All posts tagged: phonics

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 …

What Every Secondary Teacher Needs to Know About Reading

We haven’t posted much for the last few months because we’ve been putting our energies into a book that we hope will be helpful to secondary teachers in understanding why many of their students are struggling, and what can be done about it. Our book is called Thinking Reading: What Every Secondary Teacher Needs to Know About Reading. The first chapter deals with why secondary teachers need to know about reading. Although it is usually perceived as a ‘niche’ area in schools, reading actually pervades almost every area of academic learning, and indeed of life beyond school. Reading problems have downstream effects on students’ background knowledge, comprehension, vocabulary and writing. Most ‘low ability’ students are not lacking in intelligence, but in reading knowledge. Chapter Two deals with where these problems arise. How is it that so many children can complete eleven years of compulsory education and leave school functionally illiterate? You may well find the statistics in this area surprising, if not shocking. We examine common mistakes and misconceptions, and delve into the educational processes which …

How to find out what works in ‘What Works?’

Choosing an effective intervention may not be as difficult as you think. For school leaders looking for evidence on the effectiveness of literacy interventions, the go-to source is Professor Greg Brooks’ What works for children and young people with literacy difficulties? Published by the SpLD-Dyslexia Trust, this work compiles the available evidence on currently available interventions in reading, spelling and writing. Greg Brooks invites submissions, evaluates the data and collates the information into a form that enables reasonable comparisons to be made. Pre-dating the EEF’s “Toolkit”, and much more precisely described, What Works is now in its fifth edition. This blog post is prompted, however, by conversations with pressed senior leaders and SENDCOs who find that the sheer wealth of information seems too much to wade through. This is a step-by-step guide for secondary school leaders to simplify what may seem like a daunting process. Step 1: Identify the relevant age group The report is split up into sections covering primary, Key Stage 3 and above, and young adults. Step 2: Identify the relevant learning …

Reading Crisis? What Crisis?

The reading problem in our secondary schools is serious but solvable. I have long been pleased that the Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb, is a fan of the knowledge curriculum and a promoter of effective early reading instruction through systematic synthetic phonics, informed by the use of the Phonics Check – so I was looking forward to hearing him speak yesterday at researchED 2017 in Stratford. The introduction of the Phonics Check is important: not as it is often wilfully mis-described, but as a check on the impact of our ‘teaching’ (not the teacher, and certainly not the child). The Check enables us to change the teaching, should we need to. However, until we have uniformity in the effective teaching of early reading, we will continue to see children arrive at secondary school reading well behind. While some schools have adopted effective early reading practices, there is evidence that some schools still use a ‘mixed methods’ approach (with a sprinkling of phonics), or teach using multi-cueing, with phonics as a strategy of last resort. So …

Beware the Reading Traps

Avoid the pitfalls lying in wait for school leaders seeking help for struggling readers. If we can read, we tend to assume that reading is easy. In a large organisation like a secondary school, those who struggle to read can be overlooked, misunderstood, or not supported as they need to be. If you’re responsible for deciding on what interventions to use for reading, and how to monitor their impact, beware these traps! Trap 1 Assume that the purpose of the intervention is to compensate for a lack of ability, or to shield the student from the consequences of a lack of ability. The vast majority of reading problems can be resolved through effective teaching. Implication: Students should not be in reading interventions forever, or even long-term. Trap 2 Expect slow progress from students in reading interventions. This idea is based on the faulty assumption that poor reading equates to poor intelligence. It doesn’t. Students can make dramatic gains if taught effectively. One component of such teaching is to actively counter damaging labels that have reduced …

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. You can find out …

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