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Case of 'I like' for everyone

THE 20 CHILDREN in P2 at Holytown Primary sit on the floor as the teacher reads The Three Little Pigs. This is a special occasion for them for two weeks into P2, they have been reunited for one morning with their teacher of last year, Carol-Anne Campbell, to demonstrate to The TESS how they used the active literacy programme in P1.

Holytown was one of the 38 schools in North Lanarkshire which piloted the first stage of the authority's new literacy strategy. Mrs Campbell's enthusiasm shines through as she describes a typical morning of active literacy literacy as a focused lesson and then brought into other aspects of the curriculum, from healthy eating in environmental studies, to expressive arts, science or outdoor education.

She points to the giant book: "There's a posh name for the picture at the front. What is it?" she asks the class. "An illustration," is the reply. They go through the story, Mrs Campbell reading the sentences in black print and everyone those in red and green. From time to time, she stops to ask questions: "What kind of book is this?" "What does non-fiction mean?"

At the end, she announces: "Today, we're going to write about food. What did the big bad wolf want to eat for dinner?" He may have fancied three little pigs, but the class are asked to write about the healthy things they like to eat (this links with their healthy eating topic within environmental studies and will involve a tasting session).

On the blackboard, there are five words: apples, strawberries, potatoes, pears and sweets. They go over some strategies such as counting out the word "bananas" in syllables: ba-na-nas; looking for the word "pot" in "potatoes"; spelling out "lem-ons" together.

Today they are practising a word which has a silent "e" (like). In five minutes, the children have to write as many sentences as they can, be-ginning with "I like... " Some copy words off the blackboard, the more adventurous tackle new ones. Four are asked to read out their work.

Jack has written: "I like cheeseburgers. I like chicken nuggets. I like fish fingers."

The others are asked what is good about his sentences. His capital letters, they say. Lee is praised for writing five sentences, remembering his capital letters and full stops and his neat writing.

Then it's back to their seats and work with their "shoulder partner", the term developed through North Lanarkshire's co-operative learning strategy to describe the person sitting next to you. One group works on the computer doing literacy games; another uses the Language Master machine which "reads out" pre-recorded words and phrases on a magnetic strip; a third is using magnetic letters on whiteboards, working in pairs to make up words and write them down; in the fourth group, pupils read to their partners.

At playtime, Mrs Campbell describes how the theme of food and literacy work can be continued: in expressive arts, the children might be asked to draw pictures of the fruit and write words describing the drawings; in outdoor education, they will visit the school garden and, armed with clipboards, note down the names of fruit and plants.

Last year, more than 50 per cent of the class attained Level A in writing; 20 per cent (four pupils) attained Level A in reading and comprehension. The results, says Mrs Campbell, are a first for Holytown.

The school's willingness to pilot the strategy in P1 sprang partly from its HMIE report the previous year which, while very good, suggested that staff should look at ways to be less reliant on resources.

A year on and the Oxford Reading Tree is still one of the literacy building blocks, but characters Biff and Chip are only one of the many literacy tools in operation. Work-sheets are at a minimum; the children read lots of Lighthouse and PM books, alongside Ladybird stories and the Traditional Tales devised by Tricia Wilson, North Lanarkshire's quality improvement officer who has led the strategy.

Carole Wood, the principal teacher at Holytown, says: "Before, we were reading scheme-bound and relied too much on worksheets. Now they do independent reading. Before, if they were doing writing after a story, we used closed procedures, such as filling in the missing word in a sentence. There's still a place for that, particularly with some of the less able, but their reading and writing skills are better and they can do more."

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