Author: James Murphy

Teaching reading: it’s not as ‘niche’ as you think

“Teaching reading at secondary is very niche.” I’ve heard it said, in different ways, many times. It is a very common view, and it is also a mistaken one. Every teacher needs to know about reading because every student needs to read. In the ‘real world’, our students will need reading to deal with the mail, to follow the news, to sit their driver’s test, to decipher the instructions on a medicine bottle, to fill in employment forms, medical forms, tenancy agreements, mortgages, employment contracts . . . I don’t need to go on, do I? Reading is everywhere in our society. Despite early predictions, the growth of digital communication and social media has only increased the amount we are expected to read. And in school? From consulting their planner in form time, through French, science, history, geography . . . is there any subject where students don’t read? Traditionally, PE was stereotyped as the no-reading, no-writing subject. That was never quite true, but now the GCSEs in this subject require as much reading and …

Reading Intervention That Gets Striking Results

We often find ourselves answering questions about the striking results that Thinking Reading students achieve. Teachers are used to seeing modest outcomes at best from reading interventions, so responses range from surprise to scepticism. This is a short explanation that outlines ten reasons why Thinking Reading has the impact that it does.   1. Grounded in the research Thinking Reading is grounded in principles developed through empirical research, built on detailed theoretical work and rigorously field-tested in the real world. Lesson content and instruction is based on four key approaches: Engelmann’s Direct Instruction, Precision Teaching, Linguistic Phonics and Applied Behaviour Analysis. Read more here . . . 2. Whole school strategy We know that secondary schools are complex organisations. We work with every school’s leadership to ensure that systems, polices and culture are aligned, so that classroom practice, screening, and intervention give all students access to reading success. Read more here . . . 3. Thorough screening We apply three tiers of screening to ensure that only students who really need intervention get it – and …

The researchED Guide to Literacy

One of the many anomalies around literacy is the belief that reading, and its close companion writing, are ‘basic’ or ‘lower-order’ skills. This belief has had a number of pernicious effects. Many teachers, particularly those teaching older students, have assumed that literacy is ‘basic’ and therefore irrelevant to the ‘higher order’ skills with which they are concerned.  Because of this assumption that literacy is simple , the complexities of reading and writing have only been addressed superficially, or not at all, in teacher training. Thirdly, in the absence of good information, poor theory and damaging practice have prospered, blighting literally millions of lives. The researchED Guide to Literacy is subtitled An evidence-informed guide for teachers. The evidence concerned tells us is that literacy involves complex skills, that the benefits of literacy are immense, and that the consequences of poor literacy are pervasive, enduring and highly damaging. Reading becomes ever more important to independent learning as students progress through their education. It follows that understanding how we learn to read is essential to being able to …

Reading catch-up for older students: one-to-one or small groups?

Do secondary students need one-to-one tuition to catch up, or can they be taught in groups? The answer is, both – depending on how far behind they are. Groups can be an effective format for teaching if four conditions are met: The students are all working at much the same level; The students are not a long way behind; The content to be taught is limited and clearly defined; The programme of teaching has been carefully designed to ensure efficient coverage and long-term retention. Groups are NOT appropriate where: Students are a long way behind expectations; The students’ needs are disparate; Students need to work on a number of different strands of reading skills at the same time; Motivation is a serious issue. In other words, the question is not either/or. It is: which format is most appropriate for which students? This is why we advocate for a detailed screening programme in schools, so that students can be matched to interventions with a high degree of confidence. It is all too common to see students in …

Levelling Up – and Down

A few thoughts on writing texts for older struggling readers We’ve encouraged teachers to write stories or articles for our Summer Writing Challenge, and have been delighted at the quality of the submissions so far. To support those who are taking part, and those who teach secondary students with weak reading, here are some guidelines for writing or selecting a text for older students with reading difficulties. 1. Reading ages are only ever an approximation. Don’t focus exclusively on the score from a formula – it’s just a guideline. On the other hand, it’s always worth checking your text against one or more formulas, because it’s very easy to pitch a text too high – we often incorrectly assume how much knowledge our students have. 2. Readability formulas are tools, and like all tools, they are good for some tasks and not so good for others. It’s useful professional development to be familiar with these tools, and their strengths and limitations. Some focus on word lists, some on syllable count, some on sentence length and so on. …

The Stubborn Gap

The fight to close the disadvantage gap is far from over – but we mustn’t give up. This week sees the release of a report by the Fair Education Alliance in partnership with the Education Policy Institute. It is a ‘report card’ that gives a snapshot of the current state of UK education across early years, primary, secondary and further education, on a range of measures. The education sector can seem awash with such reports at times, but there are a number of headlines in this one to start alarm bells ringing. Here are a few of the key points raised: Poorer pupils in England are, on average, a year and a half behind their peers by the time they finish their GCSEs. Disadvantage gaps are larger, and are growing, in parts of the North. The most persistently disadvantaged pupils are almost 2 years (22.6 months) behind at the end of GCSEs – and that gap has increased since 2011. Post-16 education is becoming even more segregated, driven by an over-representation of disadvantaged students in …

Summer Writing Challenge

Calling all closet writers to the challenge of creating materials suitable for the struggling adolescent reader! It’s summer. The brief few weeks in which teachers uncoil, relax and (when they have had a chance to recover from the preceding year) become creative. I’ve met plenty of colleagues who love a good writing challenge, and I’m hoping that there will be some on Edu-Twitter who are up for this one. Our reading programmes are for the lowest 10% of readers at secondary school. They are used to teach children from 11 to 16 years old, so content needs to be age-appropriate. Lessons are built around texts that are interesting to these students in terms of subject matter, themes and relationships, and typically range from 700 – 1250 words. We are hoping to increase the number of texts we have available for publication, especially in the lower reading levels, so that we can provide more choice to schools, along with a reliable of supply of books. This challenge is for anyone from any background – English, science, …