HDHS is a comprehensive, mixed secondary Academy in Harwich, Essex using Bedrock to promote vocabulary development and improve comprehension.
A conversation with Ray Gallagher, Head of English
Why did you implement Bedrock Vocabulary?
I think the starting point is to develop the literacy skills of our students and it’s looking for ways into that. We did some research into the different ways to implement that and Bedrock just seemed to fit everything that we wanted. It encompasses, obviously the skills of vocabulary, then it supports reading, it supports writing, it supports oracy and it’s about independence as well, so it wasn’t so much the teacher led. I think Bedrock offers a great opportunity for students to lead their own learning. So it’s kind of a double whammy; it supports the teacher by giving them the framework and a structure but then it allows students to actually go and do their own thing as well.
How did it tie in with your whole school priorities?
We are a reading school, reading is something that we promote and one of the reasons is developing students’ vocabulary so I think it fits in with that. Also, when it comes to reading, I think some of the students struggle with not having a substantial vocabulary. Research says that a student has to understand, I think it’s 90-95% of a text to fully understand it, to be able to engage with a text fully. So, I think it’s another way into that. A big focus in the school as well is about knowledge and developing knowledge and vocabulary is knowledge. So, the students learning more words, then that gives them access to greater depth in their learning.
It also plays into this transfer of knowledge. As a school, we have a lot of successes in single areas and it’s trying to, you know, the students know this over here, how can we transfer this over? Bedrock allows that to happen, because it is a whole school curriculum, it’s not just an English curriculum.
What are the specific issues for your cohort?
I think it varies; we have a great range of students that come in. We have some students who come in with very high and developed and sophisticated literacy skills and I think for those students it’s about just pushing them even further. But we do have a lot of disadvantage, we’re a coastal town and coastal towns, you know, nationally there is an issue in terms of disadvantaged families and disadvantaged students coming in who do struggle in terms of that. That’s why with Bedrock for example, we’re trying to give them opportunities in lessons to do Bedrock.
I think ambition is another issue that we do have with some of the students. Being able to communicate is such a strength isn’t it. It gives you confidence and I think that’s one of the things we can give our students, that they’re able to share their voice, to have a voice, to be able to communicate themselves and say what they want to say, and I think that’s definitely something that Bedrock helps with, with our cohort of students.
How do you implement it?
It’s year 7, year 8 and year 9. In year 7 and 8, they have a lesson once a fortnight and we call that a read, think, talk lesson so Bedrock is part of that. Our lessons are 75 minutes, so as part of that lesson they will do their Bedrock learning, do some Bedrock activities, they will have the opportunity to read a text, in addition to the Bedrock text they’re reading and to have some discussion and debate so it’s bringing it all together, the read, think, talk.
Every single lesson we start with knowledge retention, we call it a 5 and 5. So every teacher asks 5 questions about the knowledge relating to the last lesson, last week, last month, even last year, and there’s always a Bedrock aspect to that, so in every single lesson we’re encouraging students to think about their Bedrock and to bring that vocabulary into place as well. In English lessons, you will see that quite a lot, that lesson was just about Macbeth and the students were using the word conform in that lesson, so they are always going to be thinking about those Bedrock words and how they can use that in lessons. And then, as we just talked about, trying to get it across the subjects, so encouraging students to think about it in other subjects.
Conversation with Kate Finch, Headteacher
We’re on a journey. The whole school is improving and it’s because we’re doing the reading programme, because we are trying to change, we’re not just sticking plasters over what Year 11 are doing, we’re trying to change it from the bottom, to change their whole experience and the reading is a part of that. Everything we do, the reading, the vocabulary, it’s a part of that, developing them with skills that are going to stick with them for life, not just temporary sticking plasters for Year 11 to get them through the exams.
(With reference to Bedrock)
It’s not just something that we put in place so that we can say, oh look at what we’re doing for literacy. That’s why, if you speak to any Key Stage 3 student, they will talk to you about Bedrock. We don’t just pay lip service to it, we actually believe in it. We know this is changing lives for these students. It’s all down to words. It’s all down to being empowered by words. You can communicate on a level with people, you know, it’s not even about joining in the conversation, it’s about knowing you can join in that conversation. It’s about being a part of it and being the same as other people and not being held back, and that’s words!
How does Bedrock affect your whole school strategy?
It’s part of the building blocks. So the whole school strategy is all about reading and it’s about oracy, but all of those things can only work if you’ve got the building blocks of the words and it’s about making the links between lessons. The words the students use in Bedrock, we know that they’re relevant to other things that are going on in the class.
Students, in order to access that and feel empowered, the students need those words in the beginning.
You need to say something 7 times to commit it to memory and we make sure that those 7 opportunities exist within their normal curriculum so actually we are building on their vocabulary every day. Bedrock is so important to give them the beginning. It’s not random, that’s the thing about Bedrock so everything is planned, everything is ready for them, we know that it’s going to be used, so it’s not paying lip service to it, it’s usable, real language that’s empowering them.
That’s the only way you learn language isn’t it, you have to use it. You have to be able to first of all decode a word that you see, you mechanically decode it, but that’s not enough, that doesn’t mean anything, and then you need to be using it. So, we can go through our day being 100% certain that the mechanism is in place for those words to be first of all decoded, then to be learnt and then to be used, then to be used conversationally, we know that all of those mechanics are in place, so it’s not just haphazard.
And over to the students!
What do you think of Bedrock Vocabulary?
L: I find it really fun to do. I quite enjoy it. With some things, I find vocabulary quite hard to understand, but this is quite easy to start understanding.
What is it about the app that makes it easy for you?
L: The way it explains it. And if you forget what the word means, it will have it down by the side for you and it will just remind you of what the definition of the word is.
K: I think it’s really beneficial for other lessons to help you use different vocabulary. And like, what Lily said, I struggle with like, using higher level words and Bedrock makes it easier to understand.