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Improving literacy with KUBO

Pam Jones,
Educational Content Developer
United Kingdom

Developing a child’s literacy is at the heart of all subjects and is directly linked to their understanding of the subject matter. All subjects have keywords and definitions that need to be retained and understood, to be able to access the curriculum content.

Computing is no different. A common misconception is that computing requires all subject content and delivery to be using a computing device. 

  • Computer science is about how the computer works
  • Information Technology is about using a computer

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has released a set of recommendations linked to improving literacy in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Although this is a UK based research piece, it is applicable to any child, anywhere. 

  • Key stage 1 are children aged 5 to 7
  • Key Stage 2 are children aged 7 to 10.

The main recommendations are:

Retrieved from: Education Endowment Foundation. (2020, September 4). Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/guidance-reports/literacy-ks2
  1. Develop pupils’ speaking and listening skills and wider understanding of language
  2. Use a balanced and engaging approach to developing reading, teaching both decoding and comprehension skills
  3. Effectively implement a systematic phonics programme
  4. Teach pupils to use strategies for developing and monitoring their reading comprehension
  5. Teach pupils to use strategies for planning and monitoring their writing
  6. Promote fluent written transcription skills by encouraging extensive and purposeful practice and explicitly teaching spelling
  7. Use high-quality information about pupils’ current capabilities to select the best next steps for teaching
  8. Use high-quality structured interventions to help pupils who are struggling with their literacy

Some of these are directly linked to the development of their capability of reading and phonic development but let’s focus on point 1.

1. Develop pupils’ speaking and listening skills and wider understanding of language

One of the questions the EEF offer as a discussion question for this section is:

How do you explicitly teach pupils to understand and use new vocabulary?

When a student starts their learning with computing, they are faced with some new vocabulary. For example algorithms. This is not an easy word to say or read. At this stage, it is important that the student is hearing this keyword regularly to aid understanding and consequently use the word correctly.

Let’s look at the word ‘algorithm’ and see how we could develop a student aged 5-7’s understanding.. An algorithm is a set of step by step instructions to solve a given problem. Now let’s consider where a student of this age would encounter step by step instructions at school:

  • Entering the classroom, assembly, the school
  • Lining up in the playground
  • Turning on the computer or iPad
  • Collecting their dinner
  • Completing a task
  • Building a structure
  • Following a recipe
  • Playing a game
  • Making up a dance
  • Discovering how a flower grows from a seed
  • And lots more …

We follow instructions on a daily basis. Each step is an instruction. The instructions together in order is an algorithm. Could we use the word algorithm more to allow the students to hear and understand it?

  • The algorithm for entering the classroom is …
  • The algorithm for building a tower is …
  • The algorithm to make a fairy cake is …
  • The algorithm to play this game is …
  • The algorithm for a flower to grow is …

Further recommendations under this heading from EEF are:

  • Language provides the foundation of thinking and learning and should be prioritised.

We should consider the keywords the student needs to understand and hear at this age like algorithm and instructions

  • High-quality adult-child interactions are important and sometimes described as talking with children rather than just talking to children.  

Talking with the correct keywords during an activity is essential to allow the student to hear how to use the correct words in the correct context.

  • Use a wide range of explicit and implicit approaches including planning the teaching of vocabulary as well as modelling and extending children’s language and thinking during interactions and activities such as shared reading.

Students need to be taught the keywords and then need to hear them consistently to understand them and connect them to the activities they are doing.

Let’s take this and look at the recommendations for the age range 7-10, Key Stage 2 and again at the first recommendation: Develop pupils’ language capabilities

Retrieved from: Education Endowment Foundation. (2020, September 4). Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/guidance-reports/literacy-ks2

The one recommendation under heading number 1 is:

Extend pupils’ vocabulary by explicitly teaching new words, providing repeated exposure to new words, and providing opportunities for pupils to use new words.

The development throughout the student’s computing development allows them to be introduced to the language in Key Stage 1 and hear it. In Key Stage 2 the student needs a range of opportunities to use these new words. The number of keywords will increase and the student’s understanding and use of these words will therefore develop.

KUBO allows the student the opportunity to use the language in a specific way. The student develops the algorithm and talks through it with others. The communication of their algorithm allows the student to demonstrate their understanding.

One idea to allow students to demonstrate understanding is to allow comments to be added to their code. This can be done both written and verbally. Let’s consider the student has planned out the algorithm for moving the KUBO robot from one position to another.

The use of printed or the KUBO robot TagTiles® allows the student to plan out the algorithm before they program KUBO. By asking students to use post-it notes by the side of each TagTile allows the student to build up their algorithm in words too.

By explaining this to a friend or the teacher, the student can then use the correct keywords to demonstrate their understanding of what an algorithm is and which are instructions.

Literacy is an essential tool for all subject areas. It underpins a student’s understanding, progressing from saying it to understanding it to using it in the correct context. Considering the keywords you want a student to know is a key tool in the progression from one year group to another. Mapping out these key terms can help plan the progression in their understanding. An example can be seen in the table below. Each year the student is exposed to a new keyword and through a range of activities can develop their understanding, leading them to using it correctly with context.

In summary, consider the keywords you wish to focus on through the use of KUBO and Computing. Map this out to ensure you are embedding them in as many different opportunities for the student to be exposed to it fully. Encourage discussion to allow the use of keywords to develop understanding. Use explanations of program development like the post-it notes next to instructions to help the student communicate their understanding.

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KUBO is a simple, intuitive plug-and-learn tool with low complexity and easy adoption for teachers. The unique, hands-on, TagTile® system provides new ways to learn coding, with broad curriculum relevance to maximize learning outcomes. KUBO is suitable for students aged 4 to 10+.

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