Be my village

Teacher friends, I need a reality check.   They say it takes a village to raise a child.  My problem is I don’t have a village and two hours a week won’t raise a child.  So, I’m asking for your help.


I have a small group of students (yr 10) who are sitting the core IGCSE (0522) this summer.  We have nearly completed the c/w assignments and will be doing the S&L tasks between now and Christmas.  It is the exam prep I want to talk about.

This group of kids is very weak.  Many didn’t get Level 4 at the end of year 9.  Many are SEN and most cannot read a sentence of text without some support.  My bold, and perhaps deeply misguided comment to my HoD at the end of term was, “after the S&L I am going to teach them to read and then do the exam prep”.

I have these students for two hours a week (they also have two hours a week with another English teacher, covering the Edexcel Lit course).  One hour is in an ICT suite.  They have 2 hours with an HLTA called support, which is used to do homework and develop on ideas covered in my lessons.  We have just bought Accelerated Reader, so this a possibility.  We also have an HLTA, who is a phonics specialist, and could work with our weakest reader, who’s reading age is below 5.

All of these interventions are ongoing, patchy and as far as I am concerned have shown no progress.  Most of the students in this group, don’t get any literacy support beyond the occasional TA in lesson.

Towards the end of last term, I received an email from their Maths teacher pointing out that some of the students were unable to read the worded maths questions, and therefore were likely to fail.

So, 2 hours a week.  11 kids.  iGCSE reading exam in May 2014.  For anyone of you, who haven’t seen these exams, you can be lucky but the reading tends be pretty technical, always on something my students will have no knowledge and complex vocabulary heavy.

Where do I go from here?

My old self would say, just do as many past exam papers as humanly possible.  Teach the students a really structured approach to each question.  Hold out that the writing task will get them the marks that they need.

My new self wants more.  I want these students to be able to read.  I want them to leave school being able to read a newspaper, a manual, a book!

Here is where I need your help…

Do I go for it?

If yes, how?  I don’t have much experience at teaching kids to read (beyond my kids).  Do I use Accelerated Reader? Or something else?
Do I demand that they read every day somehow, somewhere?  I can’t possibly do this myself, can I?

Do I go for some of it?

Like perhaps using real texts to improve their reading but also to cover some of the exam stuff.

Do I go for results?

Take the exam prep approach and hope that by doing this, their reading improves.  Knowing that my results are going to sketchy anyway but this is the best option to get them closer to the C in the exam.

What do I do?

Over to you, my village.


13 thoughts on “Be my village

  1. While my four lovely students belt through a Controlled Assessment at breakneck speed (it’s half term, and the final deadline for the CAs to reach the Moderator is Monday – late decision), I thought I’d write you a little post with a couple of suggestions. Feel free to ignore them completely, if they don’t work in your context. If that’s the case, I’ll try to think of something else.

    1) Write mini-letters to the students, masquerading as feedback from their written work. I can email examples of these. The students will read things that have been written explicitly for them, and you can feed in all sorts of vocabulary. You kill two birds with one stone by giving them targeted feedback – preferably which is saved on your computer as evidence – and by creating a real context and audience for their reading.

    2) Show the students the website and arrange for them to spend time on it (ICT room? Laptop trolley….?) It’s a great way to build vocabulary, as it contains a competitive element.

    3) Ask the students whether they are on Twitter. If so, and they probably will be, create an account just for them. We have one called CANEnglish11. They don’t actually have to follow it, just know how to find it. Find out which topics might be of interest to them (I got into this via the global inequality and injustice agenda) and follow relevant organisations, e.g. football teams, Amnesty International, World Wildlife Fund and Show Racism the Red Card. Retweet links to articles which might interest them. If they have internet-phones which they can use in lessons, give them permission to read articles on their phones – for research purposes. If not, ask them to read one of the things you have retweeted each week, and get them to report back. You can also follow and retweet grammar sites such as @apostrophevigilante – which is popular with my students.

    To be continued. My lot have finished!


  2. Hi and congratulations on being very brave and putting your head out of the paripit!
    1: cream of more time by pinching back intervention times that are not working -if you cant deliver these lessons yourself then plan them for your HLTA.
    2. Reading needs to be at a minimum segment n blend -do they know letter sounds -if not there is your starting point.
    3. The King’s speech used music to help with speech -there’s no reason not to try readibg to a beat either. You could also make use of additional prompts and time allowances for SEN children.
    4. Don’t get disheartened. These children would never get this amount of help if it weren’t for you. Everything you help them achieve -no matter how small -is amazing for them as individuals.
    5. Good luck!


  3. We used Toe by Toe with students whose reading ages were way below where they should be. It’s phonics based + the books they use costs money (£25 each I think), but maybe school can find that. I was DEEPLY sceptical about this programme but it worked with our secondary EBD students and they really benefitted from using it. It needs daily use if possible and although it asks for 20 mins a day practice, even just 10 made a difference. It’s used to help prison inmates learn to read. If you’re an English teacher it makes no sense and goes against everything you hold true, but it works! The best thing was that the students could see it working and on the whole were motivated to continue. You could use it alongside your other strategies to help them cope with the exam, but really, leaving school able to read confidently + competently is massively empowering and definitely an aim worth persuing. Good luck with it!


  4. Hi, we also use Toe By Toe – huge help! The students are feeling much more confident. Which exam board are you with? I have a very weak class too. reading ages only slightly higher than what you’re dealing with by the sounds of it, and v. weak literacy skills. Most can barely write a simple sentence with a capital letter and full stop.


    1. Cambridge for igcse and then Edexcel for Lit. They will also do entry level. Thanks for your endorsement of Toe by Toe, am going to buy it today.


  5. Toe by Toe needs to be done 1 to 1. How will you manage that with 11 students? Certainly go with the phonics but you may need something that is easier to do with a group. Can you get the phonics specialist HLTA more involved?

    You perhaps could have alook at this online programme with her (?) and use the resources (not free, but very reasonably priced) to tailor work to your pupils’ needs.

    Reading practice is really essential but Accelerated Reader won’t do at all, it is not phonics based. Problem is finding suitable texts (sorry, I know that’s not very helpful)

    Another place to look would be That Reading Thing; specialises in helping older struggling readers.


  6. Firstly, I want to say that whatever you do, it will have an impact. Even the fact that you’ve taken time out of your half term to ask for help proves how inspiring you are and this will directly impact the students.

    While Toe by Toe is one to one, it sounds like there is a lot of intervention time being wasted which could be used.

    Another idea – which I have used to great effect – is a free breakfast. Get the school to agree to 22 bacon rolls (or if your school don’t do breakfasts then 22 croissants) and get teachers and kids together for 15 minutes before school starts. That way they can do the Toe by Toe in that time. In my experience a nice hot bacon roll gets people to do loads of things with a smile!

    On an aside, have you done iGCSE before? Your note about doing S&L now concerns me as there is a six week window (usually finishing just before the exam) that they need to recorded in. Just double check your window so you don’t have to duplicate.


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