Warriors perform a martial display that challenges guests; then one lays down a token on the ground. If the token is accepted, the visitors show that they come in peace, and are welcomed. If not, they need to be prepared for battle. (This is a particularly interesting recent example).
I feel that the time has come to issue my own ‘wero’ with respect to adolescent literacy. I hope that you will see it as an invitation to share in a quiet but growing revolution. I refer to the intervention that I have developed for illustration because it is my own experience – but I am much more interested in students being given the right help than whether people choose to implement Thinking Reading.
I have seen English GCSE results in schools radically improve. I have seen students predicted an E in Year 10 produce 5 A* – C including English and Maths, go into the 6th form and then on to a Russell Group university. I have seen statemented students, who were said to be unable to make progress in reading, catch up to read at their chronological age – even reading Shakespeare aloud in class.
I have seen disaffected students at risk of exclusion become calm, happy and confident in the classroom. I have seen classic avoiders and escape artists finally face up to the challenge and succeed in reading, when they had failed for years. That is the power of systematic, tightly structured, student-centred, data-based teaching.
With a systematic approach, it is possible to virtually eliminate all reading problems in around three years. How would it be if all the KS4 students at your school were reading at their chronological age? If, by within three years of establishing an effective reading intervention, you only had to focus on improving the reading of students arriving in Year 7?
As the subject leader for English, it’s your responsibility to advocate for the right programme for your students. These checklists are designed to help you choose an effective intervention:
A good intervention ought to be straightforward to implement. In Thinking Reading, for example, as part of our training we provide the school with templates for notifying staff and parents of a student beginning lessons, out-of-class passes, interim and end of intervention reports, and a tracking spreadsheet that produces graphs of individual student progress and calculates the ongoing rate of progress.
We teach tutors how to assess and track progress in every lesson. This is so that teaching decisions are always based on accurate, up-to-date information (though obviously it is also helpful that data is immediately at hand if Ofsted come calling). Each reading text has a lesson outline for each day, so there is minimal planning. In fact, writing up the student notes and completing the lesson plan for the next lesson takes about 5-7 minutes.
We make it even more simple – we offer to come in and assist you to physically set up a Literacy Centre, having provided you with a list (and suppliers) of all that you need.
The most effective base for a reading intervention is as an adjunct to the English department, but with a direct link to SLT. With a suitably trained member of staff leading a Literacy Centre, all you need to do is to liaise with them to check that everything is on track. We even have a checklist for the personal qualities that are required to be an effective tutor. Not everyone is suited to such detailed, persistent, methodical work. The team may need backup with uncooperative staff, support with some (initially) reluctant students, and an advocate with parents. The Literacy Centre leader will ensure that students are tested and prioritised, set up the timetables, communicate these to staff and parents, and monitor progress. Students will be issued with progress reports and a final graduation report.
Thinking Reading is one example of applied science – a programme that is based on reliable research to produce reliable results when replicated with fidelity. So what are the results of such an approach? Typical progress averages two months per half hour lesson. For a child reading 36 months behind, they can catch up in 18 half-hour lessons (plus testing time). You can see examples of student progress charts here.
So here is my challenge: are you working to help the students who need it most? We all know it is possible to have a pass rate of 75% and leave 25% languishing. That 75% may be pleasing to Ofsted, but it means nothing if you are one of the 25%. And of course, with Progress 8, schools are now judged on the progress of lower performers – with a much bigger impact on weightings at the lower grades in the years to come. The time to start intervening is now. Solutions to the longstanding problem of reading difficulty have been developed for some time. Will you have the commitment and courage to ensure that such a solution reaches your most vulnerable students? Kia kaha!
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