All posts tagged: mastery

7 ways to help the bottom third

It’s the time of year when we farewell Year 11 students, with a mixture of relief, anticipation, and sometimes a tinge of regret. For some, the promise of what they will do with their lives is so beautiful it almost intoxicating. For others, not so much: those students who strove, who struggled, who despaired, and sometimes gave up; the ones whom we instinctively feel should have done better, but we know are likely to end up with grades at 3 or even below. And it‘s at this time that we most wonder – could we have done something different? There are many potential reasons why students struggle. The learning that is being assessed at GCSE has accumulated over the years of the education, both inside and outside school walls. Skills that bear a single name – like ‘essay writing’ – are in fact are a composite of many different skills, which are themselves likewise a combination of more basic skills. Achievement comes from acquiring knowledge, then practising its application to mastery, then combining it with …

12 Qualities of an Effective Reading Teacher

Good systems need good people to deliver them. To have real impact, an intervention must have two things: an effective programme, and an effective teacher. No matter how good the programme is, its power to effect positive change will be aided or hindered by the person who is delivering it. Having trained numerous teams to deliver Thinking Reading, I have distilled a list of key qualities that teaching staff need to become ‘highly effective’ practitioners. I thought it might make interesting reading for others – it’s not a job description, just my observations on what makes the biggest difference. Here is my list: 1. Teachable As fluent readers, we can be blasé about the difficulty of teaching reading to older struggling readers because it is something that we learnt to do (often very easily) so many years ago, that it is a skill that we now perform with automaticity (fluently). We need to have a thorough knowledge-base so that we can teach systematically and not create any confusion. Thankfully, there is so much sound research that …

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 …

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 …

There is hope

Reading problems hinder attainment – but with wise leadership choices, there is hope. There is often a stubborn tail of low attainment that dogs our school results – students we wanted to do better, but for whom the mountain was too steep to climb. The vast majority of these students will have significant problems with reading – in decoding, comprehension, or both. And the cumulative effect of those problems will have seeped into every other area of their schooling. If, as the Read On, Get On campaign suggests, 20% of students arrive at secondary school reading well behind the level that they should, then potentially there are over 600, 000 students in the UK whose future attainment will be limited by poor reading. What is particularly alarming is that the campaign suggests that 40% of poor children fall into this category. Sometimes that sense of the scale of the problem can be very discouraging, but the reason I have been able to keep going is because there is hope. A large body of research has …

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 …

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 …