Word Up!

The Education Endowment Foundation Funds TCC’s Word and World Project

I often hear teachers talk about wanting to ‘skill up’ their pupils, so that they might become better readers, and thus independent learners. At The Curriculum Centre, naturally, we are committed to achieving the same end. In recent years the tide has turned in England’s primary schools with the power of teaching synthetic phonics consistently and explicitly widely recognised. A full sea-change, one where national literacy rates are sweepingly raised, is still yet to come, however. I wonder, now, whether there is more to the problem of improving literacy than the discrete teaching of phonics; and more, even, than teaching reading strategies. At The Curriculum Centre we are increasingly convinced that the missing piece in the puzzle of achieving consistently, and sustainably high, literacy rates, is related not only to phonics and to strategies, but to vocabulary.

We want to achieve skilled readers by increasing the language at their disposal – to ‘up’ their familiarity with words and the concepts they represent.

For this reason we are delighted to announce that The Curriculum Centre has been awarded a significant grant from The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). The EEF has made the award to enable us to run a year-long pilot, in a range of primary schools, using the teacher and pupil resources we have developed that focus on explicit historical, geographical, scientific and artistic subject matter. Through these subjects we are able to give pupils a kind of universal language which makes so much that can be found in print gain meaning.

Our Word and World programme was inspired by the work of US academics and educationalists Walter Kintsch and E.D. Hirsch Jnr, which has demonstrated that the skill of literacy depends on background knowledge. In terms of language comprehension, reading comprehension, written expression and oracy, this is represented through a broad and rich vocabulary underpinned by understanding. In short, by increasing the word bank that pupils have at their disposal, particularly while their decoding abilities are burgeoning, our Word and World resources work as well for teachers introducing new terms and concepts, as they do for young readers and non-readers mastering them.

We are particularly excited that our programme will benefit from the expertise of Professor Stephen Gorard, thanks to the EEF. Along with his team, Professor Gorard will be helping us work out how best to evaluate the impact of the Word and World scheme.
As the project comes to life in schools beyond the Future Academies group we will post updates here from time to time.

On behalf of all the team here I’d like to single out Kevan Collins and Emily Yeomans of the EEF for supporting our application. I’d also like to thank Sir Peter Lampl and the EEF Trustees who have enabled this pilot through the generosity of their grant.

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