The new curriculum will be upon us before we know it. But don’t worry.
Not many teachers are prepared and publishers know this, which is why they are working quickly to provide us with support.
Oxford University Press enjoys a heavyweight reputation and it has been busy in the background getting a complete literacy programme ready for primary schools and, not unsurprisingly, it is matched to the new national curriculum. It claims it has a unique, multi-layered approach to developing comprehension, vocabulary, writing, critical thinking and discussion skills as well as practice grammar tests and explicit guidance for teaching grammar skills in context.
This is a programme with some high-quality resources – when you look in your basket it feels like you have been shopping at Waitrose rather than your local budget supermarket. For each year group you get anthologies of complete stories, plays, poems and non-fiction texts, all of which link to pupils’ books containing writing, grammar, comprehension and vocabulary exercises. Integral to the programme is the software, which is used for whole-class teaching and to support a wide range of resources. You also get homework books and the all-important teacher handbook with day-by-day lesson plans. The investment in these resources is obvious.
The programme is made up of six units of work per year group and these are designed to be used over three weeks, but you can stretch that over a longer time frame if you wish. Each week has a particular focus: week 1 is devoted to reading fiction; week 2 to writing fiction; and week 3 to reading and writing non-fiction. It is recommended that you timetable 70 minutes for each lesson with an additional 20 minutes for story time.
When reading and writing fiction, the programme uses a three layered approach whereby children are introduced to a text via Story version 1, 2, and 3. Story version 1 introduces the children to the characters, setting and plot through a series of clues the teacher explores by ‘Thinking Out Loud’ (TOL) to make predictions. Story version 2 gives the children more information about the characters, setting and plot; and the full story is revealed in Story version 3, which is in the anthology. OK, so this is all very staged, but this guided, bit by bit approach means children get to access the story gradually, become familiar with the characters, and focus their attention on all the shades, tones, textures and flavours.
From here, drama activities and partner work are combined with modelled writing that deepens children’s understanding of the writing process, using pre-prepared resources to draft, revise and write with ambition.
To be honest, this is nothing new. I remember my Year 6 mentor teaching me something similar about 20 years ago. What makes this different is the impressive resourcing of the programme, which is underpinned by the hugely respected and very successful Read Write Inc. approach. I’ve been a Miskinite for years and so have the authors of this programme. It’s splendidly put together and it has been expertly supervised and edited.
A central feature of this programme is the ‘personal log’ that encourages children to record their personal reading, writing and thinking observations on a daily basis. Another key feature is the daily philosophical question for stimulating debates, allowing children to become articulate, confident users of the English language. Spoken language is given high priority.
The anthologies have been carefully chosen and contain a variety of texts by leading authors with high interest appeal. They are just the right length too and contain rarer vocabulary in bold to unpick and explore. The pupils’ books are splashes of colour that contain a range of activities with real ambition and focus. This inspires further reading and pushes children to think, discuss and write. It’s refreshing to see the level of challenge here. Nothing is watered down. This is a true thinking programme.
The two gems for me have to be the software and the teachers’ handbook. They couldn’t be more helpful if they tried. Goodness me, you are in for a treat. The software has all the units, editable timetables and tests, with files galore – including video and audio performances of the poems and plays, radio interviews, music and images. You will also find fully illustrated writing plans, think out loud scripts, modelled writing scripts and drag and drop activities. The handbook is bullet-point heaven with step-by-step lesson plans that will have you prepared for just about everything, including a power cut.
I want to pick a fault with this programme for balance, but I can’t find much to get prune-faced about. On one of the Powerpoint files there is a big question for children to answer: ‘Can you help too much?’ and I just wonder whether this programme ought to ask the same question of itself. The support and resourcing is hugely impressive, but it literally walks you across the road, opens the front door, fetches your slippers, cooks your tea and washes the pots. Will you become too dependent on it? It could make life for some teachers quite cosy.
Read Write Inc. Literacy and Language is eloquent, convincing and full of rigour and you get the distinct impression that this resource knows how to hold a knife and fork. This is what a proper literacy programme should look like. It is meticulously organised, clearly structured and something on which to rely.
If you want to see what Literacy and Language looks like and test drive it yourself then you can. Such is the poise of Oxford University Press, it is offering UK-wide free taster days to give you an insight into the programme so that you can judge the benefits. That in itself speaks volumes.
There is every reason to believe that if your school habitually follows this clever programme with gusto and commitment, and you have an ambitious literacy coordinator, then literacy standards will rocket.