Using residentials to revive an interest in literacy with Year 6 boys

Key features

  • Focussed on improving literacy skills and inspiration
  • Regular experiences that are fully integrated with the curriculum
  • Flexible partnership with local residential outdoor centre

Amongst the many schools that experienced impacts on literacy as a result of their Learning Away residentials, examples in two partnerships (South Hetton and Christ Church) stand out. Both partnerships were tackling a problem in Years 5 and 6 in which pupils, particularly boys, had begun to lose confidence and interest in literacy. Their test scores had plateaued. In both the approach to planning residentials has become organic with staff and pupils suggesting topics and dates often at short notice. Both combined a visit from a creative writer with a residential to great effect.

This case study describes the approach developed by the three primary schools in the Christ Church partnership. It highlights the importance of curriculum integration, the significance of the different approach to teaching and learning developed while away and the value of an established relationship with a local residential outdoor centre.

This growing and flexible relationship with  the nearby Crosby Hall Educational Trust (CHET) has meant that the staff and pupils can respond creatively and at short notice to opportunities for learning away. The arrival of a creative writer inspired a group of Year 6 boys to suggest that the class should work with her in the ‘spooky wood’ by the centre. In this low cost, organic context it was no sooner said than done.

Widespread use of projects, themes, small group work, day trips, practical and experiential learning were already embedded across classes, year groups and schools so complimenting these with a programme of Year 2 to 6 residentials was congruent with the approach taken by the partnership.

In this case the knowledge of a residential venue close to the school built up by the pupils over many visits gave them the opportunity to be involved in the planning of their teaching and learning. The teacher, aware of an emerging problem of literacy amongst some of the class and the opportunity of a visiting author, capitalised on this with an overnight visit.

The ‘spooky wood’, visited by day and by night, stimulated story telling by the author and the pupils. Word banks created the foundation for written stories to be developed back in the classroom. This is what some of those Year 6 pupils had to say about the experience and its impact on their learning, motivation and aspirations:

Going to (spooky wood) inspired me because I’ve already started to write me own book.”

 “… (the author) helped us with our vocabulary and that and we wrote part of a book together.”

 “It could start your career off, like you could become a mountaineer or someone. Like when we went on the creative writing course one of us could become an author because of that.”

Back in class, their teacher used other tactics to help make the pupils proud of their new-found vocabulary and skills, as this Year 6 pupil described:

We were teaching. Everybody else was just watching the board. We taught them how to make little word bags. We learned this thing called wonder whispering and we did this. It was hectic! Now I know what Miss feels like!”

The headteacher is very clear about the impact that these literacy focussed residential have had:

“Class teachers notice an improvement in engagement and attainment that is then sustained through the year post trip for a wide range of pupils … those with previously high, middling and poor results.”

“The impact is perhaps most noticeable on low achievers. It is picked up especially in core subjects such as maths and literacy – both aural and written.”

Behaviour is also associated with these changes. This is both in relation to more supportive attitudes to other pupils, more eagerness to learn and better behaviour in class all impacting on attainment.”

This case study highlights the potential of residential experiences when they are inclusive of all or most pupils in the class, are progressive so that regular experiences lead to expert residential learners and teachers and, above all, are integrated thoughtfully into the curriculum. The importance of more interactive ways of teaching and learning also stands out as a key factor on the enhanced progress of the pupils.