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The Love of Words at Calderstones
Words can change lives. In the UK, the richest areas have the highest reading ages and, tragically, those who are poorest amongst us have lowest. This affects a person's access to education, work, social groups and vast parts of culture.
The statistics are staggering surrounding this. A boy growing up in one of the areas of the UK with the lowest Literacy levels will, on average, die 26.1 years earlier than a boy in one of the areas with the highest Literacy levels. For girls, the difference is 20.9 years.
Now, we're not saying that having a larger vocabulary will provide instantly reverse this; clearly there many socio-economic factors at play here regarding; but Literacy is an area that we can have some control over and it is a way to combat poverty by opening up new opportunities.
So, here at Calderstones, we understand that words really can change lives. By providing thorough vocabulary training, Reading Age assessment and chances to find the joy in words, we can help to provide a fuller, and maybe even longer, life for our students.
Statistics provided courtesy of the The National Literacy Trust's 2018 report, 'Literacy and Life Expectancy'.
Latest in Literacy - World Book Day 2021
Despite being separated, we all had a fantastic time enjoying World Book Day 2021. Watch our 'Masked Reader' competition, below. Students have until the end of 11th March 2021 to input their guesses for which staff members are behind the masks. They can win books, book sets and even a kindle!
Hello, I'm Miss McMullen and I have the honour of leading Literacy here at Calderstones.
For me, words are the bedrock of all learning and having the ability to command a language as complex and varied as English is quite a feat! It's my job to facilitate our students as they navigate the highs and lows of vocabulary development, reading, writing and oracy.
Sometimes, that involves recommending really challenging books to a Year 7 pupil who just consumes all literature. Sometimes, it involves sitting with a Year 11 student who struggles with verbal fluency when reading, or spelling, or whose confidence needs a boost. Sometimes, it's analysing data, checking progress, or researching initiatives into developmental linguistics or sociolinguistics. Mostly though, I get to share my love of words with young people while constantly looking for new ways to give them access to a beautiful, and difficult, language.
What Our Teachers Love to Read
My most recent favourite book is "The Boy, the mole, the fox and the horse" by Charlie Mackesy. The journey that the book takes you on through these amazingly simple characters is so inspiring and heartfelt. As well as the thought-provoking text about love, friendship and kindness, the book houses an array of wonderful artwork; allowing it to speak a universal language- a pathway into the human soul. The book asks the questions that we all probably need the answers to at some point in our lives, without being too heavy. To me it is a self-help book with a true heart.
I LOVE Jane Austen! She is my favourite author and I have read her books time and time again. It's very difficult to choose my favourite novel of hers, because it keeps changing! However, Pride and Prejudice is possibly the one you are most likely to have heard of.
Pride and Prejudice is set in Georgian times, which is part of why I love it - I am fascinated by history. This was set in a time that is very different to life as we know it now. There was a stark contrast between those who had money and those who didn't. Everyone had very set roles in life with very limited choices - particularly the poor and women. Even the wealthy women, like the characters in Pride and Prejudice, had one path in life - to become accomplished (good at drawing, playing an instrument well, singing beautifully and well educated) and once they had achieved this status, they were to marry - preferably increasing their family's wealth into the bargain. Choice in marriage was often not a consideration and love definitely wasn't.
I love how intricately Jane Austen dissects Georgian society - its rules, expectations, assumptions and prejudices - and really asks the reader to think about what is actually factual, what is really important and what is morally right. She challenges gender roles, the use of religion to disadvantage or rebuke people and judgment based on lack of knowledge or unfair principles.
Jane Austen might not be for everyone and it takes a bit of work to be able to understand her writing style at first, but I love the detail of her descriptions because I can really see the story playing out in my mind. I love that she gives an insight into how society functioned at a time that is so different to ours now and I love that she encourages the reader to think about life in a deeper way. I have read all of her novels many times and I don't think I will ever get bored of reading them. I laugh and I cry and I get angry. She stirs up my inner activist! I would really encourage you to give her books a try and let me know what you think.
This novel is set in America in the 1870’s and tells the story of two families struggling to survive in the harsh, isolated conditions of the American frontier. There has long been animosity between the two families, however when the father of one family is killed and the other is imprisoned for killing him, the women and children left behind are forced to join together in order to survive. I enjoyed this book for the vivid descriptions of the landscape and the people in it as well as the opportunity to learn about a period in American history I know little about. It is a gripping story and by the end I was truly invested in the character’s lives; I always know I have enjoyed a book when I want to know what happened to the characters after the end of the book and that was certainly the case with this book.
This is one of my favourite books – it tells the story of Amir, a young boy who ends up having to leave his comfortable life in Afghanistan due to the political situation in the country. It is a story of friendship and family, home and loyalty, class and betrayal. We learn the truth of Amir’s relationship with his father, the unspeakable events that led to the disintegration of the most important friendship in his life, and Amir’s journey to redemption and forgiveness. The Kite Runner is an incredible book, it is brutal and upsetting and uncomfortable, and it is truly one of the best books I have ever read. Through Amir’s eyes and Amir’s experiences, I learned the importance of empathy and bravery, and the need, now more than ever, to support other people and stick together, no matter the differences we may perceive. (Probably not suitable for younger students really!)
One of my favourite books is Wild Swans by Jung Chang. It is about three generations of women in China, written by the youngest. I am fascinated by Chinese history and the story combines family history with the political changes in China, making it a must read for me. It is written with real warmth and care, telling the story of not only her loved ones but also that of her country. I also love how the family's story is told from the perspective of three strong women, living in very different times but sharing dogged determination. The book is still banned in China showing how different the political climate is there, where there is still such control over culture and free speech and the book itself is indicative of the level of censorship some states enforce. I have read it a number of times and it is always one of my go to recommendations.
This is one of my favourite books because of the main character’s unique view on the world. It is both a funny and very sad story of a young woman living alone and navigating her journey through life. We see the world through Eleanor’s eyes and watch how she views life and others who seem to cope ‘effortlessly’ in everyday situations and know the ‘right’ way to behave. Eleanor does not find every day-to-day situation easy and her approach is often reassuringly awkward. The book really makes you think about loneliness, friendship & the importance of kindness. It also has a poignant twist in the story that makes you feel so much compassion for Eleanor. Please give it a try!
I have read lots of novels set during the Second World War, but this is the one that has stayed with me the most. It tells the true story of Pino Lella, an Italian teenager who became an integral part of the underground railroad helping Jews to escape over the Alps and out of Italy. In order to maintain his cover and avoid suspicion he signs up to the German army and becomes a driver for one of the German high command in Italy. It is a story which is full of suspense and tension, sadness and joy and I particularly enjoyed the fact that at the end of the book the author describes his meeting with the real Pino Lella. I learnt a lot about the Italian resistance but the main thing I enjoyed about this book was the story of Pino’s life which gripped me from beginning to end.
(15+ Rating, sensitive material) Half of a Yellow Sun is a novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The novel received the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Womens' Prize "Winner of Winners".
The book takes place in Nigeria before and during the Nigerian Civil War (1967–70). The book explains the effects of the war by telling the stories of five main characters; the twin daughters of an influential businessman, a professor, a British citizen, and a Nigerian houseboy.
After Biafra's declaration of secession, the lives of the main characters drastically change and are torn apart by the brutality of the civil war and decisions in their personal lives.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a beautifully descriptive and fluid writer, she is so highly regarded even Beyonce used her spoken word in the song "Flawless". It is a devastatingly real and haunting novel that I simply could not put down and sits as one of my all-time favourite books.
One of my favourite books is 'A Season with Verona' by Tim Parks. The Mancunian ex-pat normally attends the side's home matches, but decided for the 2000-01 Serie A campaign to follow Hellas Verona up and down the country.
What follows is part calcio, part Italian travelogue - little wonder I enjoyed it so much. Parks' writing is brilliant - it's like you're on the bus with him as he describes the antics of the... interesting characters from the Brigate Gialloblù during 15-hour trips down to Bari. One of the only books to have ever made me properly laugh out loud, there's all kinds in here - journeys to Torino, Milano and Roma, insight into Italian culture and their way of life, plenty of humour, reflections on the community or sense of belonging that comes with these ultra groups, and, of course, the football itself. Hellas aren't a very good side and it becomes a 'will-they-won't-they' regarding relegation down to Serie B - it genuinely is exciting and dramatic.
I'd recommend this to those with an interest in travel, Italy, its people and its culture, or football fans in general (particularly those currently missing 'away days' of their own) - probably from a 'mature' Year 9, and above (he's embedded in the ultras of a provincial football club from what's seen as a xenophobic part of Italy - warning, there's everything you'd expect from a group of fans like this...). Just don't be tempted to Google whether or not they stay up!
I'll finish with an excerpt which makes me smile. Parks on the Argentinian-born Italian World Cup winner, Mauro Camoranesi:
"Small, barrel-chested, a helmet of Indios black hair, this boy is a collision of fury and talent. He loses his temper. He shouts. You can see he’s going to be sent off before the season is out. Sometimes he’s so determined to be clever he loses the ball too, he shuffles his legs this way and that so fast that he mesmerises himself, he can’t remember what he was supposed to be doing, the way sometimes a sentence, an idea, can become so over intricate, so self-regarding in its twists and turns, it collapses in on its own conceit and already the reader is looking elsewhere."
I read this book in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, a time in which I think a lot of us felt the need to go away and educate ourselves on racism and other social issues. Written by a black English teacher, Black, Listed is a book about the importance of language and the power we give to words. Boakye splits the book into the categories of official descriptors, personal descriptors, derogatory terms, loaded terms, internal descriptors, terms of endearment, internal insults, outlaw accolades and politics. Each of these categories contains various words used to describe black people and people of colour, and Boakye’s personal feelings and observations on each of them. This is a book about power, otherness, and masculinity amongst other important themes. Black, listed gives a voice to people who have been historically forgotten and silenced, and gives us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Above all, Boakye shows us that language matters, and that we all have the power to use language in a way that empowers and supports not only ourselves and people like us, but others too.
My favourite book is called The Yellow Wallpaperby Charlotte Perkins-Gilman. It is a short story, published in 1892. Narrated in first person (which is my favourite perspective to read a story from!), it is structured as a collection of journal entries written by a woman who has been diagnosed with depression. I love this book because it explores multiple issues surrounding the treatment of women in this historical period. Also, I like that the idea for the story came from the writer’s own experience of being diagnosed with depression, and the treatments she was prescribed in a male-dominated society.
It is obviously impossible to choose ONE favourite book! But here are my comments on Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It's the only novel Wallace completed, an enormous book with a preposterous amount of footnotes (some of which contain entire chapters!) I think it took me an entire year to finish it. It's based around three locations: the Enfield Tennis Academy, where teenagers are hothoused to become tennis aces; The Ennet rehab facility, where various characters try to escape their various addictions; and a nearby hilltop, where a Quebecois terrorist speaks with a government spy. These three narratives are bound together by the search for Infinite Jest, a lost movie said to be so entertaining that it is fatal to watch. The book is set in a near future where time has been privatised; instead of numbers, years are referred to as The Year of the Whopper, The Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken, The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, etc. Wallace has a wicked sense of humour, he comments insightfully on modern life and keeps you gripped and turning the pages throughout this massive text - despite the fact that very little actually happens! If you like a challenge, this one is definitely worth the effort.
I always find it difficult when anyone asks me to name my favourite song, singer, book, film or TV programme. My memory is rubbish and I’d prefer to talk or write about the book I’m reading at the moment. What I will do, as a compromise, is tell you the book I have enjoyed most this year. I love the thriller genre so the book I have picked is a psychological thriller. My chosen book is ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver. The story is written from the perspective of a mother. She shares her letters written to her husband throughout the book. In the letters, she writes about her unconventional relationship with her difficult son from his infancy until his teenage years. It’s a really dark read but I found it clever and gripping. The end was shocking and I love a book that has twists and turns. This one is best to save for when you are older (16+). I didn’t love it straight away and it took me a while to engage. Once I did, I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. I wasn’t crazy on the film version either. As we all know, it’s very rare that the film adaptation is as good as the book.
Discovering the writer Stephen King as a teen opened worlds for me. Always a voracious reader, I had scrambled around various writers until I finally found a world I could lose myself within. King's novels were considered pulp nonsense; my parents hated them and their grotesque covers; they were nothing like the "literature" (say it in a silly voice) I studied in school; and so, of course, I loved them and read them all, repeatedly. King's breakout first novel 'Carrie' is, I would argue, the beginning of the mistake people make about King and his stories. People who have only read a couple of his 82 novels think they are all about far-fetched nonsense like telekinesis and colossal spiders. Well, those things do sometimes make an appearance but in truth, at the heart of each novel is a very simple, engaging story. 'Carrie', for example, is about a frail, sensitive and bullied girl. That's it. Of course, there is a twist that blows your mind but the simplicity behind each story is what every great writer strives for and I would happily argue King is, in fact, a great writer with his genius, pulp novels. If you have not read any King, start here, avoid the films and lose yourself. And yes, it's alright if you sleep with the light on every now and again.
The novel that I want to talk about is The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s political, it makes religious references, it is open to endless interpretations… but it also has a talking cat who drinks vodka and carries a gun. So it really does have everything.
Satan arrives in Moscow with a band of merry friends. What follows is wonderful.
You may have watched the film, which is excellent, but have you read the book? I loved Dianna Wynne Jones when I was a child. I’m thinking of rereading her Chrestomanci series, though it’s scary going back to books you loved as a child; revisiting them always risks tarnishing their magic. But this isn’t the case with HMC. I can reread it at any point and still be transported to a magical world of adventure and quirkiness and chaos. I dressed as Calcifer, the fire demon, for WBD a few years and I would do every day if I could. I just adore this so much!
Whole School Literacy at Calderstones - YouTube Channel
The Word Gap is one of the most concerning aspects of Literacy education and, indeed, education in general. To foster an understanding of how language words, the confidence to decode unfamiliar words and to build vocabulary in general, I have created a YouTube channel that we use during registration time. The first year (which will subsequently be used for Year 7s) is focusing on the academic vocabulary that will help them to access the curriculum at Calderstones.
Students who have been identified as those who would particularly benefit from additional support will be given targeted intervention during the time that their peers spend enagaging with the YT channel.
SEND and Literacy
Our wonderful Assistant SENDco has created some book recommendations that encourage inclusion and diversity with regards to differently abled and neurodivergent perspectives. Watch the video below for some excellent suggestions!
Literacy Assessment at Calderstones
At Calderstones, we use Literacy Assessment Online to accurately track a student's Reading Age and Spelling Age.
- This involves two tests, one in which they hear a word, which they then type, and the other, in which they choose the appropriate word to complete a sentence.
- For students with additional barriers to development, such as those for whom English is a Second Language, for our SEN students and for those who are taking a little longer to acquire words, we may also decide to test phonics.
- Phonics testing is particularly good at identifying student who experienced 'glue ear' as a toddler, which can cause children to miss important stages in language development and often leads to a misdiagnosis of dyslexia at a later stage.
- Year 7 students are assessed three times a year.
- Year 8, 9, 10 and 11 students are assessed once a year.
- Students with lower than expected Reading Ages are tested more frequently to track the impact of intervention.
Due to limited access to computer facilities and the risks involved in sharing headphones, Reading Age and Spelling Age assessment has been suspended for the Autumn term.
Literacy Support at Calderstones
At Calderstones, we take a multifaceted approach to developing Literacy. Combining the engagement of World Book Day events, Reading Leaders Bake Sales and Literacy & Numeracy Day activities, we also provide a variety of ways to tackle delayed Literacy Development and challenge those who are making progress.
- Year 7 SEN students who require assistance with their Literacy receive one-on-one TA Intervention sessions.
- All Year 7 students spend on English lesson a week working on SPAG and written Literacy.
- One registration period a week is dedicated to Literacy Development.
- All students have access to the Recommended Reading for their Age Group.
- Whole School Literacy focuses on a student's development through our Vocabulary Map to ensure that both the foundations of, and higher tier, language is developed.
- Literacy and EAL Co-Ordinators work closely to ensure that students whose first language is not English can have access to their own, bespoke development programme (See EAL and Literacy).
Reading Leaders at Calderstones
What would Literacy be without our wonderful Reading Leaders? We may not be able to meet during COVID but it's only a matter of time before we get back to normal and enjoy our wonderful Literacy activities again. Here are a few of the antics we got up to last year, before Corona shut us down!
- Scholastic Book Fair - Of course, our favourite time! Selling books and stationary, logging our accounts, advertising - our Leaders always get to develop many life skills at the Fair. It's also a great time for recruitment and we tend to end up with lots of members.
- Bake Sales - the highlight of which had to be our Valentines Bake Sale. Literature Themed quotes on cakes, an anonymous delivery service and dedicated baked goods for those who want to express friendship or self confidence, not just romance!
- Year of Reading Launch - Our fabulous ambassadors joined myself and Mr Ratcliffe to hear Mayor Joe Anderson introduce some amazing speakers to discuss 2020's Reading focus.
- World Book Day - my favourite day of the year! Dressing up and book themed lessons!
What's next for Reading Leaders? When we get back to normal, we plan to -
- Fundraise! (See KS3 and KS4 Library)
- Paired reading with primary school and nursery students
- Reading with the elderly
- Book clubs
KS3 and KS4 Library Campaign
Earlier in 2020, we announced that we were raising funds for a brand new library. Unfortunately, due to COVID regulations, this is having to be put on hold, but don't worry, all previous book donations are being kept in storage. We're using this time to plan an even better campaign!
All suggestions are welcome, just get in touch with Miss McMullen.
EAL and Literacy
In conjunction with 2021's vocabulary overhaul, we will be trialling a cohort of EAL students for intensive, personalised Literacy development. When this creates the impact that I hope it will, this will be developed into a fully differentiated course that we can provide for students who are being introduced to English at KS3 and KS4,