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First, catch your chicken

Training teachers to remediate reading problems requires detailed, systematic preparation

Running chickens (Flickr)

The first problem we had to resolve when developing a training programme was: what do teachers need to know in order to help secondary students with reading difficulties?

Our aim is to help build a movement that will eradicate illiteracy in adolescents: no mean feat. To ensure that happens, it is important that all students who are struggling with reading are identified and helped as effectively as possible. And for that help to be effective, we train teachers and LSAs not only to deliver the lessons but to solve problems that may arise. All of which sounds simple – though, of course, it is anything but.

Lousia Moats has said: “The knowledge base for teaching reading is extensive, hidden and complex.” What she means is that there is a lot to learn. Moats was talking about beginning reading instruction, but the same holds true in the somewhat different context of remediating reading problems at secondary school.

Mrs Beeton's book of household management

Whether it’s CPD, whole-class or one-to-one lessons, all teaching essentially consists of two stages:

  • Analysing and preparing the matter to be taught
  • Managing the interaction with the learner and adjusting to their responses.

Again, this sounds so simple as to be blindingly obvious. However, it isn’t simple at all. In our experience, an enormous amount of energy goes into the second part, and much less into the former – which results in a lot of wasted energy, wasted time, and wasted learning opportunities. We need to ensure that the analysis, sequencing and presentation of material enables us to ‘teach more in less time’ (Kame’enui and Simmons, 1990) and that it is scheduled so that nothing is forgotten. Much time in education is wasted in re-teaching knowledge and skills that have not been retained.

Thinking Reading is an intervention that is designed to be delivered by trained LSAs or teachers. It is neither sensible nor economical for tutors to continually prepare their own curriculum at the depth required. It makes more sense for a specialist to design the programme and for tutors to focus on delivering it effectively, concentrating on the student’s responses and making adjustments as the data requires.


For this reason, we prepare teaching programmes with all the content that is needed, substantially reducing the amount of knowledge (and training time) required. These lessons are designed to incorporate:

  • Comprehensive assessment before deciding on a starting point
  • Planning based on data from assessments and previous lessons
  • Sequencing of learning activities in the most productive order
  • Fluency and generalization activities
  • Systematic review of previously learned content
  • Grapheme-phoneme correspondences
  • Spelling and writing
  • Morphology
  • Vocabulary development
  • Comprehension
  • Systematic analysis of reading material for relevant teaching points
  • Precisely defined success criteria to ensure mastery


This enables us to focus the training on the skills required for managing the delivery of the programme, and the interaction between tutor and student. A careful analysis of the skills required has led us to:

  • Place a strong emphasis on assessment, as these skills are required to make valid teaching decisions in every lesson.
  • Show tutors basic Direct Instruction procedures to ensure ‘faultless communication’ of teaching points, so that students are not tripped up or slowed down by confusions.
  • Stress the importance of fluency building procedures based on the principles of Precision Teaching.
  • Introduce teachers to the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis, so that they can observe, analyse and respond effectively to students’ responses.
  • Train on-site to ensure practice and generalisation in the school setting.
  • Build in observation with feedback for guided practice leading to independent delivery.
  • Use scheduled quizzes to help tutors revise and remember content.
  • Use delayed observations to check that tutors have maintained fidelity to the methods in which they were trained.
  • Once these basics are established, we look at troubleshooting and problem-solving using real-world examples.

Mrs Beeton's serving puddings

All this is comparable to assembling the ingredients for an elaborate dish. The next step in the recipe is combining them with precision.

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Kame’enui, E and Simmons, D (1990). Designing Instructional Strategies: The Prevention of Academic Learning Problems. NJ: Merrill

Moats, L (1999). Teaching Reading is Rocket Science – What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able to Do. American Federation of Teachers .

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