6 steps to support pupils with literacy challenges

By making some simple tweaks, teachers can better support pupils who struggle with literacy, says Kenny Wheeler

Kenny Wheeler

How to help pupils struggling with literacy

Literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world , and, as such, it is a fundamental element of what children need to learn at school. 

Those who have been around long enough will remember the National Literacy Strategy (and have varying views on how successful it was). 

But just because literacy isn’t in the current terminology spotlight, that doesn’t mean it’s not a vital part of the curriculum and the everyday classroom.

It is difficult to say how many learners have literacy difficulties; there is a continuum of severity but all challenges should be recognised and supported.

Helping pupils with literacy

Here’s how to help your students in a targeted and considered way. 

1. Classroom environment

The best position for learners with literacy difficulties is front and centre with a good view of the board. Ensure that equipment and resources for learners are clearly labelled, and strategically place key words or vocabulary around the classroom using a font size that learners can read from their seats. 

But make sure that displays are not cluttered or overly busy to avoid sensory overload. 

2. Preparing lessons

It’s helpful if new or key vocabulary is highlighted with clear explanations so learners can make links to prior learning. Ensure that worksheets and resources have enough space for learners to write on them clearly, and key information is boxed or listed as bullet points. 

Plan for opportunities to revisit key information throughout the lesson so that it is embedded and consolidated through repetition.

3. Introducing lessons 

At the start of a topic, discuss key words along with the overview for the term. Revisit this overview regularly to build and link key information. Also, make sure that clear objectives are stated at the start of the lesson so learners can see how content fits into their overall learning.

4. During lessons

Carefully consider the amount of information given at any one time to avoid overloading learners cognitively. Present information in a variety of ways, backing up speaking or writing with visuals.  

Explicitly explain the approach you take when answering a question or planning an extended piece of writing. This is essential support for those learners who do not necessarily have the metacognitive skills to tackle challenging literacy tasks.

Actively encourage all learners to take part in discussions and ensure that clear roles and rules are in place to support discussion. Model what is expected during group discussions so learners clearly understand how they should interact and contribute at such times.  

5. Homework

Ensure that you don’t set homework in the last few minutes of the session when it is a rush to get everything written down. Homework should be clear, appropriate and differentiated where necessary. Clear and realistic deadlines for the submission of homework should be set, and communicated.

Learners should be allowed to use a variety of mediums to complete their homework; word processing, mind maps and oral presentations, for example. 

Lastly, ensure that guidance is given on the length of time learners should spend on completing homework tasks. Parents can indicate how long it has taken to complete/partially complete the homework by marking the time in the margin of the homework submission. 

6. Reflecting 

It is worth periodically thinking about how learners are accessing your lessons and building up a picture of what works and what barriers persist. This can help you refine your lesson design so that there are opportunities for all learners to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways. 

It may be the case that despite your best efforts and endeavours some learners continue to struggle. In this instance, it may then be helpful to have a conversation with the learner to find out their views and then the Sendco to see if they can provide you with additional advice and guidance. 

Kenny Wheeler is the senior consultant teacher at Driver Youth Trust.

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