Flying High at Coastlands: A Rich Literary Curriculum by Wenda Davies

“Floating high, high, higher”
High Flight poem , Izzy Scale, year 6
Flying High at Coastlands: a Rich Literary Curriculum
Autumn term, 2015. An exciting delivery comes to Coastlands School, a small primary school in the coastal village of St. Ishmaels, Pembrokeshire. ‘Opening Doors to Famous Poetry and Prose’ by Bob Cox has arrived, and our journey begins.
Our first foray into the ‘Opening Doors’ approach was the wonderful poem, ‘Great City’ by Harold Monro. Using a variety of sunset pictures as an initial stimulus, the children shared their ideas and memories of similar scenes, revolving around the questions ‘what did you see/ think/ wonder?’ This led to exploratory, short taster-drafts of sunset scenes, and then onto the writing of some wonderful poems. The children were tasked with writing a poem in which they made careful choices of vocabulary and imagery in order to create a particular atmosphere. Following that, some pupils went on to compare the poem with T.S. Eliot’s ‘Preludes’.
The children’s poems were marvellous and they were hungry for more, leading us to use further units from the book and, later, from the subsequent ‘Opening Doors’ books (the Opening Doors to Quality Writing books, for ages 6-9 and 10-13). A particularly exciting moment for the children was when several pieces of their poetry and prose, inspired by John Gillespie Magee, Jnr’s ‘High Flight’ poem, were published on the Crown House Publishing website.
The Opening Doors approach has transformed our children’s writing and their ability to understand and respond to rich, complex texts. Where before we ensured that we were stretching our most able readers and writers, now the whole class share challenging learning objectives – extending them all – with access strategies built in to support, engage and fascinate. The children are encouraged to wonder and question, tackling complex texts and taking risks in their writing. While the Opening Doors books provide a wealth of wonderful stimulus materials and ideas, the approach can be used with any text to great effect. For instance, our pupils have written wonderful meta-poems inspired by Ted Hughes’ The Thought Fox, and insightful analyses of how Tennyson makes the creature seem mysterious and alien in ‘The Kraken’.
While there is no doubt that the use of the Opening Doors approach has inspired our pupils’ writing and deepened their understanding of more complex texts, what impact has it had on standards? In Wales, our pupils are awarded end of key stage levels: level 4 is the ‘expected level’at the end of key stage two; level 5 is above the expected level and level 6 is significantly above. In a village school with small cohorts, data tracking can be a strange beast, but our English results show clear improvement in the percentage of children achieving the higher levels in writing (level 5+), from 56% in 2017, 60% in 2018 and 75% in 2019.
But it’s about more than this. With the rich reading culture fostered by the use of stimulating texts, the classroom is buzzing with book-talk and the children are confident writers who are happy to take risks. There is no doubt that the children at Coastlands are flying high!

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