All posts filed under: From the Chalk Face

Doors to Opportunity

January is named after Janus, the god of doors, who looks both backwards and forwards. As always at this time of year, it is a time to reflect on the previous year as we revise and make plans for the year to come. Here are this blog’s most popular posts of 2017 : Does phonics help or hinder comprehension? Seven Steps to Improving Reading Comprehension Reading is Knowledge Recommended Reading for Adolescent Struggling Readers: Fiction Series Six Ways to Help Struggling Readers in Your Classroom 7 Misconceptions About Teaching Adolescents to Read Seven ways to increase a student’s chances of exclusion Beware the Reading Traps Code-Teaching or Code-Breaking? Pulling the Strands Together Now we stand on the threshold of another year. I read with interest the replies to a tweet asking, “If you could change one thing in education / schools in 2018, what would it be?” (The replies were summarised in this blog post.) Unsurprisingly, funding was at the top of the list. People were also concerned with political interference, accountability pressures, and recruitment and …

Recommended Reading for Adolescent Struggling Readers: Fiction Series

There are 41 series listed below (377 books)  – hopefully something to appeal to a wide range of struggling readers! One of the great pleasures of teaching is to connect students with books, and a sound strategy for keeping them reading is to turn them on to a good series. If they like one book by an author, they’ll almost certainly want to read more in the same series. In this way we can hugely increase reading mileage without having to constantly foist books on our students. Not only that, but as their enthusiasm builds, so does their willingness to share. If they are hooked on a series, they will tell others about it. Hooked readers are the best advertising. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of authors and series – some more recent, some from a few decades back, and others from the mists of the early twentieth century – for students who need an accessible story, surprises, interesting characters and connections to other books in the same series. Lloyd Alexander Publisher’s author …

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 …