Our curriculum has a strong focus on supporting children in acquiring basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy with plenty of opportunities for excitement and innovation. We are a lead school for Big Maths and work closely with Ben Harding who developed the program.
We have clear, consistent approaches to the teaching of phonics and acquiring numeracy skills. The programs of Read, Write, Inc phonics and Big Maths begin in Nursery and are followed through the whole school. This means that each year pupils build on existing skills and develop new ones.
Each year group follows topics from the Cornerstones curriculum. Staff adapt these topics to meet the needs and interests of St John’s children. Recent topics have included Off with their head! Remember, Remember; Global Gourmet.
Each topic engages children through a special entry point or a visit or some something that they are working towards. Here are some photographs of those special events.
The ‘Cornerstones Curriculum’ that we use in school is a flexible and thematic curriculum that we believe supports the creative approach to learning that we embrace here at St John’s. We aim to interest and motivate children through high quality teaching and imaginative, inspirational learning activities.
Cornerstones fully supports the new National Curriculum and the topics have all been recently updated for this purpose. It provides the children with a rich, diverse learning experience – linking together Foundation subjects (Art, D & T, Geography and History). We try to develop cross-curricular links where possible to heighten engagement and provide a context for learning. Our Big Writing is usually linked to topic work, and Science and ICT are planned to link to topic whenever possible throughout the year.
Cornerstones provides the opportunity to develop skills in other areas, including PSHE/Citizenship, speaking and listening and enterprise.
Useful Cornerstones Information
The Four Cornerstones of Learning
Cornerstones - How Parents Can Help
Skills Based Approach to Writing
The teaching of writing at St John’s is a ‘skills based’ approach. As children move through school they learn the new skills specific to their year group whilst being provided with the opportunity to consolidating the skills they have been taught in previous years. We use a range of good quality texts and real life experiences linked to our Cornerstones topics to provide children with the stimulus to write in a range of genres including poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
Below are the key skills that are built upon as children move through St John’s.
- Early mark-making is not the same as writing. It is a sensory and physical experience, which they do not yet connect to forming symbols which can communicate meaning.
- Distinguishes between the different marks they make
- Gives meaning to marks as they draw and paint.
- Ascribes meanings to marks that they see in different places.
- Gives meaning to marks they make as they draw, write and paint.
- Begins to break the flow of speech into words.
- Continues a rhyming string.
- Hears and says the initial sound in words.
- Can segment the sounds in simple words and blend them together.
- Links sounds to letters, naming and sounding the letters of the alphabet.
- Uses some clearly identifiable letters to communicate meaning, representing some sounds correctly and in sequence.
- Writes own name and other things such as labels, captions.
- Attempts to write short sentences in meaningful contexts. Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds.
- They also write some irregular common words.
- They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others.
- Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible.
- Children can spell phonically regular words of more than 1 syllable as well as many irregular but high frequency words. They use key features of narrative in their own writing.
Assessment of writing across school uses the secure fit model that ensures children have no gaps in their learning and helps teachers to identify where children may need additional intervention or support. Interventions may also be required to include activities to support reading, language development or physical development depending on the needs of the individual.
Homework linked to writing is ‘Chat at Home’. When appropriate, children are asked to talk with someone at home about what they will be writing about. The idea of this to help children to form ideas orally or collect vocabulary to use in their writing.
Parents can play an important role in support their child’s progress in writing. Writing that has a purpose is especially important and has a value. From a young age children can help by writing shopping lists, birthday cards and party invitations. As children get older they can write notes for others, write emails and blogs or even keep in touch with a pen pal.
Reading is an important way of supporting writing development. Our experience tells us that children who are confident and able readers are confident and able writers. Reading can help children to gain ideas and a wide vocabulary as well as understand how to structure sentences and whole pieces of writing.
Reading and Phonics
Our primary approach to teaching children to read is through systematic synthetic phonics. We use Read Write Inc as our main phonics scheme. It is a complete literacy programme, for 3 to 7 year-olds learning to read and write and for 7 and 8 year-olds needing to catch up quickly. Although reading is taught using synthetic phonics, the programme is so much more than that. It covers all of the new National Curriculum requirements for language and literacy.
In Nursery, children learn the first 30 sounds in short daily sessions.
In Reception all children:
- Read storybooks and non-fiction books closely matched to their developing phonic knowledge
- Take home Phonics storybooks to share
- Read with fluency and expression
- Learn to spell using known sounds
- Write confidently by practising what they want to write out loud first
- Work well with a partner.
We supplement Read Write Inc. with fun phonics activities from Letters and Sounds and use these activities as intervention for children if they are in danger of dropping behind their peers.
You can find more information about Read Write Inc. at https://www.ruthmiskin.com/en/find-out-more/parents/
Children start reading books at home using the Songbird Phonics scheme and Floppy’s Phonics as soon as they can decode in Reception. As soon as children become fast, fluent readers who can decode quickly in their heads they move onto the Oxford Reading Tree books and enjoy reading with Biff, Chip and Kipper.
Many of our children move onto ‘free readers’ by Year 2 where they can select books for themselves from a range at their level.
By the end of Year 1 all children are accurate and speedy readers and almost all of our children go on to reach the required level for the Phonics Screening at the end of Year 1. 89.4% of our children reached the standard in the summer term of 2019. Those children who not reach the standard have the opportunity to be re-screened in Year 2.
Our home reading books in Key Stage Two are carefully levelled by both level of interest and level of difficulty. During Year 3 children move onto our Accelerated Reader Programme, each child is assessed termly and is then assigned a reading range according to the outcome of their STAR test, they then progress through this range until the next assessment period. We encourage independence in our children by allowing them access to computers to take a short quiz which assesses comprehension of each book they complete before changing for a new one or moving to a new level. Children who still require a scheme book into Key Stage 2 use Project X scheme.
Each class has the opportunity to visit the school library to select an additional book to read at home. This can be fiction or non-fiction, it can be at their instructional level or a higher level of difficulty that they decide to read alongside a friend or another adult, including adults at home.
Guided reading at St John’s takes place in classes or English groups. Big Reading is an exciting, fun way to develop a love of reading, our knowledge of significant authors and also develop our analytical skills, through the use of exciting characters who we call our Big Reading Friends. It is a reading ‘journey’ for each child, from their very first ‘pre-reading’ steps to their complex and intricate understanding of texts at greater depth. Through the Big Reading Lessons we effectively ‘teach’ reading in order for the children to ‘learn’ and rapidly ‘progress’ in their reading. Most weeks begin with a whole class Big Read lesson and throughout the week get opportunity to read with a teacher or work without adult support in their Spies Teams.
Big Reading is supplemented by Reciprocal Reading where the text is briefly introduced or recapped at the start of the session. Children are then taught to predict what they are going to read in the next session, clarify the meaning of new language, question aspects of the text which may not have been fully understood and finally summarise the main ideas of the text.
Our children are regularly asked the question, ‘How do you know?’
We aim for our children to be confident and independent mathematicians that are willing to tackle any challenge, to be resilient learners that are determined to succeed. Collaborative work is encouraged with opportunities to discuss, explain and justify their workings. We want our children to not just know how to do maths but to have a sound knowledge of the understanding behind it. They are given deeper learning opportunities both in maths and across the curriculum, where they can reason and problem solve, developing a deep mathematical understanding and enabling them to make connections between topics and concepts. Children’s learning builds on something that has already been mastered, giving them the confidence and independence to achieve and move forward.
We aim for our children to leave St John’s with a positive attitude towards mathematics, with a desire to be challenged and with the knowledge and confidence to succeed.
Big Maths is a numeracy programme that was introduced at St John’s in September 2011. It has had a huge impact, helping our children to become even more numerate and exceed in their mathematical achievement. Big Maths provides children with a fun and lively experience as they learn with jingles, songs, games and the famous Big Maths characters.
Children work through steps known as ‘Progress Drives’ where they follow a natural sequence of progression e.g. to know double 60 they need to first know double 6. Each step is always very small, but essential. This helps to boost confidence as all children can see that the next step along the progress drive is always easy and achievable. These Progress Drives allow for continuity and consistency across the whole school as all teachers are using the same steps of progression.
The lessons involve lots of repetition, revisiting and reinforcement to ensure solid knowledge of the basic maths skills, constantly nudging children up the Progress Drives and committing their learning to the long term memory.
We welcome visitors from schools far and wide to look at Big Maths in action and in the past this has included many Walsall schools, as well as schools from Kent, Wales, Cornwall and even China! As a result of this success we are officially a partner school with Andrell Education. Ben Harding, the author of Big Maths, is a frequent visitor to St John’s to enable us to keep moving Big Maths forward.
Big Maths Characters
Many of the It’s Nothing New concepts are introduced and taught using fun and interactive characters. This has proved to be a very powerful tool as the characters and the mathematical language that is associated with them is used consistently through the school and constantly referred to by both children and staff.
Each character helps children to learn and remember key principles that can be applied across a range of topics and difficulty.
Daily Maths Lesson
Each daily maths lesson begins with a CLIC session:
Counting: Children learn to count forwards and backwards (progressing from whole numbers to ten through to counting in decimals and fractions, prime and square numbers) and to ‘count on’ from any number. Children’s counting will be linked to real life units such as counting in measurements or temperatures, assisting in the mastery of these topics.
‘How do you know that 35 is the next number?’
Learn Its: Recalling and repeating basic number facts including all four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and looking at related facts. Essential for the fluency of number.
‘How do you know that 3 x 70 = 210?’
It’s Nothing New: Children apply what they have learned to acquire new skills in a simple manner. E.g. if they know 4 + 3 = 7, then ‘it’s nothing new’ to learn that 4p + 3p = 7p. This offers further opportunity for the children to reason and problem solve, applying previous knowledge learned.
‘How do you know that ½ m + ¼ m = 75cm?’
Calculation: Children use and apply facts and knowledge from CLIC to all four operation calculation methods (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) given a range of questions involving reasoning and problem solving.
‘Complete 3?5 + 2?6 = ?0? How do you know?’
Wider Maths: Children explore geometry, measures, statistics and fractions in a range of ways, often with practical experiences and resources to offer real life context and help embed their learning.
‘In a regular shape the number of sides = number of angles = number of lines of symmetry. True or false? How do you know?’
Big Maths Assessment
As well as tracking children’s knowledge and understanding using their position on the Progress Drives, once a week the children sit three quick and easy Big Maths tests. These are used as assessment tools that allow teachers to see exactly what the children know and what they don’t know. They also provide children with a fun and motivational way to track their own progress and set their own targets for maths. Children’s fluency improves by repeating and revisiting, thus embedding their learning. Both tests begin with fun, catchy jingles that enthuse and engage the children.
The CLIC test: The CLIC test is a set of 10 questions involving number. E.g. The four operations, doubling/halving, multiplying by 10/100, using decimals.
The SAFE challenge: This test is a set of 10 questions related to Shape, Amounts, Fractions and Exploring data. E.g. Identifying shapes and nets, calculating perimeter and area, reading scales and converting measures, finding fractions of shape and number, relating fractions to percentage and interpreting graphs.
Each child works on a CLIC test of a level appropriate to them; when they have achieved full marks more than once, and at the teacher’s discretion, the child will move onto the next level test.
The Big Maths Beat That test (BMBT): The BMBT test is based on the children’s weekly Learn Its. It is a timed test where the children are constantly challenged to increase their own score (literally…”Beat That!”, where ‘that’ is their best ever score).
Children’s achievements are celebrated in Celebration Assembly.