Monthly Archives: February 2016

Literacy: our top 3 strategies

At Trinity, we like to keep things simple.  For many of us, however, the terms simple and literacy just will not seem compatible – yet, in order for us to fulfil our mission, of every child going to university and succeeding in a top job, improving literacy must be our priority.  So how do we address this challenge?  Simply put: by keeping it simple.

Like everything else at Trinity, we accept that there are no quick fixes; we strive to do the simple things well every single day.  To keep things simple, we like to break things down – we ask the basic questions: what does ‘literacy’ mean?  What would a student with good literacy skills sound like, and what should they be able to do?  How should our understanding of developing literacy shape the academy day and week?  Literacy underpins our practice – it is not a bolt on; it is a critical component in fulfilling our purpose.

Our aim is simple: we want to develop students’ reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.  We want a Trinity student to be able to confidently manipulate language in any given context.  We want them to have a love of reading and to have better lives because of the reading that they have done, and will do.  Like the acquisition of knowledge, we know that the ability to use and ‘read’ language alters life opportunities.  To help our students to climb their mountain to university, or a real alternative, we put developing student literacy skills at the heart of our academy day, and firmly at the heart of what we expect from our students.

Our three key literacy strategies help our students grasp language, command it and enjoy it.

1. Speaking in full sentences using Standard English

At Trinity, it is an expectation that students speak in full sentences using Standard English.  Thinking through a response, formulating it into a full sentence and then saying it aloud helps students to make a cohesive point which, in turn, helps them when they need to write their ideas down.  Not only, therefore, does it promote student confidence to speak in more than one-word answers in front of their peers, but it also allows students to practise articulating their ideas before they write them down; it becomes part of the drafting process.  Of course, there may be times when a one-word response is required which would be signalled by the teacher, but the natural state and expectation is that student responses are developed into full sentences.

Through our English curriculum, we teach about levels of formality.  We do not advocate the sole use of Standard English throughout life in all circumstances, but we do educate students to be able to make decisions about the language they choose to use.  We teach that Standard English is used in formal situations. We view our lessons and interaction with teachers as a formal setting, as such, we expect students to use Standard English. This does mean that teachers must model the way in their own speech.

2. Track the speaker

Simply put, tracking the speaker means looking at the person speaking.  The speaker may be the teacher in the lesson or a student responding to a question. Tracking the speaker is important on many levels: not only does it signal how important is to listen to the speaker, but it also iterates how important it is to give the speaker your full attention.  Tracking does not guarantee active listening but it offers keen support.  Building tracking into the academy day and into lesson expectations helps to make for smoother transitions from one activity to another; it facilitates student talk and discussion in lessons.  Finally, it signals that what is being said is important.

3. Carrying a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) book at all times

The consistent execution of our routines and expectations is important to the development of students’ literacy skills, but we also recognise that we need to go deeper.  We construct and shape the academy day around our belief that reading is vital to the development of being able to manipulate and command language.  As such, an important part of our academy day is DEAR.

Each day, every student spends 30 minutes with their Advisory (form group) reading.  (I will write another blog explicitly about DEAR).  As an overview, during DEAR, students may be reading in silence, reading with their Advisor, discussing a book with a peer or presenting to the Advisory.  Students are also given the opportunity to read newspapers which are differentiated by reading age.  Advisors are variously expected to model reading their own DEAR book, facilitate student discussions and listen to each member of the Advisory read.

The key to the success of our three key literacy strategies is consistency; no matter which lesson a student experiences or what day it is, at Trinity, the same expectations apply.  At Trinity, we believe that team always beats individual and that is exactly how we approach the development of literacy skills; we do it together.

Laura Senior
Vice Principal

We All Will Learn

The use of double staffing to ensure a high-quality learning experience for all students

Double Staffing: the timetabling of two qualified, subject specialist teachers to a single class, giving them joint and equal responsibility for the students’ outcomes.

At Dixons Trinity, perhaps one of our most unique and impactful distinctive features is the use of double staffing to support our most vulnerable learners. In order to be able to each climb their mountain to university, or a real alternative, so they can thrive in a top job and have a great life, every student must have consistent access to the same high-quality input and support as one another, and the use of double staffing enables us to provide this. Double staffing is, in essence, a replacement provision for the use of teaching assistants (of which we have none) to facilitate support and intervention for vulnerable students. The possible comparisons between the two approaches, however, end there; the key strengths of the double staffing approach – its flexibility, responsiveness, quality, and reach – render any further comparisons difficult to find. For group four, our lowest attaining students in each year group and the natural base for the timetabled double staffing, the presence of two qualified, subject specialist teachers in their core subject lessons provides the opportunity for support and intervention without the need for segregation or compromising of the quality of education they receive; but the reach of the benefits of double staffing goes far beyond group four. Any student can become vulnerable and require support either short or long term; a fluid approach to the implementation of double staffing in response to timely and accurate data to provide high-quality intervention and support applies equally to all Dixons Trinity students.

Double staffing is flexible and responsive, adapting to the needs of the students, the strengths of the teachers, and the available resources. It is crucial that it is implemented in response to up-to-date and accurate information that is available about the students – assessment data, individual needs (SEND) information, and knowledge of the children – and that its implementation is planned for in advance in order to ensure maximum efficacy. There are a number of different ways in which double staffing can be carried out in practice, each being made available by different sets of circumstances and carrying with it a unique combination of benefits to the students in the class.

Double 1

Double 2

Double 3

Double 4

Double 5

Double 6

The grids provide an overview of the different ways in which double staffing is being implemented at Dixons Trinity but, in reality, it is most impactful when a combination of these approaches is used with each class. For example, the hub model provides an ideal natural base, within the classroom, for a second teacher to provide consistent and ongoing support for a group of students. Whether the students have been identified on the basis of an individual need (SEND), recent data, or a behavioural need, the hub model could lead to them developing learnt dependency or missing out on the socio-emotional developmental opportunities of the classroom environment. That same second teacher is also available to provide breakout intervention, tutorials, or to lead the class or section of a lesson, thus making full use of the opportunities made available by the double staffing and giving students based in the hub area the opportunity of independence.

The benefits brought about by the flexibility and responsiveness of double staffing is not, however, limited to the models identified here. It is, as said, crucial that double staffing is planned for in advance; however, there can also, as with all teaching, arise situations where even the best lesson plan is voided by an unexpected difficulty or knowledge gap, and the teacher must think on their feet. Not only does double staffing allow for a timely and responsive intervention to take place without interrupting the smooth continuation of the lesson for the students for whom this is appropriate, the second teacher has the authority and autonomy to implement this intervention without disturbing the lesson at all. The students benefit from the knowledge, expertise and interaction between two qualified, subject specialist teachers and also benefit from greater consistency and, therefore, stability in their learning experience. Occasional absence is an inevitability and can have a significant negative impact on any learner, particularly those who are more vulnerable for any reason. A double staffed lesson is likely to always have at least one member of staff present who knows the students well and can provide continuity despite the absence of the other teacher. The use of 1:1 and small group support, interventions, and additional adults is not unique to the double staffing approach, however, the quality of pedagogical and subject specialist input, and the authority and autonomy of the individuals involved, most likely is. Every student, including those selected for intervention and support, receive an equally high-quality input as one another and remain within the academic hubs of the academy e.g. maths intervention takes place with maths teachers, on the maths corridor, during maths lessons.

The provisions that double staffing replaces, teaching assistants and withdrawal interventions, give the most vulnerable learners in a school an inferior quality input and an experience of segregation, both of which can impact on their academic and socio-emotional development and opportunity for future success. Furthermore, segregating provision designed for low ability students and those with additional needs limits the responsive and highly individualised approach it affords to a very small group of students, denying those benefits to the wider student body. It teaches the students to whom it does apply that they are a subgroup of the school community who sit slightly outside of the systems, and it teaches the rest of the children this same thing too; those with disabilities are ‘other’. Double staffing is one example of a number of distinctive features that ensure our most vulnerable learners have an equally high-quality and inclusive experience as their more able and more resilient peers, and ensures that all of our students are afforded the same opportunities for support and individualisation as our least able and most vulnerable.

The natural base for all double staffing – the lessons the teachers are timetabled to be in – is with group four; this is, naturally, where many of the most vulnerable learners can be found. The reach of the double staffing approach, however, is not limited to the lower sets. At Dixons Trinity, our protocol for assessing and reporting data identifies both attainment and progress, and it is the latter that gives the greatest indication of a student’s journey to success. Any student, including the highest attaining, can plateau or make less than expected progress. Any student can become vulnerable for any reason or for any length of time and a fluid approach to the implementation of double staffing ensures that any student who needs it can benefit from it. Our data has consistently shown our lowest ability and individual needs (SEND) students to be amongst the fastest progressing sub-groups of students and, as such, this enables the double staffing to be free to move to other ability groups, as directed by the department heads, in order to provide the same benefits to an even greater range of students.

Finally, it is clear to me that the full potential of the use of double staffing has not yet been reached and, as it develops and evolves, more opportunities and benefits become apparent. An identifying feature of the double staffing, in its current form, is the stipulation to use subject specialist teachers. There are, however, clear benefits to using teachers with different subject specialisms. Both science and geography, for example, could benefit from fluid double staffing from a mathematician when teaching a topic that includes complex equations and numeric skill. The literacy demands of the extended writing requirements of a GCSE history assessment could justify the presence of an English teacher in lessons where students are working on that specific skill. And the understanding and experience of students in all of the humanities could benefit from collaboration between their subject teacher and teachers of the arts – music, art, drama – when introducing eras and areas a student may never experience in reality. Fluid double staffing between academic departments seems a logical next step for the approach, ensuring that it continues to evolve and provide greater and greater opportunities for the students at the academy.

Nicole Dempsey
Head of Mountain Rescue