Literacy Hour at Haveley Hey

11th April 1997 at 01:00
It is 11 o'clock at Haveley Hey Junior School, in Wythenshawe,a deprived area of Manchester, and the announcement of "Literacy hour" is greeted with an enthusiastic round of "yeahs" from Year 6 pupils.

They begin by reading and dissecting, as a class, a short passage from Charlotte's Web, checking on unfamiliar vocabulary ("rapidly", "orchard" and "asparagus" are queried by some), and looking at how the story gathers pace as it moves from description to action. Still attentive, they study sentence length, on the overhead projector, and start to identify conjunctions, before moving off into small groups to investigate worksheets.

"We never learnt about things like conjunctions before, but it's helpful if you want to be a writer when you're older, or just writing a story at school, " says Lauren, 10. "I enjoy Literacy Hour because it's good stories we work on."

"Before, we just worked on our own," says Kate, 11, "and if you were stuck, you just asked Sir the questions. Now we work together more."

"I like working in groups," adds Claire, 11, "because you get to share each other's ideas and you get more words right because other people can help you."

Grouping the children by ability and leaving them to work independently for up to half an hour is a change in classroom practice for Year 6 teacher Mike Bongard, the school's project co-ordinator. Instead of patrolling the class and sorting out individual difficulties, he spends 15 minutes teaching two of the five groups; this morning, for instance, he introduces the top group to the idea of subordinate clauses.

"When we started, some teachers were worried that children, particularly from this sort of year, wouldn't have the skills to get on on their own. But it's been less of a problem than they thought, and already the children are concentrating better.

"I like the project because it has helped me focus in much more detail, and I'm doing more direct teaching. The children like it because of the pace and the variety; in the past, we've expected them to sit and do too lengthy a task too often."

OFSTED inspectors, visiting before Easter, were impressed by the project work, and believed it would raise standards greatly in a short time, he said.

Ric Priestley, the headteacher, is convinced that this highly focused method of teaching is already paying dividends, in a school where national test results are well below the national average (forcing them to pitch the framework somewhat lower).

One of its advantages, he says, is that the more able children, "who traditionally have had a raw deal", can be stretched more, through the group work.

"There were some reservations about how prescriptive the framework was, " says Mr Priestley. "But if our staff is anything to go by, after the changes of the last four or five years teachers are a bit more receptive now to being told what to teach."

"I was worried I would find it too prescriptive," adds Mike Bongard, "but in fact it's interesting, it's varied, it's focused, and I'm finding it really stimulating."

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