It was a pleasant spring day when the head called me into a big meeting in his office with the SENCo, SLT and the Head of English. He was not happy with the progress currently being made with those pupils who required extra literacy support and he was going to invest in it on a large scale. Pupils were going to be withdrawn from French, taught in small groups of about eight, by eight different teachers and I was going to have to come up with the goods in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, testing and tracking by September. That gave me the summer term and the summer holidays to sort it out. I was a good English teacher and Literacy Coordinator with a successful track record so far, but I had had no training in phonics other than what I had picked up on the job or learned myself. From paddling about in the shallow waters of promoting whole school literacy and wider reading, I was thrust suddenly in the deep end and began trying to keep my head above water. I hope this blog helps anyone who finds themselves in a similar position.
I was sent to see what was out there, what different schemes we had in the school, what other schools were doing or planning to do. (I may have been out of my depth but I wasn’t stupid enough to just make it up off the top of my head). I was advised to buy SRA reading boxes (I wouldn’t do that again) as a starting point and shown the baseline tests the school carried out. The first school I was able to visit was a place called Dyffryn Taf who had already put an intervention in place.
In Dyffryn Taf they used Ruth Miskin’s “Freshstart” phonics programme. Withdrawal was done extremely elegantly. Pupils were withdrawn from regular lessons (Not English) for three hours a week in groups defined by reading ages. The classes they were withdrawn from were told they must teach reading in these lessons to the rest of the class. This meant withdrawn pupils did not have to catch up and there was little disruption.
It was a slick operation in my opinion. Staff were well trained, resources were well prepared and pupils were clearly making progress. If you have a lot of pupils who need phonics instruction, it is a good option.
Unfortunately for me this system didn’t suit my school. For one, I wasn’t working with 3 hours a week, but 3 hours a fortnight. I also didn’t have the time to get all the staff trained. The other issue, as you can see from my earlier blog was that a lot of the pupils I needed to target didn’t need phonics (to decode at least). A lot needed vocabulary, stamina and fluency improvements. Nevertheless I was impressed and learned a lot. And I made my own phonics resources as a result which turned out to be useful.
Reciprocal Reading and Reading Behaviours at Cefn Hengoed
Cefn Hengoed’s approach to reading intervention and Literacy across the curriculum was remarkable. Their Literacy policy was in fact a whole school scheme of work designed to improve comprehension and vocabulary through a focus on reading behaviours. Pupils would be supported to read in small groups and discuss what they had read by taking reciprocal reading roles: Predictor, Summariser, Clarifier, Questioner, The Big Boss. This small group intervention was supported by schemes of work based on eight reading behaviours. If you need to improve comprehension it is a good option in my opinion.
Again, it seemed extremely well organised and well run. I adapted some of the reciprocal reading resources in particular and incorporated that into my shiny new SOW.
There was a lot more I learned about: “Toe by Toe”, “Catch up Literacy”, “Alpha to Omega” and I also had all of the government produced schemes on phonics and inference and deduction.
So what I ended up with in this first year was a range of different resources put together or made by myself that staff could use or adapt to deliver whatever their groups needed.
The pilot year for my own intervention was difficult to manage. I had been given 3 one hour lessons a fortnight in which to support pupils in groups, one dedicated Literacy LSA, and 6 other teachers apart from me, none of whom I line managed, some of whom were more experienced than me. Now, although pupils did make good progress this year, I wouldn’t recommend running an intervention in this way. I’m not going to bore you with the various problems, but I’ll just tell you it felt like running a big department without the time, agency or own budget to run it. It was stressful and it felt like unwieldy so don’t do it like this.
In year 2 I changed a lot.
The literacy team became an elite force of three. The head employed a primary trained foundation phase teacher who became my right hand woman and led the intervention at the chalk face, as well as a dedicated Literacy LSA. Rather than split pupils into groups of eight split around the school we grouped pupils in the same class and so the extra teachers who supplemented the team could work together with the intervention team to help groups within the class. The lessons essentially worked like really well staffed guided reading sessions. Organising the groups in this way also meant that grouping pupils differently became very easy.
Two classes in the year group had the extra Literacy lessons twice a week instead of French and other small groups who needed help from other classes were extracted twice a week with the Literacy team. As much as was feasible I was also able to teach the Literacy classes English or as part of the Literacy team itself.
The SEN class had three hours a week with the SENco and she was given the freedom to meet the needs of these pupils in whatever way she thought best.
The level of intervention we offered also changed. Rapid-plus has an online element to it which we used to give pupils light touch support during registration periods. Whilst the majority of pupils receiving intervention had two sessions a week in small groups, we could also offer extra 1:1 support for those pupils who had the greatest difficulties. Having a smaller more manageable core team like this meant we were able to evaluate and discuss teaching and learning on a daily basis. We were able to refine, adapt and develop our instruction to get the best outcomes. We were also able to train buddy readers who would give basic one to one support also during registration.
There is another element which I should mention: the “Literacy Coffee Evening”. We invited the parents or guardians of all the pupils we provided support for, to come in, listen to a short presentation on who we all were and how we were going to support their children, and how they could help at home. We provided coffee, biscuits, showed the resources we would use and had informal chats with parents eager to help their children. This proved to be the most important part of the intervention for many pupils and the impact was in some cases truly remarkable.
Our goal was to make as many of the pupils functionally literate with a reading age above ten according to standardised tests as we could and we were hugely successful in meeting this target. (There were 4 pupils outside of the special needs class who didn’t quite hit the mark).
I could show off a bit more at this point but I’ll leave that (sort of) for another blog. But keep reading because this last part is really, really important.
We continued to refine and develop and tweak what we were doing and I continued to research different reading schemes and approaches, but to be honest I found very little out there which I thought could even come close to competing with the scale of what my team was doing. It was, and I am sure continues to be, transformative.
Then I read up on ThinkingReading. The outcomes achieved by this organisation made my own efforts look amateurish to say the least. If I had my time back (and I’d known about it) I would have been in touch with Dianne Murphy (@ThinkReadTweet) like a shot. If you are in the position I was in get in touch with her now!
If you want to know the ins and outs of anything I’ve mentioned or want to nick some resources please get in touch.
Hope this helps.
Thanks for reading