Tell us about your class: ability, attainment, engagement with reading and writing.
My class’ ability in reading and writing is a range of abilities. Their attainment average when they arrived in Year 6 was below the level expected. The good news however, is that many of them have caught up as the academic year has progressed. One of the things that I love most about my current class is that their engagement in reading and writing has been significantly higher than some of my previous classes I have taught. They adore reading and thoroughly enjoy throwing themselves into a quality book. Their writing is also really coming along. They have a passion for writing stories and so we are having a lot of fun this term working on their ability to capture voice within their writing.
How did you use the Read in to Writing Skellig unit with your class?
This unit was used for English and guided reading sessions. Skellig was perfect because our first theme was Charles Darwin and Evolution, and this book keeps circling around both of these themes throughout. I used the unit as written and I was able to create more SATs style questions throughout, in order to further develop the children’s reading comprehension. It was great for driving my grammar and vocabulary lessons and I was able to seek out additional resources to fully embed concepts throughout the unit.
How did your pupils respond to such an in-depth study of a book in terms of their enjoyment and engagement?
My class enjoyed reading Skellig and fully engaging with it. They liked analysing what David Almond may have been thinking when he created a particular scene and how can we try and mimic his style in our own writing. They were eager to hear what was going to come next and loved showing their writing skills as we progressed through the story. At the end of the book the class gave it a round of applause (which I had never experienced in a class before) and many of them went out to purchase other books by the author, such as My Name is Mina. They were also very eager to find out what we were going to read the following half term.
How effective was the Read in to Writing approach in improving reading skills?
Immensely. The children’s fluency was developed further as we read as a group, in partners and individually. They also became more aware on how to analyse unfamiliar words and even started building their own vocabulary journals, which helped them to enhance their own writing. Through in-depth questioning throughout (focus on SATs style questions) the children became more aware of what was happening in the story and gained a deeper understanding of the themes permeating the story. In turn, they were able to apply different approaches in their own writing.
How effective was the Read in to Writing approach in improving writing skills including grammar and vocabulary? Did you find it effective to develop these skills in context?
This approach allowed the children to see grammar in context then apply it to their own writing. They were able to practise the skills that they had seen Almond use in Skellig. Because there was a huge focus on mimicking Almond’s style the children would seek out different grammar skills and vocabulary used in order to apply it to their own. They also became more in tune with how to create voice in stories and the importance of strong characterisation. Analysing grammar within a text serves a greater purpose than discrete grammar because it allows children to see it in practice and then apply it to their own writing. Children are able to better come to grips with new concepts related to grammar and instead of just understanding what a comma is, or choosing where a comma belongs in a premade sentence, they can apply it to their own writing purposefully and accurately.
Why Skellig? What makes it such a great book to share in a classroom and to link with the wider curriculum?
Skellig is a phenomenal book because it has so many themes present throughout the story. It also relies heavily on understanding intertextuality and pulling these concepts apart. It also allows for a range of purposes and audiences to be practised in the children’s own writing by looking at myths, poetry, non-fiction writing about evolution, etc. and then having the children recreate similar styles using what they learnt or read about in Skellig. There is so much to pull apart and analyse in such a short book. The short sentences for effect really enhance greater depth writing skills too.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of exploring a whole book rather than shorter extracts?
A whole book allows children to fully immerse themselves into the full arch of a story. It has children pushing themselves to better understand the writing as a whole as well as find deeper meaning within the reading which they might not be able to do on their own. It is great to have children practising grammar skills and building their vocabulary in context rather than discrete lessons.
Do you have any tips for other teachers using the Read in to Writing Skellig unit?
Remember to make it your own. If a lesson is not fitting to your class feel free to alter it, or drop it. If you feel that your class needs more assistance in comprehension, give them this opportunity. If time is better spent analysing more grammar within the text and then applying it, allow for this to take place too. Although this unit has many activities and premade lessons, they might not fit the needs of your learners, or equally your class could take the unit another way as you start progressing with it. If the children’s direction seems purposeful take this new direction and dip in and out as you see fit. As with any scheme of work, you could use it as it is written or you could take what you like and alter what does not work or is not best for your pupils.
Jessie Farley, Year 6 Teacher, Key Stage 2 Leader and English Leader
All Saints Benhilton C of E Primary School, Sutton
You can watch a series of video case studies featuring Jessie and her pupils here.