'It's never gone away in primaries'

23rd November 1995 at 00:00
Carolyn Tanfield, a teacher at Longlands primary in Shropshire, reckons that language across the curriculum has never gone away in primary schools. "It's an approach that's always been intrinsic to how we deal with language."

As English co-ordinator at Longlands, she has been co-opted on to the language across the curriculum steering group at the nearby The Grove secondary in an attempt to improve continuity between the two phases on language matters.

She was also one of the visiting speakers at The Grove's recent training day on reading. Longlands, a pleasant open-plan school, is just a few minutes' walk from the secondary school, to which most of its pupils go at 11.

With less fierce subject demarcation at this stage, whole school co-ordination of language issues should certainly be easier. Yet there's a tendency among some primary teachers to make such a claim, but to have no detailed plan to ensure the idea is rooted in practice.

There's clearly no such omission at Longlands. Earlier this year Carolyn Tanfield compiled a policy document for English which outlined a whole-school approach designed to ensure continuity in teaching the knowledge, understanding and skills needed for speaking, listening, reading and writing.

It followed her review of reading in the school carried out the previous summer. In an extensive questionnaire teachers were asked about their aims, their views on resourcing and on the "reading environment", the types of reading activities they used, their assessment procedures.

The children were also quizzed - about where they liked to read ("On the toilet," was one girl's reply), what they read apart from books, how they practised reading, to whom they read, how they chose a book, and how they knew if a book would suit them ("I wait three days," one boy said).

The review uncovered certain problems which have since been tackled, such as initial under-achievement by boys, a shortage of texts for the older less able children, and areas of the school that were not conducive to quiet reading. But it also revealed a broad consensus on aims and good practice.

"Language is the cornerstone, and we now have an agreed approach across the school," Carolyn Tanfield says. This involves ensuring children have the chance to read in a variety of contexts for a variety of purposes, to promote their confidence, fluency, and effectiveness in self-expression.

So there is regular silent reading at the start of each session, as well as reading aloud. Attention is paid to how reading is used in, say, charts for maths, recipes in cooking, design sheets in technology. There's also a focus on language use, and helping children to skim and scan when necessary.

Overall, the school accepts the Bullock finding that there is "no one method, medium, approach, device or philosophy that holds the key" to the process of learning to read.

"Our approach is saturation bombing," Carolyn Tanfield says. "We"ll try anything that works."

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