English at Alexander First School
It is with great determination that we strive to engender a lifelong love of reading and language through the immersion of stories and texts that interest, inspire and excite our children.
We strive for children to read a variety of genres and use these as models for their own writing. The staff at Alexander First School are committed to providing a reading culture and supporting children in developing good reading habits that will support them throughout their education, in their personal life and beyond. It is our vision that these exciting materials and opportunities will inspire our children to write. Encouraging children of all abilities to emulate the writing styles of famous authors and in turn inspiring a generation of children to use word choice and style to engage the reader and eventually lead to them being innovators of their own masterpieces, producing writing that they feel proud to read aloud; knowing that others will enjoy it.
The English Subject Lead Team
We believe we have the ability to enthuse and motivate the children and teachers here at Alexander First School due to our collective passion, deep knowledge and love of literature.
In every aspect of the curriculum, English can be found. Our children need to be confident speakers, listeners, readers and writers and need opportunities to use and practise these skills in every subject. The English curriculum and the teaching of it has never been more prominent and we are dedicated to ensuring that our children leave Alexander First School having the knowledge and skills to be literate citizens in our fast paced, ever changing world.
The main priority for the English subject lead team is that our intent of delivering an English curriculum that is about a love of language is well embedded. We want our subject to be a medium to transport our pupils to places and contexts outside their realm of knowledge and empower them to question and challenge the world around them.
Reading for pleasure is at the heart of all that we do here at Alexander First School and we have pupils that have developed the habit and passion for reading regularly and widely. The vast array of opportunities supports the children in becoming skilled in reading, but most importantly our children experience getting lost in the pages of a book.
Early reading is high on our agenda and we recognise that the early years of a child’s life are crucial. The experiences that we offer the children in the EYFS and Year 1 are fundamental in laying the foundations for future reading success. Reading interest is sparked in our children from day one and children have picture books to read from nursery, leading to phonic based books and on to more complex novels as they reach KS2. Class libraries, mystery readers, daily reading, initiatives to encourage regular reading and celebrations of authors are just some of the many experiences we provide for our children.
As the subject lead team, we believe that our children will achieve well when given exciting stimuli, effective teaching and relevant support. The CPD that is planned for staff in school not only focuses on the content of English but understanding the way that learners learn best and giving staff the tools to make the greatest impact on teaching and learning. Research on metacognition forms the basis of our teaching cycle and staff are aware of the cognition, metacognition and motivation of learning that needs to be taught, promoted and celebrated within class. This understanding underpins the support that is given in lesson and the use of effective modelling and support to ensure children retain what they have learned.
Power of Reading
At Alexander First School our English curriculum is underpinned by 'The Power of Reading'. This is a resource and training programme which uses quality children’s literature and creative teaching approaches to support our pupils in developing a love of reading and writing.
How are the texts used?
A quality text is used as the basis for learning over several weeks. Children explore and discuss the text through creative activities. They also write in a range of genres as part of the unit. For example they might write a letter in role as a character or write a newspaper recount about the events in the text.
Reading aloud is a key part of the Power of Reading. The strategy enables all children to access quality texts. Reading aloud also enables the teacher to model expressive and fluent reading to the children. Children then echo what they have heard read aloud in their own writing.
Why have we chosen to introduce the Power of Reading at Alexander First School?
We are determined to prepare our children for their future education and beyond and promote the acquisition of new vocabulary and reading skills as the primary focus. By using the ‘Reading VIPERS’ approach, teaching not only provides essential reading skills but encourages the retainment of facts and knowledge such as historical periods, scientific explanations and religious events to name a few.
English Speaking and Listening
Pupils at Alexander First School are taught to speak clearly and convey ideas confidently using standard English or stem sentences. We encourage children to justify their ideas with reasons; ask questions to check understanding; develop vocabulary; negotiate; evaluate and build on the ideas of others and select the appropriate register for effective communication. It is evident to anyone who visits Alexander First School that there is an ethos where children feel safe and valued, thus encouraging them to interact in a respectful and expressive manner. The classroom environments are stimulating and creative and there is a rich diet of vocabulary in and around the school, which enhances the speaking and listening skills taught. In every classroom at Alexander First School, you will observe the use of many cooperative learning strategies (Kagan structures) to enhance speaking and listening, such as talk partners; children as teachers; my turn-your turn; quizzes; echoing. We encourage children to show respect and respond to the views of other children and adults in an appropriate way and this is done at every point of the school day, not just in focused English lessons. This is especially important as our school community can be discontinuous.
Our reading curriculum is designed to produce productive, creative and well-educated students. The challenging and ambitious expectations of the National Curriculum are reflected in our aims and beliefs of how reading should be taught at Alexander First School. Pupils within our school are taught to read fluently and encouraged to read for pleasure. Our reading scheme is primarily Read Write Inc. however it is peppered with other reading materials such as Oxford Owl to ensure children are exposed to varied authors and book styles.
As children progress through the reading scheme there are opportunities to read modern and classic fictional novels. This is particularly apparent in our supplementary class reading materials.
The range of texts in school offer support for those who need it. There are texts that offer phonics support within contexts that older children can enjoy reading and similarly, there are texts that offer challenge and sophisticated structures written in a context that is not too mature for the age of primary school children. At Alexander First School we cater for the varying needs of our children, ensuring that we promote a love of reading irrelevant of the children’s ability or age. Our curriculum is broad; bringing all pupils into contact with a range of areas of learning and experiences, and at the same time allows the balance of the adequate development of each area. In order to acquire knowledge and understanding, our children are taught to comprehend, interpret and apply reading skills to science, history, geography and technology content. We teach children, through guided sessions, the skills of inference, inquiry and interpretation and encourage them to apply this to a range of ‘real life’ texts.
To further promote reading at Alexander First School we use a variety of strategies and resources including:
Whole Class Reading Sessions
Whole class teaching of reading allows teachers to plan activities that allow children to practise using the relevant reading skills: vocabulary, retrieval, summary, inference, prediction, compare and contrast and author choice. To support the children in this, we use the acronym VIPERS.
We do not believe that children with SEND should be removed from whole class reading sessions, immersing them in the language, rich environment where they are supported by their peers is the perfect environment for effective learning to take place. Differentiation is achieved in many ways: the difficulty of the text the children are working on; the questions the teacher is asking or the level of support they are receiving. Teaching the whole class the same objective removes the problem of independent groups, it allows our teachers to focus on one objective in depth and better prepare children for the expectation of written responses at the end of each key stage. The assessment is used to provide teachers with evidence that the children are making progress in reading.
We encourage children to read at least five times per week through the ‘5 Reads’ challenge. The children are asked to read fives time per week to develop the habit of reading widely and often and to acquire a wide vocabulary to support them in their use of grammar and when writing. Regular assemblies are held to promote this and the children are rewarded with certificates home, extra play time, and a small individual prize.
Reading for Pleasure Initiative
At Alexander First School, we have selected twenty-five books per year group that we believe could be shared or read before the children leave. These are a mix of classics, modern fiction and award/prize winning books. We want to expose our children to many different authors and books in lessons and as additional texts that they can read and enjoy at school and at home.
These twenty-five texts are recorded in a Reading for Pleasure booklet. The children highlight or colour each box once they have read the text.
If children succeed in reading the twenty-five books suggested during each year group, they could potentially read one hundred and fifty texts by the time they leave Year 4.
Children have opportunities to visit the school Library on a weekly basis. Children are encouraged to read for pleasure at home and at school. Furthermore, Alexander First School collaborates with the local library and invites them in to speak to both children and parents. The sessions begin as early as Nursery where reading for enjoyment is promoted through the use of the library and the many events that it runs. An initiative that is welcomed by children from the EYFS is the ‘story sacks’ which encourage oral and collaborative storytelling.
Daily discreet phonics lessons are taught in differentiated groups that are suitable for the child’s phase of learning. A synthetic scheme is used in school which is a consistent and interactive way to support children in learning how to read and write. To promote high quality phonic teaching at Alexander First School we use a variety of strategies and resources including:
As children’s reading develops at different rates, phonics teaching is tailored to each child and their ability. Children are expected to sit a phonics screening assessment in Year 1 that tests their knowledge of phonics sounds. The children that do not pass the phonics screening check are given appropriate support and materials to ensure they catch up. To support these children we ensure they continue to receive daily phonics at the relevant phase and daily reading in shared reading, one to one reading or guided groups. This continues into KS2 if the children are still not secure in their phonics sounds.
At Alexander First we aim to inspire children and encourage the development and application of imagination. We develop the children’s ability to produce well-structured, detailed writing in which the meaning is made clear and which engages the interest of the reader. Attention is paid throughout the school to the formal structures of English, grammatical detail, punctuation and spelling. The ‘Alexander First School writing approach’ enables children to write independently for a variety of audiences and purposes within different subjects. A key feature is that children internalise the language structures needed to write through ‘talking the text’ as well as close reading. The approach moves from dependence towards independence with the teacher using guided/modelled teaching to develop the ability in children to write creatively and powerfully.
Teachers model and incorporate the use of phonics and spelling strategies during shared writing sessions and they are given frequent opportunities in school to write in different contexts and for a variety of purposes and audiences, using quality texts as a model. There are many opportunities for children to improve their writing inspired by drama techniques and film clips.
Extended, independent writing takes place on at least three occasions over a term and there will also be additional opportunities in subjects such as history, science, RE and geography, demonstrating that our children are able to apply their skills across the curriculum.
During the writing process, children are encouraged to use a teaching for mastery approach, or ‘slow write’ technique that involves writing a piece of work over a number of days. At the end of each day the children are given feedback to encourage them to improve or extend their writing. They act upon this feedback before they begin writing on the next day. These pieces of writing help to provide a clear assessment of the children’s current writing stage and their areas of development within writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation.
At Alexander First School, we have a clear programme of study for the introduction and acquisition of knowledge about grammar and punctuation. Our English sessions are well suited to the practical development of this knowledge through the word, sentence and text level work provided in class. Teachers turn every available minute of teaching into valuable learning time. In spelling, we value and encourage children as they move through the developmental stages of learning to spell, but we also recognise the importance of mastering and using accurately conventional spelling in order to convey meaning clearly in writing.
Presentation of written work reflects the awareness of the writer to the needs of his or her audience. Our ultimate goal is for pupils to achieve a fast, flowing, joined, legible style of writing. In order to achieve this, we are aware of the need for a consistent approach to the teaching of handwriting across the key stages. Our aim is for all children to write fluently, legibly and with increasing speed and to understand the different forms of handwriting used for different purposes by the end of Year 4. At Alexander First School we aim to make handwriting an automatic process that does not interfere with creative and mental thinking. Handwriting is a cross-curricular task and will be taken into consideration during all lessons. Formal teaching of handwriting is carried out for 30 - 45 minutes per week to ensure children become fluent and legible writers.
English and Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development
Our English curriculum supports spiritual development by engaging children with poetry, fiction and drama. We encourage the children to extract meaning beyond the literal and consider the hidden meanings in the books they read. Through shared reading lessons and across the curriculum, children explore how the choice of language affects implied and explicit meaning and they are taught how to incorporate this into their own writing in imaginative and original ways. Children draw on reading knowledge; considering how words, usage and meaning have changed over time.
The teaching of English develops skills that enable our children to give critical responses to the moral questions they meet in their environment and in the wider world. Pupils explore and analyse appropriate texts which furnish them with the knowledge and ability to question and reason. This in turn, enables them to develop their own value system and to make reasonable decisions on matters of personal integrity. Pupils begin to develop an awareness that right and wrong in life situations is not always universally agreed. Through detailed and supportive methods of assessment and feedback, alongside actively encouraging self and peer assessment, some of the responsibility for progress is put into the hands of our children.
At Alexander First School, participation, creativity, reflection and independence are encouraged in all English lessons. Children are provided with opportunities to read texts that portray issues and events relating to contemporary life or past experience in interesting and challenging ways. Within these texts, children explore current influences on spoken and written language, examine attitudes to language use, and consider the vocabulary and grammar of Standard English and dialect variations. Discussion work, in pairs and larger groups, alongside being taught a whole range of literature, including novels, plays and poetry, helps and encourages the pupils’ social development.
To enhance the children’s cultural understanding, stories are selected which encourage them to empathise with the feelings and experiences of others and to help develop their understanding of other people’s attitudes, ideas and behaviour. Texts and authors are selected carefully to expose children to literacy heritage of the UK and the wider world. Children are taught to recognise the cultural and historical context of texts and how this is reflected in the thoughts and actions of characters. Over time, children develop sensitive awareness of, and the ability to respond constructively to, backgrounds, experiences, concerns, feelings and commitments of others through a range of different narratives. To broaden children’s wider cultural experiences theatre visits in and out of school are planned and the children have the opportunity to attend Musical Theatre club or to perform in class and whole school productions. In addition, many of the texts that are studied open the door to different cultures and beliefs allowing the children to ask questions and broaden their understanding.
Communication, Language and Literacy in the EYFS
Speaking and listening runs throughout the whole of the EYFS. There are stories, rhymes and role-play every day where the children have the opportunity to talk, listen and join in. We encourage the children to take their first steps in early reading and writing through role-play, free choice activities and focussed teaching sessions. Nursery and reception have a library session each week, where the children are invited to choose a library book to take home. They also bring home early reading books, letters, sounds and words to practise and learn. Physical development is particularly important in the EYFS as children develop the use of their gross and fine motor skills through initiatives such as dough disco and play with malleable materials. This eventually leads to children being able to handle writing equipment effectively –an essential step in learning to write.
Pupil Conference and Pupil Voice
At Alexander First School we strongly value the power of agency and pupil voice. We believe that pupils experience the greatest degree improvement when feedback is personalised, timely and collaborative. Therefore we place a high priority on the use of conferencing to move pupils’ learning on. At Alexander First, our conferencing takes two forms: immediate and delayed. Immediate verbal feedback is delivered during lessons in response to procedural matters (e.g. correct/incorrect, use of methods, task feedback). Delayed verbal feedback takes place once per week in a scheduled discussion between our teachers and pupils, focusing on conceptual matters (e.g. depth of understanding, ability to make connections, reasoning about new learning), as well as discussing progress, attainment and next steps.
In order to promote self-regulation, our pupils are encouraged at all times to take responsibility for the learning conversation – to discuss what they were successful with, what they found challenging, what they need further help with, how they can further apply their learning, and what their next step is, for example. Younger pupils or pupils with special educational needs are supported to prepare for their conferences initially through the use of simple question prompts.
Assessment of English
Assessment is used to inform planning and teaching. Teachers use assessment against year group statements to update the online assessment tool. In writing, teachers are constantly assessing using independent writing tasks in any subject. These can be used to provide evidence that a child has achieved the objectives they are working towards. These assessments inform future planning for reading and writing sessions. Summative assessments in reading, SPaG and phonics take place at the end of each half term for all children from Years 1- 4. These assessments are used to provide information about how well children have retained knowledge and understanding in a given area over time. These assessments provide teachers with information about each pupil and help to identify areas of strength and areas which need development or support.
In Early Years, children’s reading skills are monitored and assessed through 1:1 reading sessions, phonics tracking and the ability to read high frequency and common exception words on sight. The phonics tracking document is also used in Years 1 and 2 to monitor progress. The class teacher assesses the level of the children’s individual reading books termly during whole class reading or 1:1 sessions, to ensure the level is appropriately challenging.
Assessment for Learning – Self and peer assessment
All children from Nursery to Year 4 are asked to make judgements about how they can improve their own work, through a range of self-assessment techniques (e.g. marking codes, traffic lights etc). Children are also given the opportunity to take part in peer-to-peer assessment where they support their peers in looking at how to improve their work. At the end of every lesson, each child considers and reflects upon their learning to consider to what extent they have understood and achieved the lessons desired outcome. In response to this, after the teacher has marked the child’s work, they too will show to what extent the child has achieved the desired outcome or end point. Discrepancies between child and teacher assessments are then addressed if necessary.
In addition to these in-school assessments there are statutory assessment that take place. In Year 1, children take part in the Phonics screening in the summer term. Children who did not pass the test in Y1 retake the test at the same time of year in Y2. In Year 2 children take a formal reading and SPaG assessment as part of SATs.