Gilberthorpe school

Gilberthorpe school

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Building Blocks To LITERACY

I had mixed feelings from my day of attending Barbara Brann's Workshop. I really enjoyed the first hour where she explained a lot of behind the scenes and the way that she founded and researched this approach.
I too was quite surprised by the number of skills children need to require in order for them to be curriculum ready. 400 skills! However it was good to see and hear how quickly these gaps children have can be identified and remedied. 

From the hour talk there were a few things/ideas that stood out to me:
  • Framework not a programme,
  • Children learn from doing - information comes from our senses. They learn by doing, playing, touching and investigating not by being told!
  • Building blocks should look different everywhere as it is not a programme it is a framework
  • Every Child enters the road to literacy in a different place
  • Place for explicit teaching
  • Beginning level of the framework is really important as if we start children at the skills level we run the risk of the children not having the prior 200 skills in place
  • Literacy doesn’t exist in little boxes here and there it is involved in everything we do.
  • Needs to be contextualised e.g.pencil grip used throughout the day not just at handwriting time, sight words - children need to be able to recognise it in print, form a sentence
  • Listening domain focuses a lot on rhythm - have lots of music and moving, be able to feel the rhythm by moving e.g pull a word apart and then pull together

With the building blocks framework there are three keywords that Barbara kept referring back to:
  • Connect
  • Contextualise
  • Challenge

After Barbara had presented to us we got the opportunity to see Barabara do the Listening and Talking domain in a classroom with quite capable year 0/1 students. The work she was doing with the children was amazing but it left me thinking (How will this work with MY students and I wished she had been able to come to our school and use our children as a model).

I was disappointed however as I saw how excited and eager Rebecca and Alison had come back from their day at the course. It appeared that the ‘in class work’ they saw Barabara doing was quite different to our day with her. Barbara kept referring back on the previous day so I felt an injustice as I was not aware of what she was on about. To me the day I attended built on the previous days workshop. Alison and Rebecca were lucky enough to see Barabara doing Casey the Caterpillar - This is the one thing I really wanted to see Barbara doing, as my group I had been doing this with in class was struggling to do it and understand it. I wanted to see how she delivered it and be able to ask her all the questions I had. I know Kerrin an RTLB filmed different parts of the previous days workshop so I am hoping she had managed to film the Casey part.

It was good being able to see and hear Barbara in person as we had tried to watch some of her videos that go with this framework but we found them hard to watch. It was interesting to hear from others teachers at other schools who also felt the same from these videos but found her talk in person to be so different and engaging!

At school in the afternoons we have started doing the moving part of the building blocks which focuses on children’s gross motor skills. After attending this I feel like we could put this part into our daily fitness programme and have our two afternoon group that operate working on one of the other domains. I am looking forward to the meeting we have as a team this Wednesday afternoon with Lisa and Kerrin to discuss our next steps and where we feel like we need to go next.

Overall it was really good to be able to meet Barbara and hear the background to the framework but I felt disappointed that I didn’t come back to school buzzing like Alison and Rebecca did. I feel let down. I know if I had seen the parts that Rebecca and Alison saw I would feel quite differently.

Barbara is due to come back in September, I feel it would be really good to be able to talk to the RTLBs and see if she can use our school and our children as models.


  1. Wow 400 skills! That is a lot - you can see how some of our students miss things in translation (ESOL in particular!). Being contextualised makes so much sense - too often we are seeing students who can not transfer the skills we are teaching between subjects! Gosh if she could use our students as a model that would be soooo cool! It's unfortunate that you did not get to see a similar lesson - but then again no two lessons are ever the same!

  2. Hi Sam. It certainly sounds like you have mixed emotions about the day. I am glad that you were able to see the programme in action and learn more about the level of complexity of the programme and its benefits. I think your comments about seeing her work with some more lower achieving students are very valid, perhaps suggest this to Lisa so that she can pass on?
    I would be keen to hear from Rebecca and Alison about how their day was different, have they shared this with you?

  3. Thanks for sharing this Sam. It is always good to get different view points. It can also be difficult when you haven't seen first hand how things work and struggle to relate and connect with it. It might be good for you to seek out more information and examples of how her work is being implemented and tweak what you can to help your learners tick off these 400 skills. I'd like a list of those skills. As a senior hub we are going to look at this framework so will be interested in when Barbara visits again. Keep on keeping on.

  4. It was a little bit different for me going to this session as I think I was able to benefit more, having no experience whatsoever with the Barbara Brann building blocks framework previous to this. Although as we continue to hear about the first day and all the different things she went over I do agree it seems like we missed out on a bit. I also agree it would be awesome to see her work with our kids as they have quite a different skill level than the students we saw. Upon reflection Barbara did show us a lot of the same thing and just extended upon this same area. So I am interested to see the videos and hear more about this first day from Rebecca and Alison. I think that the videos we have already watched were very beneficial and showed me more about casey the caterpillar especially which was great.

    I think there were so many great things about the day however, like I loved the way she talked about the learning journey and how she was also all about the students. Encouraging all of us to create an adaptive programme from her framework that was responsive only to the learner and their needs so it is not about us as teachers. She also talked about assessment being a yes or a no, you either can do something or you can’t. I thought this was interesting because I know that I am definitely guilty of putting a mostly category in the middle there a lot of the time.

    By far the most important thing about the day though was that Barbara’s list of skills was a framework that should look different in every school. Because it is about the skills that underpin it not how you implement the tasks so the students can complete the skills. The other most important thing for her, which you have talked about is that literacy must be Connected, Contextualised, and it must Challenge. It makes to connect all literacy skills as they all fit so well together, and as Barbara said they don’t all exist in little separate boxes. It really made me think about how much I focus on the disciplines separately and how I need to start connecting the skills being learnt in reading, writing, and maths and see how I can fit these together. Contextualising was a really interesting part for me as she gave the example of using high frequency word cards. So for example, you teach the students how to say “the” and how to read it off a flashcard. But really when you think about it when do you ever pronounce it so perfectly? She describe “the” as a blip word when you speak out loud it’s really just a blip along the way. So do students actually realise that the word “the” they read off their card is this blip of a word that we say, and do they recognise the word when they see it in the story or is it something that they can only recognise in the isolated context of a flashcard. Finally challenge, I need to challenge myself and challenge my students in order to really create the best learning possible for them. Because teaching is all about them and not me!