- ‘Vocabulary 7-up’ is a simple vocabulary game that encourages pupils to record as many synonyms as they can for common words (seven ideally!).
- ‘Word Triplets’ offers students three words to choose from, or synonyms, so that we can begin to shape their apt vocabulary selections.
- ‘Said is dead’. The use of ‘said’ is part of the fabric of academic writing.
- ‘Simple >< Sophisticated’. Teachers can quickly and repeatedly model apt word choices, along with the movement from simple to sophisticated, and the reverse when it is needed.
- Word gradients. A common approach is to have pupils discuss and select from a range of word choices – debating their meaning and value for a given task.
By asking simple questions about the acceptability, the appropriateness, and the feasibility of a proposed change, or new approach, it is probable that we increase the likelihood of its success.
Professor Diane Lapp, from San Diego State University, in the categorically titled, ‘If you want students to read widely and well – Eliminate ‘Round-robin reading’, suggests the following approaches:
- Repeated reading, which involves repeating a reading modelled ﬁrst by the teacher or another proﬁcient reader.
- Choral reading, which means reading together with others who are proﬁcient readers.
- Echo reading, or the student echoing or repeating what the proﬁcient reader has just read.
- Readers’ Theatre involves a dramatic reading of a text or script by the students.
- Neurological impress, which involves the student and teacher reading together while tracking words.
There is lots to know about the brilliantly complex act of teaching and learning. Here is my list of 10 things to know in the plainest terms possible
Any time a pupil is reading a complex text, it will likely prove difficult, effortful, and even frustrating. We cannot just expect to offer pupils harder and harder texts and expect them to become better readers either. However, by explicitly teaching pupils to be strategic and to cohere their knowledge and understanding, we can offer them the right tools to tackle the job of reading complex texts.
- Sharing the secret that struggling is actually normal
- Generate curiosity by getting students to engage with texts through student questions and predictions
- Activate prior knowledge to help make connections
- Identify and teach keystone vocabulary
- Read related texts
Associated with all this, one of the biggest challenges withis addressing the question why read any text at all? For example, should everyone be made to read Finnigan’s Wake?
We could just assume good things happen when we promote independent reading, but the likelihood is that this only occurs for fluent, successful readers, and so carrying on without careful intent may widen the attainment gap in our school.
Implementing structured silent reading, along with exploring other approaches that will make reading and learning gains, should be our aim to help address the attainment gap.
There are worrying indications that utilising DEAR may see the reading rich get richer and the reading poor get poorer. We all know those pupils who read fluently and with great skill. They better select those Goldilocks texts that are just right for them, staying motivated and focused, as they read voraciously and well.
In response, Quigley suggests that reading time should be structured, focusing on:
- Audit reading habits and reading materials
- Support choice and structure rich reading
- Top and tail time spent reading
- Utilise reading time to support the weakest readers
- Define goals for silent reading
When I was in the classroom, we used the CAFE model to help structure the silent reading program. The challenge I found was meaningfully responding.
I have come to the realisation that unless students are empowered and shown where the value exists for them, by teachers, and given more opportunities to develop authentic responses then the problem will continue to exist for teachers. The reality is, whether staff or students, we are all readers, therefore, in the end, we all need to find our way of responding. You may not want to write reviews online or extensive tracks in your margins, but the question needs to be asked: are you really reading if you are not responding?
There are vast array of brilliant websites about reading that would help teachers of all stripes in their daily work. Some cover useful reading materials, whereas others dig into the science of reading.
There are simply too many websites to do justice to here, but here are five of the websites I have returned to regularly in the last few years
And so we return to Wiliam’s sage advice: doing fewer things as school leaders may allow for better things to be done well. Freeing up time and space may be the only way to allow for improvement.
We are left with the question: what good things should we stop, so that we can do even better things?
I often pose these following questions when I do vocabulary training as a starter for potential ‘leading indictors’ of changing practice in the classroom:
- Are there more detailed and ‘academic’ pupil explanations?
- Is there more extended dialogue?
- Are there more questions about vocabulary?
- Are there more examples of ‘word consciousness’?
- Are there more vocabulary edits in pupils’ books?
- Is the written expression in pupils’ books more sophisticated?
- Are there more teacher questions about vocabulary knowledge?
- Is there a ‘word rich’ climate in the classroom?
To understand why, I think Professor David Perkins, from Harvard University, can help. Perkins wrote about the troublesome nature of ‘fragile knowledge’. His analysis offers us a more nuanced language to consider how even carefully sequenced curricula may not be well understood by our novice pupils, despite our best efforts.
He describes this ‘fragility’ in four parts:
- Missing knowledge. Sometimes important pieces of knowledge are just plain missing. E.g. In a Shakespeare essay, Alex may forget that Macbeth was written with the audience of James I in mind.
- Inert knowledge. Sometimes knowledge is present, but inert. It lets the student pass the quiz but does not help otherwise. E.g. Alex doesn’t think to mention the ‘divine right of kings’, which his teacher implicitly wanted him to focus on in his essay.
- Naïve knowledge. Sometimes the knowledge takes the form of naïve theories and stereotypes, even after considerable instruction. E.g. Alex persists with the notion that Lady Macbeth is solely to blame for her husband’s behaviour in his essay.
- Ritual knowledge. The knowledge that students acquire often has a ritual character, useful for certain academic tasks but not much else. E.g. Alex pleases his teacher by mentioning the rare rhetorical device ‘anadiplosis’ in his essay.
I wanted to share my own edu-bookery. It is important to state that for me, regular blogging and writing separate to a book is an excellent mental work-bench for writing a book, offering me the discipline needed to write habitually and at length. Still, my book writing process is really quite specific and I have fell upon a helpful habit in writing my latest book.
- Coin an idea and chapter structure
- Delve into the research
- Review the notes
- Transfer notes to seperate word files
- Write the book
- Draft and edit
In addition to the reflections from Mary Myatt, Tom Sherrington and Ryan Holiday, they offer a useful insight into the writing process. It is interesting to compare these with the process often taught in schools. So often students get straight into writing without giving time to the initial planning process.
When our students read and write they draw upon their knowledge of stories – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. The language and words and patterns become known and understood, matched and linked together. Over time, students develop what we can term a ‘mental model‘. That is to say, the more we read, the more we understand, the more we develop a ‘model’ of different types of stories and their respective worlds.
We know that the earlier we read, and the greater the volume of our reading, the more fine grained and precise our ‘mental model’. For many children who join school, they are well on the way with being read to and the shape of stories – mental models – are already emerging in their minds. By secondary school, I can teach a gothic story, but most students could write a good attempt with little to no teaching. The shape of the story is already well formed in their minds.