The Literacy Learning Hub page and resources are managed by Hub Leader, Sam Bulmer

Hub members:

  • SBU (Hub Leader, English)
  • NSI (Maths)
  • MAN (Science)
  • ITO (Humanities)
  • LGI (Humanities)
  • GFO (PE)
  • LJA (Performing Arts)
  • ARO (LRC)
  • ECL (Cover Supervisors)


  • To consider how the language of subject specialisms can be explicitly taught by all teachers and supported by parents through a range of strategies
  • To develop students’ chances of academic success by insisting that academic language is used in the classroom, and at home when talking to parents about school work

Initial research

Is Their Alot Wrong With This Centence? Daniel Smith

Before I began to plan for the literacy hub, I needed to think: what is so difficult about literacy? I needed to know what my strengths and weaknesses were and what I thought my colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses would be. I’ve used this book as inspiration for teaching difficult grammar concepts for some time now but I’ve never used it to assess my own grammatical prowess.

Is Their Alot Wrong WIth This Centence Daniel Smith

The book is compiled of a series of quizzes, tests and games; these activities are designed to assess your grammatical knowledge and teach you how to correct any errors that you make. I’ve often adapted the quizzes and games for my pupils, but with careful planning and research.

My main finding, upon reading this book, was that literacy is difficult. It is something that I’ve studied, and been interested in, for years so it always came fairly easily to me. I thought about all of the different technical terms for parts of speech (adverb, adjective, interjection etc.) and then the terms that used to confuse me when I was at school: the past participle, the indefinite article and/or the irregular verb. When you combine all of this technical vocabulary with a set of very precise rules, it’s no wonder that people find literacy tricky and off-putting.

The Secret of Literacy – David Didau

I was lucky enough to meet David when he helped our department to design our fantastic new curriculum. We discussed literacy at some length and came to the conclusion that grammar should be taught directly and pupils should be taken back to the very basics, looking at the difference between nouns and verbs before they begin to be taught how to write complex sentences using embedded clauses etc.

This all made perfect sense to me – you can’t hope to master something, if you don’t understand the basics of it.

I then met David again when I went to a presentation of his at a local school. He talked about literacy across the curriculum and the importance of oracy, reading and writing. This was a light bulb moment for me. Oracy applies to every single subject. It was, I decided, an excellent place to begin. It helped to form the objectives for the hub and it was something that, I felt, we could talk about at length in the hub.

The Secret of Literacy, Didau

When I read ‘The Secret of Literacy’, I read about how to plan for literacy. What particularly stood out for me was David’s thoughts on planning for literacy. It should not be a bolt-on at the beginning of a lesson. It should not be a tenuous link to whatever you’re teaching and it certainly should not cause the teachers to have to re-write lesson plans and medium term plans. Maths teachers should not change their entire lesson plan, just because they’ve been directed to teach the apostrophe this week. Science teachers should not plan and mark letters to famous scientists, just because the focus of that week is paragraphing and discourse markers. Simply put, literacy is already in every single lesson. Even if there is no reading or writing involved in that particular lesson, there will still be talking. There will be the opportunity to teach oracy.

An Ethic of Excellence – Ron Berger

This is a book that I’d been intending to read for months before I’d even signed up to take part in the hub. It is a cliché, I know, but I feel that this book has revolutionised my teaching.

Ethic of excellence, Berger

Berger’s ideas of critiquing and redrafting have altered a lot of what I thought I knew about teaching. I thought that peer assessment was just a nice way to end a lesson, review objectives and check that pupils understood the success criteria. I had no idea how powerful a tool it could be, if used correctly. I’ve shown a few of my classes ‘Austin’s Butterfly’ and they were amazed at the progress that Austin made on improving his drawing. Some of them were sceptical – ‘there’s no way he went from the first picture to that one!’ but then I asked them ‘have you ever been given the opportunity to try and try and try again?’ No.

I thought about linking this to literacy. How could pupils be given the chance to keep on trying until they get it right? The key was to be firm and consistent with literacy standards throughout school. This means checking pupils when they lapse out of Standard English. It means asking pupils to speak in full sentences and repeat and repeat until they get it right. It means raising standards so that nothing short of excellent is accepted but maintaining the kind of atmosphere where pupils aren’t afraid to make mistakes and where they know that, if they try hard enough, they’ll get there in the end.

Mindset – Carol Dweck

I have to admit, I was completely new to Dweck’s work until around the time I signed up to lead the hub. I went to a presentation in school about the idea of the two mindsets: growth and fixed. The basic idea is that people with a fixed mindset are, essentially, fixed in their ways. They believe that you can’t change who you are or how well you do in life. They are afraid to make mistakes. Whereas, people with a growth mindset challenge themselves and try out new ideas, making mistakes along the way.

Mindset, Dweck

This made me think about literacy: some pupils will try and try to get things right. They might use an incorrect word in a sentence because they’re trying to improve their vocabulary or they might attempt very complex sentence structures, even though they don’t fully punctuate it correctly. They might be given their target grade of a ‘B’ and ask ‘So, Miss, what do I do to get an A or and A*’. These are the pupils with the growth mindset. The pupils that some teachers would scoff at for wanting an A/A* or would become annoyed at for using a semi-colon incorrectly. Again.

The fixed mindset pupils, on the other hand stick to what they know. They understand semi-colons so they used them regularly. They know a handful of impressive words and they use them. They wouldn’t attempt to use a dash to add an impartial comment to a sentence because they’d be scared to see the dreaded red ink all over it. They wouldn’t make up words because they like the sound of them because they’re scared to be wrong. When they’re given a target of a ‘B’, they’re happy to achieve a ‘B’ in any assignment. Anything below that and they’re crushed.

Linking this to the hub, we had to think: how can we instil a growth mindset in our learners? How can we help them to confidently develop their literacy in each subject?

Main findings:

  • Literacy it hard. It is technical and has a lot of rules to memorise.
  • It is also essential to every subject.
  • Oracy is just as important as reading and writing.
  • It should be taught explicitly in each subject.
  • It should not be a bolt-on, causing stress and headaches for teachers.
  • It should be relevant to each individual subject.
  • It should be practised and developed over time, allowing for mistakes and misconceptions.
  • Pupils should push themselves in terms of literacy. It may not come naturally but they should have the opportunity to develop and grow as learners of literacy.

Learning Hub 1 Autumn Term

Presentation available to download below:

Literacy Hub 1 – 11th September 2014

Learning Hub 2 Autumn Term

I did some reading, prior to the hub, about OfSTED’s view on improving literacy in secondary schools.

From this reading, I found a few strategies that I thought were quite interesting and decided to share these with the hub members and see what they thought.

We had three areas in which to focus our attention in this hub: involving parents in their child’s use of academic language, creating effective literacy displays in classrooms and promoting more speaking and listening activities around school.

The first group focused on devising strategies to involve parents in their child’s use of academic language. They spent the first half hour or so devising possible strategies that could work and then they spend the second half hour compiling a draft questionnaire for parents about literacy.

The second group focused on display. The spent the first half an hour going around the school and taking photos of any literacy displays already in place. They then came back and looked through their evidence and they compiled a list of possible success criteria for effective literacy displays.

The final group focused on promoting speaking and listening in school and across the curriculum. They spent the first half hour researching ‘SALAD’ or ‘No-pen’ days in the LRC. They then brought their research back with them and compiled examples of activities that could take place across the curriculum.

During the second hour, we all came back together as a team to discuss our findings. Each area of focus was given roughly twenty minutes to present their findings, thoughts and ideas. During this time, the other members of the hub were able to share their thoughts about the other teams’ foci.

I have summarised our findings below:

Including parents in their child’s use of academic language

  • An area of the school website specifically focused on how the parents can help
  • On the area of the website, termly topics are displayed for each year group with key assessments outlined and key vocabulary.
  • An email address set up for parental queries/concerns
  • Keywords for each topic of study sent home, with activities that parents can do with their child in order to help them to use the words.
  • A parental survey to be sent out before and after strategies are put in place, in an aim to try to measure impact.

Literacy displays

  • Should be uniform in size/design etc
  • Should contain the fundamental rules of literacy across the curriculum
  • Should contain key words/rules specific to individual departments
  • A spreadsheet could be created to collate the ideas of each HOD about what would work in their department

No Pen Days

  • Collapsed timetable days – could begin with Challenge Days towards the end of this academic year?
  • Should focus on the development of speaking and listening in each curriculum area – using the academic language of that subject effectively
  • A range of speaking and listening activities should be employed: individual, paired and group presentations, role play, developing debating skills, drama etc.
  • Should be planned as part of the curriculum and link to their current topic of study
  • Outcome: Pupils will be able to articulate their ideas about their learning in a more mature way.

Forward planning for next hub (15/01/15)

LGI, MNE, GFO – to write up an example descriptor of their current KS3 topics of study, including key assessments and necessary vocabulary.

LJA and NSI – to use their success criteria to create an example literacy display.

ARO and ECL – to complete their research into no pen days – they had other areas that they wished to explore.

Learning Hub 3 Spring Term

Our last two hubs have been spent discussing ideas and gathering research.  Hub 3, therefore, was more of a turning point as we are now beginning to put our carefully selected strategies into practice.

Literacy Displays

LJA opened this hub by sharing her new literacy display from performing arts.  This display is made up of vocabulary and keywords that pupils will use often in her curriculum area.  She has carefully chosen words that pupils often struggle to pronounce or spell.  The rest of the hub then created their own literacy displays and they will be in use from next week onwards.

PA lit 1 PA lit 2

Course Overviews for Parents

I then shared an example KS3 course overview for Y8, from LGI, consisting of an explanation of what the pupils would study as part of the course, the range of skills that they would employ and also a list of keywords. It is our aim for each department to begin to share their course overviews – with a clear focus on keywords – on the school website.  This way, parents will have access to what their children are studying or are about to go on to study next.  Our aim here is for parents to be able to help their children with keywords and skills at home. The rest of the hub then created their own example for a KS3 year group of their choice.

Geog lit

Literacy and Maths

During this hub, I worked closely with NSI (Head of Maths) in an effort to devise strategies that will help pupils to decode lengthy (and wordy) maths questions.  We looked at a maths paper together and we’re beginning to develop a flow-chart style approach to the question.  We have also discussed some team-teaching of the questions; we hope that being taught by both a Maths and English teacher in the same lesson might help the pupils to see the crossover between the two subjects.  Here is an example of our flowchart strategy:

Maths lit

Best Practice Visit

On Wednesday 14th January, I visited Cardinal Hume Catholic School in Gateshead.  Their last OfSTED inspection noted the effective literacy strategies that they have in place and they kindly invited me in to share their strategies.  The key things that I took from this visit that I think would work in our school are as follows:

  • Each KS3 pupil has two reading books as part of their daily equipment. This combats the ‘I’ve finished my book’ problem. One of these books must be from the Accelerated Reader program and another can be a book of their choice.
  • One morning per week, each tutor group reads in silence. Including the teacher – staff are expected to model reading and, sometimes, share what they’re reading with the pupils.
  • Literacy Box – each member of staff has a physical box (usually nicely decorated, according to their subject) in their classroom. This box is full of literacy tasks.  Eg – if a pupil misuses their/there, they could take a worksheet from the box there and then to practise.  There is also a literacy box icon on each staff desktop on all computers where staff can share resources.
  • Literacy tracker –Each pupil has a literacy tracker in their planner – this is where they track their use of literacy across the curriculum.
  • Spellings tracker – Each pupil also has a spellings page in their planner. This is where they record key words that they have misspelled (again, across the curriculum) and they must practise them.
  • Two minute tips – During fortnightly staff briefings, a teacher will share a very quick literacy tip. A staff survey revealed that 89% of staff thought that they were a good idea.

I think that all of the above ideas would work in our school and some could even be introduced immediately.  It is beneficial to know that these are tried and tested methods and that I’ve actually seen them in practice.  The idea that I was most interested in was the literacy tracker – I’ve had a similar idea of my own for a while but it is good to see a real life example.  I’ve made an example literacy tracker and shared it with the hub.  I’ll be asking for their thoughts on any adaptations during our next hub.  It is my plan to roll these out to KS3 pupils during assembly next half term as a trial run.  If they do work, a future goal would be to have the tracker pages included in next year’s planners.  This would hopefully combat loss of or damage to the document.

Learning Hub 4 Spring Term

The focus for Hub 4 was mainly on our second objective, involving parents.

  • To develop students’ chances of academic success by insisting that academic language is used in the classroom, and at home when talking to parents about school work

Our discussion at the beginning of the hub leaned towards the idea that Bloom’s skills are used in all curriculum areas but they might mean different things. For example ‘create’ is different in English compared to Maths or Art. We developed a document that incorporated work on learning intentions done with CTLs previously, where each of these strands are explained in the context of each subject.

We are going to hand them out on parents’ evenings and, possibly, post them home with reports.

We compiled a list of general literacy tips for parents to use when checking their child’s homework.

Gen lit tips

The booklet is compiled of information taken from our learning intentions mats and, hopefully, clearly shows the skills that interweave each subject and also the different ways in which pupils display these skills across curriculum areas.

LI mats

We also moved on to create a pupil voice survey; our main reason behind this was to analyse the effectiveness of our literacy strategies that we’ve used so far.

  • Do you know what literacy means?
  • Which subjects do you think literacy skills are important in?
  • Recently, departmental literacy lists have been displayed in certain classrooms around school. Have you noticed these?
  • Have you used the keyword displays to help you in your lessons?
  • What are your thoughts on the displays? Does anything need to be added or changed
  • What else could your teachers do to help you to use keywords in their subject area?

Hub members have been asked to complete their survey with a set class and will be bringing their results to the next hub meeting (23/04/14) for me to analyse.  We will be repeating the same survey at the end of the year to see if there is any change in the responses.

Finally, hub members have been asked to plan pen-free time in their lessons and they will be given some time in our next hub to complete these plans. I will be asking hub members to provide their own thoughts about the use of pen-free time in lessons in a format of their choice in Hub 6.



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