Back to school Part 3: Literacy

2015-01-04T18:28:17+00:00August 21st, 2014|literacy|

This series of #backtoschool blogs summarises much of my thinking as it’s developed over the past few years and is aimed at new or recently qualified teachers. Each area has been distilled to 5 ‘top tips’ which I hope prove useful to anyone embarking on a career in teaching. That said, I’ll be delighted if they serve as handy reminders for colleagues somewhat longer in the tooth. It's all very well establishing all those routines and relationships, but sooner or later you'll have to teach them something. And whatever you teach, you'll also be teaching literacy. Every time you open your mouth you’re modelling how to speak; every time you ask students to [...]

A reblog: Teachers: show your working

2014-08-02T23:04:35+01:00August 2nd, 2014|literacy|

I know it's pretty cheap to reblog a post which sings your praises (and to be fair, I don't do it much) but this evaluation of a session on The Secret of Literacy I gave at Teach First's Impact Conference last week by primary teacher Jon Brunskill struck a chord. In it he talks about the concept of 'enlightened competence' and very kindly suggests that my ideas about literacy had the effect of engendering this quality in the audience. Maybe so, but more importantly (for me) it made me notice my own practice and descend - or ascend - into some sort [...]

Reading ability: nature or nurture?

2016-10-16T10:43:07+01:00July 14th, 2014|literacy|

For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Matthew, 13:12 The Matthew Effect has become something of a truism. Those with find it easy to acquire more, whereas those without are trapped into a vicious cycle of poverty and disadvantage. Clearly this is a matter of social injustice: if only we could ensure that all were treated equally then we could do away with such asymmetry. This is something I've been particularly interested in ever since hearing Geoff Barton refer to Daniel Rigney's [...]

Revisiting Slow Writing – how slowing writing might speed up thinking

2020-03-10T19:54:01+00:00June 19th, 2014|literacy|

Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast. Shakespeare It's been a while since I first wrote about Slow Writing and in that time it's rather taken on a life of its own. Today I had the interesting experience of someone excitedly telling me about this 'great idea' they'd been using to transforming students' writing, and guess what? Now, I don't want to suggest that I'm precious about it or that it's in any way 'mine', but it is one of the relatively few good original ideas I've had and I feel a certain sense of paternal pride in its increasingly viral [...]

The curse of cursive: Are we fetishising joined up writing?

2014-05-29T13:06:41+01:00May 29th, 2014|literacy|

Back in 2008 I had for a Head of English position. At one point during the morning, candidates were asked what aspect of English education was most important to them. I honestly have no memory of what I came up with, but I do remember another candidate saying that for him it was handwriting. He failed to make the cut. Handwriting really doesn't matter that much in most secondary schools. As long as pupils' writing isn't an illegible scrawl, teachers tend not to care too much about what it looks like. But this isn't the case in primary schools. My daughters both [...]

3 reasons why you should read The Secret of Literacy

2014-09-24T22:57:03+01:00May 10th, 2014|literacy|

This is, unashamedly, a sales pitch for my new book, The Secret of Literacy: making the implicit explicit which should be available in the next few days. Apologies if such blatant self-promotion offends your sensibilities, but do bear with me; it won't be a hard sell. Who's the book for? Teachers. All teachers. It's definitely not aimed at English teachers, although I would hope they'll find it useful. Neither is it aimed at literacy coordinators; there are better practical guides on how to roll out a literacy policy. And it's not aimed at secondary specialists although the overwhelming majority of my experience has been in [...]

Do we value pupils' writing?

2014-04-26T00:07:01+01:00April 26th, 2014|literacy|

Why do we ask pupils to write? There may be very many answers to that question but in my experience of working with teachers and observing lessons, overwhelmingly, teachers ask pupils to write in order to check that lesson content has been understood. This is of course a worthy aim, but do we value the actual writing? Leadership guru, John C. Maxwell said, "To add value to others, one must first value others." Likewise, to add value to pupils' writing, one must first value pupils' writing. In a lesson I observed last year, a science teacher had taught her Year 8 class about Marie [...]

A simple theory about writing

2016-09-23T13:39:51+01:00April 23rd, 2014|literacy|

The first thing to say is this is not in any way supposed to be a complete or unified theory - I'm well aware that there are many other important strands to improving pupils' writing and have written about many of them before. But I do think this theory (which has been bubbling away on my mental back burner for a while now) describes just one of the processes that can turn otherwise able pupils from poor writers into much more able ones. That said, I tend to get a bit over excited about these sorts of things and am often mistaken. [...]

What I've learned about functional grammar

2014-03-06T18:42:37+00:00March 6th, 2014|literacy|

Yesterday I had the good fortune to listen to Professor Mary Schleppegrell from the University of Michigan talk about how functional grammar is having an impact on EFL students in US schools. Ever since reading Lee Donaghy's evangelistic account of its importance I've been batting it around and trying work out what to do with it. But I'm a big fan of traditional grammar teaching and I couldn't really see the point in teaching pupils another grammar system. How would they actually use it? So beyond getting my head round the principles, I've largely ignored it. Now though, I see the light. As Lee [...]

The dyslexia debate – is the label 'meaningless'?

2014-02-27T14:01:02+00:00February 27th, 2014|literacy|

Back in May last year I wrote a post which asked whether dyslexia actually exists. Some people really liked it and others (particularly those with children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia) got pretty angry: it's one of my most commented on posts. With the imminent release of professor Julian Elliott's new book, The Dyslexia Debate, a bit a media storm has blown up. Yesterday I was asked by BBC local radio to be interviewed on the Mark Forrest show and The Independent got in touch to see if I would write a short article summarising my thoughts. Naturally, being a big old show off [...]

The glamour of grammar: in context or not?

2015-11-09T14:55:47+00:00February 13th, 2014|English, literacy|

It's something of an understatement to say that glamour and grammar are not usually closely associated in many people's minds. One of the 100 words David Crystal uses to tell The Story of English is ‘grammar’. It turns out that grammar and glamour come from the same root. Grammar originally meant the study of everything written but, as reading must have seemed like an almost magical skill to your average medieval peasant, grammar became synonymous with supernatural or occult knowledge. ‘Grammary’ came to mean magical or necromantic learning. And this leads us to ‘glamour’ which first meant a magical spell or enchantment and has since [...]

Some reviews of The Secret of Literacy

2014-01-18T14:44:58+00:00January 18th, 2014|literacy|

To further whet your appetite for my forthcoming book and in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I thought I'd share a couple of pre-release reviews. (Just in case you weren't aware, it's out on 31st January, and I'm quite pleased with it!) First of all, there's a very generous review from the headguruteacher himself, Tom Sherrington: The Secrets of Literacy is an essential book for all teachers and school leaders.  It is not just another literacy book. David Didau provides a crystal clear rationale for all teachers taking responsibility for developing literacy in their specialist areas, with lots of very practical ideas, [...]

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