Literacy Learning Online

Published by The Literacy Company on

At the start of this term, schools all around the country leapt into action to go live with their plans for online learning. Although some may have trialled online learning with classes having to close, the sudden change has been a learning curve for everyone. We recognise it has been a tough few weeks for teachers, children and parents alike and we want to continue to do all we can to support you during these difficult times. After speaking with many colleagues in schools, we have put together some ideas of what seems to be working best with online learning for English lessons in KS1 and KS2.

Teaching writing:

The most common concerns we have heard are that teachers are working hard to set and mark work for pupils, but the quality of pupils’ work isn’t the same as they would produce in school and the basics are starting to slip for many pupils. If this is the case, there are a number of questions to ask about the tasks you are setting:

  • Have you given pupils enough build up to the writing?

Try setting short tasks involving developing vocabulary or responding to the class text. The benefit of pre-recording sessions is that pupils can pause the video to complete these before continuing to the writing part of the session. Short bursts of activity, in the same way you would use them in your classroom, break-up the amount of time pupils have to listen and so you will keep them engaged for longer and give them some key tools or ideas to support their writing.

  • Are you modelling writing?

‘Live modelling’ whether pre-recorded or complete with pupils there virtually is key to successful writing. Pupils really need to understand the task they have been set and your modelling is possibly more important at a time when you are not there to intervene or support their writing directly. We recognise that schools have made different decisions regarding live teaching but for modelled writing, it may be most beneficial to have pre-recorded this so that pupils can watch it again or refer back to it while completing the task.

  • Typing your modelled write whist eliciting your thoughts as a writer might be the easiest way for pupils to view the writing. Make deliberate mistakes and explain your writing choices. Writing on a whiteboard can be unclear unless the writing on the board is clearly visible.
  • If you are focusing on letter formation, ensure that what you are doing is clearly visible to pupils (may seem obvious but when you are filming yourself it can be difficult to see what the pupils can see).
  • Discuss the application of the success criteria for the task.
  • Be clear about your expectations from the writing task.
  • You may want to break short tasks down further (by paragraph) modelling each section before the pupils have a go at writing their own.
  • How long is the writing task?

We would suggest that you keep writing tasks short and focus on application of a small number of well sequenced key skills. Our mastery approach involves short writing tasks to practise specific skills that then lead towards a final more extended outcome. By keeping tasks shorter you are more likely to get a better outcome. Where you are working on a more extended final piece of writing, spread it over several days and model each section before pupils write.

• Have you supported pupils in planning their writing?
It may be that this is an area that pupils are struggling with and planning out the writing might need to be a separate task or one that you have modelled for pupils before they write. It may even be appropriate to provide pupils with an electronic plan to follow to ensure that they are able to practise the key skills for the session. Lack of planning can result in pupils writing a much shorter piece of writing and them missing out key details.

  • Are you giving pupils the opportunity to edit their work?

Another concern we have heard from teachers is that pupils are not addressing basic errors in their work and it is difficult to get pupils to go back and sort this out. We would suggest that you dedicate a session each week to editing and proofreading a piece of work from the week. Write your own version with some common mistakes that pupils are making and elements that can be improved by applying previously taught skills. You can then use this to model the proofreading and editing process before pupils do the same on their own work. It is less likely to be seen by pupils as criticism of their work because everyone is doing it and as it is the main focus of the session it is giving it greater importance. Alternatively, if you feel it is appropriate for your pupils, dedicate a short amount of ‘fix it’ time every day to address errors/misconceptions from the previous day.

  • Are the objectives appropriate?

We want pupils to feel positive about the experience of home learning and ensure there are plenty of opportunities for them to succeed by recapping prior learning. Think about whether the objectives you are trying to teach are suitable for home learning; consider whether there are some aspects of the English curriculum that need to be left until pupils are back in school with you so that they can be explained and practised with more support than parents are able to give.

  • Do pupils have access to materials to support their writing?

Think about your classroom environment and all the support pupils have access to there. It would be worth photographing key resources/working walls and making these available for pupils on your online platform. It would also be useful for pupils to have access to modelled writing after any live teaching. If you are not pre-recording the session, it would be good if these writing examples could be photographed and uploaded for pupils to refer to. Simple visual graphics can aid pupils learning; many pupils will rely on these resources without you even knowing and having them taken away can be a shock for them.

Teaching reading:

Reading has been an area where we have found teachers’ experiences differ most widely. While some have found that children have been reading vastly more than they would otherwise have read during lockdowns, other have found the complete opposite. There may be a temptation to set comprehension activities for pupils to complete, rather than undertaking reading sessions remotely. The danger with these is that they do not involve pupils in conversations about texts and do not allow for the explicit teaching of reading comprehension.

What we would recommend is, where possible, to try and continue with your whole class or grouped reading sessions online. For ease these could be pre-recorded, allowing pupils to pause the session to give them the time they need to read the required sections of text, complete short activities and answer questions. We have seen this working really well in KS2. At KS1 and in EYFS, daily phonics sessions are essential to developing reading and the application of decoding skills can be enhanced by uploading electronic decodable texts (or photographs of your texts in school) for pupils to read.

  • Strike a balance between modelling reading aloud and giving pupils time to read independently.
  • Keep the sections of text short to maximise pupil concentration.
  • In each session, use time to focus on prediction and vocabulary activities linked to the text. Short bursts of activity with visual prompts work well.
  • Dedicate time to enjoying reading a class text together, either pre-recorded or live. This is a part of the day that pupils will really enjoy.

Teaching spelling:

In September, many teachers we worked with were concerned that pupils’ spelling had regressed during the time that they weren’t in school. If this was the case, it is unlikely that you had time to fully address this gap in learning before schools moved to online learning. Ensure that you continue to teach spelling and set pupils regular spelling tasks (3/4 per week) so that they do not continue to fall behind. It may be appropriate to return to the previous year’s spelling objectives at this time – particularly areas where you see common mistakes arising in pupils work.

At The Literacy Company, we are keen to support teachers through this difficult time and a number of our Pathways Literacy resources have been well received by schools. We have created PowerPoints to accompany our Pathways to Write resources. They strip back the sessions and focus on the key teaching elements of writing, providing key visuals for pupils. Our Pathways to Home Learning was written specifically to deliver home learning to pupils: packs can be sent to pupils electronically and are fully resourced including engaging texts for pupils to access. For younger pupils, these texts are phonetically decodable to support application of phonics. Finally, schools using our Pathways to Read sessions have found that the way sessions are split into clear sections is particularly helpful, along with the PowerPoints that accompany the resource. Please download free samples of our materials above and get in touch if you want further information about our products.

Pathways to Write has been a godsend through these times. I’ve been able to continue
teaching my class as though we were still in school. The style and the resources lend
themselves brilliantly to remote learning. Yet again, I praise you all for an approach that
is so adaptable and amazing on so many levels. We are loving teaching Pathways across
school. The children respond so well, and the staff find it exciting and fun too. The
progress is so clear, and the staff can see the progression and have been very impressed
indeed by how it developed SPaG and writing objectives across the year. It truly is one of
the best things we have ever bought and is improving our curriculum all the time! Thank
you so much!”

KS2 Assistant Head, Farnworth CE Primary School Nov 2020

Pathways to Read has been a great resource to use for remote learning. The PowerPoints are really easy to use to deliver the lessons online and I’ve been really pleased with the quality of the work produced by the children. Some children have loved the book so much they’ve bought their own. It has been great to link with out topic on Romans and volcanoes.”

English Subject Lead, Upton Heath Church of England Primary School, Jan 2021

Look after yourselves and each other, and we hope to see you soon on the other side of lockdown.

Please come along to our free webinar for some further top tips:

Shared reading webinar- Thursday 25th February