The Focus of the Evaluation

A school self-evaluation of teaching and learning with respect to Literacy in Roscommon Community College was undertaken during the period November 2013 to November 2014. During the evaluation, the teaching and learning in the school with respect to Literacy was evaluated. This is a report on the findings of the evaluation.

School Context

The school is a co-educational interfaith school run under the auspices of the GRETB. It has 272 students and is linked to the DEIS programme for second level schools. It is experiencing rapid growth at present with the school population to rise by over 27% in the next academic year. The SSE was undertaken as a way of promoting good literacy practices in the school. As such we formed a Literacy Committee with the focus on driving new literacy provision across all subject areas in the school. This committee meets regularly and consists of the following staff members.

  • Sinead Ryan Mullin: HSLO
  • Siobhan Cullen: Literacy Strategy Co-Ordinator
  • Padraig Cassidy: Construction and DCG Department
  • Declan Donlon: Technical Graphics Department
  • Fergal Timmons: Geography and PE Department
  • Maura Connelly: English Department
  • Diane Drury: SEN Department
  • Lorraine Ward: SEN Department
  • Georgina Martin: Maths Department
  • Jude Lohan: Deputy Principal
  • Frank Chambers: Principal

Literacy – Interventions Accessed as a School Community

Word of the Week Initiative: These words are key words / terms that students are expected to learn, understand, be able to spell and use in the right context. These words will be changed each week, so that students’ vocabulary and ability to communicate in their subjects will be developed and expanded. A wide range of vocabulary from across the range of subjects has been collated.

Literacy Audit:  We have conducted a Literacy Audit within the school in an effort to discover more about our parent’s attitude to the literacy levels of their children. The questionnaire has been sent to a random selection of parents to establish their perceptions of the reading habits of their children.. A similar questionnaire will be completed at the end of the school year and the results compared. We feel that this will go some way to ascertaining the level of success (or otherwise) of our Literacy Strategies to date.

Spelling Challenge – Spelling Bee/ Tests: This initiative is aimed at subject teachers who are interested in improving the spelling of technical words in their subject vocabulary. A member of the school’s Literacy Working Group will coordinate the creation of the Weekly Word Initiative and the monthly Spelling Tests that will take place on agreed dates each month.

The Short Short Story Initiative: In the vein of Ernest Hemmingway, students are encouraged to write six word short stories. It is planned that these short stories will be put on display on visual media around the school. For Example;  “For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn”.

Visual Verbal Squares: In implementing the Word of the Week Initiative, some teachers find  Visual Verbal Squares to expand on students’ understanding of vocabulary and use of expression.

Drop Everything and Read (DEAR): This is a great way of promoting reading across the whole school or year group. The idea is that at a set time everyday for a week everyone stops what they are doing and reads for fifteen minutes. It is a shared experience, gets people talking about books and reading while conveying a strong message that the school believes in reading. Students read, Principals read, teachers in the staff room read, phones are taken off the hook and secretaries read, the caretaker reads and all visitors to the school are offered books to read or magazines to look through. The initiative can be used to organise boxes of books, magazines, and newspapers per class, as well as one for the staffroom and office!

Reading Corners: Reading is an essential component of all subject areas so why not make it a visible component as well. To instil in students an awareness of the importance of reading, classrooms can provide an environment in which reading is clearly valued. The initiative can be used to create a classroom reading corner with shelves that have books on a variety of topics, written at a range of reading levels and provide a wide range of genres, both fiction and non – fiction, including such reference books as dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopaedias, etc.

Literacy Week: This includes quizzes on key words throughout all subject fields, word puzzles, raising awareness of the importance of literacy etc. We invite speakers into the school for example poets, writers, even business people who could discuss writing cover letters and CVs etc. In the past Roddy Doyle, Gary Lydon, Martin Maguire and Terry McDonagh have given workshops.

Riddle Board: The Riddle Board creates great excitement amongst students and a great sense of competition. A small piece of chocolate often serves as a great incentive!

Paired Reading/Mentoring: 1st years and TY students work well together under this initiative as self esteem is built up with the TY student assisting the younger student. The idea of paired reading between our TY students and the  6th class pupils of local schools in the town is an avenue we are interested in exploring in the near future.

Print Rich Environment: Corridors, stairs and locker areas will be areas for print rich material.

Book Box Initiative: In each First Year classroom ( and eventually in all classrooms)  there will be a box of 24 books. Each student will be encouraged to take a book during a study period and to read an extract. This should provoke discussion, maybe a follow-up visit to the library to borrow the book or a request at home to buy or borrow the book.

Reading lists: A reading list is emailed to all parents of First Years with a recommendation that each student read a specified amount of books in the school year, including the summer holidays.

In the classroom

  • We continue to develop the importance of the Point, Quote, and Explain method to encourage students to fame their answers using this model. This leads to proficiency in sentence construction and students learn to integrate higher order skills in their answers. The use of this should be explored in every subject.
  • Learning outcomes are shared at the beginning of the lesson. A few simple sentences (a maximum of three and a minimum of one) informing the students of what they will be able to do by the end of the lesson would suffice. A plenary session at the end of the lesson would aid assessment for learning. This could involve a simple round of oral questions or getting students to write down a few bullet points outlining what they learned.
  • We encourage students to read at home and facilitate the discussion of materials that are not featured on the school curriculum. An example of this could be asking students to do a weekly review on a magazine, film, song, album, book etc. This would engage other areas of literacy that are familiar to the student. This could be especially utilised in learning support classes.
  • We encourage cooperative learning in the classroom. This involves group and pair work. It encourages students to respond orally in a group setting and become active listeners. It also encourages them to direct their own learning as well as peer assessment.
  • Pre and post reading exercises are encouraged. No matter what the subject, students should be introduced to everything they read prior to reading and the text should be evaluated after it has been read. Underlining words they do not understand while they read and using dictionaries to find out their meaning is valuable.
  • The use of word walls of key vocabulary, personal dictionaries and vocabulary exercises.
  • The use of thesaurus and dictionary should be encouraged in every subject. This will help weaker students but also facilitate the opportunity for the more capable or exceptional student to improve their literacy.
  • Encourage students to read aloud in class. Group reading or planned reading would aid the less confident student.
  • As many students struggle with the considerable amount of writing required at Leaving Certificate level, the use of writing frames are encouraged. These are a simple breakdown of a task into more manageable sections. For example an essay on the comparative study in English could be broken down into paragraph headings to aid the student with a more structured approach. Simple questions that govern each paragraph will give them motivation and encouragement without actively 'spoon-feeding', this approach would also help to develop more independent learners.
  • We encourage self-evaluation. Students should be able to identify what they have done well and where they need to improve. Getting them to write this down at the end of a piece of work prior to it being submitted to the teacher will encourage them to think critically about their work.

In the school

  • In LCVP students are given the opportunity to work with ICT. This can be integrated throughout all subjects. Computer Literacy is often one area where our students excel and it is a skill we should draw on as much as possible. Liaising with teachers of LCVP and encouraging the use of computers for spell check and/or editing would be a valuable support to students' literacy. This needs to be addressed by the entire school with a particular emphasis on the use of Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint.
  • A rewards system could be put in place whereby a student who is working hard or has excelled in something particular could be offered phone credit, a cinema voucher or positive report home. This could be linked in, in particular, with the use of words of the word wall or self-evaluation.