Let Teachers SHINE winner 2024: Jessica Mellor – Fixing Fluency

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A new project aims to help children read more fluently, so they can understand and enjoy their reading, helping them to achieve greater success at school.

Fixing Fluency, which has won Jessica Mellor a £25,000 Let Teachers SHINE award, has been designed to develop the fluency of primary-age pupils – particularly those aged between 7 and 11 years.

Fluent readers can read aloud accurately, and quickly, in a natural way, without stumbling or hesitating.

Jessica, from the Great Heights Academy Trust in Halifax, said: “Reading continues to be one of the most significant barriers to educational achievement, particularly for our disadvantaged pupils.

“Reading fluency is crucial to unlocking the potential and power of reading in terms of academic achievement.

“It opens up a child’s ability to access the wider curriculum, but it also allows pupils of all backgrounds to encounter magical kingdoms and characters and the places that they might not be seeing in the world around them.”

Fixing Fluency involves teachers leading their whole class in daily activities based on that week’s chosen text, culminating in Readers’ Theatre – a performance of the text.

Jessica says the project is a practical, financially sustainable way busy teachers can bring evidence-based ideas into the classroom.

“The evidence needs to be curated into practical approaches that champion high expectations,” she said.

“Our project aims to do this through a whole-class approach to developing reading fluency led by the teacher in the classroom.

“Fixing Fluency aims to provide leaders, teachers and pupils with the full range of resources and tools needed to enable successful implementation in the classroom.

“By giving the children different texts, and by having a full week to engage with that text, they’re able to have lots of opportunities to practise.”

The project will also help ensure everyone involved understands the meaning of fluency and its components.

“By developing a shared language across leaders, teachers and pupils we are then able to give much better and more precise feedback.”

Key to the project’s success is the implementation of a whole-class strategy, ensuring that every pupil can participate actively, Jessica said.

“Fundamental to our approach is that teachers have an opportunity to hear every pupil in their class read.”

“The evidence shows us that lots of pupils, in particular disadvantaged pupils, have significant barriers to reading – fluency being one of them.

“And for many of those pupils who aren’t successful as readers, often our solution is to take them away from whole-class approaches, to have more reading, potentially not with the teacher, sometimes with additional support assistants.

“The very experience of being taken away from their peers can increase negative attitudes towards reading.”

The project’s overarching goal is to not only enhance reading fluency but also to instil confidence in pupils as successful readers. That way it will motivate them to enjoy reading different kinds of texts.

Jessica said, “It’s about supporting the pupils to develop their reading fluency and their confidence as successful readers to fuel that motivation to be able to read further.”

“The introduction of the Department for Education’s reading framework and validated phonics schemes has led to significant progress in decoding.

“However, despite increased awareness of the importance of fluency, the recent Ofsted English Subject Report highlighted a gap in translating this recognition into effective classroom practice to support pupils to become more successful.”

The initial project will involve 900 children at schools in Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Bradford, and there are hopes it could be extended into other schools.

“There’s real potential for the project to be scaled further,” said Jessica.

“From the beginning, we are thinking about implementation across a range of settings. That’s really important because it enables us to think about schools of different sizes – rural schools, inner-city schools – while still targeting those schools with high levels of disadvantage.

“This means we’re able to see what some of the barriers to implementation are and what we need to consider for this to be viable.

“We know that implementation is a collaborative and social process. So, having that insight of all the different practitioners – the teachers, the leaders – bringing them on board with that process is something that could be really powerful as we look to reach as many pupils as possible.”

Of receiving the grant, Jessica said: “I was absolutely delighted to receive the award. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with an organisation like SHINE that prioritises the importance of a shared mission around achieving great things for children and giving them the best possible chances in education, no matter what their starting point or educational background is.”

Fiona Spellman, CEO of SHINE, said: “There are so many skills involved in literacy, but we know that fluent readers can unlock everything the school curriculum has to offer, as well as a lifelong love of reading. We are so pleased to be supporting Jessica’s important work in this field, and excited to see the impact it will have.”

Click here to read about this year’s other winners