The National Literacy Strategy is almost two years old. In most schools, the anguish of introducing the Literacy Hour is over, resources and planning sytems are in place, the training box is stashed in the stockroom and the Hour has assumed the status of a daily routine.
So now's the time to take stock. How are you doing? What could you be doing better? Have your staff taken on board the underlying principles of the strategy - principles that will really enhance their teaching and raise standards for all of your pupils?
If the principles have been established, you can move on. Literacy teaching shouldn't be about clock-watching, but about creative, innovative approaches. An understanding of the strategy ensures that individual creativity is firmly rooted in sound teaching practice , clearly structured and focused on specific teaching objectives.
The best way to check out the hour is by watching teachers teach it. Agree before the visit that this is an opportunity to share learning and expertise, to investigate with the teacher what makes the Hour tick. Classroom teachers are, after all, experts on Literacy Hour teaching - after all, they put it into practice every day - but all practitioners benefit from the observations and insights of an objective eye and from opportunities to reflect on their practice.
This checklist - compiled in discussion with Dr Laura Huxford, director of training for the national strategy - focuses on major aspects of planning, organisation and pedagogy. As well as directing the attention of the headteacher (or another member of the management team) to important aspects of the Hour, it is intended to help focus teachers' thinking and future planning.
Planning * Is there a clear and sensible plan for the week's work (within an outline plan for the term), including: - - objectives to be achieved - - resources activities approaches to be used?
* Within the week's plan, is there a balance of-- reading and writing - - word, sentence and text level work?
* When observing the lesson, ensure that you see it within the context of that week's plan.
Objectives-based teaching * Are the day's teaching objectives clearly stated?
* Are the children aware of what they are expected to achieve?
* Are resources activities approaches appropriate for the objectives?
* Does the teacher return to the objectives in the plenary session to see how far they have been achieved?
Management of the Hour * Does the teacher make the most efficient and effective use of hisher time to meet the specific objectives?
* If there is a departure from the suggested Liteacy Hour framework, is there a clear rationale for this and are any changes clearly for the better?
* Is the best use made of classroom assistants' time and presence?
* Do all aspects of classroom organisation (for example, the arrangement of furniture, storage of equipment, aide-memoire displays for pupils) contribute to the smooth running of the lesson?
Finally, as Ofsted would put it, is there evidence to suggest children have made progress over the course of the lesson? Or as one of the class might put it, was it worth turning up for?
PLENARY: WHOLE CLASS
PLENARY (10 minutes)
* Is the plenary a genuine opportunity to revisit teaching and learning objectives (as opposed to a glorified Show and Tell)?
* Do children have the opportunity to articulate what they have learned?
GUIDED AND INDEPENDENT
Independent work (20 minutes)
* Does this follow up the shared session?
* Is it at an appropriate level for each group - challenging, but clearly achievable in the allotted time (work may be set to cover more than one session)?
* Do pupils expect work to be finished in the allotted time? If not, can they complete it elsewhere?
* How successful are established routines and systems (e.g what to do if you need the spelling of a word) in enabling children to work independently?
* Is it merely death by worksheet, or are children provided with reading, writing or investigative activities?
GUIDED WORK (concurrent with independent work)
* Is this appropriately focused for the particular group?
* Are all the children spending the maximum possible time on task?*
TEXT: WHOLE CLASS
Shared work (15 mins text level; 15 mins wordsentence)
* Is teaching interactive, involving all children in active learning and demonstration of their understanding?
* Is the work well-paced and varied, maintaining children's attention?
* Are questions and activities differentiated, so all levels of ability are catered for?
* In shared reading and writing, does the teacher:
- model the process, demonstrating how to do it
- provide a commentary on this demonstration, talking the children through the process?
* In Key Stage 1 are 10-15 minutes devoted to phonics teaching?
* In Key Stage 2 does grammar teaching lead directly to application of what's been learned, to improve children's writing?
WORDSENTENCE: WHOLE CLASS
National Literacy Strategy Fliers - available from NLS 01189 527500. Fliers 1 - 3: Interactive Teaching and Learning Strategies; Flier 4 Guided Writing Sue Palmer is a freelance writer and INSET provider who has contributed to the NLS training packages.