'If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have
not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal'
1 Corinthinas 13
One of the ways that God speaks to us is with words. With words we relate to each other. It is with words that past generations speak to us; this is how we encounter what is true and good and beautiful in our cultural heritage.
English lessons are where we develop our capacity to use words correctly, wisely and well. St Mary’s is a school where we celebrate the rich mix of languages and cultures, and where we recognise the importance of English, both for bringing us together as a family and for academic engagement. We believe that all lessons are, in one way or another, language lessons. Staff promote and enrich the language capacity of all the children.
Children are language experts – how quickly they learn one, two or even more languages as small children. At St Mary’s we build on this by enabling pupils to speak and listen in a variety of situations including story-telling, drama and debate. All lessons involve the use of language for different purposes. Teachers provide a good model of correct, coherent, creative use of words, to discover and share the truth of what is being studied. Being a good listener reflects the dignity of each person we speak to.
Pupils memorise a range of well-loved nursery rhymes, poems, songs, speeches and sketches. Learning by heart makes for the most intimate relationships with literature, and enhances understanding and critical response; when we give our heart to the poem, she reveals her secrets and so love of literature blossoms. Reciting well-loved poems and rhymes as a class builds unity and creates joy.
'Any book which inspires us to
lead a better life is a good book'
Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Story-telling and literature provide deep insights into human nature. As Blessed John Henry Newman explains, 'Literature is to man in some sort what autobiography is to the individual'. From the Greek myths and legends, to nursery rhymes and fairy tales to classic fiction and poetry, we tell each other the eternal truths of what it means to be a human being. Reading is at the heart of our curriculum. Parents choose to send their children to St Mary’s because we are committed to academic excellence for all pupils. Reading is underpins this effort.
All children grow in love of books from day one in our Nursery. From the outset children are taught phonics i.e. the names and sounds of letters and how to segment and blend these to read and spell words. Pupils learn to read more irregular words 'on sight' and are taught morphology (how words are constructed with, for example, adding suffixes like '-ing'). Pupils also learn grammar and punctuation whilst enriching their vocabulary. These individual skills are practised and combined, ensuring that pupils become fluent, intelligent readers.
Pupils read a well chosen range of stories, novels, poems, plays and non-fiction from the canon. This is reflected in the new National Curriculum that recognises each pupil's entitlement to read 'the best of what has been thought and said.' Classrooms and library are well stocked with fiction and non-fiction. In the earlier stages of reading, we use published reading schemes.
We aim for all children to become avid readers. Just as we are careful to provide good, wholesome food for children, we urge parents to ensure that books chosen for or by children are those which inspire a love of the true, the good, the noble and the beautiful. Remember, just because a book is popular does not mean that is suitable for your child.
There are many very helpful websites with recommended reading lists. This Catholic mother lists her favourite lists of good books, providing a very helpful 'list of lists':
And this is very good not only for its discernment but also for its sheer scale, recommending 1000 of the great children's books:
Please make sure that you do all you can to help your child to read and to love reading. This is a great gift and not only leads to academic success but even more importantly builds an interior life and leads our children to greater knowledge of and love for our rich cultural heritage:
When the right books are read each door opens into a hundred rooms
Douglas Wilson (Repairing the Ruins, p175)
The new National Curriculum also reflects the English programme here at St Mary's with an emphasis on formal teaching of grammar, punctuation and spelling.
Pupils are taught the correct pencil grip (the tripod) and learn to form letters and write words that are clear and beautiful, moving on to learn a fluent joined-up style.
Alongside and building on their transcription skills, pupils learn composition. They write stories, and poems. As they move through the school, they learn how to tell a good story that touches the reader and captures something essential, something true, noble and good about who we are. In non-fiction they develop their descriptive, explanatory and persuasive composition. Writing 'in character' - perhaps a letter or a diary - is a good way to strengthen the relationship between reading and writing. Composition titles reflect the pupils lives as well as concepts and ideas read about in English lessons, or from across the wider curriculum, helping to bring a unity and wholeness to their learning. Clarity and coherence is brought to their writing by the effective use of sentence structure, paragraphing and literary devices including, for example, rhetorical questions or figurative language.
Our school has achieved the Basic Skills Award which recognises our commitment to the provision of excellent teaching in the basic skills of language, literacy and numeracy.
One of the great privileges that all pupils aspire to is to read from sacred scripture and to read prayers at Mass and at other liturgies. Bearing this in mind, all aspects of public reading are developed.
St Mary's Book Day
This is the day, on or close to World Book Day, that we devote to showing how much we treasure books and reading. As well as dressing up as a well-loved character, there is silent reading and the writing of book reviews. See below for templates.
And a word of encouragement from CS Lewis, who reminds us that the best children's books can also be enjoyed by the whole family. The best children's books. in fact the best books, can be read and reread by one and all: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” C.S. Lewis
As always, a reminder for parents that just because a book is popular, does not mean necessarily that is suitable for your children. St John Bosco, sums this up perfectly:
'Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?' St. John Bosco