Teaching and learning is our core business at Stoneleigh Academy. This term we will have a particular focus on ensuring that our pupils are at, or near to, age-appropriate levels in their reading, writing and mathematics. As many parents will be aware, the new national curriculum requirements were tested for the first time last year at the end of KS1 and KS2. The new standards are much more rigorous than before and it is therefore important that we ensure that our pupils have a good grasp of our core subjects of reading, writing and mathematics. We believe that this is very important as pupils are unable to easily access the rest of their curriculum without these basic skills.

Of course, our children only spend about 12% of their week at school, so its really important that the work that we do whilst in class is reinforced at home.

How are we teaching your child to read and write?

Every child deserves success right from the start. We know that the sooner children learn to read, the greater their success at school. This is why we put reading at the heart of what we do.

We use a teaching programme called Read Write Inc. Phonics to teach our children to read and write. We make sure every child can read the last set of phonic stories before they progress to our higher level programmes - Literacy and Language, and Spelling. Some children complete the programme in Year 1 and others in Year 2. Year 3 and 4 children who need extra support follow this programme too; struggling readers in Year 5 and 6 children follow a similar programme called Fresh Start.

During this time, we group children by their reading progress for one hour a day (20 to 45 minutes in Reception) and re-assess children every half-term so we can place them in the group where they’ll make the most progress. We provide extra daily one-to-one sessions for children who need a bit of a boost to keep up.

How do we get children to remember what we teach them?

It’s much easier teaching one child – we can get them to repeat what they have understood in their own words, step by step. Then, if they haven’t understood, we can try different words and explanations.  So, in order to replicate this back and forth dialogue with a group or class, we use partner work. Children answer every question with a partner, the teacher checks what they know and only moves on when they understand. It means that all children stay focused throughout the lesson. Partner talk is fundamental to the success of our school. We use, ‘Turn to your partner’ in every lesson throughout the day.

How do we make phonics easy for children to learn?

Read Write Inc. Phonics depends upon children learning to read and write sounds effortlessly, so we make it simple and fun.

The phonic knowledge is split into two parts.

First we teach them one way to read and write the 40+ sounds in English. We use pictures to help, for example we make ‘a’ into the shape of an apple, ‘f’ into the shape of a flower. These pictures help all children, especially slower-starters, to read the sounds easily.

Children learn to read words by sound-blending using a frog called Fred. Fred says the sounds and children help him blend the sounds to read each word.

Then we teach children the different spellings of the same sounds, for example, they learn that the sound ‘ay’ is written ay, a-e and ai; the sound ‘ee’ is written ee, e and ea. We use phrases to help them remember each sound for example, ay, may I play, a-e  – make a cake?

How do we ensure children can read every book?

The first thing we do is to give children books we know they can read – without any guessing. (We read lots of other stories to them, but do not expect them to read these yet.)

Before they read the story, they sound out the names of characters and new words, practise reading any of the ‘tricky red’ words, and tell them a thought-provoking introduction to get them excited about the story.

Then, over three days, children read the story three times: first to focus on reading the words carefully; the second to help them read the story fluently; and on the third, we talk about the story together for example, how characters might be feeling and why. By the time your child reads the story to you at home, they will be able to read it confidently with expression.

How do we teach children to spell confidently?

We use just two simple activities: Fred Fingers to spell regular words and Red Rhythms for tricky words.

Fred Fingers

We teach children to spell using ‘Fred Fingers’: we say a word and then children pinch the sounds onto their fingers and write the word, sound by sound.

Red Rhythms

We teach tricky words with Red Rhythms. We say the tricky letters in a puzzled or annoyed voice and build the letter names up into a rhythm, for example, s-ai-d.

Children learn to spell new words and review past words every week, they practise spelling them with a partner and – when they’re ready – we give them a test to celebrate their spelling success.

How do we make writing simple for children to learn?

We teach handwriting, spelling and composition separately, gradually bringing each skill together step-by-step.

We teach children to form letters with the correct pencil grip and in the correct sitting position from the very beginning. They practise handwriting every day so they learn to write quickly and easily.

Once children can write simple words, we teach them to ‘hold’ a sentence in their heads and then write it with correct spelling and punctuation.

Very soon children are able to write down their own ideas. We try out different sentences together, drawing on new vocabulary and phrases from the storybook they’ve just read. They practise saying their sentences out loud first so they don’t forget their ideas while they’re writing. They also learn to proofread their own writing using ready-made sentences containing common grammar, punctuation and spelling errors.

Reading for pleasure

Research shows that children who read for pleasure do much better at school than those that don't.  We therefore strongly encourage all our scholars to read outside the academy.  It doesn't matter if this is a story book, a magazine or even web pages - as long as they are reading and enjoying it (for our youngest pupils its all about having them enjoy the pictures in a book and listening to stories). It is generally better to get a book that is quite easy for the child to read as this will encourage them to read more. Even better if parents can spend some time each week reading with their children and modelling reading for their own pleasure. This sets up good habits in children for life. In order to encourage our scholars to read all staff within the academy have a display frame showing the book/magazine that they are currently reading. Both staff and scholars are strongly encouraged to have regular conversations about what they are reading.

The short video below highlights the importance of reading with your child and how it can make such a difference to their success in the future.

If you would like to find out more about how you can help your child to read and write using the Ruth Miskin ‘Read, Write Inc’ system then have a look at the 16 pages of guides and parental video tutorials on the website here.

How are we teaching our children mathematics?

This term we will be starting a brand new maths course for all our pupils, from The White Rose Maths Hub. The hub is based in Halifax but is well renowned throughout England. It is part of a national network of maths hubs that are government funded to help ensure that maths teaching throughout the country is of the very best quality. The course is based on the concept of ‘mastery’ which has proved so successful for students in Singapore and Shanghai. Part of the mission of the maths hub is to persuade people that everyone can succeed in mathematics. So, if you thought that you weren’t good at maths then watch their short video here to change your mind.