As we all know, the Teacher Standards enforce the idea that strong Literacy teaching should be at the heart of every teacher’s lessons, regardless of their subject. However, if you’re more used to test tubes or cricket bats, it can be hard to know how to effectively improve your practice, especially because there isn’t always time to go and ask the English department for help. The good news is that it isn’t that difficult to improve - it’s all about routines and collaboration. Here’s 5 ways you can develop Literacy in your classroom this coming academic year:
An oldie but a goodie, don’t underestimate the power of the simple spelling test. Have a look over the vocabulary you expect your students to know in each of their coming units between September and July and make a clear list. Setting spelling as a homework or starter task takes no time at all to plan, and you can keep revisiting them across the year. Not only will students’ spelling improve, but they’ll develop autonomy and confidence in using more specialist vocabulary too.
As an English teacher I’m lucky enough to have read some of the most beautiful literature ever written aloud to my classes whilst we collectively laugh or cry, but if you’re in a subject more used to text books it can be hard to see the value of reading aloud. All our subjects have fantastic written sources including articles, journals, blogs, essays, and plenty more which you can find on the CLA website.
There’s a lot of literature out there and reading aloud will help students learn how these forms should be structured (after all, writing a report in History is different to writing a report in Biology). Reading aloud also has plenty of other cognitive benefits for our students and I can tell you from experience that even our biggest students still love the comfort of circle time reading with their teacher.
One highlight of my last academic year was going into Physics to help co-teach a lesson where students were writing reports on sustainable energy forms. Whilst my subject knowledge was limited, my understanding of the appropriate form isn’t. This collaboration took very little time to plan (because we quickly established our roles) but it was so effective: students were using both the teachers in the rooms in different ways and we realised that more co-teaching needs to happen.
Co-planning/teaching isn’t about one teacher being ‘better’ or ‘knowing more’ than another – it’s about playing to each other’s strengths and 2 powerhouses of knowledge coming together to make a lesson better than it could have been with 1 teacher alone.
I’ve now co-taught lessons with PE, History, Maths and Biology and it’s clarified that no subject is an island: our subjects are beautifully woven together by the common thread of English. Bringing another teacher into the room allows you both to do what you’re best at (and you might even improve your own practice as a result), but simultaneously it supports and pushes our students. Ultimately, regardless of subject, we’re all aiming for the same finish line, and more time spent collaborating will lessen our individual workloads but support our students all the way.
Model speech and writing
One of the biggest Edu-trends in the last few years has been the visualiser and personally, I’m thrilled by them. However, with budgets more precarious than ever, my favourite modelling tool has become the simple board pen.
Modelling can take various forms: you can write answers for your class before a lesson or do a timed write with your class (this is fantastic for understanding things that might go wrong in an exam); you can show how to analyse information or tackle tricky command words in questions; you can colour code answers to reflect the different assessment objectives… the list goes on. Afterwards, you can ask them to improve and correct your work before improving their own or a peer’s. Actively letting students into the writing and marking process will create more critical learners who aren’t playing a game of ‘guess what the examiner wants’ but are actively engaging with what they’re being assessed on.
Modelling how to speak is crucial too: noticing incorrect vocabulary or asking students to pause and re-answer when loading their answers with fillers (especially ‘like’) will create students who respond with maturity and eloquence. Articulation is a skill that students will need long after they’ve stopped being taught by us and it’s as much a part of our Literacy responsibility as spelling.
Low Stakes Quizzing
Whilst quizzing is normally associated with subject knowledge, it’s a great way to check literacy-based skills: testing key words, definitions, terminology, meanings and spellings are all easy to add to your regular 5-a-day quiz plan. Keeping the quizzes low stakes will ensure that students who get stressed with Literacy demands are kept feeling safe but supported to progress. Quizzing is also a fantastic AfL moment: maybe you need to reteach some vocabulary, or some spellings haven’t quite stuck? Going back and making time for Literacy, regardless of your subject, will help students succeed across the school.
Literacy is one of the keys to success for all students (literacy levels are proven to be one of the significant factors for success later in life) and it requires a collective effort and sense of responsibility from all of us in the profession. By making time in our lessons for any of the 5 strategies above, we are actively improving student outcomes… and when it comes down to it, isn’t that what we’re all here for?
About the Author
Lauran Hampshire-Dell is an English teacher from Surrey. She runs her own resource website (LauranTeaches.co.uk), works with teacher training programs, and likes to write articles like this in her spare time.
She tweets at @LauranTeaches