Sounds like a good read

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
For the first time in its history, a West Lothian primary has bettered the national average in literacy.A West Lothian primary school in a deprived area is celebrating a remarkable breakthrough - for the first time in its history, it has matched or bettered the national average in reading.

Two years ago, Addiewell Primary became the first school in the country to introduce an American literacy programme specially designed to ensure "no child gets left behind". The result is that, this year, no class was significantly below the national average in reading. And three classes - P2-4 - were doing significantly better than average.

The school's achievement comes as literacy problems once again capture the headlines: one in five children leaves school unable to read properly, as highlighted in the Channel 4 Lost for Words campaign.

Last week, it documented the year-long struggle of East London headteacher Lynna Thompson to eradicate illiteracy at Monteagle Primary in Dagenham. She introduced a synthetic phonics expert.

At Addiewell Primary - and at St Thomas' Primary which is located on the same site - the American Success for All programme was introduced. Addiewell, according to Ruth Malcolm, the headteacher, is classified as an area of high deprivation. When she took up her post four years ago, she found a school full of children who had no desire to read.

"It would be reading time and it would be a case of: 'Oh no!' There was no enthusiasm or motivation to want to read."

Both Addiewell and St Thomas' were attracted to SFA, she said, because of its proven track record in schools facing "challenging circumstances". The fact it was based on co-operative learning was regarded as another bonus.

Pupils at the schools start on Success for All after they have passed level A. They are placed in one of six groups depending on their reading and writing ability - not their age. Each group reads approximately one book every week and completes the tasks associated with it, which involve reading, writing, listening and talking.

"It's not just reading aloud - it's about understanding and developing high order skills," Mrs Malcolm said.

Most of the time, pupils work in pairs or small groups. They read aloud to their partners who provide feedback and sum up what they have heard.

By supporting each other, they learn more, said Karen Weir, their teacher. "If they are teaching and helping each other, they tend to retain a lot more."

Their social skills have also improved, she said: "SFA teaches them to co-operate and you see the effect in the playground."

Evaluations of Success for All in the US and England have shown an increase in reading scores, greater motivation and engagement in reading, and improved classroom behaviour.

West Lothian educational psychologists, who have examined the scheme, acknowledge that allowing pupils to give each other feedback can be risky.

"It's not easy to receive constructive criticism," the psychologists comment. "We assume people don't mind being told to improve this, that or the other, but it can be hard to take."

They have trained some of the children in self- and peer assessment, and advised that more training be carried out.

The school should soon have the evidence it needs to back up its judgment, as a full evaluation of the programme is to be carried out.

"I couldn't prove that Success for All is improving attainment and results, but we know it is," Mrs Malcolm said.

WHAT PUPILS THINK

Working in pairs takes a lot of the pressure off, say Addiewell and St Thomas' pupils.

"It's embarrassing reading in front of the whole class," said Kirsty, 10, whose partner is Jack, 8. "Also, if your partner is reading and gets stuck on a couple of words, you can help them."

Next door, James, 10, Melissa, 8, and Catherine, 11, listened to Alan, 11, read a piece of writing he had written. James felt Alan needed to speak more loudly. Melissa was less diplomatic: "What did he say?" she asked, giggling.

For Alan's part, he survived the critique of his reading. Immediately afterwards, he still felt working together was "easier".

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