Research School Network: A Secondary Literacy Case Study – Mounts Bay Academy Part 1: vocabulary


A Secondary Literacy Case Study – Mounts Bay Academy

Part 1: vocabulary

by Kingsbridge Research School
on the

This is the first post in a series that will detail the journey our school, Mounts Bay Academy, is undertaking to implement some of the strategies detailed in the EEF Guidance Report on Secondary Literacy. 

John Rodgers, Cornwall Associate Research School

Secondary literacy

The Context

At the end of the 2021 summer term, my principal tasked me with leading and implementing a whole school improvement strategy focused on literacy. As I am the Co-Director of Cornwall Associate Research School, I knew I would be able to find plenty of resources from the Research School Network (RSN) and the EEF. However, being a science teacher, I did not feel entirely comfortable with my personal level of knowledge, particularly given I would be leading some real experts in our English department – at all costs I wanted to avoid teaching metaphorical Grandmas to suck eggs. So I did what anyone else would do and went looking for help and advice. Fortunately enough, Scott Davies, an ELE with Kingsbridge Research School and Executive Director of Literacy for Westcountry Schools Trust, was kind enough to offer his sagacious advice.

Disc Liyeracy Tree

Narrowing the Focus

My initial thought had been to introduce a range of RSN materials and to support Heads of Faculty to devise implementation plans based on whichever recommendation from the Improving Secondary Literacy guidance report was most relevant to them. I thought that we could start with an audit of literacy-focused pedagogical praxes across the school. Scott wisely suggested that in some cases, audits might not be as useful as we would like them to be. He explained that prior to training, there could be a chance that some staff could over or under-estimate their literacy proficiency or expertise. (In psychology, this is a cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.) Scott also advised that taking on the whole of the literacy guidance report was perhaps too big a task. Rather than looking at reading, writing, structured talk, disciplinary vocabulary at once, and having disparate implementation plans across faculties, perhaps it would be better to start small. To be honest, I felt embarrassed that I had proposed such a gargantuan task. Do fewer things better” is a mantra we would all do well to hold tightly.

And so a new plan was devised. As a school we would look at recommendation 2 from the Guidance Report: Provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject. Bringing the focus right in on disciplinary vocabulary would allow us to make some easy gains’ and see some achievable impact. It would also allow me to take the whole school through the implementation process described in the EEF’s Putting Evidence to work: A School’s Guide to
Implementation guidance report. My aim was to deliver implementation-specific training to Heads of Faculty alongside the delivery of materials related to disciplinary vocabulary to all staff.

Next time: the Explore phase

Over the next few blog posts I will describe our journey so far, how we have used the implementation process, which strategies we have explored and how our plans have emerged. In the next post though, I aim to describe our exploration of the problem in more detail. Why should we focus on Literacy? Is disciplinary vocabulary an issue for our students? Is there an urgent need for this sort of strategy? And of course, how has COVID impacted our students and their literacy?

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Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools

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