Inclusion and wellbeing

How to help Early Years educators struggling with literacy

James Goodeve recommends support from leadership and some help from Famly’s Sidekick feature
A blue cartoon image of early years educators reading with young children
November 29, 2023
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In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down.

  • According to the OECD, 16.4% of adults, or around 5.8 million people, in England and Northern Ireland score at the lowest level of proficiency in literacy. In other words, it’s really common to need some extra help with reading, writing, and spelling.
  • Settings who use Famly’s professional package can now utilise the Sidekick function to support educators with their written work, by checking spelling and grammar or amending the tone of text.
  • Find out how Ladybird Nursery in Godalming utilises Sidekick and other strategies to make each day easier for their educators, especially those who use English as an additional language or have dyslexia.

James Goodeve, manager of Ladybird Nursery in Surrey, understands supporting a nursery team. As a 20-year early years veteran, James was hired by the owners of the setting to turn things around after a disappointing Ofsted inspection and rebuild the confidence of the educators.

But that’s no easy task. Balancing feedback about what to improve and professionalise, while ensuring your team feel valued, can be really tricky. And, specifically when it comes to literacy and written work, there can be a lot of shame around making mistakes and needing to be corrected.

So how does James sensitively support his educators to improve their spelling and grammar, without hurting their professional confidence? 

I met with him to find out.

Supporting Early Years educators with literacy

At  Ladybird Nursery, James works with educators with a variety of literacy abilities. From dyslexia to using English as an additional language, plenty of practitioners need a little extra help to polish their observations or perfect their posts.

And he’s certainly not alone. 

The NHS estimates up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia, so the likelihood is you too know an EY educator who struggles with spelling reading, writing, or spelling. And James’ team are no different.

The first support system James adopted was to create feedback sheets for educators’ written observations:

  • Once a month, James looked through all the observations sent for review in Famly, to check each one for spelling, grammar, and accuracy.
  • He created detailed feedback sheets for the educators who had written the observations, noting what was good first, before what could be better.
  • He then met with each educator privately, to sensitively discuss where things could be improved and support them to correct any mistakes. 
  • The educator would re-work the observations, using the feedback James gave them.

“When I first put the feedback in place for observations, lots of the practitioners were nervous,” explains James, “But I explained that I’m here to support and help them as much as possible. It was to give pointers.”

However, while this system worked well, it was certainly not a short process.

“It took an awful lot of time,” says James, “Every child has at least one observation a month and we have 60 children on roll. Having to read through every observation took time out of what I was doing, and then the feedback to an entire day each month.”

An early years educator reading a book to a young child.

Better communication and so much time saved

As well as offering personal guidance and support, utilising a tool to support educators with their spelling and grammar was an obvious choice for James. Educators being able to check spelling and grammar, and then see those corrections in real-time, meant a much smoother (and far less time-consuming) process for James and his team.

That tool is Sidekick in Famly.

The big ideas

What actually is Sidekick?

Sidekick, in Famly’s early childhood platform, is a writing assistant for early years educators. Sidekick can:

  • Improve your writing and check spelling and grammar
  • Change the tone of text, from the following options
  • Make it professional
  • Make it polite
  • Make it observant
  • Make it conversational
  • Condense longer text, by using the ‘Make it shorter’ option.
  • Be used across the Famly platform in observations, messages, Newsfeed posts, and assessments.

“I like that there are different ways to change your writing in Sidekick,” says James, “You can make it more conversational or more professional. I like to explore the different options and choose the one I like the most.”

In the example below, I have misspelt some words in a draft Famly Newsfeed post and asked Sidekick to check my writing, before I set it live. I can choose to accept Sidekick’s suggestion for the improvements and corrections or ask it to try again, to see another option.

A screen grab of Famly's Sidekick feature

And don’t worry, Sidekick doesn’t change the content or meaning of what the educators actually documented, or add details in about what an educator observed.

“While it can change the writing quite dramatically, the content is still the same,” says James, “It doesn’t change what you’re trying to get across in an observation - the same information is just worded differently.”

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Now James and his team can use Sidekick in Famly to help them with all sorts of writing. Many of the Ladybird Nursery parents communicate with the setting through messages on Famly and often have questions that require long or complex answers.

“If I’m sending a long message or explaining something about funding, for example, I’ll always ‘Sidekick’ it,” says James, “First, we use the ‘Correct spelling and grammar’ option, then ‘Make it professional."

In fact, James likes Sidekick so much, he even utilises the tool when working outside of Famly.

“Now when I write an email I actually copy and paste it into Famly and use Sidekick to check it,” says James, “It’s reduced my workload massively and saved me so much time - I’ve got back at least half a day.”

A young child's hand holding a pencil for mark-making

A learning tool to improve educators’ literacy

James is delighted with the feedback he’s received from his team about using Sidekick in Famly. He described the relief his educators feel from the stress of worrying about their spelling and grammar.

“All the staff have used it and they’re so happy with it,” says James “It’s just made their lives easier. The feedback was amazing - they’re so impressed with it.”

As well as the educators’ happiness, James is seeing their abilities and confidence grow too. Viewing the suggestions from Sidekick alongside their original writing allows the educators to see where the corrections in spelling are made, so they can use the correct spelling next time. They also have the opportunity to assess the content of the new text, to gain inspiration for future writing.

“They can see the changes so they think, ‘Next time, I’m going to write it this way,’” says James, “It’s having a knock-on effect as it’s teaching them how they could word it.”

Once the educators have used Sidekick and are happy with the observations they’ve written, they still send them for review by James. This means James still has the opportunity to offer feedback and praise for his team and see the improvements in their writing.

“Since we began using Sidekick, I haven't had to write out long feedback sheets,” says James, “All the observations are perfect so I was able to just praise them for an amazing job.”

For further help and support:

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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