All posts filed under: School-wide Literacy

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 …

How to save time and money through screening

There is a widespread framework for intervention, sometimes known as Response to Intervention (RTI), which proposes that students can receive help at three different levels of intensity: Tier 1 – good quality classroom instruction and school structures that encourage learning. Tier 2 – small group instruction to address needs that a few students have in common. Tier 3 – intensive one-to-one instruction for students where Tier 2 is not effective.   Sometimes people are critical of this model as it is deemed an ineffective intervention, but this betrays a confusion: RTI is not strictly an intervention, it is model for delivering interventions – more specifically, for deciding how to allocate resources, so that those who need the most get the most. Recently I came across this short but useful practice brief on RTI implementation via the Institute for Evidence in Education. It is recommended reading for school leaders who are responsible for allocating resources. The issues covered in the report are very familiar: Timetabling and resourcing concerns are always tricky, but especially in the current …

Are grammar schools the best way to address social mobility?

You may think that providing disadvantaged children with the opportunity to attend a grammar school – supposedly resulting in a more academic education – would go some way to addressing that disadvantage, but it isn’t. It’s a diversion from a much more important solution. Once upon a time, I believed that grammars could be an effective way of addressing the problem – but having read contributions from both sides in the debate, have changed my mind. One reason is the impact on neighbouring schools. Having their highest achieving students ‘creamed off’ will just make it harder for schools to raise aspirations and attainment for the rest. The second reason is that, contrary to the government’s recent claims, low numbers of disadvantaged children succeed in getting into grammar schools. As Dr Rebecca Allen points out in ‘Ordinary working families’ won’t get access to grammar school – and government data confirms as much, genuinely disadvantaged children are seriously under-represented in selective schools. Students from wealthier backgrounds are far more likely to attend such schools. There are significant …

The Loneliness of the Literacy Coordinator

Actually, most of the literacy co-ordinators I know are sensible, well-adjusted and have lots of friends! But there are some things about the role that make it much more challenging than it appears to an onlooker. For one thing, literacy co-ordinators often have a very wide brief. They are often (but not always) meant to ensure that every class in every subject helps to build student’s reading and writing skills. Even with the most willing staff, this job is too much for one person with a teaching load. Inevitably, literacy co-ordinators have to choose which curriculum areas and year groups they prioritise. Another challenge is to navigate the many possible options for initiatives and interventions. Should the focus be on building a reading culture? On increasing reading mileage? On developing inference, contextual knowledge, response to text or decoding? Or ensuring that students encounter challenging texts in classrooms? Or building subject-specific vocabulary, or more generic, expressive vocabulary? What about extended writing? And how do we make sure that teachers are marking for literacy, and giving feedback? …

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 …

It’s Not Too Late

Our second session at ResearchED English and MFL, Oxford was entitled It’s Not Too Late to draw attention to a common misconception in secondary schools: namely, that students who are reading seriously behind when they arrive at secondary can never catch up. We surveyed the research and what it tells us about what it takes to enable struggling adolescent readers to succeed at something where they have always failed. The keys points are: 1 The difficulty of teaching reading has been underestimated; 2 Reading is more complex and less intuitive than we think; 3 Addressing the problems of older struggling readers is very intricate – and also immensely rewarding. We finished the session with some case studies to show just what is possible with regard to turning around reading failure at secondary school.   Download the reference list for both sessions here. Session 1: Wars and Waste You may also be interested in: Looking Past the Masks Building on the Evidence Why is there a reading problem in secondary schools? No Excuses Left