All posts filed under: Principles of Learning

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 …

Reflections on the Hard Road to Success

As part of this year’s time of reflection, I have been considering my own sense of urgency in communicating to educators not only the enormous scale of the problem, but also that solutions to the problem already exist. While most people are willing to accept the former, misconceptions about reading, intelligence and learning abound in education – often making it difficult to accept the idea that illiteracy is a solvable issue. 7 Misconceptions About Teaching Adolescents to Read. This post addresses seven key misconceptions that act as barriers to effective action. It is surprising and alarming how pervasive these ideas are. The post can be downloaded as a PDF. Pulling the Strands Together shows how the research on effective reading instruction – including effective remedial reading instruction for adolescents – can be applied to school practices. The problem has in fact been solved – it is up to us to be committed enough to apply the solutions. Code-Teaching or Code-Breaking? is, by some way, the most read post on this site. It sets out the two …

Reflections on Hidden Potential

One of the themes I have been reflecting on is the great tragedy of modern education: the wasted potential of literally millions of students who underachieve because they were not taught to read properly. There are two main reasons for this: poor reading strategies in early reading, and artificial ceilings caused by low expectations derived from low reading performance – in short, labels. The natural home for reading interventions (and it’s not SEN) challenges this practice of assigning students a disability label based on how well they are reading. The evidence is that when taught explicitly and systematically (and when faulty ‘guessing’ strategies have been addressed) nearly all but a handful of students can read at the ‘normal’ level for their age. Without doubt, this post generated the strongest reactions from readers. “You will always have students who will fail” deals with low expectations based on poor behaviour. By making use of basic principles, more specialised strategies, and effective whole school systems, it is possible to turn students around. And when we consider that poor …

The Road to Swindon Goes Ever On …

It perhaps fitting that the title of my first ResearchED presentation should be The Road Goes Ever On. The drive to Swindon became interminable: queuing in London traffic because of diversions, queuing to get out of London, and then queuing for ten miles on the M4 because one lane was blocked for a few hundred yards. A drive of an hour and a half took three hours. Happily, the conference was a much more well-organised affair! The facilities were excellent, the IT support was exemplary, and the prefects were charming and willing helpers. David Didau certainly pulled together a great team who did a superb job in ensuring that the day ran without a hitch. My thanks to those who came to my session and were very patient as I worked my way through my presentation without access to my laptop notes. Here are my slides with a summary of the notes below:   I began by showing images of the journey I undertook each week when I began my teacher training. It was meant to …

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 …