Tips for using the new National Curriculum Programmes of Study for Primary English

Read the introduction to the English Programmes of Study (Pp13-16). Fears about the focus on phonics, grammar and spelling should be allayed once the purpose and the aims are explored.

The introduction emphasises the importance of spoken language in cognitive, social and linguistic development; it refers to reading as opening a “treasure-house of wonder and joy”; it refers to grammatical terminology as “the vocabulary they need to discuss their reading, writing and spoken language”; approach the Programmes of Study (PoS) with all this in mind.
Programmes of study are always going to be dry bullet points; this does not mean we should teach dry lessons. If a topic-based, cross-curricular approach is working for you, continue to use it!

Spoken Language
The Spoken Language PoS (P17) are not year-group specific: each bullet point should applies to Y1-6. How progression is achieved in each of these areas will depend on individual school contexts; use informal AfL to keep children progressing.

Use the PoS to build children’s confidence in all situations, and take seriously the acquisition of Standard English. It is not about accent: Standard English is a grammatical form, which can be spoken in any accent. It isn’t a case of changing children’s home language but of learning Standard English as an additional form, because it is very useful in certain contexts, vital in writing, and it improves options and chances in life.

Immerse children in Standard English by reading to them and increasing their own reading. Think also about the use of multi-media models for children to imitate within literacy units. Language is acquired through imitation!

The reading PoS are organised in accordance with the Simple View of Reading: word reading and language comprehension. Both are crucial in becoming a reader. Chart the names of your class on a Simple View diagram. This will help you on the area of deficit for distinct groups. Look at your chart every half term, and ask yourself, “Did I move anyone?”

Enjoyment of reading, and reading to children, is emphasised in the PoS. Reading to children increases the likelihood that they will become children who love to read; it is also improves children’s operating vocabulary and range of sentence structures (if we read books to children that are at a higher level than the books they can read for themselves).

A child’s own enjoyment of reading is dependent on their ability to read text for themselves: this gives purpose to teaching phonics. Phonics helps to enable reading for pleasure and purpose, and it contributes to the ability to communicate ideas in writing. Phonics without constant application is a waste of time.

The writing PoS are also divided into two: transcription (spelling and handwriting) and composition (everything else). Draw a “simple view of writing” and chart the progress of your class, as per reading, to ensure that those being held back by transcriptional skills (for example) are getting the help needed. Think of handwriting as the filter through which our ideas must pass.

Spelling has two aspects: the tackling of existing errors in a child’s work, and the learning of new words. The new curriculum introduces statutory spelling words…but we know that word lists are rapidly forgotten after Friday’s test! Introduce new words as new vocabulary, used in real contexts – orally, at first.

It’s hard to remember how to spell words that exist outside our practical vocabulary; that’s why we struggle with children’s spelling of ‘new’ words/rules. Mastering contextualised vocabulary before emphasising the spelling aspect is time-consuming, but it increases considerably the chances of the spelling being remembered for more than a week.

(One of the best ways to enhance children’s vocabulary is – again – to read to them very regularly.)

Grammar is for all language, not just for writing. Children can learn to speak using adverbial phrases (for example), describing how, when and/or where events happened (“In the middle of the night, the dog barked very noisily out in the garden,”) as early as Foundation Stage – and if they do, they will likely be using them in their writing long before it is statutory; Year 1 children can be introduced to the relative clause, orally (“The wolf, who was hungry again, huffed and puffed at the door,”) even though it isn’t ‘due’ to be taught until Year 5. Aspects of language are generally mastered orally before we can use them well in writing. And if we wait to introduce a grammatical device until the year that it is required in writing, we are making life very difficult!

As soon as children can read, play with grammar very physically. Use paper strips and mini-whiteboards to add to sentences and to try words and phrases in different positions. This low-tech approach seems to be more memorable than IWB resources.

Required terminology is set out on Pp75-79. Most children relish the acquisition of technical vocabulary (phonemes and graphemes, herbivores and carnivores, triceratops and pterodactyl) as long as there is practical context. Introduce terminology as the introduction advises – to talk about children’s reading and writing – and the technical language of language should be as memorable as that of calculation. The underlining of adjectives (etc) is both un-memorable and of almost no use in improving children’s language. Teach grammar compositionally (e.g. “Your sentence would be more effective with an adjective/ adverbial phrase/ relative clause….”; “Great story, but three of your prepositions need adjusting,”) and children’s language improves alongside their contextualised grasp of the terminology.

Do not throw out anything that is currently working well in the learning of English; you may just need to “up the ante” on certain aspects of grammar (and tighten up on terminology) and re-focus on spelling. On the other hand, this is the time to jettison aspects that don’t work. This curriculum urges us to find ways of teaching the PoS that work for our children, as opposed to using someone else’s plans or lesson structures.

Lindsay Pickton, Literacy advisor

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