It was a real pleasure to give inset for teachers at Newman Catholic College today on ways to support literacy across the curriculum. Very timely too, as Ofsted have just made strong recommendations on this in Moving English Forward. I repeated my session three times. Each workshop had great staff from a wide range of departments.
We talked about the components of literacy, and the literacy skills required across all subject areas as well as subject-specific skills. There were some very interesting discussions about how to embed subject-specific vocabulary. (Until a DT teacher and a music teacher spoke about it, I had never thought about the different meanings of a simple word like ‘score’ in their subjects, and in maths and PE.) I really liked the ideas we shared for supporting information retrieval and critical literacy. Our discussions about developing students’ comprehension were particularly relevant. The importance of avoiding tasks that require only copying and pasting from the internet came across loud and clear. We thought up lots of alternatives.
I loved some of the strategies that teachers use to bring extended reading into their subjects. A geography teacher told us about using mysteries, complete with clues and red herrings, as the starting point for teaching deduction skills, and about beginning her topic on volcanoes with a story about an eruption. A maths teacher regularly reads Paul Jennings stories to her Y7 classes. One of the examples I shared was of citizenship lessons on bullying based on Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Inspired! How important the school library is in all this.
In each workshop we spent time thinking about authentic, real-life literacy contexts and reading materials that make reading relevant to students. Newspapers provide wonderful learning and literacy opportunities in maths, science, DT, RE, geography, citizenship and more. What a lot can be done with the Argos catalogue. On a different level entirely, an RE teacher told us that just yesterday she got her students to write a CV for Jesus. A brilliant method for developing reading and writing, and vital life-skills as well.
Some of the strategies teachers are going to try as a result of the workshops sound very exciting. One of the ICT teachers plans to introduce debating as he realises how valuable that will be in terms of literacy, and how motivational students will find it. I very much want to hear the progress of a maths teacher’s plans to teach part of a topic through making comic strips. A fascinating idea.
The photo shows part of a history lesson on gas masks in the library at Mayflower High School.