All posts filed under: Training

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 …

Erratum

We spent a fabulous evening at the Teach First Innovation Awards last night. This year’s winners gave powerful and convincing presentations, and the Innovation Unit’s organisation and enthusiasm made it a vibrant occasion. Congratulations to all concerned! It was also lovely to be one of the previous winners profiled in the Schools Week supplement on the Innovation Awards. However, as sometimes happens things can be misconstrued in the interview process. In the interests of clarity, we need to correct two important details: The price quoted is a one-off cost for training and materials – it is not an annual fee. At the request of some of our partner schools we are in the process of putting together an on-going support package which will cover the cost of such things as monitoring student progress and training new staff, but this will be a separate option from the setup. We don’t use music in our programme! Occasionally, some children have unusual difficulty with segmenting and blending phonemes (the smallest unit of sound in speech). The phonemic awareness …

A Time To Think, A Time To Act

Time out for planning can have a big impact on good decision-making.  For secondary school leaders, it can be hard to know where to start when addressing literacy problems. Should we focus on what will give small gains to as many students as possible? Should we use one-to-one tuition or small groups? Will a focus on quality-first teaching in the classroom be enough? How do we intervene with the most stubborn learning problems, and how can we equip our staff with the skills they need to resolve the complexities of reading difficulties at this level? We encounter these questions often. In response, we have designed a one-day workshop aimed at senior leaders with a whole-school role in improving literacy and, by implication, student outcomes. We will be focusing on what works in the classroom, when and how to run small group instruction, and how to decide on an effective strategy for the poorest readers. We know that one of the most valuable aspects of such events is to spend time comparing notes with leaders from other schools; another is to have …

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 …

Literacy Leadership Part 3: Return on Investment

Smart leaders invest wisely. Investment in reading has long-term payoffs. Investment in turning around reading failure, especially at secondary school, is an intensive business. Consider this from G Reid Lyon, one of America’s foremost reading researchers: “We have learned that for 90% to 95% of poor readers, prevention and early intervention programs that combine instruction in phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency development, and reading comprehension strategies, provided by well trained teachers, can increase reading skills to average reading levels. However, we have also learned that if we delay intervention until nine-years-of-age, (the time that most children with reading difficulties receive services), approximately 75% of the children will continue to have difficulties learning to read throughout high school. To be clear, while older children and adults can be taught to read, the time and expense of doing so is enormous.” It is exactly this problem that Thinking Reading sets out to solve in secondary schools. We aim to ensure that struggling readers learn more in less time, that they catch up quickly and completely, and that intervention has minimum …

A New Channel

This term has been a time of significant development for Thinking Reading. James Murphy (@HoratioSpeaks) joined the team full-time, with a focus on supporting secondary schools to adapt their systems and resources to better target students in need of literacy help. We’ve also begun to scale up, with the support of the Teach First Innovation Unit, increasing the number of regions in which we are working: the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands, East of England, the South-West, the South-East and London. As the number of schools has grown, so has the need for a clear channel of news and information. We have set up a new Twitter account (@ThinkingReadin1) for this purpose. We would have preferred @ThinkingReading but that was taken some years ago by what now seems like an unused account. We’re hoping that Twitter will be able to release it. As well as keeping schools and practitioners up-to-date, there will also be a strong focus on research and its application, particularly with respect to the most effective ways to help students in need of …