Met some really good people (and dedicated English teachers) yesterday in the Jury’s Inn in Glasgow to discuss the development of literacy in the context of Curriculum for Excellence. At least that’s my interpretation of what they were there to do, as I was delivering the course on behalf of an organisation called Creative Education, who had advertised it as Implementing the (sic) Curriculum for Excellence in Literacy and English, which, you will realise if you have any understanding of the thinking behind Curriculum for Excellence, doesn’t actually make sense. Implementing Literacy and English in Curriculum for Excellence would make a bit more sense, but not much, which is why I prefer to use the word ‘developing’. This may seem like splitting hairs, but I think it’s a crucial distinction to make.
The respective roles in the secondary school – of English teachers and other subject specialists – in supporting the development of literacy in young people, was a topic which raised some lively debate (and one which I have commented on before (see post on November 25), as did the discussion of the literacy framework itself. Are we ensuring that young people encounter a wide range of different types of text in different media as described in the Principles and Practice paper? How can we begin to assess progress within each of the outcomes? What is English, when you remove the literacy outcomes? Is it literature? In that case, do we need to redefine literature? How can we, individually, as a department, or as a school, move forward with the notion of literacy as the responsibility of all teachers and turn it into a reality?
In answer to the last question, I would suggest that the following moves are an absolute requirement, and in many schools of course these things have already happened:
- Make sure you have a truly representative cross-curricular group working on literacy policy development
- Make sure the person leading it has drive, enthusiasm, passion, true leadership qualities and a vision of what the ultimate goal might be (not much to ask)
- Make sure the policy is informed by the whole community
- Try to move forward as a cluster, developing a common language and common understandings with primary colleagues
- Begin to look at ways of giving ownership of literacy development to the young people themselves, including responsibility for recording of progress
The description of the curriculum frameworks as a series of outcomes and experiences, rather than a list of inputs, is what makes Curriculum for Excellence radically different from school curricula before the 21st century, in that it puts the focus on the learner. One simple way of encouraging responsibility in the learner and linking the idea of literacy across learning, is for every young person coming in to S1 to have a personalised ‘Word’ book in which they record new words and definitions in all subjects, helping them to see the links between subjects, and making them aware that there are words which can have different meanings in different contexts.
Similarly, many departments and schools already include elements of self-assessment in their recording and reporting systems, which is a good place to start in establishing responsibility and ownership in the young person, as they begin to record a portfolio of evidence towards recognition of their achievements.
At the end of the course one delegate (who was generally very complimentary in her evaluation of the day) commented that it had raised more questions than answers, which I took to be an expression of disappointment; but if it raised the right questions I think I would settle for that.
I would like to thank Alastair, Avril, Cara, Claire, Heather, Hilary, Karen, Kate, Lorna, Martin, Michaella, Paul and Roz for sharing their own views and experiences so willingly in a spirit of openness and collaboration.