Guest teacher blog: Helen Pipe, Head of Geography at Hartshill School in Warwickshire

Helen shares with us her top tips for success on Reading Plus.

Helen Pipe, Head of Geography at Hartshill School in Warwickshire, shares with us the reading strategies the school has implemented due to the pandemic lockdowns and missed learning time. She also shares tips for keeping her form group engaged with Reading Plus.

A little about me

I first began my teaching career as a cover supervisor before qualifying as a Geography teacher in 2015. I am passionate about teaching Geography as I love the many dimensions of the subject and how case studies can be used to illustrate concepts.

The importance of vocabulary

In the chosen GCSE Geography exam board specification alone, there are over 150 prescribed Tier 3 key terms that pupils are required to recall the definitions for, show understanding, and use in context. I am sure the same can be said for other GCSE subjects too; therefore, it is paramount that pupils have a good literacy level by the time they reach Year 10, and I feel the Reading Plus programme will support this.

Missed learning

Reading and vocabulary are at the forefront of our school Teaching and Learning leads. This has been heightened through the awareness of gaps in progress due to the pandemic lockdowns and missed learning time for some pupils who did not access/ fulfil the remote learning programme.

Reading strategies at school

Leaders have emphasised improving pupils’ reading, which has been the main purpose of the afternoon daily 30-minute form time session. Each tutor group in Years 7-10 has a half-term class reading book read aloud by the form tutor, and pupils track the text using their reading rulers. The purpose of this is to improve eye control, fluency and engagement in reading. I am a Year 7 Tutor, and so far, I have read two fiction books with my tutor group. Pupils have engaged with both texts, which has led to great discussions at break/lunch times regarding the books.

Reading at home

Working in parallel to prioritising reading in tutor time, homework also revolves around reading. My school has invested in the online reading programme, Reading Plus. Pupils are required to complete 1 hour 30 minutes of the programme at home each week. My Year 7 tutor group firstly signed up and did the initial assessment during a Computer Science lesson to ensure that all pupils had the correct login details and signed up successfully.

In registration, I give pupils weekly reminders regarding Reading Plus, such as the number of words individuals have read and the total for the tutor group as a whole. The latter figure is displayed at the end of each week on the tutor group display board. Throughout the week, I check pupil progress on the programme from my teacher dashboard and remind pupils of expectations if they are yet to complete a reading lesson for that week.

Tips for pupil engagement

To ensure pupils completer their hour and a half-required time on the programme, I asked them individually to select three days for which they will do this to chunk the learning into 30 minutes. I have noted which pupils complete on which days to give reminders and check-in with pupils.

I overtly praise pupils who have made progress and share this with their Head of Year and the Assistant Principal who oversees Teaching and Learning. They can also recognise my tutor group’s progress and celebrate this in assembly.

I also set weekly targets with regards to the number of words read. The pupils revel in being assigned a challenge, and again, praise is given when they smash the target.

Celebrating success

Pupils’ success on Reading Plus is celebrated each week. I select four reading stars of the week, and they receive a postcard home. The criteria for this is based on the data displayed on Reading Plus: the number of words read, the number of reading lessons completed, the number of combos/streaks and % average completion.

At the start of half term, I set my tutor the target of 500,000 words read by Christmas – I’ve just checked and they’re at 545,000 words, they have smashed it, with over a week to go!

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