Tackling underachievement in English
This year I took a different approach to setting our year 9 English groups. The problem with focusing on current attainment data is that you risk writing-off students who are not currently reaching their potential, and the problem with focusing on prior attainment is that you risk ignoring the issues currently faced by students. Therefore, I focused on what I think is the root of underachievement in GCSE English: low reading ages. For our set 4 (traditionally our C/D borderline) I placed students with reading ages below a standardised score of 90, and our set 5 nurture group includes students with reading ages below a standardised score of 65.
This has had an amazing impact on our teaching of these students because it has allowed us to focus on the heart of the problem these students often face: not lack of motivation but a difficulty with reading for meaning, reading resilience and inference skills. This is what holds students back from decoding GCSE texts and GCSE questions. Therefore we have put reading at the heart of our work with these students.
First of all we have a library lesson every week, so that students can take turns reading 1-2-1 with the teacher, work on literacy programmes such as Lexia, and take their Accelerated Reader quizzes and tests to track progress. We also have a 15 minutes a day reading homework, with an old-fashioned reading log (like students have in a Primary school) for parents to sign. This has helped to raise the profile of reading with parents, and increase the communication between home and school. Added to this we have a 10 minute starter of silent reading every lesson. I have found this to be incredibly important for ensuring that students are making progress with their independent reading.
A crucial strategy had been to write down the page number students have got to at the end of each reading session. That way I am able to track students’ progress and they are not able to get away with just staring at a page on a random book every day. The simplest strategies really can be the most effective! Students feel like I am paying attention to their reading and am interested in it, rather than just using as a time-filler! And finally, awarding lots of reward points to those students making the most progress helps greatly!
There are many more things I want to try in the future, but these easy to implement strategies have already made a fantastic impact, with many of these students out-performing students in the upper sets.
So, give it a try. If we want to really help those students who struggle with secondary school, then we need to tackle the root of the problems they face: their reading.