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Research School Network: How has a focus on disciplinary literacy CPD helped to refine my practice, even when things get really busy? Adam Pritchard, Local Research Lead, Norwich Research School

How has a focus on disciplinary literacy CPD helped to refine my practice, even when things get really busy?

Adam Pritchard, Local Research Lead, Norwich Research School

The return to school in September feels like a distant memory, and there are now more and more hypothetical’ plates spinning in schools, as the academic year is in full swing – mock marking, curriculum development, open evenings and this is without juggling life outside school. Either way, finding time to reflect on and refine practice can become really challenging where other things take priority.

When three hours of Disciplinary Literacy training for all staff was scheduled within the first half term here at Notre Dame, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have slightly mixed views. On the one hand, I welcomed the opportunity to receive high quality, evidence informed training. But, at the same time I was mildly concerned as to how this would impact upon other parts of the role, and whether this may hinder progress in relation to other priorities for the year.

However; we are nine weeks into the term and I can say that this CPD has had a positive impact on both my own teaching and that of the department in which I work. Much of the training was delivered by colleagues from Norwich Research School and has taken snippets from the Improving Secondary Literacy’ three day training course. The research-based practical advice and strategies that have been shared have enabled me to make simple tweaks to my practice, and to become more effective in teaching disciplinary literacy in my subject. Below is a summary of three of three such areas:

1) Using a variety of approaches to support and develop student reading strategies:

The EEF guidance report Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools’ identifies ways in which teachers can support students to become more strategic readers. Student comprehension of rich, subject specific texts is often more challenging than verbal comprehension. For this reason, reflecting on ways to support students with this has been an important and deliberate change to my approach.

For example, asking students to make a prediction about a text before reading means they have to evaluate their own comprehension, and therefore engage with a text. Similarly, asking students to summarise a section of a text encourages them to focus on key content and thus supports the monitoring of comprehension. This can then be further supported through the use of graphic organisers. For example the nutrient cycle in the tropical rainforest ecosystem.

2) Striking a balance when seeking to extend pupil vocabulary:

Prior to this CPD, I was unaware that the percentage of words known in a text to ensure comprehension needs to be 95% (Schmitt, Jiang & Grabe, 2011). This further highlights the importance of supporting students with comprehension, particularly in relation to non-fiction texts. As a result, I have become more considered in prioritising the specific teaching of subject specific academic vocabulary.

While the notion of word tiers (Beck and McKeown, 2013) is a concept I am familiar with, where words are tiered to enable the explicit teaching of subject specific academic vocabulary, I find myself utilising more explicit strategies such as word etymology’ and morphology in order to explore the meaning and/​or origin of specific vocabulary. Moreover, I have become more conscious in planning when to explicitly teaching certain vocabulary prior to asking students to read a specific piece of text.

I would also view the selection of specific vocabulary to teach explicitly as a balancing act’. Ensuring that key ideas, core concepts and curriculum objectives are fulfilled, while spending time on specific vocabulary can be tricky, so considered curriculum making and lesson planning is crucial here. The use of recapping, retrieval and low-stakes quizzing are fundamental to the successful of embedding new vocabulary.

3) Curriculum and the use of booklets to support subject specific disciplinary literacy:

As part of ongoing curriculum evaluation and refinement, we are currently developing booklets to support students in their learning both in the classroom and independently. Disciplinary literacy is at the heart of these resources in a variety of ways. For example, where appropriate this may enable exposure to rich, subject specific text. Alternatively we may provide models of writing in order to demonstrate how to apply vocabulary precisely and correctly. Moreover, we are certainly more considered in the selection of key vocabulary to teach explicitly as part of our long term curriculum, carefully identifying which vocabulary students need to be sure with in order to secure long term progression.


Beck, L., McKeown, M. and Kucan, L. (2013). Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. 2nd Edition, Guildford Press.

Schmitt, B., Jiang, X. and Grabe, W. (2011). The Percentage of Words Known in a Text and Reading Comprehension. The Modern Language Journal. Vol. 95, No. 1, pp. 26 – 43 (18 pages).

EEF Guidance report – Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools:

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