Data. It means a lot of different things to different people. For teachers, unfortunately, it’s often associated with stress, as senior leaders wield it as a blunt instrument for measuring success, rather than to inform decisions and guide practice.
But data can be a lot more positive than that. And it can be found in unlikely places.
At Monk’s Walk School in Hertfordshire, we have found a source of data that enables us to provide the best support for three groups of vulnerable students: those with SEND, those who receive pupil premium funding and those with lower literacy skills.
This data is from our school library, and using it in conjunction with Reading Cloud software has revolutionised the way we work with our most vulnerable students.
We have always tested students on their literacy abilities (via the library) when they enter school, to help us to discern what support they may need. This data was previously only ever used by me, our Senco and the librarian.
We would work out what needs students had and which interventions to put in place. But it felt like we were fighting fires. We weren’t getting to the root of the problems and the impact we were having wasn’t as big as it could have been.
And so we began developing an impact through a reading program with Reading Cloud. The software helps us to survey these young people simply and accurately, and calculate what their attitudes towards reading are. Then it gives us ideas for strategies to use to boost their reading skills.
The library management aspect has proved extremely useful, as Reading Cloud suggests relevant titles for each student when they log in and can flag areas where there are gaps in the stock.
This allows students to take ownership of improving their literacy, while allowing us to make sure that we have resources matched well to the needs of the school.
Reading Cloud reporting offers information on which students are borrowing books and which are not, enabling us to target these groups. One of the key reports we use, for example, is the breakdown of books borrowed by students according to their English set.
So now when each English class uses the library, we are able to pinpoint those who may need more advice on their selections or be provided with interventions to support them in their reading.
Alongside this hard data, the library was also able to offer a lot of soft
data, giving context to what we were seeing in our spreadsheets. We pinpointed their attitudes on the topic and also gathered other important information, such as the barriers that had stopped them from enjoying reading.
So we had our facts and we had our reasoning. The next job was to work out how to tie this together with other priorities in the school and make sure the information we had gathered was put to good use.
We realised that, as in a lot of schools, each person with responsibility for a group of students spent time working on strategies and interventions for that group, without coordinating their efforts. We decided that collaboration was going to be the key.
We began by identifying the students most in need of support, highlighting those who were in all three groups. Then came the most important part: we made the step from utilising this data in our working group to sharing it with the rest of the school.
But we didn’t use this to force new initiatives. Instead, we used it to empower teachers with greater understanding, and strategies to enhance teaching and learning.
There was a student who appeared in all of our areas, for example; with weak literacy, pupil premium funding and SEND. This student’s history teacher had been struggling to try to engage them in source work (which involves a lot of reading) and written work.
We provided the teacher with a breakdown of the exact literacy weakness, and provided strategies, including breaking large texts into bullet points and highlighting keywords.
That student is now getting the right intervention in all of their lessons, rather than discrete sessions. All of their teachers are aware of what they can do to maximise learning, and the students are also aware of the part they play in this collaboration.
It’s important for us to share this information, allowing them to take ownership of their learning with strategies that are linked to their needs.
We still run one-to-one or small-group interventions, but these now enrich the extra work that we do through the curriculum, and enable us to be much more focused on the specific needs of the students.
We have also been able to redirect some of our learning support assistants’ time so that they are able to pinpoint the best strategies and targets to use.
Your school library system is a mine of information and it can be used to make a real difference in the classroom. To make the most of it, explore this data such as with the help of the recommended reads, reporting tools and resource provision functionality available within the Reading Cloud and use it wisely. Remember the aim is to improve outcomes for your students, not to drive initiatives. Any changes should enhance the good work that already happens instead of getting in the way of it.
Adam Lancaster is literacy coordinator and former associate assistant headteacher at Monk’s Walk School in Hertfordshire
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