All posts filed under: From the Chalk Face

I tried that and it didn’t work . . .

Education has a reputation for being subject to fads, where new ideas are adopted and then dropped. It seems to me that this is not so much because teachers are lazy, but because we are so enthusiastic, and always eager for new ways to help our students. Approaches that we think ‘work’, we keep in our arsenal, while we discard those that ‘don’t work’. There is always the next new thing. We had Brain Gym, VAK, and NLP. We had versions of AfL that reduced it to lolly sticks and endless ‘dialogue’ marking. More lately we’ve had grit, growth mindset, and mindfulness. We have cold calling, interleaved practice, and worked examples. These approaches range from having no evidence, to misinterpreted evidence, to quite sound evidence. Sometimes it’s our intuition, rather than the evidence, that has made an approach appealing. Responding to superficial features rather than checking the evidence for ourselves can lead to a lot of trouble later on. But there is another problem. It’s the comment in the title of this post: “I tried …

Struggling readers in the secondary English classroom

“They just can’t access the texts.” This is one of the most frequent comments we hear when we train in schools or take workshops. All over the country, students with the potential to do better are held back because of weak reading skills. Often these students are articulate in conversation and have good listening comprehension. Sometimes they can decode accurately, but have little clear idea of the content that they have just read. Sometimes they have limited vocabulary and, even if they can decode the words on the page, they still cannot grasp the meaning of the text. Such problems have been even more acute for teachers and students since the reading demands of GCSE have become more challenging. The old paradigm of labelling such children as having a ‘specific learning difficulty’ won’t do. Naming a problem is not the same as providing a solution. There is sound research evidence to show that with systematic, explicit and carefully monitored instruction, all the problems described above can be ameliorated, if not eliminated. We have put together …

The Bigger Picture

I have been inspired by #picbookday today! It’s reminded me how important picture books (and books in general) have been in our family. Books and stories have always been a part of my life. Bedtime stories while all tucked up in bed. Listening to family stories told by Grandma. Starting school and learning to read with ease. Anticipating the weekly trips to the library every Friday. The huge, quiet space filled with books. Having the cards stamped and leaving with a pile books to keep me occupied over the weekend and beyond. A childhood spent devouring books. I remember the first book we bought for our eldest daughter when she was a baby – Each Peach, Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, now a bit more the worse for wear, but still treasured. As part of my ITT, I took a course on The Picture Book for one semester and amassed a bibliography over 200 picture books. You could say that it was a bit of a passion. Once I was in the classroom all that experience …

The Practitioners: Alison Clarke

This is the first in an occasional series highlighting the work of people doing good things in the world of reading, language development, and research. Alison Clarke, Melbourne, Australia Alison has been a Speech Pathologist since 1988, has a Masters in Applied Linguistics and an ESL teaching certificate. She has been in private practice since 2000, addressing school-aged children’s reading/spelling and speech, language and/or social interaction difficulties. Website and blog: Spelfabet I am a great fan of Alison’s blog and always look forward to receiving email notifications of her new posts. Her posts bridge the gap between research and practice in clear, accessible language. She writes succinctly and with compassion, demonstrating her thorough grasp of the knowledge and methodology around language, reading and writing using well-chosen examples. Alison is a strong supporter of evidence-based practice, but I also appreciate the respectful and positive approach she takes to debate. Alison has a wide range of useful resources available on her website, some of them for free. Here is a selection of her blogposts – I could …

The Graduates

What happens when we teach explicitly, systematically and optimistically. We heard this week that Meols Cop High School had held their first Literacy Centre graduation ceremony. Lisa, the Literacy Lead, tweeted a photo of eight Year 11 students and their tutors. What they have achieved is amazing. To ‘graduate’ means that the student can read graded unseen material at their chronological age – that is, they have caught up completely, and are now reading within the average range for their age group. Given that all students started out reading at least three years behind, this is impressive – especially when it has happened in a matter of months. Making rapid progress also improved the students’ confidence, self-esteem, and motivation. Lisa has been struck by the development of  a ‘growth mindset’ – not through focusing on growth mindset, but by teaching in a systematic, explicit way so that students gain success every step of the way. This success begins to make them believe in themselves and their power to learn.  The impact is evident to teachers around the school, …

Looking Past the Masks

It’s easy to mistake symptoms for causes. I have been thinking recently about how reading problems become more and more disguised as children get older. Instead of seeing a reading problem, we see all sorts of other problems. At first, Richard is excited to be attending Tree Tops School. He is looking forward to learning about maths and science, and he enjoys stories. He is a bit slow to pick up reading in the way many others are, so the teacher talks to his mother about making sure he reads the books at home that he struggled with during the school day. Mum does her best, but with three other children it’s not easy to help Richard, who is already trying to avoid books as they cause him frustration. Besides, if the teacher can’t sort it, she reasons, how can I? At this stage, Richard’s reading problem is acknowledged, but it is not seen as urgent; he will read when he is ready. After a couple of years, Richard’s problems are more pronounced and much more …

Looking Back – old problems, new challenges

2016 has been a very challenging, but rewarding, year. Establishing a rigorous, powerful approach to reading intervention in secondary schools takes time to embed: There is a great deal for teaching staff to take on board, school systems need to be adjusted, and school culture must also begin to change. It has been very satisfying to work in schools across England, and to see the early evidence of impact. One of the major needs in education is for schools to accept the scale of the illiteracy problem, and to persuade them that it is necessary and possible for them to take responsibility for addressing this situation. These posts raised questions for school leaders: Accountability? A Scandal for Schools In what has been called the age of managerialism and accountability, schools seem to be measured for everything: not just GCSE grades, but levels of progress, Progress 8, EBacc results, value-added, attendance, exclusions, all within a wide range of ‘context’ measures. Addicted to Denial? When it comes to the reading problem there appear to be two forms of …