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 [...]

Improving critical reading through comparative judgement

2016-05-11T19:04:24+01:00May 11th, 2016|English, reading|

The following is a guest blog from Dr Chris Wheadon of No More Marking. The reformed GCSEs in English present new challenges for pupils in critical reading and comprehension. Teachers across the country - and pupils - are studying mark schemes and trying to interpret what they mean and how they may relate to standards. No More Marking, working with David Didau and a group of 11 schools took a different approach. David created some stimulus material for pupils in Year 10 in line with the reformed GCSE English questions. Pupils were given an unseen text and then asked to write [...]

What every teacher needs to know about… students who leave secondary school unable to read

2016-04-25T11:19:48+01:00April 25th, 2016|reading|

Many thanks to the good folks at Teach Secondary magazine for publishing yet another of my incoherent rants. This time I set my sights on the lamentable and inexcusable failure of secondary schools to teach students to read with adequate fluency and accuracy. If a student leaves secondary school unable to read it is the school’s fault. I’ll leave that opening sentence hanging, parked like a tank on your lawn, while we consider what is actually involved in teaching students to read. Reading involves two linked abilities: language comprehension and decoding. Decoding is the ability to turn squiggles on a page (graphemes) [...]

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 [...]

Phonics is not a cure for cancer

2015-12-30T10:34:33+00:00December 30th, 2015|reading, research|

Do antibiotics work? Well, that rather depends on what you've got. If you've got a viral infection like influenza antibiotics will be useless. To fight viral infections you need to use antiviral drugs. Does that mean antibiotics don't work? Of course not. If you're suffering from a bacterial infection like brucellosis then an antibiotic might well be effective. This, I hope, is straightforward. So if I conducted a piece of research which found that antibiotics are ineffective because they don't cure viral infections that would be a bit stupid, right? Well, for some reason, professor of education Stephen D Krashen seems to have done something very similar. [...]

Only phonics? A reader replies to Michael Rosen Part 2

2016-09-11T17:31:40+01:00December 29th, 2015|reading|

Following yesterday's post from Jacqui Moller-Butcher in which she responds to Michael Rosen's anti-phonics arguments, one of the complaints that has repeatedly emerged is the idea that phonics is not the only important aspect of teaching children to read. Indeed not. Take this comment from John Hodgson for example: No-one knowledgable in teaching the reading of English would deny the value of a grasp of characteristic letter-sound correspondences. This is not the same as arguing that ‘phonics’ (a term that denotes a more or less intense focus on such correspondences) is the only important thing, and that children are being denied the gift [...]

Reading for pleasure: A reader replies to Michael Rosen Part 1

2015-12-29T09:02:55+00:00December 28th, 2015|Featured, reading|

Back in July I wrote this post on how we might encourage children to read for pleasure to which children's author Michael Rosen left a long & detailed comment critiquing my ideas. The comment included this statement: When children are deemed to be ‘not reading’ i.e. being unable to pass the Phonics Screening Check, some teachers are being asked to do more of the same, rather than do anything different, nor to investigate whether there are multiple reasons for a) not passing the phonics screening check or b) finding out whether some children can read pretty well but fail the PSC anyway. [...]

The most interesting books I read this year

2015-12-21T08:56:39+00:00December 20th, 2015|reading|

For no particular reason other than that it's almost the years' end and making lists always seems appropriate as December draws to a close, and in no particular order, here are ten of the most interesting books I read over the course of 2015. Intelligence by Stuart Richie For anyone new to the study of intelligence, Richie's eminently readable little book is the perfect primer. In it he details exactly what intelligence is and isn't, why it matters and experts defuses some of the most abiding myths surrounding this most controversial of human characteristics. The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam [...]

From Scared Straight to Reading Wrong

2015-10-24T10:56:16+01:00October 24th, 2015|reading, research|

He that will not apply new remedies, must expect new evils: for Time is the greatest innovator: and if Time, of course, alters things to the worse, and wisdom and counsel shall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end? Francis Bacon In 1978, Scared Straight! won the Academy Award for the best documentary film. It followed a group of teenagers from the wrong side of the tracks who, as part of a new crime reduction programme, were taken to a maximum security prison to be threatened, humiliated and intimidated by a bunch of murderers and rapists. The premise [...]

Reading is a rebel act: on the role of school libraries

2015-07-13T18:24:44+01:00July 13th, 2015|reading|

"My library was dukedom large enough" The Tempest, Shakespeare "The act of poetry is a rebel act." Farewell to English, Michael Harnett Some people are never happy. After writing my last post on how it might be possible to get students to read more, one commentator criticised that there was no mention of school librarians. Well, it was a blog post: the list of things which went unmentioned dwarfed what was written about. This post seeks to rectify that omission. Changing the culture of a school is a big ask. By the time they reach secondary school, many children are aware that reading isn't [...]