Month: October 2016

Literacy Leadership Part 1: Vision and Mission

What does it take to see real change in literacy outcomes? When it comes to literacy, we all agree that it’s important. But that’s often the extent of our impact. There are multiple reasons why literacy intervention at secondary school often founders, and does so repeatedly. Here are five key reasons: Erroneous beliefs and assumptions Conflicting priorities Token allocation of time, staffing or resources Ineffective programmes Ineffective teaching Each of these is worth a post in itself, but the common thread is that all of these issues are under the control – and the responsibility – of school leaders. We know from our work with schools that leaders who address these issues, and all the baggage that comes with them, are able to achieve striking results. Conversely, we know that where these issues aren’t addressed, funds, staffing and student time may be squandered for few if any gains. Why are the differences so glaring? Essentially, it comes down to how clearly leaders see the problem and what they are prepared to do differently in order to get …

Seven Steps to Improving Reading Comprehension

We often test comprehension, but how do we teach it? In the so-called reading wars, all sides agree on one thing: comprehension is the goal of reading. However, whole language, meaning-first proponents work from the assumption that reading is language, which is a fatally misconceived notion. Reading is a written representation of language, which is something quite different from language itself. So teachers of the code-first approach show students how the written code represents the sounds of the spoken language*. We do this not so that they will “bark at print”, as Michael Rosen gleefully incants at every opportunity; we do it so that they will be able to know what the words are, and when these words are in their vocabulary, they will understand. If the words are not in their vocabulary, it is a teaching opportunity. However, comprehension can neither be expected to develop on its own, nor can it be taught in isolation from the many aspects of language and human culture that impinge upon our reading experience. It is not developed …

No Excuses Left

So what if they can’t read? And whose fault is it anyway? A recent discussion on Twitter provided something of a jolt for me. It is very easy for us to assume that what we know is also known by others who work in our field. So when it was suggested in a recent Twitter conversation that 15% of the UK’s population being functionally illiterate was not necessarily a big problem, I was taken aback. Despite the fact that the epidemic is largely silent, and certainly hidden from most highly literate people, there seemed to me to have been enough written and said on the topic in recent years that no one should be in any doubt as to the scale of the problem. But clearly, there is still work to be done. Here are some numbers: According to the National Literacy Trust, there are over five million adults in the UK unable to read well enough to cope with daily tasks. According to the Social Exclusion Unit’s report from the early 2000s, 70% of prisoners lack basic …

Building on the Evidence

How do you start to build an evidence base?  We all know that it’s important to know the evidence behind particular practices, both for what we do in the classroom and what we do in interventions. In education, we used to be subject to fads and fashions, but that is beginning to change. Now, we are much more likely to hear the question, “Where is your evidence?” This can only be a good thing – as long as people have a sound understanding of what constitutes evidence. Because randomised controlled trials have been touted as the “gold standard”, that is now all that “evidence” means for some. In reality, there is a hierarchy of types of evidence, and all of it is useful in some way. There is a process of collecting evidence prior to developing a randomised controlled trial, so that variables are understood and practices are validated as being worthy of investigation before the investment of time and money that RCTs require. But there’s an obvious problem here for curriculum and intervention designers. How do you …

Blurred Vision

Can coloured lenses solve reading problems? One of the most common ‘interventions’ for reading difficulties that we encounter in secondary schools is the use of coloured paper, overlays or specially tinted glasses. This practice is based on the claim that reading difficulties in some students arise from a perceptual-motor problem, which means that certain visual backgrounds (eg white paper with black ink) make it difficult for students to identify and track symbols on the printed page. Last weekend I came across an optician’s practice which claimed to provide ‘dyslexia testing’. Further reading on the practice’s website confirmed that they seek to provide diagnoses for Irlen syndrome, for which they prescribe spectacles with coloured lenses. According to this hypothetical condition, the student’s reading difficulties are caused by a physiological condition. By ameliorating the symptoms of the condition, the student’s perception improves and they have a much better chance of reading success. Anecdotally, some students report that they ‘feel better’ and that reading is ‘easier’ using these techniques (overlays or tinted lenses). If only it were that simple. …