Seven ways to increase a student's chances of exclusion
24 September 2017
Our actions can have serious, if unintended, consequences for students.
Reading Crisis? What Reading Crisis?
10 September 2017
The reading problem in our secondary schools is serious but solvable.
Six Ways to Help Struggling Readers in Your Classroom
6 September 2017
How we treat reading problems in the classroom affects student outcomes – and our stress.
1 September 2017
Addressing serious reading problems creates new horizons for students – and schools.
Beware the Reading Traps
30 August 2017
Avoid the pitfalls lying in wait for school leaders seeking help for struggling readers.
A Heart For School Improvement
29 August 2017
What one issue lies at the heart of school improvement?
Can We Do More With Less?
27 August 2017
Effective use of resources depends on how well we know our students’ needs.
Climbing Mountains in Small Steps
19 August 2017
Learning moves faster in small steps.
I tried that and it didn't work . . .
16 July 2017
Education has a reputation for being subject to fads, where new ideas are adopted and then dropped.
How to save time and money through screening
14 June 2017
There is a well-known framework for intervention, known as Response to Intervention (RTI), which proposes that students can receive help at three different levels of intensity.
Are grammar schools the best way to address social mobility?
29 May 2017
You may think that providing disadvantaged children with the opportunity to attend a grammar school – supposedly resulting in a more academic education – would go some way to addressing that disadvantage, but it isn’t. It’s a diversion from a much more important solution.
The Loneliness of the Literacy Co-ordinator
22 April 2017
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. Read more . . .
Struggling Readers in the Secondary English Classroom
17 April 2017
“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. Read more . . .
The Bigger Picture
4 April 2017
I have been inspired by #picbookday today! It's reminded me how important picture books (and books in general) have been in our family.
Books and stories have always been a part of my life. Bedtime stories while all tucked up in bed. Listening to family stories told by Grandma. Starting school and learning to read with ease. Anticipating the weekly trips to the library every Friday. The huge, quiet space filled with books. Having the cards stamped and leaving with a pile books to keep me occupied over the weekend and beyond. A childhood spent devouring books. Read more . . .
It's not too late
1 April 2017
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 keys 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. Read more . . .
Wars and Waste
1 April 2017
These are the slides from our first session at ResearchED English and MFL, Oxford. The session was titled Wars and Waste to highlight two key ideas:
1 The lack of agreement and open conflict regarding the best ways to teach reading;
2 The immense waste this has created in time, money, and quality of life. Read more . . .
31 March 2017
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. Read more . . .
Does phonics help or hinder comprehension?
15 March 2017
A recent TES article headlined “Call for researchers to highlight negative 'side effects' of methods like phonics” drew a predictable response.
Though the article supplied not one piece of evidence to support the assertion that phonics had “negative side effects”, and despite the academic quoted having zero background or expertise in reading science, tweets and comments celebrated this damning of the barbaric practice of phonics in schools. Read more . . .
The Practitioners: Alison Clarke
26 February 2017
This is the first in an occasional series highlighting the work of people doing good things in the world of reading, language development, and research.
11 February 2017
What happens when we teach explicitly, systematically and optimistically.
We heard this week that Meols Cop High School had held their first Literacy Centre graduation ceremony. Lisa, the Literacy Lead, tweeted a photo of eight Year 11 students and their tutors. What they have achieved is amazing. Read more . . .
Looking Past the Masks
28 January 2017
It's easy to mistake symptoms for causes.
I have been thinking recently about how reading problems become more and more disguised as children get older. Instead of seeing a reading problem, we see all sorts of other problems instead. Read more . . .
Reading is Knowledge
15 January 2017
We shouldn’t confuse skills with knowledge.
What is perhaps less obvious is that learning to read is itself an exercise in acquiring knowledge. We tend to think of reading as a skill, or a set of skills, when in fact it is the application of knowledge. Read more . . .
Looking Back - old problems, new challenges
31 December 2016
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. Read more . . .
A Clear Channel
10 December 2016
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. Read more . . .
Literacy Leadership Part 3: Return on Investment
17 December 2016
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. Read more . . .
Literacy Leadership Part 2: Building with Care
5 November 2016
Transformation can be incremental
For the second part of this three-part series, we talked to Lisa Cliffe, the Literacy Lead at Meols Cop High School, an ‘outstanding’ school in Southport. Lisa is directly responsible for the day-to-day leadership of the Literacy Centre. This has given her a pivotal role in managing change as she implements the new intervention. Read more . . .
Literacy Leadership Part 1: Clear Vision
30 October 2016
What does it take to see real change in literacy outcomes?
When it comes to literacy, we all agree that it’s important. But that’s often the extent of our impact. There are multiple reasons why literacy intervention at secondary school often founders, and does so repeatedly. Read more . . .
Seven Steps to Improving Reading Comprehension
27 October 2016
We often test comprehension, but how do we teach it?
No Excuses Left
23 October 2016
So what if they can’t read? And whose fault is it anyway?
A recent discussion on Twitter provided something of a jolt for me. It is very easy for us to assume that we what know is also known by others who work in our field. So when it was suggested in a recent Twitter conversation that 15% of the UK’s population being functionally illiterate was not necessarily a big problem, I was taken aback. Despite the fact that the epidemic is largely silent, and certainly hidden from most highly literate people, there seemed to me to have been enough written and said on the topic in recent years that no one should be in any doubt as to the scale of the problem. But clearly, there is still work to be done. Read more . . .
Building on the Evidence
15 October 2016
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?” Read more . . .
2 October 2016
Can coloured lenses solve reading problems?
One of the most common ‘interventions’ for reading difficulties that we encounter in secondary schools is the use of coloured overlays or specially tinted glasses. This practice is based on the claim that reading difficulties in some students arise from a perceptual-motor problem, which means that certain visual backgrounds (eg white paper with black ink) make it difficult for students to identify and track symbols on the printed page. Read more . . .
Looking for Impact? Structure Matters
17 September 2016
Why do school structures matter when it comes to reading interventions?
Sometimes the obvious answers – or ‘the way we’ve always done it’ – turn out not to be the best solutions. Take reading interventions at secondary school. Usually, interventions for students who are reading at a low level are located within the SEN department, based on the following assumptions Read more . . .
Read For Your Life
1 September 2016
Reading is essential to the stability of society.
This last weekend we had the wonderful experience of being at a community gathering in Brittany, where Breton music was played, Breton songs were sung and traditional Breton dancing took place. There were teenagers dancing with grandparents, children dancing in groups, and older couples dancing too. Some of the dancers were clearly very experienced and proficient, but it didn’t matter if people were learners: participation, and passing on the culture, were what mattered. Read more . . .
A Towering Issue
28 May 2016
It was a real pleasure to run our first workshop for SLT, focused on strategies for whole school literacy, recently.
Despite the Southern Rail strike preventing some from travelling, a group of us met at Teach First, overlooking the steady stream of Thames river traffic and the Tower of London, while just to our right the flags of Tower Bridge fluttered. It’s an iconic location, and one that we shall miss when Teach First make their move to Greenwich in July. Read more . . .
16 April 2016
The latest edition of Prof Greg Brooks' work provides important insights - and raises questions.
We’ve been reading with great interest the updated edition of emeritus Professor Greg Brooks’ ‘What works for children and young people with literacy difficulties? The effectiveness of intervention schemes’. Professor Brooks has a strong overview of literacy interventions in reading, writing and spelling, having completed this analysis five times since 1998. Read more . . .
There is hope
9 April 2016
Despite the alarming statistics, I am hopeful.
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. Read more . . .
Is tackling literacy like wrestling an octopus?
22 March 2016
There are two main problems for those of us grappling with literacy in secondary schools: the multitude of problems, and the many different possible solutions.
In light of the frequent discussions we have with school leaders on these questions, we have decided to run a half-day workshop which enable participants to create a co-ordinated strategy which addresses classroom practice, group interventions, one to one interventions and challenging the more able. Read more . . .
Leveraging Literacy at Secondary School
5 March 2016
School leaders are uniquely placed to impact literacy.
Sometimes it’s difficult, in the maelstrom of school life, to step back and look objectively at literacy. While at first literacy may seem just a single strand of the curriculum, a deeper examination will often show how students’ behaviour and overall progress are tied to - or indeed, limited by – their reading and writing skills. Senior leaders are uniquely placed to create the conditions for literacy to flourish. Read more ..
Addicted to Denial?
6 February 2016
When it comes to the reading problem there appear to be two forms of denialism: the claim that there is no problem, and the claim that there is no solution.
The first claim goes something like this: "all the schools I know are doing a great job. The numbers of students who are not reading well must be very small. Besides, there is no evidence of large numbers of children leaving school unable to read." Read more . . .
1 February 2016
Assumptions based on our own experience do not necessarily inform a debate.
I have been interested in the debate around using DI scripts. There is perhaps a lack of familiarity in the UK with Direct Instruction scripts, how they are developed and their purpose. There are scripts, and scripts. Some people have suggested that preparing detailed lesson plans is equivalent to preparing a script. Read more . . .
Accountability? A Scandal for Schools
24 January 2016
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.
So it seems odd that what secondary schools aren’t measured on is the most fundamental academic skill: reading. Read more . . .
Reflections on Journeys
31 December 2015
It’s been a year of two kinds of journeys. For students, the journey is one through seemingly impassable obstacles to a new vantage point, a journey of not just discovery but also self-discovery.
This series of posts traces that journey from resistance through to engagement and through metamorphosis to independence. Read more . . .
Reflections on the Hard Road to Success
30 December 2015
As part of this year’s time of reflection, I have been considering my own sense of urgency in communicating to educators not only the enormous scale of the problem, but also that solutions to the problem already exist.
While most people are willing to accept the former, misconceptions about reading, intelligence and learning abound in education – often making it difficult to accept the idea that illiteracy is a solvable issue. Read more . . .
Reflections on Hidden Potential
29 December 2015
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. Read more . . .
Reflections on Challenge
28 December 2015
As the year draws towards its end, it is natural to look back and reflect, and to take stock.
Sometimes we see things in that broad overview from a fresh perspective. I’ve now been blogging for two years, and I can see that one of the themes I have come back to repeatedly is the challenge for secondary schools to meet their responsibilities to help students who struggle with reading. I don’t just mean doing something – I mean doing something that is demonstrably effective. Read more . . .
Improving Outcomes for Low Attainers
8 November 2015
I’ve borrowed Dianne’s blog to post 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! Read more . . .
The Road to Swindon Goes Ever On ...
8 November 2015
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! 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. Read more . . .
Peeling back the layers
28 October 2015
Once you look even a little below the surface, the state of reading in our secondary schools appears to be in sore need of structure and accountability.
One of the first tasks in the Innovation Partner support programme is to undertake some research into the ‘problem’ we are trying to solve. In our case, we want to study the extent of the reading ‘gap’ in secondary schools, but finding national data on reading at secondary has proven surprisingly difficult. Read more . . .
Choosing the right tools for the job
27 October 2015
When it comes to assessment, precision instruments are required.
The key to teaching children who are struggling is detailed, fine-grain assessment. Without the information derived from such assessment, teachers cannot target and teach the necessary skills and knowledge. For secondary-age students, who may be working some years behind their peers, effective assessment is absolutely necessary if they are to make rapid progress and catch up completely. Read more . . .
6 September 2015
Update on the Teach First Innovation Awards
We had a remarkable evening at the Teach First Innovation Awards on Thursday 3 September. There is a buzz and optimism about Teach First that is the tonic we need after so long feeling, as a former award winner described it, like a ‘lone wolf’. Read more . . .
Capturing the Magic
29 August 2015
Sometimes you have to step back in order to see things more clearly.
Going through the process of applying for a Teach First Innovation Award has been challenging but rewarding. Perhaps the greatest benefit has been in helping us to distil the message about how Thinking Reading works. Read more . . .
Into the Dragons' Den
19 August 2015
Lessons from taking part in the Teach First Innovation Awards.
A few months ago, we began to explore the Teach First Innovation Awards. Teach First aims to encourage an entrepreneurial approach to innovations in order to address social inequality through improved education. 'Innovation' can be a dire thing in education, as successive waves of innovation have come and gone, leaving little to show for their passing except tired teachers and bemused students. But of course innovation, when it is well-researched and informed by a solid evidence base, is not only useful but necessary. Read more . . .
How To Build Motivation
26 July, 2015
Does the skill of motivating others come naturally, or can it be learned?
What we find satisfying, we find motivating. But we all find different things satisfying, don’t we? What one person finds enjoyable another finds unpleasant. One person’s Marmite is another’s disgusting black goop. Read more . . .
18 July 2015
In order to let in fresh air, sometimes it's necessary to get rid of the clutter.
Schools can be dazzled by the marketing of the next 'answer' - or perhaps choose a little desperately, with metaphorically crossed fingers, overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and the range of competing 'solutions'. The end result is often a clutter of interventions jostling for space and time in an overcrowded curriculum. Read more . . .
Two for company - three for learning
4 July 2015
Do we underestimate the importance of instruction?
We quite rightly value the relationship between the teacher and the student. It forms the basis of everything that we want to achieve as teachers. Learning can thrive where there is trust and security; conversely, it is very difficult to learn when you feel stressed and anxious. As trusted adults, we need to ensure safety, respect, acknowledgement, encouragement and boundaries, so that children can focus on what school is supposed to be about: learning. Read more . . .
A Call for Accuracy
30 June 2015
Disagree if you like, but let's get the facts right.
One thing that I have enjoyed about Twitter and blogging is the constructive educational debates that occur from time to time. I am grateful for the feedback and comments on my recent series of posts challenging the view of reading disabilities as lifelong impairments. However, I am reluctantly writing this short post to correct misrepresentations of my position. Read more . . .
Marching to a Different Tune
30 June 2015
We don't have to live with the same old assumptions.
I have been a little perplexed at a couple of responses to one of my blog posts over the weekend which seemed to miss points that were either explicit in the post or well established in the literature. Read more . . .
Te Wero - The Challenge
28 June 2015
Māori have a custom that is part of the formal welcome, the pōwhiri. It is called Te Wero - The Challenge.
Warriors perform a martial display that challenges guests; then one lays down a token on the ground. If the token is accepted, the visitors show that they come in peace, and are welcomed. If not, they need to be prepared for battle. I feel that the time has come to issue my own 'wero' with respect to adolescent literacy. Read more . . .
The natural home for reading interventions
28 June 2015
English or SEN? Does it really matter who manages the delivery of a reading intervention?
If it's an intervention, it's SEN - that's the agreed wisdom. I makes sense, doesn't it? If an intervention is required, targeting a specific set of skills, then special educational needs have been identified and these should be addressed by SEN staff. Well, I'm not so sure. Read more . . .
SEND the right message
27 June 2015
It seems that SEN is the Cinderella of education.
Both physically and metaphorically, SEN provision is often relegated to the margins of the school. In the past it has been a somewhat arcane business in many schools, where leaders were reassured by an ethos of sympathy and bamboozled by the bandying of labels. Read more . . .
Cook to perfection
26 June 2015
Producing a high-quality product, like baking the perfect cake, requires the right ingredients, precision in assembly and cooking at just the right temperature for exactly the right amount of time. So it is with delivering well-designed CPD. Read more . . .
Combine with precision
21 June 2015
The very satisfying challenge of striking the right balance of ingredients in high-challenge CPD
In 'First, catch your chicken' I described the target skills that we aim to develop in tutors of Thinking Reading. But what does that look like? What is it like working through the six days of training? Read more . . .
Are all reading interventions created equal?
24 May 2015
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? Read more . . .
"You will always have students who will fail."
2 May 2015
I don't agree.
I firmly believe that, as teachers, we have the power to ensure that students do not fail. We have that responsibility. I have seen many students' behaviour change for the better from applying these principles. Read more . . .
Schools, Character and Justice
26 April 2015
Schools cannot teach character while we perpetrate injustice.
I've just read some fab posts on teaching character .... This set me thinking about inequality in schools, and how institutions tend to insulate themselves from reality rather than face up to the impact of their practices, especially on those with the least power. Read more . . .
7 Misconceptions About Teaching Adolescents to Read
14 March 2015
The scale of the problem of students leaving secondary school unable to read is an unnecessary tragedy.
This entirely preventable situation is exacerbated by some common misconceptions. Read more . . .
First, catch your chicken
1 March 2015
Training teachers to remediate reading problems requires detailed, systematic preparation
The first problem we had to resolve when developing a training programme was: what do teachers need to know in order to help secondary students with reading difficulties? Read more . . .
Can't Read, Won't Read: The Sequel - Learning to Fly
21 February 2015
Successful graduates may still need some structure in order to develop true independence.
One of the questions that is frequently raised with me is whether the gains students make can be seen transferring to the classroom. After all, if they really have made progress, it should show in their academic learning. Read more . . .
Can't Read, Won't Read: Part Three - Metamorphosis
18 February 2015
Diligent attention to details can bring rapid growth and startling transformations.
Ensuring the most conducive conditions for learning conditions is not optional for a Literacy Centre where we are working in the Last Chance Saloon of the student’s education. Read more . . .
Can't Read, Won't Read: Part Two - No Escape
14 February 2015
Our determination is the prerequisite for their success.
When students have a well-established history of failure, we need to make it impossible for them to fail. While that may sound an impossibility in itself, the conditions required for success are simpler than you might imagine. The real test is how determined we are to set up the conditions to make learning almost inevitable. Read more . . .
Pulling the Strands Together
7 February 2015
Students struggling with reading at secondary school need sophisticated teaching that includes – but is not limited to – phonics.
Jeanne Chall, the eminent reading researcher, distinguished ‘learning to read’ in the earlier years of primary education from ‘reading to learn’ for the years following (Chall, 1983). This distinction is widely accepted (Stanovich 1986, Boardman et al 2008, Hempenstall 2013) and is crucial to designing instruction for students in these later years of education. The demands of subject learning at secondary school require specific knowledge in order to facilitate comprehension, specific vocabulary to mediate domain-specific knowledge, and fluency in order to assimilate content and develop more complex academic skills. Read more . . .
5 Principles to ensure that literacy improves for all students
31 January 2015
These principles should guide schools' literacy policies in order to ensure that all students have access to the resources they need.
Teaching reading is the most fundamental responsibility of schools. Read more . . .
15 tests for secondary school reading interventions
25 January 2015
Wasting money is undesirable. Wasted time is irreplaceable. Read more . . .
A Matter of Sensitivity
18 January 2015
Do you know Angelo?
Angelo is struggling to keep up. Despite extra help, he is becoming more and more frustrated. He is reacting with increasing truculence to staff who try to support him in class. In homework club he is apathetic. He has been getting into more and more trouble lately, and the only time he seems to smile in class is when he is distracting others. Given one-to-one instruction, he drops the façade of nonchalance and tries. He really tries, so that a fine bead of sweat breaks out on his forehead. Read more . . .
10 Point Checklist: Literacy at Secondary School
17 January 2015
10 ways to ensure that literacy is implemented effectively across the school and in interventions. Read more . . .