Innovative practice - A new chapter

4th January 2013 at 00:00
A revamped modern library and a cross-curricular approach to literacy that are well worth reading about

The background

Ofsted inspections now have a greater focus on literacy, and pupils are marked on the accuracy of their spelling, punctuation and grammar in some GCSE papers. But Hardenhuish School was already embracing literacy teaching across the curriculum. Over the past 18 months it has rolled out new schemes for pupils and staff, at the heart of which has been the refurbishment of the school library. Now a contemporary research facility, it was opened by the Poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, in December 2012.

The project

The project started in 2011 with an Inset day, during which departments were asked to carry out a literacy audit and set targets for improving their focus on literacy skills. Head of English Matt Hall then wrote a whole-school action plan, setting out activities for the next three years.

Pupils now practise their speaking, reading and writing in history, art and music as well as learning subject-specific content.

In the first year, teachers aimed to create a wider culture of literacy: for example, by displaying key words in classrooms.

In the second year, the focus will be on embedding literacy teaching across all subjects. Tips on being a good writer will be displayed in classrooms and children's planners.

Every department has links with an English teacher from whom they can seek advice about improving the literacy skills in their subject.

The library, once an old-fashioned space, now features soft furnishings and pod-style seating to make it an appealing place for pupils to work and study in. The aim was to transform it into a research hub and multi-modal resource.

Teachers have sought to encourage children's reading with initiatives such as DEAR (drop everything and read) weeks. They have also launched literacy competitions for the whole school.

Elsewhere, teachers discuss the books they have been reading with pupils and subject leaders are mapping the key stage 3 literacy framework across their schemes of work.

Hall is leading a rolling programme of staff continuing professional development, focusing on teaching, speaking, listening, reading and writing in cross-curricular contexts.

Teachers in other subject areas are encouraged to develop a writing showcase folder containing examples of pupils' work. Each subject area identifies key pieces of work to mark against literacy as well as subject-specific targets.

Tips from the scheme

Do everything possible to make an initiative such as this relevant to the other subject areas.

Have a high-profile event to raise enthusiasm about the project.

Ask pupils to contribute to a newsletter or school magazine.

Encourage visits by authors and poets to help children understand that literacy doesn't happen only in the English classroom.

Evidence that it works

"Since the library reopened, the number of pupils using it has rocketed. Lunchtimes are packed - with huge numbers of pupils keen to curl up on a beanbag with the latest novel or use the facilities for research," Hall says.

"We have also seen an unprecedented increase in the number of books being borrowed. Particularly pleasing has been the increase in boys' borrowing."

Hardenhuish's head Jan Hatherell adds: "Nowadays we get at least 150 young people using the library on a daily basis, which is fantastic. That wasn't the case previously. We wanted this to be a really positive space."

THE PROJECT

Approach: Helping to repackage the way teachers think about literacy and ensuring that it is taught in a cross-curricular way

Started: 2011

Leader: Matt Hall, head of English

THE SCHOOL

Name: Hardenhuish School, Chippenham, Wiltshire

Number of pupils: 1,726

Age range: 11-18

Intake: Varied socio-economic backgrounds. More pupils join or leave the school after the start of Year 7 than is the national average. There are few pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds and few learn English as an additional language

Overall Ofsted rating: Outstanding (2008).

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