English sits at the heart of our curriculum – it is through language, story and text that children learn to form concepts, connect ideas and express themselves. Through literacy, in all its forms, children learn to both make sense of the world and shape their place within it.
Across both writing and reading, we place a heavy emphasis on developing a child’s vocabulary. By the time children leave St John’s in Year 6, the limited word hoard they arrived with in Reception will have expanded enormously, giving them the language they need to understand sophisticated texts and express themselves in a wide range of contexts.
In all year groups, we teach writing through high-quality texts – ranging from picture books to Shakespeare, immersive real-life experiences, such as school trips, or a combination of both.
Over their time at the school, children will write a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts, including recounts, news reports, explanation texts, poems, plays and stories of all kinds. We use drama, role-play, storytelling and discussion to engage the imagination, before moving on to vocabulary exploration, sentence craft and creative writing.
Throughout the Early Years and Key Stage 1 children are taught the key principles of writing in order to lay a solid foundation for developing their skills later on. An emphasis is placed on developing clear handwriting with ‘finger spaces’ between in each word. Children are taught to apply their knowledge of phonics to help them spell accurately, and to structure their work, whether it be fiction writing or a set of instructions. Our curriculum teaches the children to add variation and description to their work by developing their vocabulary, including the use of interesting adjectives and adverbs and developing sentence structure using conjunctions and sentence openers. By the end of Key Stage 1 children have been taught the fundamentals of punctuation and grammar. This structural and technical knowledge is fostered alongside developing a love for writing as a lifelong means for communication and expressing oneself.
Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write by developing their phonemic awareness—the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate different sounds used in the English language. Children learn the correspondence between these sounds and the spelling patterns (graphemes) that represent them. At St John’s, we place a strong emphasis on the teaching of phonics in the early years of reading and writing in order to give all children a solid foundation for learning. Because not all words in the English language comply to the rules of phonics we also teach so-called ‘sight words’ by repetition and retrieval.
The Teaching of Phonics
Phonics lessons at St John’s are taught daily from Reception up to Year 2. The sessions are short, engaging and memorable with an emphasis placed on revising a previously learned letter-sound correspondence, learning a new one, practicing this, and applying it to sentence level work.
The teaching of phonics begins in Reception using the Letters and Sounds. Sounds are introduced at a rate of one a day throughout the Autumn and Spring term. Children consolidate these sounds in the Summer term whilst learning to blend the sounds together to read and write words. In Years 1 and 2, the children continue to follow the DFE’s ‘Letters and Sounds’ scheme, learning alternative spellings of the previously learned sounds and refining their knowledge to become more fluid readers and more accurate spellers.
The Phonics Screening Check
During the Summer term in Year 1, children nationwide are tested on their phonic knowledge. This test helps us to identify children who have gaps in their phonic knowledge and may need further support in Year 2. The test is low-key and we endeavour to make it stress-free for the children. Essentially, the children are asked to read 40 words from a list, using their phonics to ‘sound out’ the word and then blend it if they need to. Parents are informed as to whether their child has achieved the national expectation within the child’s end-of-year report.
Practicing Phonics at Home
The best phonics resources are ordinary reading books. Alongside the books your child brings home seek out books that you and your child enjoy reading. Discuss words that present a challenge, breaking them down into their component sounds in order to read them if necessary. Make sure you set aside quiet time for reading and enjoying books together.
In addition to books, your child will bring home packs of words that can be decoded using their phonics knowledge. Practice reading and spelling these words. Play fun games with them such as thinking of words that rhyme. Finally, your child will receive a word bookmarks displaying ‘high-frequency words’ – common words that appear very often in written texts. They are a mixture of decodable words (words that can be sounded out) and sight words/exception words (words in which the English spelling code works in an unusual or uncommon way, which means the words have to be learned and recognised by sight). The expectation is that by the end of Reception children should be able to read most of these words, and by the end of Year 1 they should be able to spell most of them. Try to practice one word with your child from the list per day.
Handwriting, Spelling and Grammar
Handwriting is taught weekly from Reception to Year 6, beginning with mark making and patterns in Early Years all the way up to legible, joined handwriting in Year 6. When a child is deemed to have legible, joined writing they are awarded a pen license .
Spelling is taught every week, they are individually tailored to each child, which build on the National Curriculum’s statutory word lists. Spellings are sent home as part of homework and children are tested each week.
From Year 1, Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation becomes an explicit focus and is taught weekly. SPAG is also interwoven in English lessons.
Children also apply their writing skills across the curriculum: writing up experiments in Science, recounting events in History and describing processes in Geography, for example.
When children leave St John’s, they consider themselves to be skilled writers, confident in their ability to express themselves through language.
Here at St John's we love reading! We have a broad and engaging reading curriculum. Pupils read widely and often, with fluency and comprehension appropriate to their age. The pupils take home books that are banded using a national colour-banding system. This is comprised of a mixture of Oxford Reading Tree, Storyworld, Collins Big Cat, Songbird and ‘real’ books, which encourage a wider reading experience and include non-fiction texts. Children are also encouraged to borrow a book from our extensive library collection to promote enthusiasm and independent reading both in school and at home. We also encourage children to read books from home and from the local library. In KS1 and EYFS we have reading time in the morning where children get to read to an adult and take part in activities related to their English or Phonics work. In KS2 we have daily comprehension time/Bug Club where all children take part in comprehensions appropriate to their need and stage in learning. All pupil Drop Everything daily at 3pm to listen to a class story.
Books are organised in colour-banded levels across the school, in line with our reading scheme and are phonetically decodable at the early stages. We encourage parents to read with their child as often as possible, but if life is just too busy then for a minimum of 4 to 5 times per week. Discussing authors, book and vocabulary with children at home as well as in school ensures that children leave with a rich cultural capital. We hold an annual book week to encourage children to get 'deeper into their love of books'.
We have a local Salisbury author, Julia Edwards, working with the school this year and will be taking part in her Patron of Reading scheme. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8368800.Julia_Edwards
She is coming in frequently throughout the year and the children are bursting with enthusiasm. We have a recommended readers board where children share their recommended reads with each other.
Do you want your child to be good at reading? Reading widely and for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of future success for children. Reading regularly from a wide range of quality literature has been proven in numerous studies to be the best thing your child could do to improve their overall academic performance and to encourage a life long love of learning. The chart below shows the impact reading at home for just 20 minutes every night can have. It is staggering the difference just 20 minutes per day can make.
Writing- At St John's we like to make our curriculum interesting and engaging. We use a range of strategies to enhance children's writing. One being Talk 4 Write, which is proving very successful. We make sure we do lots of Cross-Curricular writing so we can really embed our Literacy skills within a range of other subjects; like Science and History. It is important that children see the link between reading and how this impacts their writing. We celebrate writing in worships and on displays.