Teaching Literacy in the Primary School
All elements of literacy are inter-related. This essay will examine the reading process and how the teaching of speaking, listening, writing and reading all influence pupils’ development in many ways. One pupil’s language and literacy development will be explored in this context, with a particular emphasis on his reading progression. Literacy is the ability to use language to communicate one’s ideas expressively, through speaking and writing and receptively, through listening and reading. (Palmer, S 2003). The Department for Education (2012) explains that pupils’ acquisition of language allows them to access learning across the curriculum.
Notably, reading aids pupil’s development culturally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Since 1988 and the introduction of the National Curriculum, the government have overseen the teaching of English and literacy in schools. It was not until the publication of The Rose Review in 2006 however, that a standard strategy for teaching reading was devised. In his report, Rose reviewed the way early reading was taught and advised that all children should have a secure foundation of phonics knowledge so that they are able to link graphemes to phonemes and blend these into words.
As a result, it became statutory for schools to use a daily, systematic, synthetic style of teaching phonics. To help schools instigate this new teaching style, the Communication, Language and Literacy Development Plan (CLLD) was introduced in 2006. Local authorities were given trained consultants, often teachers, who could model high quality phonics teaching and ensure the findings of the Rose Review were implemented effectively.
Ofsted (2010) reported, that several schools, from a sample demonstrating ‘outstanding’ practice in their teaching of early literacy, used a scheme such as ‘Letters and Sounds’, published by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in 2007. These schemes initially teach phonemes alongside their written representation (graphemes), followed by the skill of blending and segmenting graphemes to write and decode individual words. It is widely recognised that the teaching of phonics enables children to decode words, but does not teach an understanding of vocabulary. The skill of decoding is not enough to enable children to read effectively.
Rose (2006) also observed this in his review, “Different kinds of teaching are needed to develop word recognition skills from those that are needed to foster the comprehension of written and spoken language. ” Wyse and Parker (2010), cited by the Institute of Education (2012), argue in favour of “contextualised teaching”, which begins by looking at whole texts that pupils can relate to, thus motivating them to read independently. They claim that although important, the teaching of phonics, in a way where it is exaggerated above all other elements, comes with serious risk and that children’s language skills develop best through classroom talk.
Until recently, the importance of Speaking and Listening was overlooked by many schools. Ofsted (2005) reported that the teaching of speaking and listening had been neglected and the range of contexts in which children are given the opportunity to converse with their peers was constrained. It is crucial to understand that as each strand of literacy is equally important, a child who struggles to communicate verbally will have difficulty in communicating or understanding concepts in written form. Douglas (2009) observes, “…Speaking and listening skills underpin all learning and are the start of all other literacy skills.”
Rose (2006) observed, “Schools provide massive opportunities and unique advantages for developing speaking and listening skills. ” Activities such as talking partners develop children’s vocabulary by getting them to share their ideas about set questions in short bursts, throughout the lesson. This technique can be integrated into the teaching of any concept across the curriculum, meaning the opportunities to acquire new language are infinite. Drama is part of the Speaking and Listening strand of the National Literacy Strategy.
McMaster (1998) explains that it is an invaluable tool as it supports every aspect of literacy development. Drama can extend vocabulary; develop decoding and conversational skills; and improve understanding of syntax, as well as metacognitive knowledge. Drama also aids personal, social and emotional development (PSED). By engaging in situations as if they were real, children build the confidence to express themselves and develop creativity and empathy. These attributes are closely associated with reading development, as they facilitate comprehension and response (Wagner, B. 1988; Vygotsky, S. 1976 cited by McMaster, J. 1998)
Poetry is also a useful tool to improve pupils’ personal, social and emotional development (PSED). Children should be encouraged to believe that poetry is a normal human activity, a very intense one and an activity that people often resort to at crucial times in their lives… which shows its central importance. (Longley, M. 2008 cited by McLeish, J. 2008) In Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and Key Stage 1, learning nursery rhymes and other simple poems and songs assists the development of phonological awareness.
The repeated rhythm and rhyme patterns develop an understanding of how words can be broken into syllables. The next stage is to understand that each syllable is made up of a structure of sounds, onsets (the initial phoneme) and rimes (the remaining sound in the syllable. ) Wilson (2005) believes this is a fundamental skill to develop if a child is to blend and segment efficiently. Sharing poetry and re-telling stories provide the basis for the “Talk for Writing” initiative, developed by The National Strategies (2010), in conjunction with Pie Corbett.
The National Strategies explain “…good readers learn about the skills of writing from their reading and draw (consciously or unconsciously) upon its models in their own work…. ” Reciting poetry and rhymes, and re-telling stories enable children to internalise language (referred to as imitation) so that it can later be reused in their own writing automatically. Once this skill is mastered, children can continue to change parts of the story (innovation) using aids such as story maps and shared writing. The final stage is invention, at this point pupils use the language and writing styles they acquired to create their own pieces of writing.
In his early workshops, Corbett (2008) stated that these approaches to learning also work extremely well when teaching children to write in a non-fictional context. The use of speaking and listening is also an invaluable tool when teaching children with special educational needs (SEN). Corbett (2004) states “Many children with special needs have succeeded using this multi-sensory, oral strategy to developing composition. ” These children need as many opportunities as possible to internalise new vocabulary and writing styles that may be unfamiliar.
The same is applicable to pupils who are learning English as an additional language (EAL). These children have the extra hurdle of comprehending vocabulary and writing styles that may differ greatly to that found in their first language. Cummins (1999) explains, “There are clear differences in acquisition and developmental patterns between conversational language and academic language, or BICS (basic interpersonal communicative skills) and CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency). ” Children generally develop BICS within two years of immersion in the target language, providing they spend much of their time in school interacting with native speakers.
However, it typically takes children between five and seven years to develop CALP and therefore be working at a linguistic level similar to their native speaking peers. It is therefore vital to provide a wide, varied range of opportunities for students to converse. The DFES (2004) explains, “Bilingualism is an asset, and the first language has a continuing and significant role in identity, learning and the acquisition of additional languages. ” Children who are truly bilingual will often work at a higher academic level than those who speak one language.
Child C is a six year old boy. He is a native English speaker, although he does have developmental problems with his speech and is currently seeing a speech therapist. He lives with both his parents and his two brothers, aged seven and two. The following information has been sourced from interviews with his teachers and mother, his speech and language reports and his records of attainment. Permission from C’s parents and school were sought in order to include him in this study, and for reasons of confidentiality his anonymity will be respected throughout. C was born nine days late with no issues at birth.
C refused solid food until about 10 months of age, and his mother explained that he has always expressed a dislike for food that requires a lot of chewing. It was suggested to C’s parents that this may be a contributing factor to his speech difficulties. C started ‘babbling’ at about 22 months, experimenting with sounds and a few words. His mother was able to understand his attempts to communicate by around 3 years of age, although other members of his family and the practitioners at his nursery school struggled to understand him, this caused C to become greatly frustrated and stressed when trying to express his wants and needs.
It was at this point that C was referred for speech therapy. He was also referred for hearing tests which did not uncover any auditory problems. C and his older brother have shared books with their parents before bedtime since C was 2 years old. His mother explained that neither of the boys demonstrated a strong interest for books and requests to be read to, apart from before bed, were infrequent. C’s lack of interest was also observed by his EYFS teacher, as a result C was initially only given one book a week to share at home, as more than this tended to overwhelm him and generate a refusal read at all.
It was also noted in the early months of EYFS, C disliked contributing to group discussion or conversing extensively with his peers as a result of insecurity about his speech problems. He felt much more confident talking to adults on a one to one basis. C left EYFS with a reading level higher than the national average for his age group, although lower than that of most of his classmates. His ability to blend and segment graphemes was good, meaning he was able to read and write a range of simple words.
His ability to form particular cluster sounds orally remains an issue, but his confidence to communicate with his peers and contribute to group work has improved significantly. As a result, his range of vocabulary and comprehension has also improved. C has continued with his speech therapy in KS1 and he receives daily interventions with a teaching assistant to help with his sound formation. C’s current class teacher has observed that his reading has significantly improved recently; C will now read quite complex sentences with some expression, using a range of decoding techniques such as segmenting and looking at accompanying pictures.
C recently read a short passage to the rest of his class, demonstrating his improved reading skills and confidence levels. In conclusion, speaking, listening, reading and writing are all of equal importance. The strategies, tools and initiatives explored in this essay help children develop their reading skills. Each strand can be built upon each other to develop a pupil’s literacy development as a whole. Being literate is essential if a child is to access all areas across the curriculum.