Building a Talk Community – developing Oracy

(Some of our Oracy Leaders at a Voice 21 ‘Oracy Across The Curriculum’ training event)

Building a community of readers, writers and talkers (and listeners!) is at the heart of our mission as a school. These three life-skills are so integrated that it is often hard to think about the development of one without considering its connection and impact on another. As James Britton (Educationalist, 1970) once said: “Reading and Writing Float on a Sea of Talk”.

So far this year, we have started to ‘sow the seeds’ in the building of our Reading Community (see previous post) and it is now that we turn our attention specifically to Oracy. Our decision to use this term is largely due to the partnership we have started with Voice 21 and the importance of establishing a shared language about developing talk-related skills. The State of Speaking in our Schools report, produced by Voice 21, summarises its findings by saying:

• Oracy can be defined as the development of children’s capacity to use speech to express their thoughts and communicate with others in education and in life, and talk through which teaching and learning is mediated.
• Teachers recognise that oracy can represent both learning to talk and learning through talk.

This was our starting point; we began by exploring what ‘Oracy’ means to our school community and what it currently looks like. The feedback showed that we believe lots of talk activities happen in lessons, but of particular interest were people’s feelings about some of the barriers to developing talk further. These included:

  • Students having poor listening skills
  • Behavioural issues
  • Students’ lack of confidence
  • Off-task chatter
  • A fear of speaking in front of peers (being judged and looking silly)
  • The classroom environment
  • Language issues/lack of vocabulary (especially with regards EAL students)
  • More confident students overshadowing others
  • Lack of maturity
  • The need to create a culture of talking
  • MFL – fear of mispronouncing words
  • Experience – not enough opportunities
  • Time for talk activities (pressure of covering specification content at KS4/5)
  • Looking at the curriculum as a whole (rather than individual lessons)
  • Misuse of language
  • The development of talk skills is usually associated with English (and not Maths for example)
  • The dominance of teacher talk
  • Explicit teaching of talk skills needed
  • Unsupervised pair talk often leads to unproductive chatter
  • Fear of ‘lower ability’ students not benefitting
  • Trying to keep students on track
  • A shortage of resources to support the development of talk
  • Challenges of ‘capturing the learning’
  • The low status of Oracy (Government, student and teacher perspectives)
  • Cultural differences (especially with regards the physical elements of talk – i.e. eye-contact)
  • Having something to say

We have also started by developing our knowledge of talk-related research, looking in particular at the work of Robin Alexander (Dialogic Teaching), Neil Mercer (Exploratory Talk) and Lyn Dawes (Talking Points).

A group of Lead Practitioners across the school have now been to their first Oracy training event with Voice 21 and have since shared some of their learning in a whole-school Professional Learning Briefing. One of the ideas communicated was the idea of having similar ‘Guidelines for Discussion’ in every classroom across the school so that we continue to develop a shared language and set of expectations around Oracy:

Discussion Guidelines:

  • We give proof of listening
  • We respect others’ ideas
  • We build, challenge, summarise, clarify, and probe each other’s ideas
  • We are prepared to change our mind
  • We invite others into our discussion
  • We try to reach shared agreement

Several classroom activities to develop talk were also shared and used during the session including Back-to-back, Fed in facts and Story Telling/Mapping. Click here for a more detailed and visual explanation of this.





A celebration of ‘Reading for Pleasure’ – Our journey so far


(Teachers and Librarians from across Buckinghamshire (and Teresa Cremin!) reading copies of First News)

On 10th January, we hosted an event in conjunction with the National Literacy Trust and First News celebrating ‘Reading for Pleasure’ and highlighting the importance of developing students’ critical literacy skills and reading of news. Professor Teresa Cremin from the Open University also gave a keynote on reading for pleasureand Nicolette Smallshaw from First News, led a discussion on the role of newspapers, magazines and discussion of news aa driver for reading.

The evening began with a presentation of St Michael’s journey in the building of their Reading Community. As a result, it has been suggested that we apply for the Egmont Reading for Pleasure award in association with the Open University and the UKLA. A copy of the application can be seen by clicking here.

The event was indeed a wonderful celebration of reading, full of inspiration and ideas in how to build successful and effective communities of readers.

Jennifer Killick – our wonderful Patron of Reading

What is a Patron of Reading?

“A Patron of Reading is a school’s special children’s author, poet, storyteller or illustrator. The school and their patron develop a relationship over a period of time. Everything the patron does is related to helping encourage and develop a reading for pleasure culture in the school: book quizzes, blogs, book recommendations, discussions, plays, poetry bashes, blogs, book trailers and visits. The possibilities are virtually endless.”


At the start of this year, we received the wonderful news that Jennifer Killick would be our Patron of Reading. Jennifer is a children’s author and her latest book, ‘Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink’ was selected by the Reading Agency as one of the titles for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge ‘Animal Agents’.

To coincide with the official opening of our new library, Jennifer came in to school for the day to do an author talk assembly to our primary students and to then lead a number of creative writing workshops with Y5 and Y6 students. These events were wonderfully received by students, several of whom went home that day with personal signed copies of Jennifer’s book. She was certainly the ‘star attraction’ at the opening of our new library with a buzz of students and parents queuing to meet her.

Jennifer’s enthusiasm and desire to support children’s reading for pleasure and creative thinking is infectious. Since coming in for the day, Jennifer has also produced a very informative newsletter for the school, including book recommendations and such issues as reading and dyslexia.

It has been a fantastic experience working with Jennifer so far and long may it continue. We can’t wait to read her next book out soon, ‘Alex Sparrow and the Furry Fury’.

The Impact of ‘The Power of Reading’


This half term, Year 3 embarked on the adventure of following a new scheme of work in literacy from CLPE’s ‘The Power of Reading’.  We have also reverted back to teaching literacy as a whole class, as opposed to streaming into sets.

We have based much of our work on a book called ‘The Green Ship’. Over the past few weeks, we have role played, discussed characters feelings and personalities, written and performed poems and also written stories. It has been amazing! The children have been so enthusiastic and really seemed to have thrived from working within their whole class, rather than their groups.

I have been blown away by the use of imagery and descriptive vocabulary. Many children from the lower set have really thrived and made fantastic contributions to lessons. They have been working on mixed ability tables. Looking through books and the work produced, I feel that for many, the gap has narrowed. They have all really benefited from sharing ideas with a deeper breadth of vocabulary.

In the classroom, we have had a working wall. The children have been eager to impress and get their work on display! Towards the end of this scheme, the children have then had to discuss, plan and write their own adventure story, following a similar structure to ‘The Green Ship’ Within the class room we set up a hot air balloon as a visual stimulus for their writing. This was a great hit with the children! We cannot wait to read our next book ‘Pebble in my Pocket’!

Helen Creek (Y3 teacher)

Our new library – a hugely positive impact on our community

Library Update – First Term in New Library

Since moving into our new school library I have noticed a significant, positive change in the attitude towards books and reading in our school.  Furthermore, there is a healthy increase in visitation from pupils to the library during morning breaks and lunchtimes.

Our stock is healthy and new, attracting more and more students, drawing them in to handle the books and read the blurb and this should escalate with our extra funding.

There has been an overwhelming increase in borrowers, at least 80% more than last year.  Lending has been regular because of the fortnightly library sessions which allow the students the opportunity to return and borrow another book.  This also keeps the library stock healthy.

The brand new library management system is a new feature for our school and has proved to be a very valuable tool.  It also encourages the prompt return and renewal of books.

Aforementioned, the secondary phase pupils have the opportunity of a library session every two weeks, sometimes more.  They have shown to thoroughly relish this time and enjoy browsing the collection or just sitting quietly engrossed in their novels.  Some like to sit on the colourful rug and read to each other.

For the primary phase pupils, this is a whole new experience altogether.  It’s a mini outing!  They arrive with their books under their arms delighting in the knowledge that they will be seeking another treasure to take home tonight.

Mrs Cooper (St Michael’s Librarian)

Reading for Pleasure – Reviewing our Practice

In this week’s Professional Learning session, SMCS staff reflected on the Reading for Pleasure: Review your Practice document from the Research Rich Pedagogies website.


The strong aspects of practice that staff currently identified in the school and in their own teaching and classrooms included the following:

  • Instilling the idea that reading is fun
  • Having a good knowledge of the current popular series of books and classic children’s authors
  • Lots of free reading time given to children
  • The setting up of sharing sessions to talk about books and develop recommendations
  • Getting students to read in class
  • Taking an interest if any pupil mentions what they are reading – including asking questions and praising them
  • The identification of key figures in modern day fiction, non-fiction and poetry
  • A better focus on reading and encouraging different types of readers
  • Staff are on board with reading
  • KS3 have ‘reading for pleasure’ sessions in the new library
  • Staff and students are talking to each other about books
  • Sharing personal views on the value of reading with students
  • Reading aloud in the lesson
  • Children have stories read to them on a regular basis and join guided-reading sessions once/week
  • Recommending subject-specific books
  • Reading text books for pleasure

Aspects of practice that staff wanted to develop included:

  • Opening up children to a wider range of reading materials
  • Promoting reading in KS5 tutor time
  • Starting a specific reading morning
  • Developing a knowledge of poetry
  • A greater variety of reading to include non-fiction
  • KS4 students needing to develop reading skills
  • More time for children to read independently and discuss books
  • The organisation of KS4 library sessions
  • Sharing our own reading with our students
  • Taking/finding the time to read
  • Reading as a teacher and sharing it (some children don’t know I read)
  • Aiming to read more in general either to do with my subject or for my own entertainment
  • Drop Everything and Read time
  • Improving my own non-fiction reading knowledge (related to my subject)
  • Knowing authors and poets
  • Creating inspiring reading spaces and resources
  • Older students reading aloud to develop vocabulary
  • Sharing my own reading habits
  • Having a greater knowledge of children’s poetry
  • Sharing good practice and modelling that we don’t know everything



Building Our Reading Community

Teacher image

The Open University project on building communities of readers (2007-8) had 4 main aims:

1. To widen teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature.
2. To develop teachers’ confidence and skilful use of
such literature in the classroom.
3. To develop teachers’ relationships with parents,
carers, librarians and families.
4. To develop ‘Reading Teachers’, teachers who read
and readers who teach.

A UKLA summary of the report contains a table of key differences between ‘Reading Instruction’ and ‘Reading for Pleasure’, the latter being crucial if we are to develop autonomous, lifelong readers.

As we embark on a journey to develop our own unique reading community here at SMCS in our all-through school context, it is well-worth being aware of the findings from the project which, although carried out with primary schools, contains messages which are important to all of us at any level in education in order to support learners to become lifelong readers.

We have already started this journey by exploring what it means to be a reader, as both a student and adult member of our school, and by creating opportunities to talk about reading and enjoy our fantastic new library. As a result of these conversations, we have made a pledge, as adult members of the community, to support the development of reading:


The SMCS Reading Pledge

As SMCS staff, we pledge to:

  1. Develop the interest in, and enjoyment of, reading across the school.
  2. Talk about what we are reading with our students and each other.
  3. Make the most of our wonderful new library.

We will do this by:

  1. Creating opportunities for our children to choose what they want to read.
  2. Increasing teacher and pupil knowledge of children’s and young adult literature.
  3. Creating opportunities in the school day, including assembly time, to share what we and our students have been reading.
  4. Encouraging the use of the library.
  5. Ensuring students have access to high quality texts.
  6. Modelling reading to our students.
  7. Creating literature-rich learning environments.
  8. Reading with and aloud to our children and each other.
  9. Developing how we teach reading.
  10. Creating a group of ‘Reading Ambassadors’ across the school.
  11. Recognising the role of new technologies in reading and supporting the use of them.
  12. Being aware of messages in Daniel Pennac’s ‘Rights of the Reader’.

Pennac’s messages couldn’t be more valuable. As he says, ‘Our children start out as good readers and will remain so if the adults around them nourish their enthusiasm instead of trying to prove themselves…if we give-up whole evenings instead of trying to save time…if we make the present come alive without threatening them with the future…’

One of the most significant parts of our journey to date, and one that has immediate impact in the building of our community, is the development of our new library, a space which has been transformed with the support of Marilyn Brocklehurst from Norfolk Children’s Book Centre.


One of our Professional Learning Days at the start of term gave teachers the time to talk about their own reading over the summer and to think about themselves and our young people as readers. Further information on how our students feel about their reading can be seen here in this National Literacy Trust Survey from December 2016.

Some further links to reading which can support our thinking and actions as we continue to build our community are:

The Open University – Research Rich Pedagogies

National Literacy Trust Review Posters – Primary

National Literacy Trust Review Posters – Secondary

DfE: Research Evidence on Reading for Pleasure (2012)

How to Teach Reading for Pleasure – The Guardian (2013)

CLPE – Reading for Pleasure…What we Know Works

UKLA – Promoting Reading for Pleasure

The National Literacy Trust – Reading for Pleasure


‘Flipped Learning’ Research Group

The Flipped Learning Research group began by exploring their understanding of the principles involved in a ‘Flipped Classroom’, reading various pieces of research on this subject. One of the most significant documents we used to guide our understanding was this one provided by As a key  part of developing Flipped Learning incorporates the use of technology, the group was also keen to explore the use of blogging in conjunction with this, deciding to use WordPress as the main software platform.

Blogs were set up across various Key Stages and Subject areas including A-Level Philosophy, GCSE Art, GCSE English, GCSE Drama, KS3 English and a KS1 class. Please click on each area to see the blog.

We were interested in examining how students at all levels responded to their learning beyond and within the classroom via the use of this technology. We knew that blogging might have an impact on students’ communication and writing skills by being aware that there was a wider audience to read and respond to their ideas. We also felt that this would enable collaborative learning and dialogue to continue beyond the classroom walls. Some teachers had already experienced the fact that students didn’t see blogging as homework set on a particular date and due in at a certain time, but rather that students became more intrinsically motivated to communicate on it as and when opportunities arose. It can also seem more permanent than thinking and discussions which take place in class and can be revisited whenever the learner desires.

Please see the comments in this post for how the teachers in the research group developed the use of blogging in their own subject areas and their evaluation of this.

For further reading on this, please click here for a blog post from the English and Media Centre written by one of the teachers in the group. It evaluates the power of blogging with students and the dynamic learning opportunities that it can offer in a 21st century curriculum.







Learning Through Talk – #SMCSteachmeet


Monday’s #SMCSteachmeet will focus on discussing and sharing ideas about ‘Learning Through Talk’, an area of pedagogy which has been researched by the likes of Vygotsky, Robin Alexander, Neil Mercer and Lyn Dawes and one which has the power to completely transform the effectiveness of learning in the classroom. You will find all the resources from tonight’s session (and more!) in the ‘Resources’ folder at the top of this page.

Young children talking and thinking in partnership with supportive adults are operating at the leading edge of their potential, in a zone of proximal development. At this level they are able to go well beyond their limitations of what they can do alone and unaided … taking children beyond themselves so to speak’.     (Vygotsky)

Far more attention needs to be given, right from the start, to promoting speaking and listening skills to make sure that children build a good stock of words, learn to listen attentively and speak clearly and confidently. Speaking and listening, together with writing and reading, are prime communication skills that are central to children’s intellectual, social and emotional development.’      (The Rose Report 2006)

The amount and quality of the dialogue children experience at home is one of best predictors of their eventual academic attainment.‘         (Hart & Risley, 1995).

Talk at the Crossroads (NLT Blog 2012)

By Judy Clark (National Literacy Trust – Network Adviser)

What’s in a name? It would seem quite a lot. Oracy, articulacy, communication, language for learning, speaking and listening, talk; they are currently appearing frequently, often used interchangeably, sometimes misinterpreted and have never been of high enough profile to achieve the transformational potential they possess for our pupils.

“Talk” is coming at us from all angles. In the new Teachers’ Standards the word articulacy has appeared. Ofsted’s new framework has injected the word communication into the Quality of Teaching judgment. When it comes to the Expert Panel Report for the National Curriculum Review, we have the whole of Chapter 9 devoted to oral language and its development within the curriculum, at last acknowledging the “crucial nature of oral capability within education” (The Framework for the National Curriculum, 9.1).

We welcome the momentum in terms of policy but we’ve been here before. From Bullock’s A Language for Life to the National Oracy Project, still the quality and centrality of talk in our schools has not been established, fully understood or more importantly valued for its potential to transform teaching and learning. Talk is at a crossroads.



Collaborative Professional Learning and Lesson Study

Lesson Study

A trio of us got together recently to embark on our first Lesson Study. We were keen to explore alternative methods of coaching in the school, and Lesson Study seemed like the perfect approach to developing a more collaborative, professional learning experience. Not only did we think this process of classroom-based action research would be appealing to us, but we were aware that it would have a more direct impact on students’ learning too. As Pete Dudley (the man responsible for introducing Lesson Study to the UK) says:

Lesson Study is a powerful, professional learning approach that dramatically improves learning and teaching and the practice and subject knowledge of teachers. Originating from the Chinese Confucian tradition, Lesson Study has 140 years of history in Japanese schools and is increasingly used in East Asia, the US and Europe.

The process is summarised in the following way in the handbook from the Lesson Study website:

Lesson Study involves groups of teachers collaboratively planning, teaching, observing and analysing learning and teaching in ‘research lessons’. They record their findings. Over a cycle of research lessons they may innovate or refine a pedagogical approach that will improve pupil’s learning and which will be shared with others both through public research lessons, and through the publication of a paper outlining their work.

Our Lesson Study focus

As our trio consisted of teachers from different subjects, we were keen to focus on an aspect of pedagogy which would have cross-curricular benefits. Informed by research from James Nottingham’s The Learning Pit and Carol Dweck’s ‘Growth Mindset’, we wanted to focus on the issue of ‘challenge’ and ‘struggle’ and to examine how students respond to it. We also wanted to get students thinking more about ‘how’ they learn (metacognition), not just what they are learning. James Nottingam’s ‘Challenging Learning Posters’ were also a very useful resource to draw on in our initial thinking.

At the our planning meeting, we began by reading through and signing the Lesson Study Group Protocol on page 7 of the handbook. It was refreshing to see language associated with equality, mutual respect, sharing, student voice and listening which all served to make a very positive start to the process. Having discussed some initial ideas, we drafted an outline of a lesson plan using Microsoft’s OneDrive so that we would have the ability to work collaboratively on the planning process beyond the first meeting. We also wanted to approach lesson planning in a different way too, using the 4 stages of The Learning Pit as a structure for the lesson. The lesson plan (RE Lesson Lesson Study) and the ‘Stages of Learning’ can be seen here. Another resource we wanted to use to explore students’ response to the level of challenge in the lesson was a ‘Challengeometer Graph’, the intention being that students would reflect on and plot how they felt about the level of challenge at various stages in the lesson. With regards the content of the RE lesson, students were going to explore the concept of ‘fairness’ with a specific focus on gender equality and the role of women in the Church, particularly with regards female Bishops.

The Lesson Study Lesson

There was an excitement about teaching and being in the lesson with each other. We had put time and effort into planning the lesson, sharing ideas, knowledge and skills and creating resources. Two of us focused our observations on 3 students each (a high, middle and low attainer) in order to start investigating how different types of learners would respond to the level of challenge we had designed. After the first activity (where we asked students to guess the percentages of women in certain areas of industry) we asked students to reflect on the level of challenge in the task and plot on their graph, on a scale of 1-10, how they felt about that. We immediately started to sense some potential issues. Would students know what we meant by the term ‘challenge’? Were we asking them to consider how difficult the task was? Some students might interpret this as how easy the task was to do in terms of following the teacher’s instructions, not perhaps how challenging the learning was. Already we were learning about what we might do in our next Lesson Study cycle and how we might need to refine/adapt the lesson to continue with our research.

Below are two students’ graphs which show different responses to the level of challenge in the lesson. Whether the students had understood what we intended them to or not, the graph created an opportunity to discuss the students’ learning and sense of progress at given stages of the lesson which was very interesting and surprising at times. The process of this reflection on learning was also a highly valuable one for the students to start considering.

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It would seem that the first graph suggests the learning ‘got more challenging’ for the student as the lesson progressed whereas it seemed to get ‘easier’ for the student in the second graph. Was it that we had taken the second student on a journey through the lesson in which their understanding was better by the end of it? Or did they no longer feel challenged in their thinking by the end of the lesson? All of these questions would become useful to explore in the post-Lesson Study reflection.

Student Focus Group Interview

One of the most valuable parts of the Lesson Study process is the opportunity to interview your focus group of students directly after the lesson. It is not always easy to see and evaluate some of the actual learning which has gone on in a lesson as a teacher or observer and therefore this part of the process is invaluable and often enlightening. Page 12 of the Lesson Study handbook has some suggested questions for the interview. Here is a recording of the interview with our focus group.

The Post Research Lesson Discussion

The Lesson Study handbook (pg14-15) has some suggested, structured questions for supporting an effective reflection discussion. Below are some of our key findings:

  • The teachers found the process enjoyable, supportive, challenging and rewarding
  • The teachers felt they learnt something from each other with regards developing their understanding of pedagogy and approaches to planning, teaching and reflection
  • The teachers felt a greater sense of professionalism
  • Students said they enjoyed reflecting on the level of challenge they were experiencing in the lesson and liked seeing this represented visually on a graph
  • Having some pre-prepared ‘Wobbler Questions’ was an effective way of developing the level of thinking and engagement in the lesson
  • No graphs showed that the level of challenge was ‘easy’ at any point during the lesson
  • Students’ level of thinking develops when they are asked to reflect on how they are learning as well as what they are learning
  • Using a Challengeometer Graph creates clearer opportunities to start exploring students’ feelings about challenge

Some questions we now have:

  • Do students understand exactly what we mean by ‘challenge’? Do we?
  • Are some students just struggling to understand the task?
  • What do the graphs mean exactly?
  • Should we build in specific questions at C+R points of the lesson to interpret the graphs more accurately/effectively?
  • Did the design of the lesson support what we were aiming to achieve?
  • Why were some students more engaged than others?