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Five steps to luscious literacy learning

Mat Galvin

Mat Galvin is assistant principal for Teaching and Learning at Firth Park Academy in Sheffield, a 'good' school in a challenging area. Having worked in inner city schools for 17 years, Mat has worked regionally and nationally on both Science teaching and Outdoor education. He is part of the MyScience alumni and hosts the regional Triple Science network. Outside of work, Mat splits his time between his young family and Sheffield Tigers RUFC.

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We all know the importance of reading for our students’ futures and life chances. As such, we recently reviewed our literacy policy at Firth Park Academy, a Sheffield inner-city comprehensive rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted. Our charismatic principal, Dean Jones, wanted our new system to be engaging, relevant and simple to use. This article looks at the process and the next steps, as we look to continually improve our provision.

Step 1: Build a team

"Everyone was keen for it to be paperwork-light and impact-heavy."

Our first step was to bring together a working party of teachers from across the faculties. This allowed us to see literacy from all of the angles, from Maths and Science through to MFL, humanities and Performance. This group was made up of motivated, intelligent teachers with an interest in literacy.

We worked together on the policy, thrashing out both what it could look like and the overarching strategy into which it would fit. Everyone was keen for it to be paperwork-light and impact-heavy, in line with our Academy aim to significantly reduce bureaucracy and streamline workload. We looked at other initiatives going on in school and sought out ways to combine them, eg the Word of the Week (WOW) drive by our fantastic librarian, Alison Edwards.

Step 2: Finalise the vision

After several meetings, we finalised what our strategy for the year would look like and more importantly, how the resources we created would fit into the classrooms. We nicknamed the A1 posters we developed the ‘BLUTAC THEMAC’ posters, which should become clear later! It also brought together the seven most common literacy sins and a space for the WOW.

Step 3: Share the vision

Next was to share this resource and strategy with our Teaching and Learning team, colleagues from other schools and finally our Senior Leadership Team. We were genuinely open to improvements, and both the strategy and resources evolved over the course of several weeks.

We then launched the BLUTAC posters with the teaching staff. The posters had some well known logos on them with three sections.

  • Section 1

This is the mnemonic section, trying to make the resource memorable and easy to communicate with students

B    Be the Keyword Scribe         Think it, say it, ink it
   Learn the Keywords H    Highlight SPaG in yellow
U    Use connectives E    Every topic has a keyword list
   Think it, say it, ink it M    Maintain your literacy board
A    Answer in full sentences A    Appoint a Keyword scribe
    Correct your spellings    Complete sentences only

Many of the aspects are very straightforward. For example, we’ve gone for a very simple literacy marking policy which shows errors with a yellow highlighter. These are then corrected by the student in green (Green for Growth), with spellings corrected three times. To reduce workload and maintain student morale, we tend to pick on two or three corrections in a piece rather than every error.

The keyword scribe element"Everyone was keen for it to be paperwork-light and impact-heavy." was designed to make the literacy boards active rather than wallpaper. In lessons, the scribe is asked to jot down keywords on pieces of paper or card, then stick them onto the literacy board. This keeps it up-to-date, visible to all students and most importantly keeps the process active for pupils.

Finally, the ‘Think it, say it, ink it’ initiative came from research findings, both from outside of the school and our own literacy research as part of our PEG (Professional Enquiry Group) CPD. Giving students time to think then discuss was leading to higher quality answers and deeper understanding.

  • Section 2

The Word of the Week. This is an A5 whiteboard, onto which the WOW is written by form tutors and the form’s WOW sentence written. This is seen by other students and quality assured by students to check it’s taking place. The aim was to get students thinking about different uses for the WOW and ensure form teachers filled it in.

  • Section 3

This had a list of common literacy errors eg “there”, “their” and “they’re”. It was designed to bring student attention to common issues and prompt teachers to weave these into the lesson.

Step 4: Launch and CPD with students and staff

The strategy and resources were launched over two events, with our AET expert Wendy Lee giving some high-quality sharing of best practice around students learning ‘tier 2’ keywords, which would have the greatest impact on learning and performance.

Over the next five weeks, the literacy team quality assured that BLUTAC posters were up in classrooms, WOW boards were being used and that teachers were appointing keyword scribes in lessons. As always, teachers took the ideas and evolved them, with some really interesting uses of the keyword elements, especially in Humanities.

The final element was a competition to focus on homophones to create competition and awareness.

Step 5: Evaluation and next steps

As with any change cycle, our group will be meeting soon to evaluate impact and plan for next steps. These are likely to include increasing parental engagement in literacy and ensuring the embedded strategy continues to be used and updated.

On a personal level, the group felt very proud of the distance travelled. Staff use the term BLUTAC as part of Firth Park parlance, and students are aware of the importance of literacy through assemblies and events such as World Book Day. Take a look at this year’s celebrations:

If you have similar experiences or want to see our plan in action, please get in touch! We’re an ‘open doors’ Academy, and love to share great practice.

Do you use similar tactics in your classroom? Let us know below!

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