By Nicky Felton (SENCO and Literacy Co-ordinator)
When reviewing progress within our school, we felt that many of our children had poor language skills and limited understanding of vocabulary. This was particularly evident when children moved into Key Stage 2 when it became clear that, although they could read and decode well, they couldn’t explain word meanings. Consequently this had an impact on their ability to understand more complex texts.
In July 2014, I went on the Word Aware training delivered by Anna Branagan to see if the strategies could be used within SEN intervention groups. However it soon became apparent that all of our children would benefit from the approaches used! The training was very informative and focused on many aspects of vocabulary teaching and learning. It gave lots of practical activities and games to support the acquisition of vocabulary and to enable children to develop ways of working out what words mean. We also felt that these methods would build on the Read, Write, Inc ‘power words’ strategy that was already embedded in Key Stage 1.
In September 2014, I trialled the use of Word Aware with my Year 5 class. These children had particularly poor language skills and found it difficult to understand the books they were reading. They also used quite basic language in their own writing. After such a positive trial with this class, we held a Word Aware staff meeting to get the whole school involved in using these approaches. This then became a target on our Raising Achievement Plan for Writing.
We began by introducing the STAR literacy approach. The Select, Teach, Activate, Review process meant that we chose words from the class text, we then taught and activated them using a range of Word Aware strategies and then built in review time to enable the children to develop a secure understanding of these words.
The words chosen are ‘Goldilocks Words’ – words that are not too easy, not too difficult but just right! Even our Year 5 children loved this and enjoyed explaining this phrase to visitors when asked about Goldilocks words!
Word Aware gave us the structure to focus on the explicit teaching of vocabulary, to help our children enjoy words and become good word learners. We used the word spinner and word wizard to introduce a new Goldilocks word each day. We then added the word to our Writing Walls with a picture attached. The children also had their own sheets in their Writing Journals where they could add each new word which helped them when writing independently.
We also used our Goldilocks symbols in the children’s lesson targets so that they could assess their own use of the new words.
We have used many ideas from the resource book such as the Word Bag and Vocabulator. These support the essential Review process and can be used whenever you have a few spare minutes!
The children particularly liked wearing word stickers saying ‘Ask me about the word: ‘menacing’. They were able to explain the word to other people in school which helped secure their own understanding.
The use of STAR Literacy has had a significant impact on our children, not only in their ability as readers but also in their ability as writers. We now have children who have a growing bank of vocabulary that they understand, can explain and can use effectively in their own writing. It has become an integral part of our literacy teaching and the children are able to talk about vocabulary with more confidence. Across the school, you can now hear children saying ‘Look, I’ve found one of our Goldilocks words in this book!’ or ‘I’ve used ‘menacing’, one of our Goldilocks words, in my writing about Warwick Castle – I can only use it in this paragraph about the dungeons though, it wouldn’t be appropriate in the other sections.’
Although we have achieved a lot this year, there is much more to do! We are still investigating different games and activities to support this approach in Literacy and are now considering what avenue to explore next. The use of STAR Topic to develop subject-specific vocabulary, the development of word detective strategies and using Word Aware in small groups with children who have extremely limited language are all possible developments.