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Letters extra: literacy strategy

As consultants seeking to implement the literacy strategy in KS3, we were heartened by Graham Frater's endorsement of it ( TES January 25). However, we were perplexed by some of his criticisms.

He acknowledges that the units are thorough and give attention to weaknesses which hinder most level 3 pupils but he expresses serious concern over their use and rationale.

The first criticism is that there is an inflexibility which leads to unnecessary repetition. He cites the "unit on capital lettersand full stops" seeing it as a waste of time because pupils have no difficulties with these anyway. The "unit" is a 20 minute session from the 18 session unit on Sentences and it is preceded, as are all the units, by an assessment which enables teachers to identify whether it is needed or not. The teacher may "feel obliged" to work through each session but there is no requirement to do so.

The characterisation of the sessions as a series of obstacles is not one we recognise. Each session begins, not with a rule, but with pupils recalling what they know. Our experience is that the lessons are enjoyed by pupils and that they value the comfort of the small group.

A more understandable criticism is that the units are abstract and decontextualised, detaching language from meaning and purpose. However, it has to be remembered that the units are offered in addition to the everyday curriculum, and reinforce essential skills such as punctuating sentences, organising paragraphs and building strategies to aid good spelling.

A final point was the criticism of the phonics unit which seemed unjust. It does not claim that reading requires pupils to define a phoneme. In fact it doesn't really deal with reading at all but with spelling.

Despite our reservations about Graham Frater's article, we entirely support his advice to schools: adopt the strategy and adapt it to suit your own needs. That is one of the principles on which the Progress Units work and a message that, though often unheard, has been made by the NLS from the start.

Hilary King
Sobia Malik
Margaret Simmonds
Glenn Mascord

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