Reading at Little Heath School
Importance of Reading
Reading is an essential skill that empowers students, including those with varying levels of Special Educational Needs (SEN), to lead fulfilling lives. At Little Heath School, we believe in promoting reading for all students because it is a key skill that enables young people to reach their full potential in various aspects of life, such as employability, independent living, and personal enjoyment. In addition, we are aware that the development of reading skills enables our learners to use their preferred mode of communication more effectively.
Our perspective on reading encompasses a broad range of activities that lead to the acquisition of meaning. This includes visual, tactile, pictorial, and symbolic representations, in addition to written words. By adopting this inclusive definition, we cater to the diverse strengths and needs of all our learners.
To facilitate the development of reading skills, we have designed our curriculum to provide students with exposure to a wide range of literature, including narratives, plays, poems, and non-fiction.
Despite being aware of the specific challenges our learners face, we maintain ambitious goals in our approach to reading, which include:
- Cultivating a love for books and fostering good listening skills and independent reading habits
- Helping learners associate objects with meaning
- Assisting students in accessing, comprehending, and managing information effectively
- Equipping learners with reading strategies to decode text and develop essential skills such as accuracy, fluency, understanding, and responding to texts
- Encouraging learners to derive enjoyment from reading, encouraging them to reflect on their reading experiences, offer opinions, and provide justifications
- Enabling learners to develop a critical appreciation for the work of authors, poets, and illustrators from a variety of cultures
Approach and Challenges
Our students have severe and complex learning needs, including limited verbal language, hearing impairment, and difficulties with verbal reasoning. Consequently, learning to read phonically presents significant challenges for many of them. At Little Heath, we strongly believe in tailoring strategies and interventions to suit the needs of each individual student, rather than expecting them to conform to a predetermined approach.
Therefore, our school employs a variety of reading programs specifically designed to provide additional support for students who find phonics challenging. This approach has proven particularly effective for students without verbal communication, Autism and Down syndrome. However, we emphasise that these strategies are not used in isolation; instead, we adopt a multifaceted approach to reading, with nurturing a love for reading as our central focus. At Little Heath, we take pride in developing teaching strategies and approaches that meet the unique needs of our learners and provide them with every opportunity to succeed.
Reading Opportunities at Little Heath School
The following table outlines the range of reading opportunities provided to learners at Little Heath School. It is important to note that our learners will not necessarily make linear progress and move through the various developmental stages. Rather, many will benefit from a combination of approaches from the various stages. For example, even independent readers may still find value in activities such as "sensory stories" and “Language for Thinking” whereas others may struggle to advance beyond pre-symbolic reading.
To develop phonic and reading skills, learners have access to "Twinkl Phonics," which offers a comprehensive approach to sound awareness, letter recognition, and reading complete texts.
For sixth form students, reading takes on an increasingly functional role, supporting their ability to use reading skills in various contexts within and outside of school. The goal is to enable them to fully participate in their local community. Examples include reading menus in cafés or restaurants, interpreting signs and maps, following recipes to prepare snacks and meals independently and understanding instructions for everyday activities.
Integration and Timing
The “Communication, Language, and Literacy” topic webs at Little Heath School provide detailed plans that explicitly link to ambitious, high-quality and engaging texts. These resources include traditional texts, expertly adapted Shakespearean plays, poetry and a selection of meaningful and functional non-fiction. Providing our learners with access to high-quality and motivating books is crucial in nurturing their love for reading. The thematic design of our curriculum allows for creative and sensory learning experiences inspired by this literature, enriching our learners' educational journey in a cross-curricular fashion.
Our school library offers an extensive collection of stimulating and captivating reading materials, ranging from picture books to short novels. Regular book exchanges are facilitated by the school librarian.
Approach for Different Learners
Opportunities for pre-symbolic reading are integrated throughout the school day, alongside their daily "Communication, Language, and Literacy" lesson. This includes interpreting their symbolic daily timetable, reference to other displays within the class, the use of “songs for routine” and objects of reference. Sensory experiences with a clear beginning, middle, and end are incorporated into daily literacy sessions, aligning with the learners' Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) personal targets. Sensory and traditional stories related to the term's curriculum theme are also utilized.
Symbolic reading opportunities are incorporated into the school timetable. Daily "Communication, Language, and Literacy" sessions provide additional opportunities for progressing towards independent reading. These sessions focus on sound awareness, symbols, and letters, tailored to each learner's next steps. The approach incorporates the Twinkl Phonics approach to link sounds with letters and blend them into words.
Formal learners continue to develop their understanding of symbolic reading through universal and personalised communication approaches. Daily "Communication, Language, and Literacy" sessions encompass intensive phonics work to support learners in achieving independent reading skills. Learners are provided with appropriate stage and age-specific texts. Additionally, cross-curricular reading opportunities are integrated into subjects such as Science, Humanities, Religious Education (RE), and Food & Nutrition, with an emphasis on the acquisition of key vocabulary.
Personalised Reading Intervention and Story Time
In addition, each learner has a personalised reading intervention that is delivered daily. Written logs are kept of their progress, and these are quality assured by the School Librarian and additional support is provided where necessary. All learners are also provided with an individual reading book that is matched at an appropriate level to provide both suitable challenge and enjoyment. To supplement this, each class also have a story time session which exposes our learners to a broader range of literature that may be beyond their individual reading ability. This further develops a love of reading across the school.
We employ a variety of methods to measure the impact of our reading approaches
We ensure that progress is being made through monitoring of progress towards individualised reading targets and the effectiveness of the interventions being used. This is supplemented by annual monitoring of learner’s decoding skills. In addition, reading comprehension is also monitored through Blank’s Level assessments. Where a particular learner is encountering specific barriers to improvement, the strategies are reviewed and amended to better meet their individual needs.
We also provide extensive opportunities for pupils to gain accreditations to acknowledge the progress they have made. Our Pre-Formal pupils are provided with opportunities to utilise their emerging reading skills to gain AQA Unit Awards and ASDAN Communication. Semi-Formal and Formal pupils also have the opportunity to gain Entry Levels 2 and 3 in Additional English and GCSE English, Entry Levels 2 and 3 in Humanities and Religious Education and further qualifications in several other subject areas.
Note on Writing
For Pre-Formal learners, exploratory mark-making serves as a substitute for formal written communication. For learners in the Semi-Formal and Formal pathways, writing reinforces their reading skills on a regular basis. As learners progress through the handwriting phases, the Twinkl Phonics approach is used to teach letter formation, spelling, and grammatical tasks, which are further reinforced through written comprehension exercises to ensure understanding. In other cases, writing tasks have a functional purpose. Examples include recognising and writing their names in different contexts or creating shopping lists using symbols.