by Matthew Clark, Headteacher, West Malling CE Primary School and The McGinty Speech and Language Centre
As a one-form entry primary school with a specialist resource provision for developmental language disorder in mid-Kent, West Malling CE Primary School and The McGinty Speech and Language Centre has spent the last twelve months developing their understanding of the CLPE’s Power of Reading programme. In our latest blog, Headteacher Matthew Clark examines the impact Power Of Reading has had on reading and writing outcomes in the school.
Why did you look to the Power Of Reading?
The writing outcomes throughout our school have stubbornly sat behind our reading results and over the last five years our attempts to remedy this pattern, be it through re-examining our teaching for spelling, grammar, talk for writing and genre, we have seen modest improvement. Throughout our reviews of teaching writing we have come back to a common theme – the significant vocabulary gap that some of our children face on arrival at school. For a school community with 23% of children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or at SEN Support (where the national average is 14.9%), with the vast majority of those needs related to Speech, Language and Communication, the vocabulary gap is even more profound . So when our writing leader Laura Sands and I arrived at the CLPE for Day one of the Power of Reading training in October 2018 we did so with great hope that we would be able to crack the challenge of creating great writers.
There is possibly something of an oxymoron in hoping that professional development in reading would impact on our children’s writing, but it has, and after just six months of classes working with the programme's recommended books and detailed lesson plans, we are already seeing the benefits. Most classes, including Years 1, 5 and 6 have seen an increase of between 12% and 23% in the number of children reaching the expected standard in writing. The impact of using quality texts with the children in our Speech and Language Centre has also been significant with a majority of children making more rapid progress than we might otherwise anticipate.
But, how? And what has Power of Reading brought to your school?
An increased knowledge of current children’s literature: as busy teachers, planning and assessing learning, it isn’t always easy to keep up-to-date with the best in children’s publishing. The lesson plans are developed around some of the most engaging texts available. Without Power of Reading our children wouldn’t have gone on a journey with Shackleton and his crew through William Grill's Shackleton's Journey (Flying Eye Books), and then learned about the Arctic.
Dynamic writing teaching: the lesson plans have provided our teachers and children with a wealth of approaches to engage with text, from drama, one-line poetry, character description to design activities which keep the pace of learning high. Because the approaches vary from day-to-day, children enjoy the variety and ask “What will happen next?” themselves. Teachers' professional development and their conversations have been stimulated by the lesson plans.
A revolution in the quality of our reading environment: right from the first day we were clear that our reading areas in the classrooms were little more than bookshelves with books which hadn’t been replaced for nearly a decade. As the year has unfolded each class has spent £400 on books and up to £150 on improving their reading environment. Whether it’s a reading tree in our Reception class or a reading room with a view into the woods in Year Six, the children are relishing the chance to read new books which have been hand-picked from the CLPE Core Books list.
A breadth of backgrounds of story: as an underlying principle, Power of Reading strives to not only show how books can be a “mirror” for children and help them reflect on their lives, it also shows how books can be a “window” and help children look at the lives of others and increase their empathy and understanding. Our Key Stage One children have especially loved engaging with Zeraffa Giraffa by Diane Hofmeyr (Frances Lincoln Books), which tells the story of a giraffe given as a present to the King of France and the journey it takes from the African Savannah, up the River Nile and across the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin’s graphic novel Illegal (Hodder Children's Books) has also been well-thumbed in several classrooms, with children talking about the challenges of migration.
A reminder of reading for pleasure for ourselves as adults who read: Laura has advocated Power of Reading herself after having read some of the recommended texts as part of the course and has passed them onto colleagues as well as establishing a book group for staff. I’ve loved reading Nikesh Shukla’s collection of essays in The Good Immigrant and Sarah Crossan’s verse novel Moonrise (Bloomsbury), and would never have known about these texts without the recommendation of the CLPE team.
As a school we have been so impressed by the early impact of Power of Reading that we move into our second year with another teacher undertaking the four-day training course and our Early Years team getting involved with the course on Closing the Vocabulary Gap in the Early Years.
We would commend Power of Reading to any school looking for positive impact on their reading and writing culture.
[i] Meredith Rowe, 2008, “Child-Directed Speech: Relation to Socioeconomic Status, Knowledge of Child Development and Child Vocabulary Skill.” Journal of Child Language 35 (01) (January 3)