Let Teachers SHINE winner 2023: Andy Hopkins – Drill and Literacy

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Students in Carlisle will swap Dickens for drill lyrics in an innovative project that aims to address deep-seated barriers to literacy through a unique combination of tutoring, counselling and music.

Andy Hopkins, assistant headteacher at Trinity School, Carlisle, hopes his literacy project will engage students currently not thriving in the secondary school environment.

The project has received development funding from the Let Teachers SHINE competition, which supports teachers with innovative education ideas.

Students from low-income families in Years 7, 8 and 9 will be involved in the project which will seek to improve their well-being, their music production abilities, and their core literacy skills.

The students will receive access to a counsellor, who will listen to their concerns and encourage them to verbalise their thoughts, fears, issues and ideas.

They will also work with a literacy tutor, who will teach English language skills using hip-hop and drill lyrics in place of more conventional texts.

Thirdly, the students will use what they have learned to write and create their own music, with support from former students and professional producers.

“As an English teacher working in a small city, I am aware of the gap in literacy between the fortunate students that I teach and the less fortunate,” said Andy.

“In the North West we’ve got some of the most deprived areas in the country and we’ve got students who would benefit from creative ways to engage with the curriculum.

“And even though they might go home and listen to quite complicated, incredible music, they still regard the production of that music as being outside of their reach. They don’t know how to get the skills and they don’t think that either they or the art form are treated seriously.

“This project is a way of encouraging them, building their confidence, and giving them the language to talk about what they already know and the way to express themselves.

“We will be giving them the skills to begin to express themselves verbally and also through their own music.”

The school has run a smaller-scale version of the project in the past, achieving excellent results.

“I have seen what some often reticent and grossly under-confident young people can achieve across time when taught how to use contemporary musical tools. By introducing literacy lessons and helping with their social and emotional wellbeing as well, we can achieve a much wider impact.”

Andy says students who have otherwise struggled to engage with English lessons are much more open to analysing texts that they are more familiar with, such as rap lyrics.

“Students can be notoriously difficult to impress, or even to reach some days, but they are genuinely keen to take part in this.

“There are lots of schemes that can put a computer in front of some students and address literacy skills in isolation, but this is about tackling a deep-seated issue and putting in place holistic support for students who are often in need of more personalised support.”

“I hope this project will have a positive impact on their lives, but also the impact that they wouldn’t necessarily notice, which is that they get better at reading and writing and able to succeed in a world that is not always geared up for them.”

Andy added: “I’m delighted to receive the grant. Usually in teaching, ideas never get any further than the idea stage, because we don’t have the resources to make them happen.

“What this award does is it allows me to demonstrate that somebody believes me, that there is a way to make this happen and then to exemplify that it works.”

SHINE Interim CEO, Helen Rafferty, said: “Andy is hugely passionate about his students and we are proud to be supporting him in his efforts to improve literacy skills. The art of a great teacher is sometimes to look for new and creative ways into a subject, knowing that some students need a different approach, and Andy’s project embodies this. We look forward to learning more about the impact of this project as it develops.”