English curriculum statement
At Park Hill School, we provide teaching and learning opportunities to develop all areas of English: spoken language; reading; writing and spelling; performance; punctuation and grammar. Our commitment to inclusion and equality of opportunity is shown through the range of strategies we employ to ensure engagement in lessons of our pupils.
At Park Hill, particularly because many of our pupils begin their school life without the oracy skills appropriate for their age, we recognise the importance of spoken language in the development of reading and writing and, indeed, of the whole individual. The skills of speaking and listening are explicitly taught and children are given a wide range of opportunities to practise these skills and develop confidence and competence.
Throughout the School, children talk about their learning, developing ideas and understanding through discussion, asking questions, being able to listen carefully to others’ views and giving them time to respond, sometimes challenging others’ viewpoints, negotiating with others in group work and considering a range of viewpoints. Talk partners are often used as a strategy to encourage discussion in lessons. Relevant vocabulary is explicitly taught in lessons across the curriculum so that our children’s knowledge and understanding of vocabulary increases. Talk for Writing, which is used throughout the school in order to embed key vocabulary in children’s minds, is one such method that is employed on a regular basis.
For younger pupils, opportunities to develop their spoken language include role play within the indoor and outdoor learning environments where children can explore language in contexts such as a garage or a hairdresser’s or a café, for example. As the children become older, opportunities are extended with the children preparing to speak to an audience using ICT presentations or posters as prompts. Children in Year 6 learn to use spoken language in a formal debate.
Spoken language is also developed through drama activities as children improvise, refine and rehearse scripts and learn to present these to an audience – for example – in their class assemblies. Rehearsing ideas through role play and spoken language enables children to explore different genres, identify with characters and develop vocabulary: teachers often use this approach as preparation to improve the quality of written work.
During the year we run poetry performance competitions where children of all ages can showcase their ability to learn off texts by heart and perform poems of their choice with expression and actions.
Every week a talk homework topic is sent home for the children to talk about with their families and then come back into school to discuss with their teachers and peers.
We promote respect towards all languages and dialects that children may bring into school with them. We value all languages and recognise home languages as a stepping-stone to progress in the use of English.
Reading consists of two dimensions - word reading and comprehension (both listening to a book read to them and when reading themselves) - and it is essential that children become competent in both. At Park Hill, reading is taught as a separate lesson from writing. However, we very much try to link reading and writing activities. We also endeavour to encourage reading across the entire curriculum. As the children move through the school, they are taught a whole wealth of reading skills such as:
- decoding and blending (for Year 1)
- recognition of ‘tricky’ words on sight (for Years 1 and 2)
- retrieval of information from a text
- participating in discussions about books that are read to them and those they can read for themselves, building on their own and others’ ideas and challenging views
- interpretation of information and drawing inferences such as inferring characters’ feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence
- predicting what might happen next
- commenting on the writer’s use of language, structure and presentation
- performing a text
- identifying the writer’s purpose and viewpoint
- summarising a text or part of text
- distinguishing between statements of fact and opinion
- identifying how language, structure and presentation contribute to meaning
- identifying and discussing themes and conventions in and across a wide range of writing
- making comparisons within and across books
We use a wide selection of challenging texts that are structured in different ways, including fiction, poetry, plays, non-fiction and reference books. Usually, (particularly in Key Stage 2), one text is used for the whole class although differentiated activities will be set according to the ability of each child. During the main lesson, discussions take place on the text, centring around one or more of the progression statements appropriate to the children’s ability. Written tasks are given as follow-up activities to ensure secure understanding of what has been discussed. From time to time, particularly challenging texts are chosen; these are examined in close detail with great attention being paid to vocabulary and nuances in meaning.
Pre-tutoring of the main texts is sometimes provided for lower ability children; guided group work is also carried out from time to time (and on a more frequent basis in Key Stage 1) so that the children are immersed in texts appropriate for their own ability.
Non-fiction texts are continually woven in alongside fiction texts to help provide background information for the children on the fiction text they are reading.
Strategies to aid Reading
The children are advised to use the following strategies to aid their comprehension as they read an unfamiliar text:
- Background knowledge
- Noticing where breakdown in meaning occurs and reading back or forwards to put the meaning back together
- Ask questions of themselves about what is happening in a text and why
- Spotting important vocabulary and trying to work out the meaning
Much attention is given to learning new vocabulary and making sure this is embedded securely in children’s minds. Each week, a number of activities are planned around a selection of new words, which the children will meet in a text that week. The aim is for the children to have an in-depth understanding of a word, not only in its current context, but also for them to be able to remember the meaning if they should encounter it again in a different text and for them to be able to use it accurately themselves in their own writing. Additionally, the children are taught to recognise different forms of the word – nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs.
As far as possible, the teachers try to use Tier 2 words (words which offer a much greater level of precision and accuracy than their simpler counterparts) in their everyday conversations with the children and they encourage them to respond in a like manner.
Great emphasis is placed on the children being able to read aloud fluently with expression, showing understanding of what they read by varying their intonation, tone and volume so that the meaning is clear to an audience. Teachers use the strategy of ‘echo reading’: here children are asked to read small sections of a text in exactly the same way the teacher has read them. We believe that, if children are taught to read aloud expressively, they will learn to do this silently in their heads and this, in turn, will significantly aid comprehension of a demanding text.
Even when pupils can read independently, the class teacher still reads a class novel aloud to them on a regular basis. The class novel is chosen by the teacher so that children meet books and authors that they might not choose to read themselves.
Reading for Enjoyment
We try hard to instil a love of reading in our children and to encourage them to read widely for their own pleasure. Teachers constantly recommend books for the children to try and pupils are urged to suggest texts for their peers to read. We have close links with our local library, Balsall Heath, and are often involved in projects with them. Regular visits are made to the library in order to help inspire our children to read more widely and to make the children aware of the library’s facilities.
Children in all year groups are encouraged also to read at home; they (or - in the case of very young children - their parents) are asked to complete a reading diary, detailing what they have read over the week, and bring this into school on a set day once a week. Children in Years 5 and 6 are expected to have more detailed entries. Where it is very difficult for children to read at home, staff will do their utmost to ensure they are given extra reading time at school.
Many children also enjoy reading texts and completing comprehension exercises via our Reading Eggs computer program (which can be accessed at home). Children are able to select texts at their own ability to read online and then answer questions on them.
In writing, we base our learning around the Writing Cycle which takes the following format:
- Immersion in a genre incorporating: Talk for Writing, role play, book talk, class discussion, paired discussion, sentence construction, punctuation and grammar work related to the end piece of writing to be written, modelling of the writing by the teacher, text marking of modelled texts in the same genre as the one to be written and short pieces of writing.
- Planning for ‘The Big Write’ – this is very much a supported activity involving writing frames and differentiated success criteria.
- Writing the ‘Big Write’ with the aid of success criteria provided by the teacher. Again, this is a supported activity.
- Proof reading and evaluating own work. Sometimes, the children proof read together with a partner and evaluate it together.
- ‘Close the Gap’ lesson – general learning point which the teacher has picked up from marking the books will be taught to the whole class. This is followed by the children working on their own ‘close the gap’ comments which have been highlighted by the teacher in their books.
- ‘Cold Write’ – the children plan and write an unseen piece in the same genre. Children also write their own success criteria.
- Again the children spend some time proof reading their own work and then evaluating it.
- Older children sometimes produce first and then second drafts when they have had time to consider how they might be able to change it for the better.
- Peer marking – this piece is marked by another child against the success criteria. The marker should state what they have particularly liked about the piece of writing and what they feel could be developed further. Both comments must relate to the success criteria. Sometimes, the children work in pairs whereby they look with a partner at their own piece of writing and then at their partner’s.
- Performance of their writing might take place at any of these stages listed above. We try hard to make sure there is a real purpose and audience for the children’s writing.
Grammar and Punctuation
Grammar and punctuation points are taught at the beginning of English lessons, where they are relevant to the genre being worked on. There are also discrete lessons in grammar and punctuation from Year 2 upwards.
Phonics and Spelling
We base our teaching of phonics around the Letters and Sounds programme. Letters and Sounds is a focused teaching strategy that teaches children the sounds made by letters and combinations of letters; within this programme, children are also taught the skills of blending sounds together in order to read words and segmenting sounds as they learn to spell. Phonics is taught through 6 phases:
Phase 1 supports the development of spoken language.
Phase 2-5 is a systematic approach to phonics teaching and word recognition skills
Phase 6 focuses on word-specific spellings and the rules for spelling alternatives.
Phonics is taught as a discrete session every day in Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 2. Two lessons per week are based around reading, two around writing and one around ‘tricky’ words (non-decodable words). Each lesson in Nursery, Reception ,Year 1 and Year 2 is taught by the teacher to the whole class, although the learning is differentiated according to ability within the lesson. Those children, who did not achieve the Phonics Check in Year 1, are given additional tutoring in phonics in the afternoons.
Phonics is still taught to those children in Key Stage 2 who do not have a secure phonic knowledge. The application of taught phonics skills runs throughout the whole curriculum.
Spelling, appropriate to ability and age expectation, is taught for short periods of time on a daily basis in Key Stage 2 in line with statutory guidance as outlined in English Appendix 1 - Spelling. The children are taught a range of strategies to enable them to spell words correctly and are encouraged to apply these strategies to their independent writing.
Handwriting and Presentation
At Park Hill we aim to equip children with the skills to write in a handwriting style that is fluent, joined and legible. Children throughout the school use a cursive script where all letters start with a lead-in from the line and have a tiny hook on the end of them, which makes it easier to join them. Lower case g, y and j are not joined and neither are capital letters. Some children begin to join their letters in Year 2 but it is expected that all children will be joining their letters by Year 4 when every child must use a pen for all their writing.