Month: February 2015

Can’t Read, Won’t Read: The Sequel

Learning to Fly  Successful graduates may still need some structure in order to develop true independence. One of the questions that is frequently raised with me is whether the gains students make can be seen transferring to the classroom. After all, if they really have made progress, it should show in their academic learning. Indeed it does.* Teaching students decoding skills to fluency creates more room in working memory to deal with the meaning of what they are reading. Students also feel more confident and engage more readily with texts. But it is also important to influence teacher perceptions to ensure that they now realise what the student is capable of. Likewise, parents need to be well informed so that they now hold higher expectations, and can help guide the student towards new habits of reading. The key to influencing these perceptions is reporting. We make sure that regular updates on progress are issued to all teachers working with the student, and follow with an end of programme report. These reports are detailed, charting students’ progress and commenting on changes in …

Can’t Read, Won’t Read: Part Three

Metamorphosis  Diligent attention to details can bring rapid growth and startling transformations.  Expectations and tone are created instantly. What should the Literacy Centre say when students first arrive? The environment needs to be clean, orderly, and attractive. It should also be immediately apparent that this is a place where the focus is on work: work areas carefully set out, with materials to hand. Just as an engineering workshop or a hospital operating theatre has its routines and procedures, so does a well-run Literacy Centre. But beyond this, the room needs to be desirable – to be, in fact, the most pleasant learning space in the school. A relaxed, purposeful atmosphere can be induced through colour choices, quiet background music and interesting pictures. None of these conditions is optional for a Literacy Centre where we are working in the Last Chance Saloon of the student’s education. To get the progress we want, a dedicated teaching space is essential. The next step in building a secure emotional climate is to establish a rapport – without this overshadowing the purpose …

Can’t Read, Won’t Read: Part Two

No Escape Our determination is the prerequisite for their success When students have a well-established history of failure, we need to make it impossible for them to fail. While that may sound an impossibility in itself, the conditions required for success are simpler than you might imagine. The real test is how determined we are to set up the conditions to make learning almost inevitable. We want to create an environment – physically, emotionally and cognitively – where for students to fail, they would have to be incredibly determined to self-destruct. Even for the most resistant students what they really want – deep down – is to be able to read like every other kid. Once students at secondary school are identified for a reading intervention, there is a very small window of opportunity to put that student back on the right track. We might imagine we can keep moving them to new interventions in the hope something will ‘click’, but the reality is that unless the programme produces measurable results from the start, the student …

Pulling The Strands Together

What help do students struggling with reading at secondary school need?   Jeanne Chall, the eminent reading researcher, distinguished ‘learning to read’ in the earlier years of primary education from ‘reading to learn’ for the years following (Chall, 1983). This distinction is widely accepted (Stanovich 1986, Boardman et al 2008, Hempenstall 2013) and is crucial to designing instruction for students in these later years of education. The demands of subject learning at secondary school require specific knowledge in order to facilitate comprehension, specific vocabulary to mediate domain-specific knowledge, and fluency in order to assimilate content and develop more complex academic skills. Why addressing reading problems at secondary school is tricky These additional demands do not make phonics any less important. Phonics – how the written code represents the spoken code of English – is an essential foundation for understanding what is on the page. The problems caused by the guessing strategies of whole language, which seek to substitute inference from context for actual decoding skills, are well documented elsewhere. Suffice to say that 20% of those arriving …