S3 Ep23 - Supporting Your Year 3-6 Team to Board the Bus


Subscribe to the Podcast

Hello and welcome to the Structured Literacy Podcast coming to you from Pataway, Burnie, the lands of the Palawa people.

The road of robust, explicit, structured teaching is not an easy one.  It is full of bumps and sharp turns that can take us by surpriseI say the road of and not the road to, because there is no magical destination where everything is effortless. There is no finish line we cross and then all challenges end.

Helping our teams grow their practice is a long-term undertaking and just when we think we've got it all sorted out, a new cohort of students joins the school. We have significant staff turnover, or a sudden drop or rise in student numbers changes our school's instructional landscapeThe other situation that can destabilise our school is growing knowledge of evidence and the pedagogical implications that come with itYou did not mishear meYes, I just described growing knowledge as a cause of destabilisation in our school.

As we grow in knowledge and skills, we come to view our schools, our students and our teaching through new lenses. We start to see the possibilities for change and the new ways that we can set students up for success. Even while this is exciting, it's also daunting. Any change, even a welcome one, comes with the requirement for a time and energy commitment. It also comes with a degree of stress.

This is certainly the case as we support our Year 3 to 6 team to board the structured literacy bus. Many schools are in the position of having spent considerable time, money and energy building early years practices, particularly in phonics. They may have seen the positive impacts reflected in data and what they observe in students' reading and writing skills.

Many schools are now in the position of turning their gaze to the three to six classes and recognising that it's time to get the other half of the school on the bus. So this episode is about how we can support our big people teams to make the tweaks and changes that are needed to keep growth strong right across the primary school.

When I speak with leaders about this shift, one of the first goals they have is often establishing a consistent literacy block that reflects research. It's an important goal because structures lead to routines, which leads to a reduction in cognitive load for both teachers and students. Structures and routines help us build automaticity and fluency in our teaching and help our teams get on the same page.

If your school already has common structures established across classrooms and grades, then you've made a good start, even if those structures and routines are not quite structured enough yet, your team will be used to working and growing together.

On the other hand, if your team is used to doing their own thing and each teacher drives their own bus, be prepared that you'll have two fronts to work on:

  1. adopting updated practices
  2. and getting everyone on the same page.

Your situation may be messier than the school up the road, but not impossible. Just be prepared for the possibility of significant pushback from some quarters as they adjust to new boundaries and expectations.

When it comes to building a clear vision for what goes into your structured literacy block, there is no need to start from scratch. I recently released a Teacher's Guide to the Upper Primary Literacy Block. This completely free, fully referenced document unpacks the beginning understandings of the what, how and why of the explicit teaching of literacy in Years three to six. The last page is a full page of references so that you can follow up with your own reading. If you'd like to, you can download this guide from the show notes in our episode or go to jocelynseamereducation.com/upper-block.

Now, reading through this guide with your team is the easy bit, the harder bit, the bit that takes patience, concerted effort and a whole lot of intentional focus is helping your team develop a shared vision of knowledge and practice across each of the areas. Even people who understand the need for change and can embrace the idea of learning new things have doubts and worries about what a change means for them. So it's important to plan adequately for a year or two of focus on this.

Don't combine a focus on literacy with a focus on maths.

Don't think that you can throw a few staff meetings in here and there where you read a thing and have a chat and then it's all going to take.

People need time. They need the chance to think and take action, to come back and talk some more.

Your goal here is not just do a thing or implement a program. It's to embed strong, robust, explicit teaching in your school. So plan to have the time to do it well.

It might sound like I'm suggesting that it will be years before you can make a shift in practice, but that's not the case. There are some ways to accelerate your progress that won't push your team to the brink of, or actually into, overwhelm.

The first thing is to concentrate on just one area of the literacy block at a time. Sometimes you have to slow down to go faster. Trying to do too much at once will slow you down, I promise, and of course, I have a suggestion of the order of implementation that might be useful. This is not a thou shalt, it is a suggestion.

Number 1

The first area that I recommend you focus on is your low variance explicit practices at word level.

This usually relates to spelling in the three to six space, but might include some phonics instruction that is closer in form to early years practice than regular three to six spelling instruction. The reason I suggest starting here is because the low variance nature of the work means that it's quicker and easier to get everyone using consistent practices than in something like a text-based unit. Yes, you'll need to find out where students are up to and identify and implement a method of supporting their growth, but you can get onto the path quite quickly.

This is especially true when you have easy-to-use structured resources to support your journey. Resource Room members already have access to lesson resources, professional learning and ongoing support to make this happen. Your school might have other resources or you may choose something else, and that's okayThe important thing is that this work is happening, because ensuring that students have solid foundational skills must be a priority. Please don't ask your team to make up their own approach or just give them a set of general principles with a sample lesson plan or two and expect that this will be enough. It won't be. We don't want to take away teachers' capacity to respond to the needs of their students or feel like themselves in their teaching, but we also need to make sure that what we are asking them to do is supported adequately.

Look for resources that provide support and guidance, but don't take the teacher out of the equation. Schools who have adopted our new hard copy resource, Spelling Success in Action 2 for Prefixes and Suffixes already have this in their hands: super supportive guidance, but still wriggle room for the teacher to be the teacher. And when it comes to low variance spelling, make sure that whatever you choose is actually explicit and structured. Don't take the label on the resource at face value.

We have a podcast episode about how to make sure that your spelling instruction is as explicit as it needs to be, and I'll link to that in the show notes.

Number 2

The next section of the literacy block I suggest that you tackle is the daily review.

It might seem strange that I didn't start with this, but review is about what we've actually taught. When we focus on daily review without providing guidance around exactly what to teach, there's a good chance that the review will miss the mark, either because what is covered in it isn't quite focusing on what's needed or because teachers have just grabbed a set of PowerPoint slides from somewhere and plonked them into their programs. It's critical that teaching and review are tightly connected.

Number 3

After the low variance word level work and daily review, I suggest establishing your daily paired reading work.

This could be repeated reading focused on fluency, wide reading focused on increasing the range of text students engage with, or a little bit of both. Establishing this practice need not be arduous or expensive. Every school already has many texts that are suitable for this work. Your team will need some help to get their heads around how to choose text without a levelled text assessment, but the routine itself isn't especially difficult to implement.

You can have a listen to the Research to the Classroom series that we have about Dyad Reading and partner reading in general.

Number 4

Next, we have the text-based unit work.

Again, Resource Room members are well-placed to begin this work with units available for all grades of the primary school. While our three to six teams can be super focused on reading novels, and that's a good thing to do, short stories and the occasional picture book can be brilliant sources of stimulus texts.

If you're a Resource Room member you don't have to worry about purchasing class sets of novels. When it comes to short stories that you read over several lessons, we give you the PDF to print. You are all set. There are, of course, other sources of text-based units, and some people do prefer to create their own.

Wherever you find your teaching inspiration, make sure that the unit focuses on both reading comprehension and writing in equal measure. We want to move away from reading sitting in one part of the literacy block and writing in another. Connecting these two areas optimises student learning. We also want to make sure that the units we choose are simple to use and also carefully consider student cognitive load.

Having more than a few new concepts introduced across a unit sets us up to introduce loads of new things but then not have the time for students to consolidate and have adequate support to apply their new learning more than once.

Number 5

Finally, we have low variance syntax instruction and practice.

I haven't left this until last because it's the least important, but because there is a fair amount of learning to do before teachers are confident in this instruction. We all know how it feels to stand in front of our class trying to teach something that we don't really understand that well ourselves.

If this is where you are in your own teaching journey, please don't worry.

You don't have to go it alone.

If you are teaching with our text-based units, we have syntax built in from initial instruction through to application in a rich written text. This last section takes syntax instruction to the next level, though. Nobody misses out if you make low variance syntax instruction the last stop in the implementation roadmap.

Making the switch to a structured literacy block in Years three to six is not an easy proposition for a few reasons. Firstly, the gaps between where students are in their own learning widens as students get older. It doesn't have to be the case, but it is the reality for most schools just now. So convincing people to move away from group rotation style instruction can be trickier, because teachers know which students need phonics and basic foundational skillsThey just don't know how to address this at the whole class levelMy view on this is that, unless most of the class needs intensive work in foundational phonics, decoding and encoding, this should not be expected from the classroom teacher. It takes a whole school approach to provide the intensity of instruction needed by the most vulnerable students in our classrooms. No amount of light touch review, no matter how good our intentions, will be enough for these students. They deserve to have appropriate instruction to move them forward in their literacy development, and the classroom teacher cannot and, in my opinion, should not be expected to make that happen on their own. Yes, classroom teachers are a part of the picture and must support this development, but it's impossible to deliver this highly intensive instruction to one group in the class at the same time as delivering high quality instruction to the rest of the class. You just can't do it.

You can further support your teachers by helping them see the connections between their previous or existing practice and where you want them to move to. So often in Years three to six, it's not so much about the what but about the how.

Three to six teachers are already teaching about morphology, spelling rules and how to engage with text. It's just that the rigour of instruction is likely not quite there for a variety of reasons.

The goal here is to make sure that instruction is systematic, targeted and robust and is delivered in an explicit way.

It's that part of the picture that's the hardest. One of the reasons that's the hardest is because when you say the word explicit, everyone has a different idea of what that means.

So, to help your team, have them complete an exercise where they can share their worries with you.

  • Have them divide a piece of paper in two.
  • On the left-hand side, they list what they're excited about.
  • On the right-hand side, they list what they're worried about.

This can all be anonymous, and if people are worried that someone will recognise their handwriting, make it happen through a Google Doc.

Once you know what your team's concerns are, you'll be able to address them. Take those concerns seriously. Don't scoff at things that seem silly to you or get your hackles up.

If your team is willing to be vulnerable with you and share their feelings, respond with curiosity, compassion and caring. You aren't asking their opinion on whether your school will be making a change. You're finding out what they need to come on board with you, and that's our job as leaders to be there for our team and really serve them.

In today's episode of the podcast, I've shared a suggestion of the order that you might make your changes in as your team boards the bus, and I've shared some tips for how you can help your team see the possibilities for developments in instruction. I've also shared an exercise that can help you meet them where they're up to.

The upcoming episodes of the Structured Literacy Podcast will focus more on this three to six space and how you can help your team onto the bus with you.

Every classroom has a range of students.

Every school has a range of teachers who are at different points in the journey.

There aren't magical answers, but there are simple, action-focused suggestions that can really help. That's all from me for this week, but remember that you can find my new free download, a Teacher's Guide to the Upper Primary Literacy Block, in the show notes of this episode. We also have a completely free five-day course available for you that you can sign up for. This course starts on July 22nd 2024. But if you're listening to this after that date, don't worry, we have it available as an on-demand course. All of this is completely free for you, not a dollar to be spent. We're here to help, we're here to support you. Until next time, have a great week. Bye.

Other Useful Episodes

S3 Ep19 - How To Make Sure That Your Spelling Instruction Is Explicit

Research to the Classroom - Dyad Reading - Part 1

Research to the Classroom - Dyad Reading - Part 2

Research to the Classroom - Dyad Reading - Part 3 - Teacher Talk

Ready to join us for our latest FREE program? Click here

Live session covers (22)



There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!

Leave a comment