All posts tagged: code-based

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 …

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 …

Are all reading interventions created equal?

Does it really matter which one we choose? Surely it’s the fact that we are doing something that matters? And Reading Recovery has been around for years, hasn’t it? It’s been tried and tested in primary schools. It’s the government approved early reading intervention in New Zealand – they must be onto something? It’s funny how we are swayed by the familiarity of a product. By its very ubiquity we assume that something must be valid and effective. I have had Thinking Reading continually described by one headteacher as being ‘reading recovery’ purely because, for him, that was the generic term for all reading interventions. He regarded me as a little precious when I pointed out the inaccuracy of the descriptor. This was not a one-off: I have repeatedly heard primary school LSAs say that they have supported children with ‘reading recovery’ which was, in fact, just one-to-one tuition. At my first interview in the UK, I was also asked if I was trained in Reading Recovery. The advice given to the school when they …

So what is it that you do . . . ?

Answering this question can prove more difficult than you might expect. Over the last fifteen years, I have developed a programme that helps secondary students with the most serious reading problems to catch up very quickly; now I work with schools to develop a cohesive whole-school literacy strategy, and train staff in close assessment and how to deliver the Thinking Reading programme. That’s simple enough. But there is always the next question: so how does the programme work? It’s not just  that there are so many elements in any given half-hour Thinking Reading lesson; there is also trying to explain that there is a rational, research-tested basis for the way they are arranged, and how each stage progresses to the next lesson. And, of course, there is the tricky business of language, so that when I say ‘precision teaching’ or ‘direct instruction’, an entirely different conversation may be happening in the other person’s head!  First of all, we start with really thorough assessment. We want to know whether the student has problems with decoding, comprehension, …

Why We Can’t Remember How We Learned

One of the major problems with teaching reading (and training teachers to teach reading) is that of the Universal Expert: “I read, therefore I can teach reading.” As we have argued elsewhere, the knowledge base for teaching reading is “extensive, hidden and complex”. The truth is that teachers often underestimate the difficulty of the process  – at least for some learners – because we do not take a sufficiently systematic approach. In other words, we cannot remember how we ourselves started ‘at the bottom’ and worked our way up. This is not surprising. Some readers intuit the code much more quickly than others. Some of us come from homes where print was everywhere, where talking about books and stories was common, where reading aloud and sharing books was part of normal, everyday life. There is, however, a significant proportion of students who do not intuit the code, or who only receive regular exposure to print once they get to school (and even then, not enough). These students must be taught the knowledge and skills they …

Code-Teaching or Code-Breaking?

Code-breaking is what you do when you don’t know the code.  There are two main approaches to teaching reading, which can be summarised as code-based and meaning-based. Code-based teaching works on the premise that there is a known, culturally shared, symbolic code. This written code represents another, spoken code. Teaching the relationship between these two codes is the focus of systematic synthetic phonics. Because it is not a natural process to interpret written symbols, this aspect of language must be taught systematically and explicitly to ensure that all readers not only acquire, but also master the skill. Once the code is mastered, the meaning of the text is available to the student and the cognitive benefits of reading accumulate. The Enigma Machine The meaning-based approach to reading, exemplified in whole language and its descendant Reading Recovery, takes a code-breaking rather than a code-teaching approach. The text is approached as a puzzle to be solved, analogous to deciphering an intercepted wartime message. The code-breaker might consider the participants: from whom? To whom? Then there is the question …