All posts tagged: fluency

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 …

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 key 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.   Session 1: Wars and Waste Download the reference list for both sessions here. Visit our website. 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

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 …

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 …

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 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 …

Improving outcomes for low attainers

Here are the slides and notes from my session from ResearchEd yesterday. I found the warmth and enthusiasm of everyone at the event very refreshing. And Swindon Academy did themselves and their community proud!   The talk was arranged in seven sections: the first was a short intro explaining that I am not an expert, but that my opportunities to come to grips with education and special needs certainly had that ‘threshold’ effect on me: they completely changed my view of teaching and learning. It is clear that if we use the precision required for empirical, data-based methods, we can have a significant effect on the competence and confidence of students who have struggled at school. The second section dealt with the key underlying principle, which is that lower progress learners require much more sensitive assessment and progress measures. Lessons, tasks and learning goals need to analysed at a fine level in order to ensure that underlying gaps in knowledge are addressed, and foundations are coherent and strong. The key point in the third section was to use morphology when teaching vocabulary, since …