Is reading comprehension even a thing?

2019-10-06T11:39:32+01:00October 5th, 2019|reading|

Most of the schools I visit are unsurprisingly keen to explore ideas to narrow the gap between their most and least advantaged students. Whilst there are also sorts of complex chains of causation which go some way to explaining why children from wealthier backgrounds outperform their less fortunate peers, one particularly vexed question that I'm frequently asked about is that of reading. The case I'm making here is that reading comprehension should be more properly thought of as language comprehension. Once word recognition has been mastered (phonological awareness, decoding and sight recognition of familiar words) children's ability to understand what they [...]

Why ‘just reading’ might make more of a difference than teaching reading

2019-10-01T14:01:02+01:00June 22nd, 2019|Featured, reading|

Few people would disagree that improving children's reading ability would make a good thing. Not only would it open up greater opportunities in life, it would boost their cognitive development and increase the likelihood of them being able to access an academic curriculum. One barrier to children being able to comprehend what they read is the finding that an estimated 20% of children leave primary phase each year unable to decode with sufficient fluency to read the kinds of texts they will encounter at secondary school. Essentially, the more slowly you read, the more working memory capacity is taken up by [...]

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 [...]

Reading aloud might boost students' memories

2017-12-07T10:26:28+01:00December 7th, 2017|psychology, reading|

In the latest edition of the British Psychological Society's Research Digest, Bradley Busch writes about a new study which compared the effects on memory of reading in silence to those of reading out loud. Noah Forrin and Colin MacLeod's paper, This time it’s personal: the memory benefit of hearing oneself, explores what's been termed the 'production effect' - a neat name for the memory advantage of saying words aloud over simply reading them silently. The speculation is that the effort of saying something out loud appears to make information more cognitively 'sticky', creating stronger schematic connections in long-term memory. This advantage appears [...]

The best books I’ve read this year

2017-12-06T17:30:07+01:00December 6th, 2017|Featured, reading|

Here follows a list of the books that I've most enjoyed and which have most affected my thinking this year. I've presented them in alphabetical order so as not to have to make choices about which were best: if they're on the list then I think they're worth reading. I note, with some shame, that yet again I've gone mainly for books by white men. Please don't hold that against me or them. I never consciously make choices about what to read based on the physical characteristics of the writer, but am nevertheless aware that what we choose to read shapes [...]

The importance of reading fluency

2017-04-03T00:02:04+01:00April 3rd, 2017|reading|

Following on from a recent post on the folly of forcing children to read along as they are being read to, I presented my thoughts on reading fluency and the problems with 'reading along' at researchED's English & MFL conference in the stunning surroundings of Oxford University's Examination Rooms. For those who might be interested, here are the slides I used. The importance of reading fluency from David Didau

The problem with ‘reading along’

2017-03-27T15:01:54+01:00March 25th, 2017|psychology, reading|

It has become an unwritten law of teaching that when reading aloud to students, the teacher must ensure students are reading along in their own copy of the text. This is, I contend, a bad idea. To understand why we need to consider working memory in some detail. It's well-known that the capacity of working memory is strictly limited - estimates range from anywhere between 4 to 9 items at any one time - but it's less well-known that working memory is almost certainly not a single edifice. Baddeley and Hitch's widely accepted working memory model contains four distinct components. The central [...]

Reading for betterment

2017-01-24T11:33:26+01:00January 24th, 2017|reading|

About 20 years ago, I read Tolstoy's uber-novel, War and Peace. The perfect set of conditions all came together: I'd just been sent a copy of the book by a friend who was keen that I read it, I was in my third year of an English literature degree and fairly convinced of the benefits of reading improving books, and I was ill and was living in a world where home internet access wasn't really a thing - at least not for students - and so I had little to distract me. I devoured it in about 2 weeks. Although long and [...]

Do we teach children to love reading? Part 2

2016-09-13T18:03:11+01:00September 13th, 2016|reading|

In my last post I wrote about sociologist, Frank Furedi's views on reading and whether we do a good job of fostering a love of reading in young people. In this post I want to explore his view that reading has become 'medicalised'. Is reading unnatural? The other startling point to come out of Frank's talk at researchED was when he said that although he begun his research into reading as a confirmed advocate of phonics, as the deeper he delved the more sympathetic he became to whole-language teaching. Cue, sharply drawn breaths and restless muttering. When prodded he seemed to suggest that, despite [...]

Do we teach children to love reading? Part 1

2016-09-13T08:27:22+01:00September 12th, 2016|reading|

This sounds like a really obvious question but, after listening to Frank Furedi at researchED on Saturday and subsequently reading his book, The Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, I've realised it isn't something I've given much thought. At one point during his lecture Frank said that few of the people interested in the teaching of reading actually value passing on a love of reading. My initial reaction was to reject this. I asked a question afterwards to challenge this view and his response was to ask why so few young people - especially boys - value reading if we actually value passing on [...]

5 things every new (secondary) teacher should know about reading

2016-09-03T16:17:18+01:00August 31st, 2016|reading, training|

Reading's a funny old business. Generally, secondary school teachers  expect kids to come with a pre-loaded reading module. If they have it, all well and good. If they don't, we're stuffed. Luckily, the vast majority of students can read by the start of Year 7, even if they say they can't. But being able to read and being able to access the kind of material required to be academically successful are not at all the same thing. When I started teaching I knew next to nothing about reading, and I was meant to be an English teacher! Because it was something I [...]

What is the Phonics Screening Check for?

2016-07-18T13:59:35+01:00July 17th, 2016|reading|

In case you don't know, the Phonics Screening Check (PSC) is a test given to 5-6 year olds at the end of Year 1 in order to establish whether pupils are able to phonically decode to an appropriate standard. The purpose is twofold: firstly it's a policy lever designed to ensure schools are teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) effectively, and second to identify those children with specific learning difficulties who need extra help to improve their decoding skills. It should not be mistaken for a test of children's reading ability. The check consists of 20 real words and, controversially, 20 pseudo-words that children read [...]