Improving Secondary Literacy – ideas from the EEF Guidance Report

The EEF’s most recent Guidance Report on Improving Literacy in Secondary School examines the research on how to best support students who struggle to read, write and communicate to the required demands at secondary school. The report provides 7 detailed and evidence informed recommendations to support literacy provision in schools:

  1. Prioritise disciplinary literacy across the curriculum
  2. Provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject
  3. Develop student’s ability to read complex academic texts
  4. Break down complex writing tasks
  5. Combine writing instruction with reading
  6. Provide opportunities for structured talk
  7. Provide high quality literacy interventions for struggling students

For a more detailed consideration of these please refer to Fran Haynes latest Research School blog which can be found here. The success of these guidance reports is of course dependent on the quality of the implementation of any/all of the recommendations, as such this blog will aim to demonstrate how the humanities departments at Durrington have developed practical classroom strategies to support the implantation of recommendations 2 and 3.

A. Providing Targeted Vocabulary Instruction in every subject

Explicit vocabulary instruction is integral in developing disciplinary literacy, and departments must have a secure understanding of the key tier 2 and 3 vocabulary required to be successful within their subject and explicitly teach this vocabulary as part of their curriculum. As part of their curriculum review at the end of last year, the Geography department identified that student’s use of tier 3 vocabulary was strong, but their limited tier 2 vocabulary was restricting their attainment, particularly at KS4 where long-worded questions with complex vocabulary were preventing students from accessing the correct knowledge. In addition some vocabulary was causing confusion due to its very different meanings from subject to subject – for example the meaning of “factor” in maths was very different to its meaning in Geography. As a result, Sam Atkins (Deputy Lead of Geography) set about identifying a set of core tier 2 vocabulary for each unit of kS3 taught that students would be expected by the end of the unit to know, understand and apply in their own work. These words were derived from Averil Coxhead’s list of academic words, which can be found here, with 10 academic/tier 2 words, being linked to each SoW. Once this vocabulary had been identified, the challenging of ensuring it was taught was next. Simply using this vocabulary in lessons is not sufficient, nor is giving the students the list and asking them to learn their spellings/definitions. As a result, Sam developed a homework based on the school wide literacy policy in which not only did students need to learn the spelling and definition of the work but they also had to show their understanding of the word through test and stem sentences. The test sentence activity involves the students having to choose between two sentences; one in which the tier 2 word has been used correctly and one where it has not, while the stem sentences ask the students to complete a sentence starter by using the word. This system prioritises understanding over just knowledge of the vocabulary. Below is part of a year 9 homework for Geography looking at tier 2 vocabulary associated with a scheme of work on “The Development of China”.

china ts

B. Developing Students Ability to Read Complex Academic Texts

Academic reading is naturally challenging, and subsequently students avoid reading such texts and teachers may be fearful of providing students with them. However the EEF recommends that students should actively engage with complex subject specific texts. Effective readers of informational texts continually draw upon a wealth of prior knowledge, language skills and ability to infer to develop their understanding of the text. Some of the strategies recommended by the EEF to support students in reading academic texts, include activating prior knowledge, predicting what might happen next as the text is read, questioning and summarising the text. As part of their KS3 homework provision both the Geography and SME team at DHS have been attempting to embed academic reading into their curriculum. Each KS3 SoW has one homework which expects students to read part of or a whole academic text, selected from a reliable source such as broadsheet newspaper, academic journal and subject association article. This text will be linked to the unit of study. Students will be asked to read the extract for their homework, and generate 5 of their own questions about the texts to check their comprehension. They will then be asked to summarise the meaning of the text to consolidate and elaborate upon their understanding. An example of the a KS3 SME reading article can be seen below.



Of course, such strategies only scratch the surface of literacy instruction in secondary schools, and the EEF recommend a vast variety of ideas that can be utilised in the classroom. If you would like to explore the EEF Guidance report and its recommendation then why not join us at Durrington High for our three-day literacy training programme in 2019-2020. This will be an opportunity to explore the guidance and further research evidence on literacy at secondary level, as well as hear suggestions for practical ways to coordinate and implement literacy approaches at your school. Details can be found here

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