Over the past few weeks I’ve publicised some of the reviews for my new book. The advance notices I’ve received have been universally positive and deeply gratifying. The idea that such thinkers and writers as Doug Lemov, Alex Quigley and Tom Sherrington should all be so effusive is something of a relief. But in traditional style, I have left the best (or at least my favourite) review til last. As the count to launch day ticks down, it’s finally time to share lead Ofsted Inspector, Mary Myatt‘s incredibly kind, helpful and specific review.
This book needed writing. Literacy, the quoin [I had to look this up!] of education has frequently been assumed, glossed over or ignored. Threaded through our personal and professional lives, it takes a brave soul to unpick it, unpack it and sort it. And that’s what David Didau has done.
I was talking to my daughter about why I was so impressed with this book.
I was telling her about how, when he has asked his students to write, Didau writes too. ‘Wow, that’s amazing. Really powerful!’ was her reply. And indeed it is. And that’s what characterises this book. Beyond the sensible critiques of theory, the detailed examples for making literacy work at every level, is a man walking the talk.
One example: he makes the case that finished work often doesn’t show the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it. And he describes some of the blood, sweat and tears that have made him the master practitioner he is. Less than helpful feedback from an observation, his response to it and his nuanced practice in relation to for example teacher talk. Another example in this vein: a group of NQTs observing one of his lessons where students are responding and challenging one another. And he is on the sidelines, with just the odd bat thrown in. Otherwise, they are just getting on with it. High quality conversations about their learning. But, as he says this was not particularly helpful for the NQTs because they had not seen the struggles and the practice to get the students to this place. The point about this is that there are no easy, off the shelf answers. What there is, is practice, on the right things, continually refined.
Another example: modeling. Students critique his work alongside theirs. And in a mixed ability group how does he make sure that lower attaining students are getting the most out of it?Beautifully. He has them working alongside him as teacher’s assistants. He also manages to get the reluctant to get involved too. Not by forcing them. But cracking on with it anyway.
There is so much here. He makes the case for difficult, compelling texts, brimming with knowledge. And these are opened up through scaffolding and skilful questioning. There’s an incisive critique of low-level scaffolding tasks. And this sets the scene for learning which is characterised by high impact and low threat, and gets to grips with stuff that really makes a difference to the acquisition and love of language. It is sophisticated stuff, but it is also elegantly simple. Anyone reading this book and using any one of the things Didau discusses, would become a better practitioner.
One of the most powerful things for me was the realisation that some of our students who have pupil premium funding actually need some of the additional intervention and rich support which is now provided to EAL students on the best programmes.
And all of this is referenced against some serious thinkers and bloggers: Vygotstky, Dweck, Berger, Willingham, Hirsch, Robinson, Curtis, Kirby.
And he makes the case for the lower profile aspects of literacy – there’s a very good summary of Robin Alexander’s distinction between social and cognitive talk. And that means high quality talk from the teacher. There is a beautiful example of the pose, pause, pounce and bounce. If every teacher, in every school, across the country read page 78 and did this once a week, then progress, achievement, motivation, love of learning, all the clichés would increase. Guaranteed. How could they not? Really important that he paused on the pause and reminded us of the importance of thinking first before getting those ideas out.
And he holds us to account too in terms of the contribution our own language has on expectations. Shifting from clauses that include ‘but’ and replacing them with ‘and’. I’m not going to say more, because it’s important people read the book for the impact this shift has. At its heart, our role as professionals must be to open the door to academic games (in the Wittgensteinian sense), not dodging the difficult. And he shows how to embrace etymology. If this sounds daunting, in Diadu’s hands it isn’t. There’s the potential for masses of play here. In my experience all students of all abilities and backgrounds love this aspect of language development. Light years away from peeling posters of technical vocab on the wall.
It was good to see that he had also included the importance of high quality school libraries. There’s only one aspect which I think could be developed further and that is the auracy dimension of literacy. The poorest of poor relations. He does, but I think there is the potential for more. But given the man’s genius at unpacking the rest of this essential entitlement for all students, it would have been a corker. In fact he’s probably got another book in him about this.
The bottom line is that this book not only makes literacy explicit, it brings it to life in all its spirited messiness. My father, dour Scot, head of English in Peckham, word-mongerer of the first order, would have loved it. Can’t think of higher praise.
And neither can I! If it’s good enough for Mary’s dad, I hope it’s good enough for you too. Publication has been put back to 13th February by the way, but you can still pre-order it here.