Month: January 2014

A question of progress

Students’ progress can be inadvertently limited by the things we do as teachers. For example, if we pitch work at too low a level, students spend time working on skills or knowledge that may already be in their repertoire. If we do not allocate enough time to practising a skill before moving to the next level of difficulty, students are likely to struggle and become demotivated by unexpected failure. If we do not have enough practice materials, we can create an artificial limit to the amount that students achieve in a given time – a ‘ceiling effect’. A less visible but very powerful limit on students’ progress is teacher expectations. If a teacher has low expectations of a student’s abilities, they will be satisfied with limited progress: ‘Not bad considering the dyslexia / dyspraxia / dyscalculia / ADHD [insert label of choice].’ (You can read more about the effects of labelling here). One way in which teachers tend, consciously or unconsciously, to estimate student ability is through the student’s skill at reading. It is often assumed …

Why is there a reading problem in secondary schools?

The glib answer that many secondary schools would give is: because there is a reading problem in primary schools. Indeed, at the recent National Literacy Trust Conference, Ofsted repesentative HMI Gill Jones said that the the most important function of primary schools is to produce fluent readers. A short look at the statistics makes it apparent that this purpose is not being achieved. About 20% of students arrive at secondary school reading below the levels that they need in order to access the secondary curriculum (Sir Michael Wilshaw, March 2012). Clearly there is something wrong in at least some primary schools. Jones suggested that it might be a lack of teacher knowledge about reading at levels higher than the early years. But that does not let secondary schools off the hook. There is no excuse for a school to have a student with known reading problems failing for the entire five years – that is, at least 4,750 hours of instructional time – up to GCSE. Until lately, the relentless drive for more C grades …