Month: August 2017

Beware the Reading Traps

Avoid the pitfalls lying in wait for school leaders seeking help for struggling readers. If we can read, we tend to assume that reading is easy. In a large organisation like a secondary school, those who struggle to read can be overlooked, misunderstood, or not supported as they need to be. If you’re responsible for deciding on what interventions to use for reading, and how to monitor their impact, beware these traps! Trap 1 Assume that the purpose of the intervention is to compensate for a lack of ability, or to shield the student from the consequences of a lack of ability. The vast majority of reading problems can be resolved through effective teaching. Implication: Students should not be in reading interventions forever, or even long-term. Trap 2 Expect slow progress from students in reading interventions. This idea is based on the faulty assumption that poor reading equates to poor intelligence. It doesn’t. Students can make dramatic gains if taught effectively. One component of such teaching is to actively counter damaging labels that have reduced …

A Heart for School Improvement

What one issue lies at the heart of school improvement? You are reviewing your school improvement plan, weighing up what to prioritise, what to focus on, thinking about whole staff vision, professional development, and of course how to prioritise resources. Tick off the list. Behaviour. Mental health. Wellbeing. New, harder GCSE specifications. A more knowledge-based curriculum. The ‘long tail of underachievement’. What theme runs through all of these? Better reading. Is there a link between poor reading and poor behaviour? We know that poor reading leads to poorer behaviour outcomes. Hempenstall (2013) summarises relevant research : A few studies have evaluated whether poor reading performance negatively impacts ‘distal’ feelings and behaviours that are not specific to reading activities. In these studies, poor readers have been reported to be more likely to act out or be aggressive (e.g., Morgan, Farkas, & Wu, 2009; Trzesniewski, Moffitt, Caspi, Taylor, & Maughan, 2006), distractible and inattentive (Goldston et al., 2007; Morgan, Farkas, Tufis, & Sperling, 2008), and anxious and depressed (Arnold et al., 2005; Carroll, Maughan, Goodman, & Meltzer, 2005). …

Can We Do More With Less?

Effective use of resources depends on how well we know our students’ needs More than ever, head teachers are having to consider how to cut the limited cloth of school budgets and resourcing. Sometimes we find that, for historical reasons, a great deal of staffing (especially TA staffing) is spread across a range of ‘interventions’. We have library staffing and English teacher time going into Accelerated Reader; a phonics intervention here, a catch-up programme there; in-class support, literacy support, academic mentoring, behaviour mentoring. . . . the list can grow very long. There are several traps to watch out for in the complexity of a large school organisation. Are the same students being targeted for more than one intervention at a time? For a few students with a wide range of needs, this may be necessary. But children shouldn’t be receiving more than one literacy intervention at time, if this increases their time out of class. How much time are interventions costing the students, and how is this impacting on their curriculum progress? Interventions should …

Climbing Mountains in Small Steps

Learning moves faster in small steps. ‘Bottom set.’ Two words that can make the colour drain from our faces, our eyes roll, or provoke a deep sigh. ‘Bottom set.’ The ‘low ability’ group. The ‘difficult’ and the ‘troubled’ students. Yes, they occur in other sets, too, but you know that if you have this class on your timetable, odds are there will be a lot of them – and you are in for a tough year. It doesn’t have to be like that, of course, but it often is. And I have certainly worked in schools where such groups – and their teachers – were treated with a mixture of pity and disdain. Of course, that may not be true in your school – but, realistically, how many heads of department timetable themselves to teach bottom sets? What does that tell us about the priority that these students are given? ‘Bottom set’ classes are often given the least experienced, or the least skilled, teachers – often supported by an LSA, who may or may not …