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

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