Please Sir, I want some more – Teaching literary Classics with myON
By Denisha Polin
As world book day 2022 approaches, the importance of children’s reading is more prevalent than ever. Whilst reading for pleasure will always be at the forefront of engagement, it is also important that pupils are targeting core Focus Skills that support their literary progress. Recently, our Curriculum and Education expert Margaret Allen, had the chance to catch up with Catherine Magee, Senior Leadership Teacher at St Comgalls for a deep dive into how she uses myON as a Literacy Intervention tool to boost pupils understanding of authorial technique. In their latest webinar, Please sir I want some more Catherine details how she teaches literary classics using myON to keep her pupils engaged and improve their reading ability.
It’s not often that you hear primary school pupils aged 9-10 are studying Charles Dickens thoroughly, so we were beyond thrilled to find that Catherine had implemented Dickens’ work as a core point of study in her Literacy plan.
Why a focus on Charles Dickens?
Most primary schools use standardised tests at the end of the school year to track pupils progress from the start of the year and as a point to develop plans for improvement onwards. Generally, children are tested in 6 areas: spelling, punctuation and grammar, retrieval, simple inference, complex inference and authorial technique. As assessment lead in her school, Catherine takes a look at all categories tested on the PTE (progress testing English) paper and year on year, authorial technique is highlighted as the skill area pupils seem to be most lacking in. “I know historically authorial technique has been the weakest category in my school” Catherine tells us.
Pupil concentration is also an important factor here. For those children who cannot follow the plot of a lengthy book and perhaps cannot recall the details of a chapter read two or three days previously, the shorter bursts of reading, with the book being read cover to cover in one lesson, are arguably more satisfying and effective.
“Classics provide, wisdom, virtue and eloquence – I believe they very much have a place in the primary school curriculum”
What was the idea behind this intervention strategy?
Catherine notes that Dicken’s distinct writing style was one in which her pupils could truly gain a sense of authorial technique. She tell us, “It was my hope that an emphasis on one author, with a very particular style, whose style becomes increasingly apparent book after book, will help the children to develop the language and understanding of pathetic fallacy, personification, dialogue, slang, onomatopoeia and short impact sentences.”
How did you implement a focus on Charles Dickens?
Using simplified adaptations of Charles Dickens novels, alongside the classics available in myON have proven to be a success in Catherine’s classroom. The novels are extracted from Gill Tavner’s Real Reads series which are condensed retellings of the classics. “The language is child-friendly, which facilitates a gentle yet enticing introduction into the world of Classic Literature” says Catherine. Using these simple adaptations means the book can be read in one session and pupils can leave school at the end of the day having read and quizzed on books like Oliver Twist and Greatest Expectations with a real sense of achievement.
“Initially myON was taken on as a covid response, but now it’s a keeper for us!”
Alongside Gil Tavner’s novels, Catherine uses myON to assess the children’s grammar and comprehension, as well as to deliver writing lessons. Selecting extracts from the adult version available in myON, she delivers a whole-class approach by projecting these onto her interactive board and collaboratively dissecting the text for plurals, powerful verbs, personification – whichever literary techniques are the focus of that lesson.
What was your approach to building a general excitement for reading?
What is most inspiring is Catherine’s method for preparing her class to read the Classics, creating a genuine excitement amongst her pupils. She tells us “I made a wooden Miss Havisham – the children painted her and we put a wedding dress and cobwebs on her. I left her outside my classroom door for three weeks prior to reading the book. I ‘cruelly’ refused to answer questions regarding who she was, why she was there, why her skin was grey, why she was in a wedding dress etc. This really did build up so much suspense and curiosity, that by the time we came to read the book, the children were absolutely engaged and on the edge of their seats. It was a brilliant technique.”
How do you use myON to set homework tasks?
Homework in Catherine’s class is typically assigned using myON and myON projects. Using this platform, she will select extracts from the classics in myON alongside a news report that is a parallel response, allowing her pupils to identify and establish occurring patterns and styles for thematic analysis. Catherine acknowledges some of the themes from the news reports her class have studied previously such as the Victorians, Child Labour and prison ships. Although these aren’t directly associated with Charles Dicken’s titles, they do link thematically which makes for excellent comparison.
In the webinar, Catherine details how her pupils loved the character Mrs Joe. After reading the whole chapter on Mrs Joe in myON, for homework “the children had to pick out all the similes that Charles Dickens used as his authorial technique to describe Mrs Joe as the written part of their homework, there was also a news article written on Victorian Britain available on myON news that they had to read alongside this”
Catherine adds that while she generally does mark her myON homework “sometimes I use the peer assessment function as well – you can have your peer mark your homework for you and provide comments” which is great for getting the students involved.
How do you assess whether a pupil has made progress in reading?
“Previous to starting off I had star tested the children as I wanted some pre-intervention data” states Catherine, who began the study of Dicken’s Greatest Expectations in November last year. This provided a starting point and allowed Catherine to see what level her students were working at. After completing the book, the children were star tested again which provided insightful data. Noticeably, reading motivation and engagement have increased amongst Catherine’s pupils but “data is (also) showing an increase in reading ability” which is phenomenal.
Using displays in the classroom is always a great way to celebrate themes and characters in the books your class are reading. Catherine’s pupils have definitely enjoyed creating the characters featured in Dicken’s works as seen in the displays around her classroom.
Finally, she adds “My vision is for a focus on the classics in Key Stage 2 with five to six books to be taught throughout the year. Ultimately, my aim would be a Charles Dickens focus in Primary 6, a Jane Austen focus in Primary 7 and possibly a Bronte focus in Primary 5. This would certainly address authorial technique!”
To find out more about how your school can use myON for Literacy progression and personalised reading practice click here
Read about how schools have used myON as part of the Complete Literary Solution to monitor literacy growth