All posts filed under: From the Chalk Face

Choosing an Intervention: Who Does It Help?

To know if an intervention is effective, we need to know who it helps most.  Schools are rightly making more of an effort to evaluate the evidence for interventions before investing in them. This is a good thing, not least because poor interventions waste students’ time, the most finite but least appreciated commodity in the education system. However, such evaluation requires looking past the headline averages. Let’s say an intervention is reported as enabling students to make 24 months’ progress in a few weeks. Unless we know the characteristics of these students, we really can’t tell if this intervention is likely to be of benefit to the pupils about whom we are concerned. There are two main questions to address: how were students selected for the intervention, and how far behind expectations were they to begin with? Question 1: How were students selected for the intervention? Was it just a one-shot test? The fact that a standardised test has been used does not automatically mean that the student’s score is a true indication of their performance. …

Allies and Friends

It takes a movement to conquer illiteracy. It was a tough decision.  Would I stay in my school, with my programme and my team, and enjoy seeing students succeed where they had previously failed? Or would I take the leap, strike out on my own to develop the programme and so enable many more children to leave school reading well? When I did make the leap, it proved to be even harder than I expected. First of all it required building an organisation from scratch, which is no mean feat.  Secondly, I quickly found that while many people sympathise with the cause of improving reading, few are willing to be its champions. I can say with some confidence that if it wasn’t for the support of allies and friends, I wouldn’t have made it this far. This post is about how important they are, and why they  too are worthy of support. We had our first breakthrough with Teach First: we applied for the 2015 Innovation Award and were one of the five winners. There are …

12 Qualities of an Effective Reading Teacher

Good systems need good people to deliver them. To have real impact, an intervention must have two things: an effective programme, and an effective teacher. No matter how good the programme is, its power to effect positive change will be aided or hindered by the person who is delivering it. Having trained numerous teams to deliver Thinking Reading, I have distilled a list of key qualities that teaching staff need to become ‘highly effective’ practitioners. I thought it might make interesting reading for others – it’s not a job description, just my observations on what makes the biggest difference. Here is my list: 1. Teachable As fluent readers, we can be blasé about the difficulty of teaching reading to older struggling readers because it is something that we learnt to do (often very easily) so many years ago, that it is a skill that we now perform with automaticity (fluently). We need to have a thorough knowledge-base so that we can teach systematically and not create any confusion. Thankfully, there is so much sound research that …

Seven ways to increase a student’s chances of exclusion

Our actions can have serious, if unintended, consequences for students.  No doubt we would all be appalled by the suggestion that we might be contributing to a student’s chances of being excluded. But the reality is that there are many practices, culturally and systematically embedded in schools, that ensure some students are at much higher risk than they need to be. For the purposes of illustration, here is a short ‘guide’ on how to make a student much more likely to be excluded. Get them off to a bad start in reading. Nothing has more impact on a student’s education than reading, so make sure that those who come to school disadvantaged stay that way. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to have a significantly smaller oral vocabulary than their more well-off peers. Unless this is addressed systematically, such students will fall further and further behind. Not only that, but their more limited exposure to language means that they have less opportunity to intuit the written code. To make them feel like reading isn’t for them, …

Six Ways to Help Struggling Readers in Your Classroom

How we treat reading problems in the classroom affects student outcomes – and our stress. There is often an expectation at secondary school that if students haven’t learned to read well by the time they begin Year 7, it’s probably indicative of a lack of ability.  This may be related to a hangover from the 11+ exam, or it may simply be prejudice. It’s certainly not based on anything factual. There is plenty of evidence – some of it on this blog and on our website – that students can catch up remarkably quickly when given explicit, systematic teaching. However, this sort of teaching is closely targeted, has most impact in a one-to-one format, and doesn’t always fit into the organisation of the general secondary classroom. So what do we do about helping struggling readers to cope, and even improve, while grappling with the regular curriculum? Here are six suggestions: Know who they are It might sound trivial, but it’s not. This UK study found, for example, that only half the poor readers in the …

New Horizons for Struggling Readers at Secondary School

Addressing serious reading problems creates new horizons for students – and schools. One of the most stubborn problems for school leaders is that of students who could perform much better than they do, but for whom reading is a barrier to achievement. Such students can  be easily misunderstood, labelled as incapable, troublesome or disabled, and leave school with little if any benefit from eleven or more years of schooling. In addition to difficulties of curriculum access, poor reading also hinders the acquisition of knowledge, affects self-esteem and mental health, and undermines confidence. It is often associated with disruptive behaviour and disengagement. The effects of poor reading are pervasive and lifelong, contributing to a higher risk of unemployment, low income, ill health and shorter life expectancy. If schools exist for anything, shouldn’t they exist to eliminate illiteracy? Conversely, successfully addressing serious reading difficulties has the potential to positively influence the factors above, such as behaviour, self-esteem, confidence, and mental health. In turn, progress in these areas contributes to a more positive school culture. Put that alongside …

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 …