Month: January 2015

5 Principles to ensure that literacy improves for all students

1. Prioritise reading across the school Ensuring that children can read is the most fundamental duty of schools. This does not just apply to primary schools. Secondary students attend school for five years. That time ought to be more than enough to ensure that struggling readers are guided towards success and independence. Many secondary teachers oppose reading interventions that encroach on their subject time. They may also fall into the trap of stereotyping, assuming that children cannot read because they lack intelligence. Almost invariably, students cannot read because they have not been taught as they needed to be. All teachers need to understand that good reading brings a host of benefits, such as improved general knowledge, access to subject knowledge, confidence, improved behaviour, longer concentration and improved self-esteem. Improving reading markedly reduces disruption, frustration and avoidance behaviour. In short, it is in everyone’s interests to prioritise reading.  Do you: Have a clear, unambiguous policy that reading underlies all academic success? Have a clear plan by school leaders to ensure that the policy is implemented? Have …

15 Tests for Secondary School Reading Interventions

Wasting money is undesirable. Wasted time is irreplaceable.  1 Which students is the intervention intended to support? The needs of students who are up to two years behind their chronological age will be different to those who are further behind. Some secondary students have become careless readers who have developed a practice of guessing and need to learn more accurate decoding ‘through the word’. Other students are able to decode accurately but need specific practice to develop their fluency. Students who are reading more than two years behind often have more complex needs. They will be inaccurate when decoding, may have poor phonological processing skills and often have low levels of comprehension. They also arrive at secondary school with a history of low motivation and ingrained use of ineffective strategies that have to be unlearned. It takes a skilled practitioner to effectively identify and unravel such problems on an individual basis. 2 What is the evidence base for the programme? It is important to distinguish between the claims that the marketers make and the scientific evidence …

A Matter of Sensitivity

Do you know Angelo? Angelo is struggling to keep up. Despite extra help, he is becoming more and more frustrated. He is reacting with increasing truculence to staff who try to support him in class. In homework club he is apathetic. He has been getting into more and more trouble lately, and the only time he seems to smile in class is when he is distracting others. Given one-to-one instruction, he drops the façade of nonchalance and tries. He really tries, so that a fine bead of sweat breaks out on his forehead. His hands are clenched, his shoulders hunched. But even with one-to-one help, Angelo seems to be making very little progress. Some of his teachers have concluded that he has reached his limits; for them, teaching Angelo is now simply a matter of managing his behaviour. They don’t expect progress. It is a trap to treat students with lower attainment as if they are incapable of any more. The teacher’s job is to ensure progress, and to focus on the skills and knowledge …

10 Point Checklist: Literacy at Secondary School

1 Do you have accurate up-to-date reading data? Reading data from entry to secondary school quickly becomes irrelevant. Screening for the whole school should be carried out regularly. 2 Do you know if any poor testing results are due to motivation? Some students perform poorly because they lack the motivation to work to their best ability. You may be allocating valuable resources unnecessarily. 3 Does your data tell you the domain of difficulty? Do you know if your low-progress readers have difficulty with decoding? Comprehension? Or both? 4 Do you know the optimum frequency and duration for students to be out of class so that they make progress but still keep up with classwork? Less than three times a week is not frequent enough for students to make sufficient progress. More than 30 minutes for a lesson means that students are missing out on too much class time. 5 Have you ensured that students are able to catch up on missed classwork? Teachers should plan for this, for example by allocating a learning buddy to collect resources …

Success, failure and self-concept

For as he thinks in his heart, so he is . . .  – Proverbs 23: 7 Learning is not a solely intellectual activity. People learn in a great many ways as they acquire knowledge – about the world, about others, and about themselves. Often these lessons are not learned consciously or deliberately – but that does not make them any less powerful. The same is true when we do not learn something: we receive powerful messages about ourselves, the chief of which is that we cannot learn. How many times have you heard a child (or yourself) say ‘This is stupid,’ when something proves difficult to understand? How often the underlying implication is: ‘I’m stupid’. But few things have greater potential to affect learning – and how we see ourselves as learners – than reading. The cognitive and affective effects of reading are cumulative and pervasive. Stanovich, in his classic article on Matthew effects in reading (1986), puts it this way:  Slow reading acquisition has cognitive, behavioral, and motivational consequences that slow the development …

Treasures Old and New

Sharing the treasures of educational research  As teachers, we owe it to our students to employ methods that have the evidence to back them up. When we utilise ineffective practices, we are robbing children of their potential. I am continually faced with the results: students who arrive at secondary school unable to read, solely because of the quality of the instruction that they have received. Ineffective practices such as Brain Gym® have prospered because of the naivety of parts of the teaching profession. It has been encouraging to see the growth of a movement such as Research Ed recently. It shows that there are teachers who want to know more about what really works. While, at last year’s conference in London, we were rightly cautioned against putting too much faith in educational research, there is in fact excellent, replicated, generalisable research that can be applied in practical ways to the classroom. I know this because it is what I have done in my work, and I have seen the impact on students. I am happy to claim excellent results, not on …