All posts filed under: Principles of Learning

From novice to expert: seven signs your school is dealing with reading effectively

The focus is changing! It’s exciting to see the shift in attitude and intent towards teaching struggling readers at secondary school. When we started blogging on this subject six years ago (Why is there a reading problem in secondary schools? – 25 January 2014), it would be fair to say that in secondary schools and on social media, this was a topic of little interest to all but a few. The prevailing attitude was about compensating for reading difficulties and having lowered expectations, rather than teaching effectively to overcome these completely. In many cases, we encountered a complete denial of the scope of the problem (Addicted to Denial? – 6 February 2016). Where once this was seen as an area firmly in the province of SEN (The natural home for reading interventions (and it’s not SEN) – 28 June 2015), now many English Departments are grasping the nettle and taking responsibility (Te Wero – The Challenge – 28 June 2015). And thankfully, there is now an increasing acknowledgement that this is an area that calls …

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 …

What Every Secondary Teacher Needs to Know About Reading

We haven’t posted much for the last few months because we’ve been putting our energies into a book that we hope will be helpful to secondary teachers in understanding why many of their students are struggling, and what can be done about it. Our book is called Thinking Reading: What Every Secondary Teacher Needs to Know About Reading. The first chapter deals with why secondary teachers need to know about reading. Although it is usually perceived as a ‘niche’ area in schools, reading actually pervades almost every area of academic learning, and indeed of life beyond school. Reading problems have downstream effects on students’ background knowledge, comprehension, vocabulary and writing. Most ‘low ability’ students are not lacking in intelligence, but in reading knowledge. Chapter Two deals with where these problems arise. How is it that so many children can complete eleven years of compulsory education and leave school functionally illiterate? You may well find the statistics in this area surprising, if not shocking. We examine common mistakes and misconceptions, and delve into the educational processes which …

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, …

Climbing Mountains in Small Steps

Learning moves faster in small steps. ‘Bottom set.’ Two words that can make the colour drain from our faces, our eyes roll, or provoke a deep sigh. ‘Bottom set.’ The ‘low ability’ group. The ‘difficult’ and the ‘troubled’ students. Yes, they occur in other sets, too, but you know that if you have this class on your timetable, odds are there will be a lot of them – and you are in for a tough year. It doesn’t have to be like that, of course, but it often is. And I have certainly worked in schools where such groups – and their teachers – were treated with a mixture of pity and disdain. Of course, that may not be true in your school – but, realistically, how many heads of department timetable themselves to teach bottom sets? What does that tell us about the priority that these students are given? ‘Bottom set’ classes are often given the least experienced, or the least skilled, teachers – often supported by an LSA, who may or may not …

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 …

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 …

Building on the Evidence

How do you start to build an evidence base?  We all know that it’s important to know the evidence behind particular practices, both for what we do in the classroom and what we do in interventions. In education, we used to be subject to fads and fashions, but that is beginning to change. Now, we are much more likely to hear the question, “Where is your evidence?” This can only be a good thing – as long as people have a sound understanding of what constitutes evidence. Because randomised controlled trials have been touted as the “gold standard”, that is now all that “evidence” means for some. In reality, there is a hierarchy of types of evidence, and all of it is useful in some way. There is a process of collecting evidence prior to developing a randomised controlled trial, so that variables are understood and practices are validated as being worthy of investigation before the investment of time and money that RCTs require. But there’s an obvious problem here for curriculum and intervention designers. How do you …

Two for company – three for learning

Do we underestimate the importance of instruction? We quite rightly value the relationship between the teacher and the student. It forms the basis of everything that we want to achieve as teachers. Learning can thrive where there is trust and security; conversely, it is very difficult to learn when you feel stressed and anxious. As trusted adults, we need to ensure safety, respect, acknowledgment, encouragement and boundaries, so that children can focus on what school is supposed to be about: learning. I want to suggest something that on the one hand seems so obvious but on the other often seems to be overlooked. In order for learning to occur, there is a third element in the interaction besides the teacher and the student – the instruction. As teachers we can tend to see ourselves as central to the instruction. It’s important to be able to separate ourselves, both emotionally and logically, if we want to critique and improve our practice. I have learned that with good instructional design, whoever teaches the lesson, the student will learn. There …

7 Misconceptions About Teaching Adolescents to Read

The scale of the problem of students leaving secondary school unable to read is an unnecessary tragedy. This entirely preventable situation is exacerbated by some common misconceptions: 1  If students haven’t learnt to read by the time they reach secondary school, it is too late. Secondary schools usually have two responses regarding these students. First, they believe that it is the role of primary schools to teach reading. It most certainly is – ideally students will be well on the way to becoming confident readers by the end of KS1. However, this does not relieve secondary schools of their responsibilities to all their students. The second response is: if students haven’t learnt to read by the end of KS2, there must be something wrong with them, so the school will need to put in place additional supports to compensate for this problem. Surely, the most fundamental aim of schools is to teach children to read. Blaming the preceding teacher or school (or the home) does not absolve anyone of this requirement. There is enough evidence available to put this excuse …