Inspiring Language and Grammar teaching: an English Leader's view
As the English Lead for our large school, Westlands Primary in Essex, I know that grammar and vocabulary is an issue for many of our children. Around a quarter of our pupils have English as a second language and many seem to hit a barrier around Year 2 or 3. With only 25% of our children arriving in EYFS with the ‘expected’ knowledge and skills in language too, our team knew it was essential to get it right from the offset (Wellcomm Assessment Baseline).
As an English team of three experienced teachers, we have spent many an hour wracking our brains to find a ‘more interesting’ way to teach the good old ‘Appendix 2’. Yet, despite CPD sessions and a whole school focus, the children still seemed to be completing a plethora of random worksheets on every aspect from ‘expanded noun phrases’ to ‘the passive voice’: this certainly helped them to do well in tests, but it wasn’t having as much an impact on them as writers. On top of this, many of our teachers still showed that shifty look in their eye when the ‘G’ word was mentioned, and more than a few freely admitted that they weren’t quite sure of it all themselves.
The year before, we had taken part in (and fallen in love with) CLPE’s ‘Power of Reading’ programme. We were revitalised in our approaches to teaching a truly text-based curriculum, and our children were doing us proud, as always, with their enthusiasm and immersion in the high-quality books we were using. When we spotted that CLPE also ran a course on ‘Language and Grammar in a Rich Reading Curriculum', we were certain that this was the next step for us.
Initially, we wanted to upskill our whole teaching staff, so we booked a short version of the course as an INSET early in the year. Primary Advisory teacher, Jonathan Rodgers, could not have hit the note better, and we all had a shared understanding of how we wanted grammar, and indeed language, to be accessed by our children. Drawing our key teaching from the texts used made so much sense (why hadn’t we looked at it this way around before!?). There was immediate impact with the teachers and many ‘lightbulb moments’; the key to understanding it lay in the pages of those lovely books we were sharing with the children every day.
As an English team, we knew that more CPD was needed across the year to embed this approach, so we also embarked on the Language and Grammar long course for all three of us. This meant we could really develop our own subject knowledge across year groups and could therefore better support the whole school. The year long programme, run by Anjali Patel, Lead Advisory Teacher at CLPE, offered us so much in terms of embedding language and grammar within our teaching, rather than it feeling like an add-on. After each session we could share these ideas with our teachers and upskill them as we went through the year, especially as there were so many resources available for each year group. The added bonus was the progressive way that the course unfolded, starting with EYFS and leading up to Year 6. This tied in beautifully with how we were building our English curriculum, and gave all members of the English team a deeper understanding of how knowledge and skills develop.
More than anything, the training has made us question the texts we choose to share and to really think about what we can show the children from it, or better still, help them to discover for themselves. Across each year group we want the texts to increasingly challenge the pupils so that they are ready to progress to the next step. We are also thinking much more critically about how we develop our readers and writers across year groups. Many of our pre-Power of Reading class texts have fallen by the wayside as we have found them lacking in the language models we wanted. It would be fair to say that some teachers have found this a little harder than others to embrace. BUT (and it’s a big but) teachers are much more confident in delivering the language and grammar curriculum than ever before.
All of this sounds great, I hear you cry... but what about the children? Well, I am thrilled to report that those worksheets are a thing of the past and our classrooms are full of little people who can talk about language with confidence and be selective and critical of the words, phrases and clauses that they want to use.
Are we done yet? No, of course not! There is always more to learn and new staff to support, but we are extremely happy that we are heading in the right direction. And extremely happy that CLPE have given us the tools to get there (and yes I am aware that I chose to start my sentence with a conjunction... but if it’s good enough for one of my Year 2's who told me ‘I know most people would use ‘and’ in the middle but I thought it sounded better at the beginning!’... then it’s good enough for me!).