Author: Horatio Speaks

How to save time and money through screening

There is a widespread framework for intervention, sometimes known as Response to Intervention (RTI), which proposes that students can receive help at three different levels of intensity: Tier 1 – good quality classroom instruction and school structures that encourage learning. Tier 2 – small group instruction to address needs that a few students have in common. Tier 3 – intensive one-to-one instruction for students where Tier 2 is not effective.   Sometimes people are critical of this model as it is deemed an ineffective intervention, but this betrays a confusion: RTI is not strictly an intervention, it is model for delivering interventions – more specifically, for deciding how to allocate resources, so that those who need the most get the most. Recently I came across this short but useful practice brief on RTI implementation via the Institute for Evidence in Education. It is recommended reading for school leaders who are responsible for allocating resources. The issues covered in the report are very familiar: Timetabling and resourcing concerns are always tricky, but especially in the current …

Does phonics help or hinder comprehension?

A recent TES article headlined “Call for researchers to highlight negative ‘side effects’ of methods like phonics” drew a predictable response. Though the article supplied not one piece of evidence to support the assertion that phonics had “negative side effects”, and despite the academic quoted having zero background or expertise in reading science, tweets and comments celebrated this damning of the barbaric practice of phonics in schools. Both the article and the responses illustrate the strong prejudices that have to be overcome before early reading instruction is universally of sufficient quality to ensure that we really are a literate society – i.e. one in which all school leavers have good, not just functional or non-functional, reading and writing skills. But – does phonics help or hinder comprehension? Is it merely, as Michael Rosen and his followers have characterised it, “barking at print”? It seems to me that this question is at the heart of much resistance to phonics. Many people seem to believe that phonics in reading means that other aspects of reading are not taught, or that …

Reading is Knowledge

We shouldn’t confuse skills with knowledge  One of the most discussed topics in education today is that of the so-called ‘knowledge curriculum’. Its most famous proponent is E D Hirsch, who has written extensively on the subject. Hirsch argues that depriving students – especially poorer students – of the ‘cultural capital’ that middle and upper class children have access to perpetuates inequality and injustice. Instead, he believes that the curriculum should reflect ‘powerful knowledge’ that enables students to gain the same access to higher education and working opportunities that those in better-off circumstances tend to have. Hirsch, and many others, recognise that reading is an essential tool in this approach. The amount of knowledge that students need to consume in order to be well-equipped by the end of secondary school is vast. It is not possible to cover it all in lessons alone; nor is this desirable. Developing independence in learning is surely one of the major goals of education, and while we may debate how we achieve this, it is obvious that those with …

Literacy Leadership Part 3: Return on Investment

Smart leaders invest wisely. Investment in reading has long-term payoffs. Investment in turning around reading failure, especially at secondary school, is an intensive business. Consider this from G Reid Lyon, one of America’s foremost reading researchers: “We have learned that for 90% to 95% of poor readers, prevention and early intervention programs that combine instruction in phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency development, and reading comprehension strategies, provided by well trained teachers, can increase reading skills to average reading levels. However, we have also learned that if we delay intervention until nine-years-of-age, (the time that most children with reading difficulties receive services), approximately 75% of the children will continue to have difficulties learning to read throughout high school. To be clear, while older children and adults can be taught to read, the time and expense of doing so is enormous.” It is exactly this problem that Thinking Reading sets out to solve in secondary schools. We aim to ensure that struggling readers learn more in less time, that they catch up quickly and completely, and that intervention has minimum …

Literacy Leadership Part 2: Building With Care

Transformation can be incremental For the second part of this three-part series, we talked to Lisa Cliffe, the Literacy Lead at Meols Cop High School, an ‘outstanding’ school in Southport. Lisa is directly responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the Literacy Centre. This has given her a pivotal role in managing change as she implements the new intervention. Lisa sees the active involvement of SLT in the changes at Meols Cop as integral to the Centre’s success. “I’d say it was the most important thing. Communication with the whole staff was done by SLT, and they made it clear that this is what we’re doing, this is why, and you will see impact.” Knowing that she had the explicit support of the leadership team was vital to giving her the confidence she needed, and to securing the support of the wider staff. A key element of the school’s intervention was to align the new initiative with English rather than SEN. This seems to have focused the intervention on outcomes rather than diagnoses: “The low reading ages …

Literacy Leadership Part 1: Clear Vision

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 …