We have implemented a whole-school approach to the teaching of literacy at Strathfieldsaye Primary School. This means that we have adopted well-researched methods for teaching literacy, and we implement these programs consistently across all year levels at our school. Spelling, thinking, grammar, comprehension, handwriting, speaking and listening skills are explicitly taught in order to prepare our students to participate effectively in the broader community.
A typical literacy session begins with a whole class focus and shared activity, often including the teacher modelling reading and writing skills to the students. Following this, students work individually or in small groups where they focus on practising and consolidating their own skills. Lessons conclude with a sharing of the students’ learning.
We utilise a number of teaching strategies, frameworks and resources to engage our students in literacy; including:
Words Their Way spelling
Big Write and VCOP
6 Traits of Writing
ABC Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress
Reading and Viewing
All classes use independent reading (read to self) as a framework to focus on explicitly taught CAFE strategies. CAFE is an acronym for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary and is incorporated in ‘Daily 5’- Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work and Work on Writing. Reading Workshop lessons include; explicit modelling of the reading strategies, time for independent reading and time for teachers to confer with their students.
All students are exposed to various modes of media including fiction and non-fiction texts, video clips and films during the Reading Workshop. During regular planned student- teacher conferences, each student and their teacher collaboratively set individual learning goals to work towards at school and at home.
SPS has adopted the Words Their Way spelling approach to assist our students in developing effective spelling strategies. Words Their Way is a teacher-directed, student-centred approach to vocabulary growth and spelling development whereby students categorise words using picture, pattern and meaning word sorts and activities. It caters for differentiated learning in the classroom, rather than a one-size fits all solution. This approach coupled with a focus on high frequency words ensures that students have a firm understanding of spelling features. We ensure that all students are resourceful spellers and are able to use a range of different strategies to spell different words.
When starting a sort, students work in a group with the teacher to discover how and why words are sorted the way they are. The sorts and activities during the week enable the students to practise, revise and consolidate their understanding. The students are then tested to ensure they understand the rules of the sort.
Our writing framework consists of a range of proven elements that when combined, create a rigorous and engaging foundation for the teaching of writing. The building blocks of our approach consist of Big Write and VCOP, as well as the 6 Traits of Writing. All classroom teachers and integration aides have completed professional learning with the Big Write and VCOP writing approach at the beginning of 2019.
What is Big Write and VCOP?
Big Write and VCOP is a fast paced, fun filled writing methodology that is based around talk. Writing improvement is achieved through a series of highly motivating, differentiated lessons that embed all the basic skills and knowledge that children require to be successful and to continue to improve. The use of the Australian Criterion Scale ensures consistency of assessment between and across grade levels. The Big Write methodology is; ‘if they can’t say it, they can’t write it.’ With talk and communication, an imperative element, it directly appeals to those who are reluctant writers. Our students are encouraged to be ambitious, up-level their work and focus on the elements of VCOP in their writing.
Through the use of VCOP children will develop 4 main aspects of their writing:
V – Vocabulary – Words that make you go ‘WOW’
C – Connectives – Words that connect sentences together
O – Openers – Effective ways to begin sentences
P – Punctuation – Power punctuation
VCOP warm up activities are conducted throughout the week and are based on one or more of the VCOP elements. These sessions aim to provide students with lots of fun and engagement.
Big Write is a celebration of students’ learning and is usually conducted on a Thursday. The biggest difference between Big Write and the ‘everyday’ writing session is the environment. Big Writing lessons are characterised by a ‘special’ atmosphere. A calm and quiet environment is created in the classroom where quiet music is playing. Students may have special paper, special books and special pens or pencils to use while independently responding to a writing stimulus. The teacher uses the Big Write time to conference with students one to one and to look at their individual writing goals. ‘Home Talk’ is sent home before the Big Write session to allow the students opportunities to talk about their upcoming writing and to generate ideas with their family and friends.
A Cold Write is where students are not given the opportunity to talk about the topic before writing and the learning aides are removed. This is an opportunity for students to display what they know without the assistance from external resources.
Assessment of Literacy at SPS
Students’ reading and writing is assessed according to the Victorian Curriculum and the school’s Assessment Schedule through informal and formal methods. These can include student-teacher conferences, running records, observations, Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark assessments, Australian Criterion Scale, Student Friendly Criterion Scale and Words Their Way spelling inventories.