Literacy framework gains early welcome

6th December 1996 at 00:00
A highly-detailed Government literacy programme which could influence the shape of a future national curriculum has been leaked to The TES. The document may prove controversial because it sets out what primary teachers should cover each term. But experts have welcomed the fact that it strikes a careful balance between reading for meaning and skills such as phonics.

The National Literacy Project's framework for teaching, to come into use in some 200 schools next month, fleshes out the current national curriculum with term-by-term targets in phonics and word recognition skills, grammar, and the range of fiction and non-fiction to which children should be exposed. It also makes close links between reading and writing.

The Government set up 13 literacy centres and 12 numeracy centres in 25 local education authorities s this year in response to what it saw as poor national curriculum test results and a report from the Office for Standards in Education criticising literacy teaching in inner London.

All children and teachers in participating schools will be involved, and at the heart of both schemes is an hour a day of direct and exclusive teaching of either reading and writing or number skills, with a combination of group work and whole-class teaching.

Training of two "consultants" for each LEA and two key teachers for each school is currently taking place, under the guidance of national literacy centre director John Stannard, a seconded HMI, and national numeracy centre director Anita Straker. Each school will audit its needs with the consultant, listing its strengths and weaknesses, examining how children's progress is being assessed and how the head monitors the work of staff.

An action plan is then drawn up, setting targets for such things as improved test scores, more effective use of non-fiction in the Juniors and more efficient teaching "resulting in a greater proportion of work with large groups or the whole class".

The literacy document also requires careful observation and assessment of each child, with a 15-minute conference each half-term.

Sue McCaldon, one of Manchester LEA's two literacy centre consultants, said the response from teachers had been "amazing". There were already improvements in schools after the training weeks this term, even though the project does not officially start until next term. Teachers were less worried about the demands after they had undergone the training and liked having for the first time "a firm framework they can work to", she said.

"At the moment, we are going into a Year 2 class and perhaps seeing capital letters and full stops being taught, and then going into a Year 4 class and seeing the same thing", she said. "This helps clarify the progression of children". It not only sets out the basic skills, but requires the development of more advanced understanding of literature and their own writing of older children. Government advisers have criticised schools for neglecting these aspects in the Juniors.

The framework is still a working document and will be refined and modified over time.

In addition to the specific phonic skills to be taught each year, it gives lists of sight vocabulary which children should learn. In Reception, this includes: I, up, here, look, cat, dog, was and said. The Years 1 and 2 list includes: brother, about, an, house, don't, good, and school.

Language specialist Sue Palmer, editor of the Longman Book Project, was very enthusiastic about the balance required by the framework, its link between reading and writing, and its general structure, but thought it had gone overboard on phonics. Ms Palmer, who writes about phonics and spelling in The TES, said there was a risk of overloading both teachers and pupils, particularly less able children. "It is difficult getting the balance between linguistic niceties and what you can expect young children to take in and what you can expect teachers to cope with."

She feared teachers well-versed in teaching literacy would feel frustrated by the amount of prescription. For instance, some might disagree with the order in which points of grammar are introduced. It may also be hard to make the literacy and numeracy hours fit in with other class work. The literacy scheme was unlikely to correspond with any existing reading scheme, she said.

Aims and expectations of the new initiative

Here are two examples of what primary pupils will cover under the draft framework.

Year 1, Term 2 (age 6) includes:

* Comprehension and composition: Read traditional stories and rhymes, fairy stories, stories and poems with familiar, predictable and patterned language;

Point while reading and make correspondence between words said and read, predict text, check reading for sense and identify errors; list and order key story events and discuss causes of incidents; learn and recite poems and re-read from the texts.

Write from reading, substitute and extend patterns through language play.

Non-fiction: information books and simple dictionaries.

Begin noticing differences between fact and fiction books, predict what a book might be about by looking at covers and title; understand the purpose of dictionaries.

Write to assemble information from own experience.

* Grammar and punctuation: Expect reading to make sense and check if it does not; use awareness of grammatical sense to decipher new words (in conjunction with phonic and contextual knowledge); know the word "sentence".

* Phonics and spelling: Use rhymes and chants; through shared reading and writing, see and hear words simultaneously, recognise critical features of words, such as shape, ascenders. Explore words with same initial consonant clusters; build words with different initial clusters which rhyme.

Read on sight simple high-frequency words; list new words from reading; make word banks linked to specific topics; practise handwriting in conjunction with spelling and writing; forming letters in a style that eases joining-up later.

Year 4, Term 3 (age 9) includes:

* Comprehension and composition: Read short stories, short novels that raise issues such as bullying, bereavement, injustice; identify and discuss issues, link to own feelings and experience; consider pros and cons of characters' predicaments; use stories from other cultures to widen pupils' understanding; draw up plot profiles in how story events are built into climaxes and resolutions; relate to text organisation.

Write a story linked to reading; respond to issues; write alternative outcomes of stories read;

Read persuasive writing, adverts, information books; compare and evaluate examples of arguments, such as letters to the editor, flyers; investigate how arguments are presented; in writing, prepare written points to present a point of view.

* Grammar and punctuation: Use awareness of grammar to decipher new words; to understand the need for grammatical agreement (eg "I am", "We are"); to read own writing for grammatical sense; to appreciate word order; to investigate typical language used in arguments; to revise work on nouns, pronouns and verbs.

* Phonics, spelling and vocabulary: proof-read own writing, keep lists of misspelt words; use vocabulary extension work to introduce more interesting or accurate words in own writing. Learn independent spelling strategies.

Practise spelling of regular polysyllabic words ("important", "dinner"), continue investigating words with common syllable and meaning links ("ventilator", invent", "prevent").

Practise handwriting in conjunction with spelling practice.

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