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Olivia O'Sullivan, assistant director, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education

Q I'm teaching a Year 5 class of mixed ability children, including a group working at Level 1, and I really struggle with special needs planning.

Mixed ability pairs are not helping because most of the other children are not especially bright. I don't have any classroom support. Should I plan separate objectives for literacy and the foundation subjects? Two children can't even write a sentence. I feel they take up all my time and the others don't get a look in.

A It sounds like you are having a difficult time. I think it would help you if you took a step back and considered a number of strategies.

First, if you haven't done so already, try to discuss your class's needs with the school Senco, head or deputy, to see whether an extra teaching assistant or volunteer help could be allocated to your class.

Second, think about how you use guided reading and writing times, when there should be opportunities to support groups of children at different literacy levels.

It is essential that you identify key learning areas, for particular children and groups, using as your starting point what children can do. The First Steps Reading continuum (see www.myread.orgmonitoring_first.htm) provides developmental descriptions of stages of reading and linked generic teaching approaches. First Steps also publishes similar materials for writing and spelling.

I suggest you plan guided reading using these kinds of approaches for children with difficulties. You can add in further word level activities from the National Literacy Strategy (NLS), as appropriate.

You also need to consider what the rest of the class is doing while you work with a group. I suggest you train your class to work, in groups or pairs, on generic activities they can do without your support - for example, choosing from a box of information, picture or poetry books, creating a 'factfile' or choosing a poem and reading it aloud with a friend.

Lastly, for your whole class literacy lessons, use the NLS text level focuses to choose a single, engaging text for your class to work on. Plan a unit of work to last at least two weeks, using, for example, a narrative poem, picture book or short novel. This supports children at all levels as they become really involved in the text, rather than having to deal with unrelated extracts and activities. Read the text aloud. It can be re-visited in guided sessions, and plan lots of speaking and listening, discussion and drama. Support writing through shared writing, and create frameworks to ensure that all children can make an attempt.

Fit in NLS objectives where appropriate, rather than feeling you have to cover them all, and use planning to support your teaching, rather than letting the plan control you. I think you will be pleased by the results.

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