A Blackpool English teacher has received a grant of £3,000 to develop a project that uses printed bookmarks to increase children’s understanding of vocabulary.
Estelle Bellamy, Director of English at the Fylde Coast Academy Trust group of schools, has designed a series of “WIKI” bookmarks which “help children use what they know to work out what they don’t”.
The bookmarks contain the most common elements of words (prefixes, such as “semi-“, and “under-”, suffixes like “-ish” and “-ness” and roots, including “aqua” and “mega”) to help pupils to decode words they are not familiar with.
“The bookmarks train children to unpick the meaning of words by breaking them down, a technique that is much more powerful than using a dictionary,” Estelle explained.
“The dictionary definition may not make sense to you, whereas if you connected a word to something you already understand, then that is much more useful.
“Most importantly for our students, it is about building confidence and self-regulation and metacognition skills. Children, when they are faced with something that they don’t understand, are given a strategy to deal with it.
Estelle has won funding to expand her project from Let Teachers SHINE, a competition run by education charity SHINE that backs great teaching ideas.
She plans to use the funding to evaluate the impact of her bookmarks project, and then expand it to schools across the North.
“I know that it works because I see it all the time in classrooms. But I can’t yet prove how successful it actually is. So, I hope the development grant in the first instance is going to help me to do that. And then the next stage is to expand it into other schools.
“I do believe it can make a real difference to children.”
The schools in Estelle’s trust have been trialling the bookmarks for a while, and the impact has been wide-ranging.
“We think it’s starting to impact on spelling, as well as word recognition and understanding because chunking is a great spelling strategy. And that’s what this is doing.
“The research and evidence tell us that one of the key barriers to reading is vocabulary. And that pre-teaching and having direct vocabulary instruction in lessons is hugely significant. In helping children to understand the whole text, you do need to understand something like 95% of words in a text, which means you’d have to teach hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of words, which is just not possible. So, the philosophy is if you break it down into chunks, that gives them the tools to put together lots and lots of different words. And it it’s much more it’s much smarter in terms of your teaching.”
Estelle is also working on bookmarks for other subjects, including maths and science.
“So, if you’re learning about photosynthesis, you won’t just understand the process of photosynthesis, you’ll also go back to the etymology and morphology of the word which will underpin and make that knowledge more concrete,” she explained.
Estelle is keen to stress that although the bookmarks are her idea, and she is driving the project, it is very much a team effort.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it without the reading team,” she said. “They’re the ones who, in lockdown, sat down and made all the resources. I do my bit, but it’s not a one man show.”
On winning Let Teachers SHINE, she said: “I’m really grateful to receive the award and really excited to be working with SHINE.”