The literacy hour is working out, says Sue Palmer, although a few thorny questions keep cropping up. So here are some answers.
Q: My class's shared work is constantly disrupted by one child with behavioural problems. Am I allowed to withdraw that child during the literacy hour?
A: All the evidence shows that children with special needs really benefit from shared reading and writing, so avoid withdrawing the child if at all possible. Ask a colleague to observe your literacy hour, looking for ways to adjust teaching methods or classroom organisation to involve the child. If nothing can be done, then for the rest of the class's sake withdrawal might be the only option - but keep reviewing progress with a view to inclusion again as soon as possible.
Q: My children's independent work is very scrappy. Twenty minutes isn't long enough, so they never seem to finish anything and their standard of writing is slipping rather than improving.
A: When setting work, bear these factors in mind:
* Is it appropriate and possible for the children to finish in the time, but challenging enough to engage their attention?
* Have I prepared the children well enough? The best independent work relates directly to your teaching in the shared session.
* If it's not finished in literacy hour, when will it be finished (eg, in the hall at break time)? If pupils know they can get away with unfinished work they will. Don't tolerate low expectations on your part or theirs.
* If you want to set work you know will take longr than 20 minutes, try setting it over two or even three days, or use time outside the hour. Or you could occasionally give a longer stint of independent time, by cutting back on shared work or extending the hour by 15 minutes.
Q: Is it all right to do the literacy hour for four days a week, leaving Friday for extended writing?
A: Extended writing is important, especially for preparing for SATs, when 20 minutes isn't going to be enough. But the best way to improve writing overall is more focused teaching methods. Throughout the year, you can run some literacy hours like "writing workshops", helping children concentrate on particular aspects of writing:
* Choose the teaching objective, eg creating a character; story openings or endings; writing an argument * Teach the objective in the shared section of the hour, linking to children's reading of real texts and giving examples through shared writing.
* Set focused writing tasks appropriate to children's ability (during this time, you can work closely with one group).
* Revisit your objectives with the children to see how well they have achieved them.
Some objectives may need a sequence of workshops or slightly extended independent time. Occasionally - for instance, when practising writing a complete story or report - children may need to write for a whole hour. But there is no point in having a regular weekly hour of extended writing just for the sake of it.
John Stannard is director of the National Literacy Strategy