What should we call Literacy?

Literacy is a hot topic at DHSB and for good reason: we want our students to achieve the highest possible academic standards. In order to do this it is necessary for students to be able to communicate their knowledge and understanding of a broad range of subjects with clarity, accuracy and confidence and not only in their written work but also their oral work. Unfortunately, with the wealth of information that students need to process and share, attention to detail is often lacking and valuable marks are lost due to errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. When you also consider that writing to describe or to explain means different things across the curriculum, you can understand why students sometimes struggle. So that leaves us with an unappealing word in ‘literacy’ and a significant challenge in helping students to prioritise precision. The good news is that there is a lot that we can do to reinforce these skills and that we now have a forum in the shape of this blog for doing so.

As a starting point I wondered if the explicit teaching of key words in every subject would help to transform learning. Whilst I recognise that the explicit teaching of key words on their own will not be successful in creating more effective or expert communication, it might help the students to re-engage with the specialist language of different subjects and give them access to ways of learning. It might also help students to become more thoughtful and more precise in their communication. Karen, Louise, Pam and Ross are currently working with 7W and 8N on a key words project and we’ll share the process and the findings here as we make progress with the project. The students have already shared their thoughts with us and literacy ambassadors for each subject have been chosen. Now it’s over to us to make the use of key words an integral part of the teaching and learning process. Geoff Barton would be proud!

Why would Geoff Barton be proud? Well, when I sent a recent plea to Geoff Barton (the author of “Don’t call it literacy!”) to provide me with an alternative term to ‘literacy’, I received a simple and direct reply: “Teaching? (I’m not joking: literacy should be embedded into what every teacher in every subject does).” Although I was hoping to find a more interesting and engaging term than ‘literacy’, I found in Geoff’s response the simple fact that it is our teaching that must engage students with literacy. So, with this response in mind, I gave up my brief quest to replace the term ‘literacy’ with something more appealing and tried to focus instead on what really matters and that is enhancing the quality of teaching and learning through improving communication. Why wait until students are in Yr11 and Yr13 to prioritise effective and accurate communication? It is critical to develop students’ confidence in spoken and written communication over time so that they build good habits. As subject specialists the one thing that we can all do every day within our teaching is to model expert communication and demonstrate effective communication perhaps through the use of key words. Let’s share our ideas and resources here!

Clare McConnell @DHSBEnglish

Head of English


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