Literacy Skills at Summer Schools
02 August 2012
Last week nearly 300 pupils from six schools in challenging circumstances in the West Midlands took part in an intensive Summer School programme aimed to boost their literacy skills. It is part of a wider government initiative which has seen 2,000 new summer schools running across England in an attempt to put 65,000 poorer children on an equal footing with their wealthier peers when they start secondary school in September. Research shows that students eligible for free school meals regularly under-perform. By the end of primary education, just under 58% of disadvantaged pupils have achieved the expected level of attainment, compared with almost 78% of other pupils. The pupils were taught in small groups by 28 trainees from the new cohort of Teach First teachers, who had the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of teaching as part of their own training at the six-week ‘Summer Institute’ taking place at the University of Warwick. The Teach First teachers were mentored by eight qualified teachers in order to ensure their own development and the progress of their pupils. Here, Teach First participant Gemma Gronland shares her experience of working at the Summer School:
Last week a group of us, soon to be teaching secondary English, went into local schools for the week to help run literacy lessons at a Summer School for the year 7s starting in September. The resounding response from all of us who have now come out the other end of Week 5 is clear: It was hard work, but and most importantly, it was incredibly worthwhile. I feel as though, over dinner last Friday to mark the end of the project, we were all basking in the success of the week regardless of its intensity.
I was 1 of 8 to go to a local school just outside Birmingham where our theme for the week was ‘monsters’ and our brief: to teach poetry. Armed with lesson plans –which later changed so frequently they bared little resemblance to their original – we took our classes for the week, which all varied in ability. Our neighbours in the adjacent classroom, Joseph and Kat, were in charge of a very low ability group, whilst over in the opposite portacabin, Franki, Sarah, Alex and Lizzie were running poetry lessons for Gifted and Talented year 6s. Francesca and I ran the middle streamed set which offered its own logistical problems.
Firstly the ability of the class was far more diverse than we anticipated, and a change to the proceeding lessons had to acknowledge this. Secondly, this difference in ability has a profound impact on how well you can teach, which we began to realise more tangibly when trying desperately to scaffold a lesson on sonnets. The biggest lesson learnt from this whole thing, for me, has been how to differentiate effectively and genuinely know that your students have understood what you have set out to teach.
The other ability groups also offered their own challenges. Joseph and Kat’s group appeared to be stuck in the realms of sentence formation and punctuation rules only to conclude the week with fabulous Haikus of an impressive standard. The transformation in this group was probably the most impressive and celebrating over wine at the end of the week, you could see how proud these teachers were of their class (rightly so!).
The pilot scheme offered us the opportunity to move beyond conceptualising the classroom and speaking generically about ‘pupils’, to testing what actually works compared to what will only ever work on paper. Moreover, it was amazing to see just how powerful knowing your pupils names can be and that has been something I want to secure in September as early as possible.
Gemma Gronland, 2012 Participant