Using Research to improve Literacy

Whole school impact through effective professional learning

“Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.” —Tomie dePaola

The power of literacy cannot be underestimated. Being articulate, a proficient reader and an effective and efficient writer can open doors to opportunity and make an immeasurable difference to the life chances of the least advantaged pupils.

There are four steps to any improvement:

  • Know what the problem really is
  • Use the best evidence to make plans
  • Take action
  • Evaluate & refine

What good is it for teachers to use multiple literacy strategies if there is little long-term impact on standards? How do you upskill all teachers to explicitly teach the skills proficient readers and writers use? How do schools avoid literacy being a bolt-on and support every teacher to embrace its importance within their subject?

You recognise and repeatedly articulate that literacy underpins learning, everywhere.

Big picture

Know what the problem is

“Pupils’ extended writing is poor.”

“They often do not attempt the longer 6-mark questions in GCSE Science. “

“No matter how many times they have been taught punctuation, they still have to be reminded to use capital letters and full stops.”

Writing is an easy symptom of poor literacy to recognise, but what’s the root cause of these symptoms? Key questions to ask yourself are:

  • How many pupils are reading below their chronological reading age?
  • How deep and varied are pupils’ vocabulary?
  • How well are we explicitly teaching oracy skills to support pupils’ ability to think & process information clearly?
Big picture

Use the best evidence to make plans

Just like teaching pupils to master the foundations of multiplication tables in maths, teaching the fundamentals of literacy is no different. Pupils need to be able to articulate their thoughts effectively orally, use accurate vocabulary & refine their use of language verbally, before they’ll be able to write coherently. They need to be exposed to great writing through reading, before they will be able to replicate that themselves. Knowing how to be highly literate requires a knowledge base and has a hierarchy of skills just like any other subject.

So, make plans that start with the foundations. Build vocabulary using the 3 tiers of words, Frayer models or Beck & Mckeown’s vocabulary development steps. Teach reading by ensuring all your staff know how proficient readers decode, build fluency through low stakes, build in high repetition reading aloud. Know that each literacy skill will pass through three stages of acquisition, accuracy and fluency. Explicitly teach writing by using dual coding, retrieval practice and spaced & interleaved practice to shift knowledge about how to be literate into pupils’ long-term memory.

Keep plans simple. Tackle one problem at a time.

Take Action

Make sure all staff are involved. There is no subject where literacy is absent.

Evaluate & Refine

It is crucial that this stage happens as often as possible. Get feedback from staff as quickly as you can and then adapt plans to address their concerns.

We have worked with numerous schools on raising standards through impact on pupils’ literacy skills, they include:

  • Abersychan School – Reading across the school
  • BTE Academy – Standards at GCSE, specifically coherent answers to 6-10 mark GCSE questions
  • City of Peterborough Academy – improving literacy standards in an area of high social deprivation
  • St Julian’s School – Raising literacy standards including using dual coding to improve reading comprehension
  • YGG Llywnderw - using dual coding to improve reading comprehension
  • Ty Sign Primary – challenging MAT learners to develop higher order reading skills

If you’d like to know more about what we do then contact us at for a chat.

A Little More About Us

Who are we? - We are Finola & Jane, Literacy & Numeracy specialists, with 35+ years of teaching, training & leadership experience between us.

Can you trust us? - We have both worked for Welsh Government supporting schools & senior leaders across Wales. We have held senior leadership posts, delivered support to strategic education advisers, and published curriculum support guidance with Oxford University Press...but if you need to know more visit our website for testimonials from schools we've worked with.

Why should you buy our support? - Put simply, because we believe in impact. We do exactly what our name suggests. Our school support is always bespoke, high quality and designed specifically for each school we work with. Our focus is on delivering measurable impact for pupils.

Big picture