be able to access the texts that they explore in all lessons and their teachers will be focusing on ways to challenge them and encourage them to read in a deeper, more analytical way. These readers shouldn't rest on their laurels! 'Use it or lose it', so they should keep up regular reading to avoid falling behind.
Amber 1 (A1) readers - this group includes students who are up to 10% below their chronological reading age. Nationally, due to COVID, many green readers have fallen into this group but we're working to ensure that they catch up quickly. Their vocabulary may be a little behind and their fluency when reading is probably not where we would want it, so teacher have strategies to make sure that they can access the texts and fully understand them. By being open with students about their reading level, we encourage A1 readers to see how easily the gap can be bridged between their reading age and their actual age. The single best way for these students to develop is to read as much as possible, but many of the strategies that are incorporated within disciplinary literacy is specifically focused on developing A1 into Green readers.
Amber 2 (A2) readers - A2 readers are between 10% and 20% below their chronological reading ages. This is the point at which we provide support outside of the classroom, using Lexia (see 'Supporting Literacy at Calderstones). Within lessons, teachers have specific strategies to ensure that A2 readers can access texts and get the most out of their experience.
Amber 3 (A3) readers - A3 readers are between 20% and 30% below their reading ages. At this point we aim to identify the specific reasons for this gap. Our standard approach is removing these students from some lessons to take part in a Literacy Development course (see 'Supporting Literacy at Calderstones'), though we may adopt a different tactic depending on the individual case.
Red readers - Red readers are over 30% below their chronological reading ages and their experience within the classroom will be significantly impacted. As such, these students are highlighted to each of their teachers, so that they are familiar with the specific barriers that the student faces. Multiple strategies are employed to ensure that these students can access their work. Outside of the classroom, Red readers receive phonics testing and phonics tuition in a small group or one-to-one. Red readers have personalised development plans, to ensure that impact is made quickly.
I'm currently working on some strategies that parents and guardians can use, so that they can get involved. Once they're ready, all families will be contacted with information about their child's Reading Level, as well as ways to encourage its development.
Disciplinery Literacy at Calderstones
'The Word Gap' is a phrase used to describe the stark difference in the vocabulary at the disposal of children of the same age. It is linked to a number of socio-economical factors, and it is one of the most concerning aspects of Literacy education and, indeed, education in general. This is not a problem solely for the English department, or just for myself, as Literacy lead; every teacher is a literacy teacher. For a student whose vocabulary is significantly behind that of their peers, a lesson in Physics or Maths is going to be incredibly difficult, as they will struggle to follow various elements of instruction and explanation.
At Calderstones, I've provided whole staff training on how to avoid the overwhelming effect that assuming a certain level of vocabulary can have. Each department has looked at the subject specific vocabulary that they teach and ensured that it is streamlined and pre-taught in a way that ensures that students can fully utilise it. Far from 'Dumbing down', departments have selected high quality texts to use in Guided Reading, but have introduced key vocabulary in advance. Words which are commonly used but not necessarily at the disposal of each individual in the room are gently reinforced using synonyms while the teacher reads. Comprehension is repeatedly ascertained, while challenge is encouraged to those who can read the text at a deeper level.
Last year, I introduced an annual Literacy Review, in which I work with each department to see how we can further support students in that subject. This has allowed me to see some shining examples of literacy across the curriculum and share the brilliant strategies being used in one classroom with other teachers.
A few of the whole school approaches that we use in each department are -
Identification of the reading age of a text - all teachers check the Reading Age of a text before introducing it to students. It should be at chronological age for the year group, so individual classroom teachers can use the strategies provided to support those who are not yet at that level.
The Teacher Reads - many of us remember the horror of being asked to read in front of our peers in school. Though reading is the best way to develop, placing students who are not confident readers in a situation in which they will be expected to perform in front of a class is not going to encourage a love of reading, nor will it aid the other students in the room. By hearing a confident and able reader (the teacher) use the correct pronunciation, pacing and intonation, students will get the most out of texts.
Reading Rulers - at Calderstones, students use yellow 6 inch rulers to track the text while the teacher reads. Research shows that this simple strategy can help literacy development in many ways. Firstly, by looking at the word at the teacher reads it, automaticity is encouraged by connecting the written word with the sound. Secondly, the solid colour of the ruler helps to block out other lines in the text, helping students to focus and avoiding confusion. This is particularly important for those suffering from visual stress, which can be a result of tiredness, a symptom of dyslexia or various other issues. Finally, it helps them to keep their place, which may seem simple but it saves us all a lot of time!
Guided Reading - this simple strategy involves a high quality text, read by the teacher, using reading rulers, surrounded by questions which students complete independently to ensure comprehension and to explore the texts at a deeper, more analytical level. Students use guided reading in all subjects, so they are comfortable with the procedure and know what to expect. Guided reading sheets usually contain definitions for key or unfamiliar vocabulary, which teachers introduce before reading begins.
Some departments utilise other literacy strategies, which are centrally collated so that they are consistent across the school -
Oracy stems - these sentence starters for debates are excellent for developing formal spoken language. Colour coded, there are responses for agreeing wit a peer, building on an argument, respectfully disagreeing or clarifying another student's point.
Morphology/etymology - many subjects, specifically the STEM subjects, explore the history of words and how they related to other words. In English, we explicitly teach prefixes and suffixes for the the same purpose; to create a transferrable and thorough understanding of language.
Title vocabulary - in English, each lesson has a single word as a title and that word is the lens through which we explore the learning of the day. It may be 'Botanical' when learning about the Friar in Romeo and Juliet, which allows us to explore his interest in botany, the moral ambiguity that can be linked to that and the religious differences between a Protestant Elizabethan audience and the Catholic Friar they were watching on stage. By looking at this lesson through the central word, 'Botanical', we can link to ideas of the Other and witchcraft. By the end of the lesson, the students have been using the title vocabulary orally and in their written work, as well as hearing the teacher use it correctly in each of its forms (noun/adjective/verb/adverb), so they are confident and comfortable using it. Plus, the vocabulary that we use as lesson titles is not subject specific, so this learning is transferrable. We revisit title vocabulary in other lessons to ensure long term retention.
All teachers have also received training in phonics, to allow them to guide struggling readers at all levels.
Literacy Support at Calderstones
At Calderstones, we take a multifaceted approach to developing Literacy. Combining the engagement of World Book Day events, Reading Leaders Bake Sales and Literacy & Numeracy Day activities, we also provide a variety of ways to tackle delayed Literacy Development and challenge those who are making progress.
See 'Reading Level at Calderstones' for a clarification of the coloured levels.
- Green readers are encouraged in lessons to continue to develop their reading skills and read in a slower, deeper and more considered manner.
- A1 students receive teacher led intervention in lessons to ensure that they can access work and reduce to the gap between their reading and and their chronological age.
- A2 students are given access to Lexia, an online learning platform that identified their level and area of need and creates a personalised learning journey. This is provided as homework and rapid progress is made when the suggested amount of time is spent on it each week.
- A3 students take part in the Reading Development Course once a week, delivered by teachers using resources provided by School Improvement Liverpool. This course aims to increase automaticity and fluency. Groups of 10-15 students take part in the classes.
- Red students receive 1:1 phonics testing and then a tailored phonics course in small groups using the Lexonik Leap system.
- Year 7 SEN students who require assistance with their Literacy receive one-on-one TA Intervention sessions.
- Students are read to by their Wellbeing Tutors three times a week as part of Read Aloud.
- All students have access to the Recommended Reading for their Age Group.
- Whole School Literacy focuses on a student's development through our Vocabulary Map to ensure that both the foundations of, and higher tier, language is developed.
- Literacy and EAL Co-Ordinators work closely to ensure that students whose first language is not English can have access to their own, bespoke development programme (See EAL and Literacy).
SEND and Literacy at Calderstones
Students with Special Educational Needs sometimes have their own additional barriers to reading. Along with the strategies and interventions that we already have at Calderstones, SEND students have access to help from our wonderful Learning Support team, either for help within lessons or, in some cases, for additional intervention outside of lessons. All of our Learning Support team are trained in Literacy intervention and they make excellent progress with the students that they work with.
Miss Williams, who used to be Assistant SENDco, has created some book recommendations that encourage inclusion and diversity with regards to differently abled and neurodivergent perspectives. Watch the video below for some excellent suggestions!
Reading Leaders/ Literacy Ambassadors (2023 - ) at Calderstones
It's 2023 and we are rebranding! In the past, the Reading leaders have done remarkable work engaging students, fundraising and planning events. Now, we're starting the New Year with a new and more formal look - Literacy Ambassadors. I felt that this title better reflects the important work that they do.
The first task as Literacy Ambassadors will be to help to develop our Reading Room into a comfortable and book filled space to house interventions and events!
Here are a few of the antics we got up to last year, before Corona shut us down!
- Scholastic Book Fair - Of course, our favourite time! Selling books and stationary, logging our accounts, advertising - our Leaders always get to develop many life skills at the Fair. It's also a great time for recruitment and we tend to end up with lots of members.
- Bake Sales - the highlight of which had to be our Valentines Bake Sale. Literature Themed quotes on cakes, an anonymous delivery service and dedicated baked goods for those who want to express friendship or self confidence, not just romance!
- Year of Reading Launch - Our fabulous ambassadors joined myself and Mr Ratcliffe to hear Mayor Joe Anderson introduce some amazing speakers to discuss 2020's Reading focus.
- World Book Day - my favourite day of the year! Dressing up and book themed events throughout the school!
World Book Day 2021
Despite being separated, we all had a fantastic time enjoying World Book Day 2021. Watch our 'Masked Reader' competition, below. Students have until the end of 11th March 2021 to input their guesses for which staff members are behind the masks. They can win books, book sets and even a kindle!