“All The Critics Love U In New York”

It’s time 4 a new direction

Prince – All The Critics Love U In New York – 1999


On Tuesday 17th October my amazing Headteacher sent me to CamSTAR* Conference 2017.  I picked two sessions that put me out of my comfort zone:

  1. From ‘LOTS’ to ‘HOTS’ – Scaffolding students to higher order thinking skills and better outcomes. Emma Wilkinson, Director of Studies/History teacher, CATS Canterbury; and Louisa Horner, T&L Coordinator, CD Humanities History and Sociology teacher.
  2. DiDiAC – TalkWall: Developing a dialogic classroom. Catherine Davis, Ass Headteacher, Safron Walden Country High School. (I won’t be discussing this session in this blog, hopefully when I use it in my class I will blog then).


If anyone reads my posts regularly you’ll know I dislike anything that isn’t silent writing! It’s easy to criticise an idea/activity without really buying into it. Everyone has an opinion on classroom teaching!

So, for me, the first session was a must. They discussed everything that makes my eyes twitch; flipped learning, group work and activities. Guess what? I think they’ve converted me! I’ve come to realise perhaps my dislike for these types of activities could just be that I’ve been doing them wrong all this time! And the best bit – they’re all differentiated without you doing anything!

1.Hexagons. A series of hexagons are used filled with various pieces of information. The students then use the hexagons to use as a base for a critical analysis essay. Students are given blank hexagons to make secure links.  Each student or group arrange their hexagons differently and make links to other sources or blanks as they see fit.

Why do I like this? You can give students basic scaffolding, however, they add blanks to complete links and main structure. Ensuring their essay is their own work based on their understanding.


2. Students are given a grid of 20 facts. Very detailed. They then have to arrange the 20 facts onto a graph deciding which is the most important at different points.

How can I use this? In English, we study novels and one thing students can find hard is the structure of a story; how has an author created an overall effect. So, for example in A Christmas Carol, I will give my student 5 key events in each stave, then will then mark their graph at the bottom, and along the Y-axis they can add; characters, themes, context, etc in different colours and mark the importance of each at different parts of a story. At the end, they have a clear visual representation of the story. I will then get my students to finish this off with a paragraph evaluating their choices.

In case you were wondering about a graph being confusing, I was thinking like this:


3. A stretch and challenge activity. Again students are given a sheet with 3 facts, in the blank box students need to compare the facts to their own ideas; do they agree with the evidence? If not, what are they basing their argument on? Students have to show an analytical approach. This makes students engage with critical arguments and consider other aspects.


4. Text tiles. This is very similar to the hexagons and are mostly used for flipped learning homework (students need to research a concept/idea, eg read a piece of text, research or watch a video, before the next lesson).  They for example then need to prioritise each tile – which is the most important to the least important. Then evaluate, making a judgement with an exam style question and finally transfer to a written piece of work.


5. Concept task – I’ve already used this one with my A level class. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but I got my students to write an Alevel concept eg Grice’s Maxims in the centre of a page, then they just work their way around the 5 questions answering each one to help them understand. This worked really well. Loved it!



6. Students are given large sheets of paper and in different colours annotate as much as they know about several given topics. Once they can see all the information around them they begin to see patterns, that they can’t often see.


7. Students are given blank grids and fill in with as much information that they know/understand on a given topic, split into subheadings. When finished they then have to arrange and discuss their cards in different orders according to the 2nd resource. You can get students to order the ideas in a different order according to different questions or ideas, does this change their perception of a concept? In English, their questions could easily be adapted to a book/poem students are studying.

8. Students are given an exam style question and then a scaffolded resource to help them develop their critical analysis skills. Students work through the steps, with modelled examples to help them understand how they need to bring all the information together.


Why I liked these so much was the school has seen a rise in the quality of essays written by their students and their results have gone up in their subject. They don’t use these as a 10-minute filler in a lesson. These are planned and created to have a purpose and ultimately help students become analytical in their thinking and writing ability. The activities are used over a period of several lessons, building up to a full written analytical essay.

It’s easy to criticise an idea, but what I can’t argue with is their results have increased because they are writing better critical essays. I suppose (maybe) it depends on how much you’re willing to buy into it.

I will be using these myself as the year progresses.  All of the above can be transferred to other subjects easily.

Thank you for reading!


“Alphabet St”

“Put the right letters together and make a better day”

Prince – Alphabet St – Lovesexy

Leading the way with Literacy

I won’t bore you with why I was asked to be Literacy Lead for my school because I would rather share my journey so far.  Most people in this role know “Literacy” is often confused with English and therefore a tough initiative to buy into for many subjects that have enough on their plate delivering their curriculum. Many of the resources I mention are at the end for you to download.

The Literacy Heritage survey continues to show a clear correlation between attainment and reading enjoyment, frequency and attitudes. The more that can be done to develop and sustain children’s intrinsic motivation to read throughout their school journey, the more success they will enjoy both academically and in future life.

  • 41.4% Key Stage 4 pupils and 45.5% Key Stage 2 pupils reading daily outside class.
  • In 2015, just 40.2% of Key Stage 4 pupils (age 14 to 16) say they enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot, versus 72.6% of Key Stage 2 pupils surveyed (age 8 to 11)
  • Gender gap persists with 61.2% of girls enjoying reading versus 47.8% of boys.

There are various outcomes I would like to achieve in my new role, however, to do that I need to get the whole school, students and parents on board. I’m already beginning to feel nervous! Because of the kind of person I am, I approached my role in the same way I approach everything: methodically.

This is how I decided to do it – you may disagree, and that’s fine, I did what’s right for my school and students:

Define Literacy

Firstly I had to decide what were the aims for our school and what did we want to achieve? I need to help our school develop students’ abilities to read, write and communicate verbally in order to access the curriculum and reach full potential.  In addition, I need to change student and staff attitudes to reading, writing and speaking to promote our school’s ethos/values.

It was clear – I needed to conduct an audit.

Where are we, and where do we want to be?

I needed to establish exactly how I’d conduct the audit. This was the order and criteria I decided on:

Lesson dips  – this consisted of a whole-school 5-10 min lesson drop-in focused on Literacy in the classroom. I viewed nearly every dpt, and in core subjects, both key stages.

Self-evaluation grids – I made up a set of questionnaires for SLT, HODs/Middle leaders, Class teachers, Governors and parents to complete regarding Literacy within the school.

Book sampling – I viewed a selection of books from various subjects, to evaluate evidence, if any, of high Literacy standards from students, and marking for Literacy from teachers.

Conduct pupil interviews – I made up a set of questionnaires for KS3 and 4 students to complete regarding their attitudes to reading and writing (I didn’t include speaking and listening at this point). I had a different set made up for KS5 students.

Analyse data– I used the results and observations from the first four points to see exactly where our school was with regards high Literacy standards and steps needed to move forward.

Identify areas for improvement and set cross-curricular targets – There were many areas that needed attention. Only a few classrooms I visited displayed any type of Literacy awareness (eg posters), but on the positive side all staff modelled high Literacy standards themselves. However, not all books evidenced high literacy expectations from students and few read for pleasure outside of school. It was clear I had a lot to do!

Create an action plan – I found this hard to do. For any new Literacy leads it’s actually a huge job, and for existing leads, it’s tough keeping the momentum going that has been initially established. I decided to tackle Literacy for our school this way:

  • Roll out measurable tasks for data/impact
  • Build a whole school shift in ethos/culture with regards high Literacy standards
  • Departments to take ownership of Literacy within their daily practice
  • Students to take ownership of their own Literacy standards

then eventually (maybe next year) I will move onto:

  • Bridge gap between primary and secondary school
  • Develop links with community/parents

CPD – at some point I will need to provide training and support for staff regarding suitability of texts (eg readability) and quick and easy ways to embed Literacy into their own subjects that will help raise standards.

Monitor progress – once up and running exactly how will I monitor any impact or progress to quantify my efforts.

Evaluate impact – the final strand: at some point I will need to sit down and reflect on which strategies I put in place were effective, which had the most impact but more importantly – why?

This is how I began my journey and some of my ideas/initiatives/strategies

First I defined exactly what is Literacy to my school/students.


  • To create an environment where reading is promoted across the school
  • To provide time in school every week for all pupils to read
  • To support reading through a range of varied and appropriately differentiated reading resources
  • To promote and support reading in non-school hours


  • To provide pupils with a range of challenging writing tasks
  • To provide pupils with ‘real’ audiences and creative writing outlets where possible
  • To support writing with frames or scaffolds where appropriate, and use modelling where possible
  • To ensure grammar, spelling and handwriting are supported in all subjects
  • To promote and support writing outside of school day

Speaking & Listening: 

  • To raise awareness of the importance of speaking and listening across the school
  • To encourage a more systematic approach to the use of speaking and listening tasks in all subjects, including the use of more formalised assessment
  • To provide extra-curricular opportunities for pupils to extend their speaking and listening skills

I searched high and low on twitter, TES,  and Google – but I could NOT find any posters to display in classrooms, so I made my own! Now these did cause a bit of a stir when I posted on twitter with several asking me “how were they inclusive”?  I changed the wording several times and amended some of the points. I then took the posters to our student council, they discussed them and agreed on this version. They didn’t want any images on the posters other than the school ethos logo. The posters will be printed A3 and placed side-by-side in every classroom, I will print in pastel colours for ease of readability.


I made up a calendar of Literacy and awareness dates relevant to our students.


I decided as Literacy Lead I would run the Literacy dates (the column in the middle) with the librarian, but wanted each HOD to select at least one awareness date (column on the right) that they would like to promote or link to their subject – of course they could pick more than one! I would then work with staff to create resources and promote Literacy within each subject. Hopefully having this set up in advance would mean we would be able to produce some relevant and high quality Literacy resources. I didn’t want last minute, poorly thought through bolt-ons that wouldn’t last.  The aim here is to set additional extension style homework/projects for students to complete for the subject. I will upload details onto Show My Homework (if you don’t have this, then use your usual channels), students will be rewarded with achievement points, certificates and possibly prizes for their work. Each task will have the choice of a poster, booklet or presentation to promote the three areas of Literacy. Their work will go on display around the school via noticeboards, parent newsletter and student weekly notices.

I want to create a shift across the school regarding Literacy and create a sort of branding, I turned to twitter and these were all the tags that people came up with to promote Literacy. I appreciate this can appear gimmicky and the problem with gimmicks they rarely last or have any real substance.  However I want students and staff to understand and appreciate the importance of high Literacy standards and by seeing this across the school and on our website, our school would be in a position where this becomes part of our daily life. My contribution was Leading the way with Literacy and until we decide a different one, I will use this in all my subject lines on all emails/parent newsletters. I’m still in the process of narrowing one of these down with my Head/student voice.


I want all departments to focus on Literacy not just the English department.  To do that I came up with the following:

Literacy Star of the Week – I began a Literacy star of the week for parent newsletter and our weekly student notices. It will cover the three areas; reading, writing and speaking&listening.  I email departments weekly (started with Art) asking for staff to nominate a student that has stood out in one of those areas. That’s working well so far! Again students nominated get achievement points, certificates and possibly prizes!

Caught Reading I wanted to make Literacy relevant but playful. It can be difficult to keep these types of initiatives going. So again, I will be running these in subject order. I began with English and created a set of mug shots – this is my English dpt, amongst books read we have fiction, non-fiction, knitting patterns and one member reading to her children. My point is reading isn’t just literature/fiction books.


I decided by doing this by department, I could keep ideas and displays fresh.  I will put a notice in the weekly student notices to match the book ‘blurb’ to a reader/image – students will be rewarded for taking part. Besides mug shots, I have the following ideas for other dpts:

  • ‘Missing; lost in literature’ (Science)
  • ‘Your school needs you’ (Humanities)
  • ‘Wanted’- Read or dead! (Maths)
  • A squad line up of readers (PE)
  • Passport to knowledge and wisdom (SEND/TAs)
  • Match the teacher/shelf (Admin)
  • Get caught reading posters! (Students)

These were the Hums department


I try to change the left [photos] every 2/3 weeks and the right hand side [competitions and winners] every week.


Furthermore for students I will run rewards for top readers with an ‘Oscars’ style display (data can be obtained through the library with stats on books taken out). Again the same rewards apply.

My list of ideas (at the moment is around 70) so I’m not going to list them all but here are some others:

  • S&L – Set up a debate panel, raise importance of S&L in the classroom, students take the lead in assemblies, recite poetry. SALAD days (Speaking And Listening Activity Development).
  • Library – Promote books, new titles, authors etc, run reading and film club, run data on books taken out, promote books relating to a specific topic eg genre or country. Make contact with publishing companies, and local authors to come into school.
  • Writing – Raise the profile of writing via internal or external competitions – there are lots out there! Word of the week-or key vocabulary from our ethos.
  • Reading – book reviews, reading club, reading log book (see @fod3), reward students with free books (see @shadylady222). Encourage all reading, have mini libraries in classrooms/corridors (see @fod3 again).
  • Teachers – SOW to include explicit Literacy, subject specific key vocab, regular mini-tests of Literacy as starters (subject specific text with SPaG errors), marking for Literacy in books.
  • Student – Continual review via student voice, set up an after school club to promote the three strands (I will blog separately on this), quizzes. Get 6th form involved in running some events (eg debate, reading book club),
  • Whole school – Include a specific Literacy section on website to include further help and book lists (KS3/4), in T&L handbook, on subject SOW and submit regular Literacy updates on a dedicated noticeboard and parent newsletter.
  • Promote Literacy – take part in whole school events such as No pens day, DEAR (drop everything and read), national competitions.


The library is possibly the heart of Literacy in a school, yet the only subject that uses our library on a regular basis is English and that’s for dedicated reading lessons in KS3.  What about KS4?  From our 30 (50 min) periods a week only 16 are used, that leaves 14 where other subjects could use the library to research topics, create S&L presentations (on computers) and work as teams in an appropriate learning environment. Part of my action plan will be to get all departments to utilise the library so that eventually 30/30 lessons are booked up.

I have come to realise that many students either ‘pretend’ to read a book, flicking the pages then next lesson select a different book; or they do read it, but aren’t really understanding the text (comprehension skills).  So, for our KS3 library lessons I’ve made up the following booklets and library class sheets to help teachers support students in library lessons. I have to admit I used some ideas from this Accelerator Reader “improving comprehension PDF and a reading challenge booklet @fod3 made; we do use Accelerator Reader at our school.


The main purpose of each of the booklets is for students to read for an amount of time (this can depend on the individual student), after a while they stop and complete a section of the booklet to show understanding.  I have created four slightly different booklets. Students need to write in sentences – try to promote high literacy standards, ask students to consider/remember spelling, grammar and punctuation at all times.

  1. reading-log-1-urgent-intervention  – use with a Teacher/LSA/Group work
  2. reading-log-2-intervention – use with a Teacher/LSA/Group work
  3. reading-log-3-on-watch – some independent work or group work
  4. reading-log-4-on-or-above-target  – independent or group work

I also made up these grids (again using the AR PDF) to ask students questions about their reading habits and understanding of the books they choose. These will help you understand your class and their choices more effectively. These are TICK lists only.

  1. library-class-profile
  2. library-class-questions-to-ask
  3. library-class-reading-habits
  4. AR What is happening in the classroom

Hopefully all of the above will begin to ‘force’ students to understand and think about the words/stories etc and begin to consider choices made by authors. I’ve uploaded word documents so you can edit accordingly for your school.

How do I prove I’m making a difference or the school’s Literacy standards are improving?

All the ideas, initiatives and strategies put in place are pointless if I (or the school) have no way of knowing if they’re effective. My line manager keeps asking how can I quantify the initiatives I’m putting in place, after all some are attitudes. I came up with the following:

  1. Stats on Literacy – compile data eg Literacy starters (record accuracy of student responses), books taken out of library, then compare periodically or at end of academic year.
  2. Educational targets – set by trust to improve Literacy standards over time based on regional or national data?
  3. The comparability of data – across the 3 academies? Or other local schools Regional/National? Compare subjects (book trawls, test results)
  4. Moving from monitoring to direct assessment – eg multiple choice literacy tests on SAM, or standardised paper tests? standardised scores may be more indicative of progress as showing gaps between age and reading age.
  5. Surveys and evaluation questionnaires – once a term to compare attitudes to Literacy (student voice was completed at start of project)
  6. Accelerator Reader – use AR data showing progress across KS3 reading from start of academic year.  AR could be compared against other reading programs such as Suffolk or NFER for accuracy and reliability.
  7. Track students – select a random set of students to track Literacy over a long period of time (gender, ability, PP, SEND, EAL) for example between years 7-9 or 10-11.

Finally, I am only new to this post so the majority of the above is in its initial stages. I will keep you posted!

Here are some resources mentioned above:

Here’s some other useful resources used to help:

Finally – another great Literacy blog Why I love…Rethinking Literacy