You may be interested to know what we do in English at St Bernard’s and how you can help your son/daughter to enjoy the subject and make progress. English lessons at the start of the year follow a Transition course which continues a scheme of work begun by the Primary Schools at the end of the summer term. Most Slough Primary schools follow this unit of work and many other areas do as well. The idea is to help the students settle into Secondary schools by using terminology that they will recognise when studying passages of writing and to continue a strong pattern of personal reading. It develops all the areas of English-Reading, Writing and Speaking.
We then go on to study a novel or autobiography, followed later in the year by some poetry, some non-fiction and a play. We continue to develop their Writing skills as well build up as their confidence as speakers by regular drama lessons, debates and discussions. This term we are planning to develop a cross-curricular programme of Reading for Information which will include input from the School Librarian.
As for marking and assessment -we assess their work using diagnostic comments so that they will all know what is good about their writing and what they still need to do to improve it. This week we are setting them a Reading test which we will assess using National Curriculum level. In the next week or two, we will assess the one or two pieces of writing they have done (at least one in class) and give them a level for that as well. The students will find out their strengths and weaknesses by our use of a scheme called APP or Assessing Pupil Progress, which shows them these strengths and weaknesses quite clearly. Not all the work will have an actual level on it but will be marked using diagnostic comments.
Their marked work is done on A4 paper and kept in a folder in the classroom. You will be informed of their current level a number of times during the year. The work done in their grey exercise books is normally just notes and drafts which are not necessarily marked by the teacher. If you want to see their marked work or discuss their progress in English, please contact their English teacher via the homework diary.
Do not be too concerned if their level seems to dip a bit in this first term –the demands of KS3 differ from KS2 so it may appear that they have gone down from say level 5 at KS2 to level 4a but this is quite usual. We divide the levels into ‘a’ for those at the top of the level, ‘b’ for those securely on it and ‘c’ for those who just reach it. We hope most of them will be at level 5c at least by the end of the year and some will be approaching level 6.
Using these levels and their prior attainment, we may offer some students help with their English in the form of Literacy Support. Depending on their problems with Literacy, some may have adult support and be withdrawn from another lesson for 30 minutes a week on a 4 week rota, to avoid missing the same lesson each week. Others may be given a sixth form student to help them in a lunch hour once a week –again only for 20 minutes or half an hour. We have found this to be extremely helpful and sometimes the student only needs it for a term or so just to sort out a few problems. We will of course inform you if we think your son or daughter would benefit.
How can you help your sons and daughters with their English? There is one easy answer to this –encourage them to read! We have been promoting personal reading particularly this year. Encourage them to go along to the Book club on Wednesday lunchtimes. It doesn’t matter to some extent what they read –if they are keen readers, then help them to choose books from the reading list we have given them and talk to them about what they have read. It can be a good idea to read the book at the same time so you can discuss it together. We are introducing a ‘buddy’ system this year to encourage parents and students to read together. If your child is a reluctant reader, get him or her reading anything –the sports pages of the newspapers, autobiographies of their favourite celebrities, books about music, about football, film and music reviews –anything at all!
We run a Readathon in the next half term –which is a sponsored read for Charity-we normally make about £1000, but it also encourages them to read.
You can also encourage their writing by looking over their homework and pointing out obvious things like lack of paragraphs or punctuation.
Also encourage their speaking skills by getting them to express their opinions on items in the news –they usually have them and it will develop their confidence as speakers.
Finally there is a government website called the Standards website (www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/progressionmaps) . This is primarily for teachers but it has a section for parents with advice as to how to help their children to make progress in English.
Thank you for your support.
Rosalind Nockles (Head of English)