Ofsted have released their long-awaited research review into effective and high-quality English curricula. The report is a decent sized read, although much shorter than I had anticipated. I would definitely recommend reading the full review, but I have created a written summary of some of the main points, as well as a graphic summary of the key ideas.
I must say that I agree with a lot of what has been included in the report, although some of the findings have been food for thought. From a quick look on Twitter, the responses range from broad support, to downright disapproval and disappointment. I think for a subject like English, there is going to be such a huge range of expertise and viewpoints, that it is quite unlikely for a document to be produced which is pleasing to everyone‘s opinions and positions. Some of the criticism has been that the report draws findings from bloggers and non-empirical studies, yet I would argue that there is often huge support for such ideas when they appear as tweets that garner a significant interest (though not necessarily by the same critics).
In any case, I’ve found the review to provide a really useful tool for reflection, and to contribute to our understanding of what makes an English curriculum effective. I hope I have represented the content accurately, but am happy to be corrected if that’s not the case.
You can find the original version by clicking here.
Scroll to the bottom to find a graphic summary and PDF to download.
The National Context
National assessments show that girls outperform boys. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve less well than their peers from non-disadvantaged backgrounds.
Just under three quarters of five-year-olds met the expected level of development across all the ELGs for communication, language and literacy.
30% of disadvantaged pupils in Y1 cannot decode at the minimum standard required.
More than 25% of 11-year-olds did not reach age-related expectations in 2019.
3 out of 10 pupils did not gain a standard pass in English language at GCSE. (Apparently this is not based on a distribution curve).
The number of pupils taking A-level English has declined over the past decade.
Aims of the Curriculum
The report does not seek to review or debate the aims of an English curriculum.
The report understands progression in terms of curriculum content that enables pupils to meet the aims of the National Curriculum subjects (spoken language, reading and writing).
The report discusses appropriate pedagogues to learn particular content.
For younger children (KS1 and KS2), developmental aspects and basic skills are more important; appropriate understanding of more differentiated subject knowledge, concepts and skills is more important for older pupils.
Knowledge is defined as ‘the concepts, facts, processes, language, narratives and conventions of each subject’.
Most principles in the report are relevant to both primary and secondary pupils.
English teaches the modalities of speaking, reading and writing as well as using these modalities as a means of learning the subject.
This risks planning for lessons focusing on using the modalities rather than teaching the necessary knowledge to use them successfully. For example, not teaching the importance of turn-taking in a collaborative task.
Teachers should teach knowledge of language - such as grammar and vocabulary. This body of knowledge should underpin the progression of structures in the intended curriculum.
Vocabulary is a significant area of knowledge which has far-reaching effects on children’s achievement in English. There is well-established research which describes the relationship between socio-economic status and the size of children’s vocabulary.
Importantly, pupils can seemingly transfer knowledge learned in the context of one modality to help them in another. For example, they can use vocabulary knowledge in comprehension and in self-expression.
The subject of English can be conceptualised as having a body of knowledge, rather than being a ’skills-based’ subject.
English in EYFS and KS1
Children with a language deficit at age 5 are 4 times more likely to have difficulties with reading when they are adults.
Developing spoken language - including vocabulary - is essential for the academic progress of all children, and especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is critically important to develop vocabulary explicitly - particularly in the early years.
Reducing the word gap in EYFS and KS1 can help disadvantaged children develop their vocabulary faster.
Reading and Writing
The National Curriculum reflects the simple view of reading (Gough and Tunmer): word recognition and language comprehension. These forms the programmes of study for KS1 and KS2.
Writing can be understood in terms of transcription and composition. Transcription includes spelling and handwriting.
Children should begin learning how to read and write words in Reception, as part of their phonics teaching. Decoding and transcription should remain a priority in KS1 and above for older pupils who have not mastered this early stage.
Language comprehension and comprehension can be developed in a language-rich environment. This can include interactions between adults and children and children listening to, discussing and memorising stories, poems, rhymes and songs.
A significant American study found that phonics teaching is more effective if it is introduced early, particularly before age 6.
Daily systematic phonics instruction leads to a quicker start in early reading and spelling.
Early phonics teaching can prime children’s mind to learn to read, according to findings from cognitive neuroscience.
Systematic synthetic phonics and direct instruction are particularly effective approaches; this is especially true for children from more deprived backgrounds and those who have reading difficulties.
Well-developed phonemic awareness skills support children to be successful readers. Phonics teaching should not be delayed if children cannot distinguish between individual phonemes, as the teaching itself exposes children to the different sounds and helps them to distinguish between them.
Children who continue to find distinguishing between phonemes challenging benefit from small group and 1:1 teaching to support their understanding of GPCs.
It should be a school priority to intervene with children who are having difficulties, with fidelity to the programme and a well-trained adult being a key part of the intervention.
The National Curriculum states that children should hear, share and discuss a wide range of high-quality books; in their own reading, children should first practise with decodable books.
Decodable books are ones which are consistent with the children’s developing phonic knowledge, and which do not require the use of other strategies to work out how to read words.
Non-decodable books should form part of the ’language-rich’ environment which is contributed to by reading and sharing stories and other high-quality texts. These texts develop children’s knowledge of language.
Children should have daily opportunities to read decodable words both in isolation and in the books they read.
Decodable books allow children to apply their phonic knowledge to words.
It should be a school priority to teach the alphabetic code to pupils - no matter their age - if they are unable to decode accurately or at risk of not learning to read.
Both primary and secondary schools should quickly identify any pupils who are finding it hard to grasp the code they have been taught.
Prompt intervention is the most effective intervention.
There should be ongoing assessment of all children’s phonic knowledge to identify pupils who need intervention. (There is no mention of what type of assessment, and at what age - but presumably, this statement applies specifically to children who struggle with decoding).
Swift and effective intervention allows pupils to keep up with others and have full access to the curriculum.
It is critical that children achieve fluency in the early stages of learning to read. This can be understood as reading with accuracy and sufficient speed in decoding.
Fluency frees up children’s working memory and allows them to focus on comprehension.
Fluency can be developed through repeated practice.
Writing involves transcription and composition.
Transcription skills - spelling and handwriting - need to be secure so that pupils can concentrate on composition - articulating ideas and structuring them in speech, before writing them down.
Transcription skills should be a critical focus for EYFS and KS1.
Dictated sentences can be a useful way to apply and practise spelling, if children are not yet able to compose and transcribe at the same time.
It follows that it may be effective to teach transcription and composition skills separately in the earliest stages of writing instruction. Composition can be done orally, and led by the teacher, until children are secure with transcription.
Spelling and decoding are ‘reversible processes’: reading involves blending the individual sounds of a word while spelling involves segmenting a word into its individual sounds.
The National Curriculum also includes common exception words at each stage for pupils to learn key words which contain unusual or yet to be taught GPCs.
Knowing how to spell a word benefits both spelling and reading - as they both call upon the same representation.
Dictation gives children the practice with applying their spelling and segmenting skills, without having to compose sentences by themselves.
When dictating sentences for Reception-age children to write, teachers should only use words which contain taught letter-sound correspondances. This is the same advice for Year 1.
Handwriting requires effort and attention, as well as suitable motor skills.
For children to become fluent, they need repeated practice in accurate letter formation.
The formal teaching of handwriting is not required before Reception, but children should be able to hold a pencil effectively by the end of the EYFS: the tripod grip should be used in almost all cases.
The National Curriculum requires children to learn unjoined handwriting first. Afterwards they use some diagonal and horizontal strokes that are needed to join letters.
By delaying joined handwriting, teachers and children have time to focus on other aspects of the writing process - such as composition, spelling and accurate letter formation.
There is research to support the idea that writing letters might be important in supporting children’s early reading development, as it stimulates the areas of the brain known to underpin successful reading.
Skilful handwriting has an impact on composition.
Teaching handwriting is closely associated with the quality, length and fluency of writing, according to two meta-analyses.
Spoken Language - Oracy
A strong command of the spoken word is a vital outcome of English education: spoken language is an important goal of the curriculum.
There is a correlation between pupils’ spoken language skills and their academic outcomes, social development and emotional development.
Talk can sometimes be undervalued because its function can be considered as being primary social; however, in the classroom, talk can be cognitive and cultural as well.
There should be clearly planned provision for developing pupils’ spoken language across the curriculum. These follow the following aspects of language: physical, linguistic, cognitive, and social and emotional.
Spoken language is not just about improving speech - it is also about developing pupils’ ability to collaborate through conversation.
Pupils’ success in using spoken language depends on the knowledge of the topic they are talking about.
Pupils will typically engage in a different register and vocabulary when talking at home and with friends than they would when discussing academic content and when in the classroom.
Pupils should be taught explicitly how to use Standard English: the spoken language curriculum should ensure that all pupils can select and use appropriate grammar and register for audience and purpose.
It is important to distinguish between what pupils need to learn for success in spoken language and the teaching activities which might promote learning spoken language.
It cannot be assumed that pupils will learn the necessary knowledge just by being encouraged to speak more or through participating in unstructured activities.
Such knowledge can be identified and taught and can also be acquired through reading.
In English lessons, and across the curriculum, teachers should plan for opportunities for pupils to develop their proficiency.
Teachers should always model competence as a speak and a listener. This modelling makes a significant contribution to developing pupils’ spoken language.
Teachers should model forms which pupils might not experience or encounter away from school. This might include reframing pupils’ spoken language and asking pupils to repeat this reframing.
All pupils, of all ages, benefit from plentiful opportunities to frequently practise and apply their new knowledge of spoken language across a range of contexts and for a range of purposes.
There should be carefully planned opportunities for ‘exploratory talk’ as well as for ‘presentational’ talk. These require direct and explicit teaching and practice.
Daily interactions can also be used to develop pupils’ proficiency.
Ground rules, provided by the teacher, can be supportive for pupils to develop their ability to collaborate in conversation.
The discipline of rhetoric can provide older pupils with an insight into how writers and orators use spoken language.
This provides the knowledge of how to craft language with increasing effectiveness and sophistication.
Skilled reading requires accurate, speedy word reading and good language comprehension.
All pupils need to be taught a broad curriculum that will allow them to comprehend increasingly complex texts.
Reading comprehension requires knowledge of vocabulary, context, syntax and narrative structure, as well as the capacity to read fluently.
Progression in Comprehension
The three factors which underpin reading comprehension are: knowledge, processes, and general cognitive resources.
Once pupils have reached automaticity with word reading, any issues with understanding are very likely to relate to language comprehension than to decoding.
It is difficult to separate the knowledge used in comprehension E.g. it is unhelpful to try to consider knowledge of vocabulary separately from contextual knowledge.
When considering the knowledge necessary for comprehension, it is important to consider the knowledge pupils will need to learn to understand increasingly complex Texts. This knowledge should be identified in a curriculum and taught.
The National Curriculum requires that pupils be prepared ultimately to read more complex texts. Pupils of all ages need to be taught a curriculum that will allow them to comprehend such increasingly complex texts.
The wide range of fiction and non-fiction at KS2, for example, should prepare pupils for KS3, which should in turn prepare pupils for the demands of KS4.
Factors which affect text complexity include: linguistic features, textual references, cohesion, levels of meaning, text structure, style of narrator, and allusions, cultural references and intertextuality.
The above factors mean that it is not possible to measure the complexity of a text by its vocabulary and sentence structures alone.
An English curriculum should ensure that pupils of all ages acquire the necessary knowledge for improved comprehension through reading increasingly challenging texts at each stage. These texts can act as a ‘smooth ramp’ of increasing challenge from the EYFS to KS4.
At both primary and secondary, texts should be carefully selected so that each text prepares children with the language and knowledge needed for the next so that gradually pupils will be ready for texts of greater complexity.
Pupils may acquire the important knowledge from reading the texts alone; however, an effective English curriculum explicitly identifies what it is that pupils need to learn so that they can understand progressively more complex texts.
Components of Comprehension - Vocabulary
Vocabulary is important for comprehension and most vocabulary will be encountered through reading - the words and language patterns of the spoken word are not sufficient to teach the breadth and depth of English vocabulary.
Teachers should select texts which contain some vocabulary that is likely to be unfamiliar but which is not too difficult to understand.
Pupils of all ages will gradually learn vocabulary through repeated encounters; however, it is also beneficial to identify and teach some vocabulary explicitly.
Tier 2 words are vocabulary which are high-frequency and can be used in multiple contexts, though are unlikely to be encountered in everyday conversation. Identifying these words can be helpful in identifying which words to explicitly teach. See my post on Bringing Words to Life.
An effective curriculum is also likely to teach about the morphology of words, including the meaning of roots, prefixes and suffixes. Teaching about morphology can support children in making connections between words in terms of meaning and function.
Teaching vocabulary should avoid complicated activities which incur unnecessary cognitive load for pupils.
Pupils usually need to encounter a word a number of times in different contexts before it enters their working vocabulary.
It is more effective to teach how new words function in different contexts than through simply teaching definitions.
See my post on Bringing Words to Life. for more detail on effective teaching strategies.
Activities which involve children using their knowledge of morphology can be designed to help recognise similarities between words which share the same root. This also supports their understanding due to the correlation between spelling and comprehension.
Components of Comprehension - Context
It can be difficult to separate knowledge of a text’s context from other factors, such as knowledge of vocabulary.
Those with a stronger background knowledge in the topic they are reading about have a better comprehension of the text than those with less knowledge.
Weaker readers tend to have less relevant knowledge than their peers.
Teaching should provide the relevant contextual knowledge that pupils need for adequate comprehension. This means that only knowledge which is essential for adequate comprehension needs to be taught.
Children also build their contextual knowledge through reading which is why teachers should provide an abundance and richness of accessible texts to read across the curriculum as well as independently.
Components of Comprehension - Knowledge of Narrative Structure
Comprehension is affected by how much pupils are familiar with the type and structure of the text they are reading - including the features of stories.
Effective reading curricula need to contain a broad range of different text types and structures.
Pupils should become familiar and experienced with structures and features of narrative texts include setting, character, plot and conflict. This is different to just knowing definitions of these terms. Older pupils can use texts which contain a much wider range of structural elements.
Components of Comprehension - Syntax Knowledge
Knowledge of sentences allows pupils to read with accuracy and with sufficient speed for fluency.
Pupils need to understand whole sentences and the connections between sentences, as well as the meaning of individual words within sentences.
Pupils need to be taught how to follow the internal coherence of the text, such as recognising referents.
Fluent readers should increasingly encounter texts which contain more, and more complex, multi-clause sentences.
Teachers should also read accessible but more complex texts aloud so that pupils can hear and read these texts regularly. This increases their chances of being successful in understanding texts that they read independently.
Components of Comprehension - Prosody
Prosody is the reading aloud of a text with an understanding of the possible and intended phrasing, rhythm, expressiveness and stress of sentences.
It can be understood as including four aspects: expression and volume, phrasing, smoothness, and pace.
Prosody connects pupils’ knowledge of written sounds and words with spoken language. It allows children to read with meaning.
Prosody ‘completes the bridge by connecting to comprehension’.
Prosody can also be used to show that pupils can resolve ambiguity in meaning at the phrase level e.g. the greenhouse vs the green house.
Teaching Reading Fluency
Exposure to text, including oral exposure, is the most important factor in explaining variation in pupils’ reading fluency.
One of the most effective strategies for teaching fluency was repeated readings of texts. It is effective from early years onwards.
Repeated reading is also effective for pupils with reading difficulties.
Listening to a text and simultaneously reading along with texts is an effective teaching strategy with struggling readers: teachers model the prosody of a text to pupils when they do this. However, listening and reading along can limit pupils’ comprehension due to the increased cognitive load.
Discussing wording before reading can also support fluency.
Pupils should also be given opportunities to perform and read aloud.
Significant aspects of processes involved in comprehension - decoding, word identification, meaning retrieval, sentence parsing, inferring and monitoring - happen automatically.
Skilful readers unconsciously use a range of strategies to find the meaning of texts.
Pupils may need to be taught how to use strategies which prompt these processes - especially those that do not have all the knowledge they may need to readily comprehend a text.
Some pupils might also need to be taught how to and develop the habit of constructing meaning whilst they read.
There is strong evidence that teaching strategies that direct pupils to pay more attention to the meaning of the text are beneficial.
Comprehension strategy instruction can be useful when it is brief and explicit. There is evidence to suggest these strategies should only be taught from UKS2 and above, once pupils have gained fluency in reading.
Teaching comprehension strategies to poor comprehenders is not the panacea it may seem: this is because they are not skills which can be honed through repetition and deliberate practice regardless of context.
The above point illuminates the importance of ensuring that pupils read a breadth of literature.
Progress in comprehension comes from developing the knowledge needed to understand increasingly challenging texts.
Making inferences depends on the pupil‘s vocabulary knowledge, contextual knowledge, and knowledge of language structures. The reader uses these knowledge bases to form a mental model of the text.
Language is surrounded by ‘a cloud of taken-for-granted, unspoken knowledge, without which the said cannot be understood’.
Knowledge of the context of the text is needed to make inferences, which is why general practice in inference making will not develop a general ‘skill’ although time-limited instruction can help children make some progress.
Most children are able to make inferences due to the need to do so in everyday conversation. A pupil with limited academic and cultural knowledge will find it difficult to make inferences about topics they know less about.
Skilled readers are able to monitor their understanding of a text and recognise when their comprehension has broken down.
Some pupils who regularly lack the knowledge to fully comprehend a text, might not know it is important to think while reading, and be aware of taking action when understanding begins to break down.
Pupils need to be alerted to the importance of thinking about what they read.
Comprehension as a Pedagogical Tool
Comprehension strategies can be used to make pupils think carefully about the meaning of a particular text.
This might involve using a strategy such as summarising or identifying the main point.
Using a comprehension strategy for pupils to find this information themselves, rather than being told the information from the teacher, does not bring any benefit in itself.
Working Memory Limitations
Pupils’ reading is unlikely to be improved by interventions targeted at improving working memory.
Curriculum time can be used effectively if it is spent ensuring that pupils read fluently and acquire knowledge and vocabulary from the wider curriculum; once these are in their long-term memory, pupils’ working memory is freed up to tackle the comprehension.
Reading for Pleasure
There is a positive correlation between engagement and attainment in reading.
An emphasis on reading for pleasure should not mean that curricula do not include increasingly challenging texts.
Some initiatives linked to developing reading for pleasure might be helpful in some contexts (e.g. dressing as characters, competitions), but should not distract or reduce curriculum time and energy away from reading itself.
It is vitally important that children experience success with reading early on as this is a strong long term predictor of later motivation to read.
For those who do not develop a love of reading from home, the school curriculum and culture must be focused to nurture reading for pleasure.
A coherent strategy for developing a reading for pleasure culture in a school includes: develop teachers’ knowledge of books and children’s interest in books; establishing a pedagogy which includes reading aloud and time for independent reading; creating social reading environments; supporting staff to become reading teachers; and creating reading communities.
Features of an Effective Writing Curriculum
The 2014 National Curriculum does not require pupils to be taught particular genres or text types.
The focus is on writing for different purposes: to describe, narrate, explain, instruct, give and respond to information, and argue.
Pupils will have the necessary opportunities to develop both their transcription and composition.
Pupils’ working memory can be overloaded if spelling and handwriting are not fluent.
There should be sufficient time for pupils to be taught and to practise the component skills of transcription.
When pupils fail to develop sufficient fluency in handwriting, they are significantly affected in how well they can develop higher-order processes such as planning, writing and reviewing texts.
Where pupils lack sufficient fluency in transcription skills, this should be a focus for teachers and leaders. Weakness in transcription skills can reduce the effectiveness of interventions aimed at writing overall.
Spelling begins with pupils learning phonics.
Struggling with letter-to-sound correspondences weakens pupils’ ability to put their ideas into writing.
Teaching needs to reflect the psychological, linguistic and conceptual processes which involve knowledge of the alphabet, syllables, word meaning and etymology.
Although English orthography has many irregularities, these frequently follow patterns that can be learned, despite being complex.
Spelling should be taught explicitly. This should be based on the alphabetic code (especially in KS1) as well as morphology and etymology.
Assessment of spelling should focus on the difficult words or parts of words so that pupils can focus on learning these.
Low-stake spelling tests can support both primary and secondary pupils to learn to spell. These can be either pre-test or practice tests, which involve spaced repetition and recall practice.
Composition - Knowledge of Grammar
Pupils need secure knowledge of grammar for composition.
Pupils benefit from being taught how to combine and construct sentences. This also improves the quality and accuracy of their writing.
The curriculum can be organised so that pupils are taught to use a variety of sentences. Teaching should focus on recognition, construction, meaning and accuracy.
A logical progression in sentence construction might start with the concept of a sentence, then onwards to punctuation and then progressing to single-clause then multi-clause sentences.
To develop their expertise, pupils benefit from direct instruction and modelling, which needs to be followed by extensive, deliberate practice until they are fluent. This practice might consist of short, focused tasks, alongside sufficient feedback, before pupils apply their learning in independent writing.
It is also effective for teachers to model different ways of constructing sentences: for example, they might complete an incomplete sentence, expand a sentence, or combine two sentences. Activities such as these need to link to pupils’ independent writing. Pupils will require prompting to use this knowledge when they are writing.
Teaching grammar can have a positive impact on pupils’ writing, at least for the more able writers.
Pupils with a more developed expressive vocabulary will produce better writing.
This is dependent on building vocabulary, as described in the section on reading.
A Curriculum for Writing
Knowledge of the topic as well as discourse knowledge leads to better writing.
Discourse knowledge is knowledge about how to write (genre, grammar, vocabulary) and how to carry out aspects of the writing process.
Teachers can develop pupils’ discourse knowledge by teaching the characteristics of texts which have been written for different purposes and audiences, as well as providing models of effective writing. Pupils can build their repertoire of features to draw on in their own writing.
Factors Linked to Effective Teaching of Writing
Explicitly teaching foundational writing skills.
A process approach to writing can be effective.
Direct instruction and target practice (about writing knowledge)
Developing pupils’ self-regulation.
Providing frequent opportunities to write.
Provide opportunities to work collaboratively on different aspects and stages of the writing process.
A Process Approach
This involves pupils learning to plan, draft, revise, edit and publish their writing.
This approach might not be sufficient on its own and should therefore be used alongside other approaches.
It is important to explicitly teach foundational skills, which are a prerequisite to allow all pupils to write effectively.
Explicit teaching about writing knowledge and strategies can develop older pupils’ writing.
Self-regulated Strategy Development
Self-regulated strategy development (SRSD) is an approach to teaching writing strategies which has been found to be effective. It involves the following.
Step 1: Teach pupils the background knowledge they need to use a writing strategy effectively.
Step 2: Explicitly describe and discuss the purpose and benefit of the strategy.
Step 3: Model how to use the strategy.
Step 4: Pupils to memorise the steps or components of the strategy.
Step 5: Support and scaffold pupils’ mastery of the strategy.
Step 6: Pupils apply strategy independently.
This approach can be particularly effective for weaker writers as it breaks the complex process down into smaller parts.
Model texts can be used as worked examples.
Reading extracts and shorter texts can help pupils build background knowledge they can use when writing their own versions.
Providing lists of features to include in writing can sometimes encourage pupils to use features which they do not fully understand and therefore do not use strategically.
Instead, it should be more effective to teach pupils how to choose features to match the purpose and audience of the writing.
There is a strong correlation between pupils’ attitudes to writing and their skill as writers
Motivation can come from the content, purpose or audience of the writing, how the writing is constructed, the topic of the writing, and wanting to share ideas with an audience. As well, factors such as pride, accomplishment and mastery can also be motivational for pupils.
Pupils with SEND
The general principles for effective teaching are just as relevant for pupils with SEND.
Pupils with SEND generally do not benefit from differentiated teaching, activities or resources to achieve a curriculum goal.
Differentiation is not the same as targeted teaching, such as repetition of phonic knowledge.
Teachers should use a phonics approach to address gaps in phonic knowledge. It is not necessarily helpful to attribute gaps to dyslexia. Pupils with SEND are very likely to need much more frequent repetition as they learn GPCs.
The literature curriculum should identify the knowledge pupils will need to make progress in the subject.
It is the richness of novels, poems, and drama which teaches pupils about the way we can experience the world.
Literature is not specified in the National Curriculum but is a part of both the primary and secondary curricula and their respective NC goals.
The report notes that their review takes into account opinions and theoretical arguments in this section, due to a limitation of available empirical studies.
The curriculum should provide the epistemic knowledge or disciplinary knowledge of literature. This includes learning about how critical perspectives and knowing influential readings on specific texts.
It includes: the history and development of literature; the craft of the writer; the response of the reader; the nature of literary study. These four fields also draw on contextual knowledge, which is transferable between texts.
Pupils should be taught the specific knowledge which enables pupils to enter the world of the text; they do not need to partake in an extended study of the Victorian era, for example, when studying a Victorian novel. Historical context knowledge can sometimes come from the text itself, or might sometimes need to be explicitly taught.
These fields also draw on aesthetic knowledge, which enables appreciation and enjoyment of literary work.
Progression - Carefully Chosen and Sequenced Texts
Carefully choosing texts for pupils to study can allow pupils’ epistemic knowledge and their capacity to appreciate literature to grow over time.
Pupils are able to make meaningful connections between their knowledge gained through texts as they progress through the curriculum.
Appreciation of English Literature and Key Components
Novices benefit from learning the specific component knowledge needed for comprehension.
A curriculum should identify what pupils may need to learn to be successful, step-by-step.
This does not mean that parts of the curriculum which work holistically cannot be part of the curriculum whilst these components are being developed.
Literary knowledge in the very early stages can be developed by discussing stories that teachers read aloud to pupils, and how such stories might make them feel.
There is a ‘transitional‘ point between UKS2 and Y7/8 when pupils begin to have the capacity to understand different interpretations of literature. Providing interpretations for pupils to contemplate does not stifle making original interpretations; rather, it provides a useful framework for children to develop their interpretations as they gain more experience.
Pedagogy - Novices and Experts
Novices learn more effectively through explicit teaching and by studying worked examples.
Experts can learn effectively using an inquiry-based approach.
If teachers use an inquiry-based approach from the start, the potential for success can be limited.
Pupils need to learn the component skills of how to embed evidence, apply precise vocabulary and evaluate interpretations. There should be a range of subject-appropriate writing activities that require the use of these components, so that pupils can apply what they have learned.
Spacing and Interleaving
The literature curriculum could be structured so that carefully selected content is revisited.
Interleaving might help pupils make connections between texts and concepts, so as to create a larger schema about how literature works. It is the content that makes the difference here, rather than interleaving in itself.
Texts should become, over time, increasingly complex in style and substantial in content and themes.
Quality literary narratives tend to use a greater variety of sentence structures than simpler, easier narratives. This builds pupils’ grammatical knowledge, which can be used in their own writing as well as being helpful in preparing them for more complex syntax in texts which are studied in KS4.
It is important to not just move more archaic texts to younger year groups; instead, the curriculum should prepare pupils to be successful for future texts by developing both knowledge and fluency.
A curriculum is the most powerful tool in enabling pupils to access their future content.
A Coherent Sequence of Texts
By carefully selecting specific literature, teachers can develop pupils’ ability to appreciate literature as they progress through the curriculum.
Studying Complex and Whole Texts
Studying one substantial and complex text can do a lot of the work required by the curriculum.
It might sometimes be useful to use extracts although it is important to read whole texts aloud and at a faster pace than usual (instead of extracts) as this can substantially benefit weaker readers’ progress.
Working through a whole text allows pupils to build up meaning as they go along, and consider multiple layers of meaning.
It is important to introduce pupils to texts that broaden their horizons as well as allowing them to appreciate and experience the richness and beauty of the English language.
It is important to choose texts so that pupils’ experiences aren’t narrowed, especially in a way which only reflects topics and ideas which are similar to what pupils already experience.
That said, it is also important that pupils can see themselves in the books they study.
Choosing texts should be based on the knowledge, practices and traditions of English itself. Literary merit should prevail.
Formative assessment has a positive impact on pupils’ achievement for all ages and across several subjects.
Formative assessment tasks can also be used to support retention e.g. retrieval practice.
Effective formative assessment allows teachers to identify gaps in pupils’ component knowledge and then make the necessary adjustments in curriculum and pedagogy.
Grade descriptors are usually unable to provide teachers with the degree of specificity needed to be useful in identifying such gaps.
Tasks with a narrow focus can be more useful to support teachers in identifying precise gaps and misconceptions.
In writing, adult feedback and self-assessment has the greatest impact on the quality of writing.
For older pupils, self-marking and correction can improve their retention of new content, although teachers may need to support pupils in being able to do this at first.
It can be challenging to establish the right conditions for feedback to be effective and these conditions can widely affect the impact feedback has.
Feedback should provide a ‘recipe for future action’ if it is to be useful and effective. It should also be specific, rather than general, and be challenging and related to the goal of the task. Pupils benefit from being able to understand their mistakes, why they made them and to prevent making such mistakes in the future.
When pupils are learning new knowledge and skills, feedback should be immediate and precise. This can prevent them from making errors and developing misconceptions.
When pupils are applying what they have learned, it may be more effective to delay the feedback. Feedback which is delayed and less frequent will improve long-term retention more effectively that regular and instant feedback.
It is also important that pupils do not receive feedback too often such that they become too dependent on it and then struggle to work independently.
Success criteria can be useful in making it very clear to children what they need to do to be successful. Worked examples are also helpful to draw pupils’ attention to the specific features they are going to apply in their own writing.
Giving children different success criteria in the same lesson can result in children doing different tasks, which may mean that children are drawing on different components of knowledge. This form of in-class differentiation does not generally have much positive impact on attainment.
It is important for pupils to understand the success criteria and how to judge their work. However, it can be problematic to achieve this and some approaches to achieve this challenging task can oversimplify the complexity of an effective piece of writing. This can lead to a formulaic approach to writing.
Success criteria are useful when pupils have enough experience and expertise to understand how they can be applied.
Co-construction of success criteria might be used, but can be problematic if the teacher does not do the lion’s share of the tasks; it is important that their knowledge be used to guide pupils to understand what makes the writing successful, rather than being driven by the pupils’ own perceptions.
Alternatives to Written Feedback and Marking
Oral feedback is an effective alternative.
Examples and models of excellent work can form a basis for feedback, especially when teachers highlight the aspects which make the piece successful.
Internal summative assessment helps schools measure standards and evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and the curriculum across different year groups. It also supports reporting progress to parents and monitoring progress and wider outcomes.
Teachers and leaders need to be aware of the limitations to the inferences which can be drawn from summative assessment, as they check performance in complex tasks rather than the component knowledge which is required for success.
There are significant challenges associated with summatively assessing extended writing.
Reliability in judgements is problematic across primary and secondary.
Data generated through internal school assessments may be of limited use in ‘tracking progress’ and tracking attainment.
Recommendations from the Teacher Workload Advisory Group state that attainment data should not be collected more than 2/3 times a year unless it can be obtained without additional workload and with a clear rationale for doing so.
Comparative judgement is emerging as an approach which might be higher in reliability than traditional criteria-based writing.
Problems with Mark Schemes
Mark schemes tend to describe the differences in written outcomes rather than identify the component knowledge necessary to produce such outcomes. Using mark schemes as a tool for assessment or as progression models can lead to pupils failing to acquire the very knowledge which is necessary for success.
Decoding and comprehension require different types of assessment in order to be valid.
Standardised tests can be used to assess reading though they are not necessarily as effective as diagnostic tools.
Standardised tests do not generally identify reasons for pupils’ reading difficulties.
The most significant factor in successful reading comprehension is pupils’ relevant prior knowledge.
There is a trend that reading difficulties often go undiagnosed at primary and secondary schools which means that these weaker readers are not receiving additional support at school.
A multi-tiered approach to assessment can be useful: a general test can be used to identify struggling readers and then a one-to-one diagnostic test can identify specific problems. It is important to assess both decoding and language comprehension.
School and Subject-Level Systems
Senior and middle leaders are critical in ensuring that all pupils learn to read.
Primary head teachers must ensure that the youngest pupils grasp the basic knowledge and skills of reading.
Middle leaders - subject leads in primary schools and department leads in secondary schools - play an important part in supporting senior leaders in ensuring positive outcomes for pupils and developing the quality of teaching and learning in other teachers.
The effectiveness of middle leaders depends on their knowledge of the subject and its associated effective pedagogy, as well as their autonomy and control over the curriculum. This needs to be delegated effectively from senior leaders.
Coe describes 4 dimensions which teachers need to understand the content of a subject (content knowledge) and how it is learned (pedagogical content knowledge). These are: a deep and fluent knowledge and flexible understanding of the content they are teaching; knowing the requirements of curriculum sequencing and dependancies related to the content and ideas being taught; knowing the relevant curriculum tasks, assessments and activities; and knowing pupils’ misconceptions and sticking points.
CPD is most effective when it is directed towards the needs and existing capabilities of the teachers.
Having CPD sessions regularly - fortnightly or monthly - may be an effective ‘rhythm’ for improving teachers’ knowledge.
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I also have summaries for all the other Ofsted research reviews. You can find them all on the curriculum page.