How to explain… structured discussion

2021-12-16T20:39:12+00:00November 9th, 2018|literacy|

Over the years I have become increasingly convinced that there is something particularly cognitively 'sticky' about speech. We are more likely to remember that which we have said than that which we have merely read or heard. One of the big problems teachers regularly encounter is that children who are able to articulate interesting opinions and make useful connections orally will often struggle to record these observations in writing. All too often this is because the way children have expressed themselves is the only way they have of expressing themselves. As literate adults, we have the ability to instantaneously translate between [...]

Why do some children struggle with reading?

2019-10-01T13:58:04+01:00September 20th, 2018|literacy, reading|

Janet and bloody John! When I was about 7, my primary school teacher told my parents that I would probably never learn to read. Apparently, the suspicion was that I might be mentally subnormal. My mother wasn't having any of that. Although she had no experience of teaching reading, she took me out of school, borrowed a set of the Janet and John reading scheme and set about teaching me to read. We spent several hours a day ploughing through the mind numbingly tedious 'adventures' of the flaxen-haired tykes. God I hated them Some weeks later she took me [...]

Leading literacy in schools

2018-05-03T14:05:07+01:00April 25th, 2018|literacy, training|

Leading on literacy can be a thoroughly thankless task. It can often feel like you’re working incredibly hard to produce resources and strategies which colleagues at best ignore and at worst resent. Part of the problem is that we’re expending effort in the wrong place and trying to persuade teachers to do the wrong things. Frustratingly, there’s very little guidance about how best to spend your precious time and it can be hard to find clear information on what approaches are likely to be most successful. My advice is to minimise the amount of time spent on apostrophe worksheets and spelling [...]

Is our behaviour a choice?

2017-08-11T11:50:52+01:00September 29th, 2016|behaviour, literacy|

Arguments about free will date back to ancient Greece, but the scientific consensus now tends towards the belief that free will is an illusion. It's become an article of faith in the life sciences that all organisations can be reduced to algorithmic processes written in our genes. We either respond to environmental stimuli either by rapidly and unconsciously processing the best option in terms of survival or through random biochemical blips. We may believe we choose our actions, but in actual fact, choice is an illusion.  If every choice we seem to make is just an electrochemical brain process - a deterministic reaction [...]

Can phonics help us spell better?

2016-06-13T13:12:39+01:00June 12th, 2016|literacy|

Children's author and high-profile opponent of phonics instruction, Michael Rosen recently wrote this blog casting doubt on the idea that learning phonics could help people spell. He was writing in response to an article written by Debbie Hepplewhite in Primary Matters. Here's the extract with which he takes issue: The job of teaching and applying the English alphabetic code for spelling is NOT done by the end of the infants - it is just the beginning of a long-term need to be attentive, and to get to grips with, English spelling as an ongoing part of reading and writing.* Michael's argument is that [...]

Reading difficulty is a teaching problem not an intelligence problem

2020-02-04T14:09:03+00:00February 4th, 2016|literacy, reading|

Education is a technology that tries to make up for what the human mind is innately bad at. Children don’t have to go to school to learn how to walk, talk, recognize objects, or remember the personalities of their friends, even though these tasks are much harder than reading, adding, or remembering dates in history. They do have to go to school to learn written language, arithmetic, and science, because those bodies of knowledge and skill were invented too recently for any species-wide knack for them to have evolved. Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate I've visited a lot of schools over [...]

Scaffolding: what we can learn from the metaphor

2015-05-11T20:39:58+01:00May 11th, 2015|literacy|

Pretty much everyone agrees scaffolding students' work is a 'good thing'. Whenever they get stuck we leap in with our trusty writing frames and help them get going. A good writing frame can teach an understanding of text coherence and structure, prompt metacognition and serve as jolly useful checklist. But I think we get a few things wrong. Thinking about where the scaffolding metaphor comes from is instructive. Builders use scaffolding to enable them to attempt projects which would be otherwise impossible - or at least very unsafe. They do not use scaffolding to help them knock together a dwarf wall in your [...]

Slow Writing at #researchED primary literacy conference

2015-04-25T19:52:10+01:00April 25th, 2015|literacy|

Here are the slides I used during my researchED presentation on Slow Writing (including some we didn't get around to looking at due to my rambling incoherence.) If you want to read more about it, do please read this post. But if you'd rather watch me struggle with a monstrous hangover, Leon Cych filmed it:

What to do about literacy

2017-03-17T12:44:52+00:00April 15th, 2015|literacy|

Over the last couple of years I've visited over 100 schools and practically none of them have got literacy right. Now obviously I only get asked to talk to schools who feel they can improve - maybe there are loads of schools out there who have got it right and they're just keeping quiet, But I doubt it. But if schools are struggling to implement literacy policies that actually have an impact on students it's not for want of trying. We know that poor literacy blights life chances. We know being able to read, write and speak with confidence and accuracy [...]

Closing the language gap: Building vocabulary

2014-11-16T23:53:27+00:00November 16th, 2014|literacy|

But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew, upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think. Lord Byron Like most teachers, as soon as pupils are sequestered in the exam hall I always used to race around trying to get my hands on the exam paper and anticipate how my eager charges will have coped. A few years ago I remember picking up the foundation tier GCSE English Literature paper and seeing a real gift of a question on the theme of dreams in Of Mice and Men. When they came streaming out I [...]

Negative framing and No Pens Days

2020-12-22T10:41:32+00:00October 16th, 2014|literacy|

The framing effect is an example of cognitive bias, in which our reactions to a choice depend on whether it is presented as a loss or a gain. Our tendency is to avoid risks when they're framed negatively and embrace risks when they are framed positively. For instance, we’re happy to pay home insurance on the off chance that our house is burnt to the ground, but we’d likely be unwilling to gamble the same amount of money on a horse race. Insurance makes us feel secure - we won’t lose what’s already ours - whereas gambling makes us feel we [...]

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