Showing posts with label Research. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Research. Show all posts

Saturday, 8 December 2018

What You're Forgetting When You Teach Writing


Time in a primary classroom is at a premium: there are so many things to try to fit in. Even under the umbrella of English there is handwriting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, composition, reading, and more. It’s so difficult to make sure that everything is covered. And there are certain parts of the writing process which are either misunderstood or don’t always get a look in because of time constraints.

The 7 stages of the writing process

The writing process, according to the EEF’s ‘Improving Literacy In Key Stage 2’ guidance report, can be broken down into 7 stages: Planning, Drafting, Sharing, Evaluating,Revising, Editing and Publishing.

In a recent training session, when I asked a group of school leaders and teachers to write down elements of current practice in their own schools for the teaching of writing, we found that most of the time was spent on planning, drafting and editing. In fact, there were very few examples of how the other stages were being taught.

Click here to read more: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2018/12/08/895/

In summary

  • Set a clear purpose and audience before beginning the writing process;
  • Teachers complete the task themselves;
  • Allow children to work at each of the seven stages of the writing process as they work towards a final piece;
  • Model each of the seven stages to the children using the I/We/You approach at each stage; and
  • Evaluate,share and revise by checking the writing fulfils its purpose.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Things You Should Continue Doing In The Early Years (And What The Research Says About Why)

Here's another blog post I wrote for the Bradford Research School blog. It is in response to the EEF's guidance report 'Preparing For Literacy', which can be downloaded now for free.

Much of what goes on in Early Years is misunderstood by those without experience of working with the youngest children in our education system. Early Years practitioners can feel like they are continually having to defend their working practices against those who have little understanding of the ways children develop and learn in the Nursery and Reception years. The fact that there are proportionally fewer Early Years teachers than say, Key Stage 2 teachers, or Key Stage 4 teachers, means that they are under-represented in education as a whole.

And nothing is as bad as when an agency produces a report telling the experts how to do it. So, does the EEF’s latest guidance report ‘Preparing for Literacy’ just teach the proverbial grandmother to suck eggs?

One benefit of engaging with research is that often it can confirm that what is being done already has an evidence base. Sometimes, after reading up on a particular working practice, one might discover that nothing needs to change, and that actually the things they are already doing are likely to be effective. Often, teachers will be convinced that their practice is effective because their own assessment of outcomes appears to prove it. For these teachers, checking with research findings can confirm that what they are doing has worked elsewhere too.

With that in mind, here are some common Early Years practices that the ‘Preparing for Literacy’ guidance report confirms as best bets; these are things you should definitely continue to do in your Nursery and Reception classrooms...

Click here to read the whole article

Monday, 28 May 2018

Why Primary Teachers Need To Know About Metacognition

Sir Kevan Collins introduces the EEF’s latest guidance report on metacognition and self-regulated learning with these words:

‘…with a large body of international evidence telling us that when properly embedded these approaches are powerful levers for boosting learning, it’s clear that we need to spend time looking at how to do this well.’

And if the focus here is on embedding and spending time on metacognitive approaches then there are surely strong implications for primary schools. In order for these learning habits (which research says are highly effective) to be embedded, we who are involved in primary education should be thinking about our role in their early development.

Continue reading here: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2018/05/28/metacognition-in-primary/

The EEF's Metacognition and Self-Regulation guidance report can be downloaded here: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/metacognition-and-self-regulated-learning/

Monday, 12 March 2018

Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination?

I recently posted a thread on Twitter which attracted some opposition. The thread went like this:

If you are currently planning reading lessons that don't have a focus on developing just one strategy (i.e. retrieval or inference) then I suggest that you might revisit your plans, changing them so that only one strategy is focused on at a time. I would suggest that one lesson spent on one reading strategy followed by another lesson on a different strategy is not enough for teaching children the strategies they need to be able to comprehend well. A sequence of lessons focused on just one strategy is preferable. 

Within reading teaching sequences that focus solely on one strategy ensure that you model answering questions and give children chance to practise answering similar questions with similar answer structures. If you truly want children to improve their reading strategies make sure plenty of your lessons are focused solely on one main strategy rather than always asking a range of questions. 

Planning lessons that expect children to exercise a range of strategies will help them to understand the whole text BUT won't provide the best opportunities to focus on the development of a particular strategy, meaning they are less likely to improve in their use of it. For example, if you want children to become better at making inferences plan several lessons where ALL the questions you ask are inference questions EXCEPT where retrieval and vocabulary questions will help children to make better inferences. 

When teaching reading strategies it is my belief that whole sequences of lessons should focus on just ONE of those skills UNLESS using other strategies helps children to practice the focus strategy of the lesson.

Whilst replying to people who opposed my ideas I found it necessary to clarify some matters:
  • within such a lesson other strategies may be employed, but usually in support of the focus strategy
  • by using the word focus I mean that that strategy would be in the spotlight being the thing you intend children to improve at, but that this would not mean other strategies weren't used in support
  • such lessons should only be taught when wanting children to improve their use of a particular strategy and shouldn't be imposed on children who can already sufficiently use the strategies
  • in such a lesson, a teacher wouldn't attempt to suppress the use of already strong strategies that children wanted to use
  • this shouldn't be the only reading provision that a child receives - there should be plenty of additional opportunities for children to naturally employ a full range of reading strategies whilst reading
  • these lessons should be taught with a view to children eventually becoming independently responsible for using the strategy alongside a range of other strategies in their reading

The EEF guidance report 'Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2' says that 'the following strategies should be modelled and practised to ensure they become embedded and fluent: prediction, questioning, clarifying, summarising, inference, activating prior knowledge'. It goes on to suggest that for each strategy children should 'learn three things: what the strategy is, how the strategy is used, and why and when to use the strategy.' It goes on to state: 'Developing each of the strategies requires explicit instruction and extensive practice... These strategies can be introduced in isolation, but pupils should also be taught how to integrate combinations of strategies to develop effective comprehension of different texts'

And it is the aforementioned isolated introduction with which I am concerned. By singling strategies out for those not yet adept at using them, then explicitly modelling how they can be used and then giving children time to practise using them, children will improve their ability to use particular reading strategies in combination with others.

And, as already mentioned, I think it is difficult to develop such independence in the combining of strategies by only spending the odd lesson on each one. Sustained modelling and practise of the same strategy which follows the gradual release of responsibility model (an explicit description of the strategy and when and how it should be used; modelling of the strategy in action by teachers and/ or pupils; collaborative use of the strategy in action; guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility; and independent use of the strategy) is surely more likely to have an impact.

A few contributors to the thread provided some interesting additional reading:

Daniel Willingham's 'Infer this...' blog post discusses the findings from some research and how it supports his interpretation of the effect of comprehension instruction in that, in the case of teaching inference-making as a strategy, 'it alerts students to the importance of making inferences, and perhaps more broadly (for less skilled readers) that it is important to THINK while you read. But practising inferences does not lead to a general inferencing skill for two reasons. One, as noted, inferencing depends on the particular text, and two, whatever cognitive processes contribute to inferencing are already well practised from use in oral language---we continually draw inferences in conversation.' He summarises saying 'comprehension instruction is a great idea, because research consistently shows a large benefit of such instruction. But just as consistently, it shows that brief instruction leads to the same outcome as longer instruction'.
Tim Shanahan's 'Teaching Reading and Reading Comprehension Strategies' blog post summarises: 
'I would definitely teach comprehension strategies. The way I think of strategies most basically is that they give readers some tools they can use independently to make sense of what they read... Some programs [teach and gradually release responsibility] with multiple strategies, all at one time, and others teach the strategies one at a time, adding them together as you go (both approaches work—but I find the latter to be simpler and easier to teach). You can usually teach a strategy well in 3-4 weeks if you have students practising with lots of different texts... Summarising a newspaper article is different than summarising a story, and both are different than a science chapter. Make sure that the students are learning not only the strategy, but the content of the texts too. Finally, remind the kids from time to time to use their strategies or engage them in strategies discussions.'

The IES Practice Guide 'Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade'  has as its first recommendation that we 'Teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies'. It states: "Good readers use many forms of thinking and analysing text as they read. It is therefore important to teach beginning readers strategies for constructing meaning from text. A strategy is the intentional application of a cognitive routine by a reader before, during, or after reading a text  Comprehension strategies help readers enhance their understanding, overcome difficulties in comprehending text, and compensate for weak or imperfect knowledge related to the text. The strategies may be taught one by one or in combination. Both approaches can improve reading comprehension, so the panel recommends that teachers choose the approach they are most comfortable with in the classroom. Teachers should also help students learn how to use comprehension strategies independently through the gradual release of responsibility. When releasing responsibility to students, however, be mindful that students differ in the extent of modelling or support they need from teachers in order to use strategies effectively."

Although all three resources go into more detail than the quotations I've included here, and I'd recommend that you read them for yourselves, there are some general things I'd like to pull out of what we've read:
  • It would seem that whilst Willingham agrees that comprehension strategies should be taught, he also thinks that research shows that the amount of practise time children get is not important. He points out that the main outcome we should be aiming for is that children remember to use strategies - in this view, the only benefit of repeated practice of particular strategies then is that children will have practised them so often that they never forget to employ them. But with inference-making for example, if children are not aware of the vast array of possible questions they might ask of a text in order to infer necessary information they might never know to ask those questions of a text, even when they do remember that they should ask questions of a text to ensure they have made necessary inferences. It is only possible to expose children to such a vast array of possible questions through a whole sequence of lessons, or, admittedly, a range of disconnected one-off lessons or questions within lessons over a longer period of time. A one-off lesson or question, with little time spent on it, is surely less likely to prompt a child to remember to use inference-making strategies than the recollection of a whole sequence of focused lessons.
  • Both Shanahan and the IES guide state that strategies can be taught in isolation (as does the EEF guidance report) but that strategies can also be taught in combination and that the choice is down to teachers. So perhaps, my belief in teaching strategies in isolation is just a personal preference - mine and Tim Shanahan's! To my mind though, that intentional application of a cognitive routine is a lot easier to approach as a teacher if I, and the children, are only having to think about one cognitive routine whilst we are teaching it and learning it. The potential benefit in doing this is that it limits the cognitive overload that might come with trying to learn and practise too many new strategies all at once when you aren't sufficient in using one, some or all of them.
  • The IES guide recognises that some students will need different amounts of modelling and practise before they can apply it independently and consistently. It will be the case that, if you teach strategies in isolation, some children will move beyond the need for this and therefore will not need to be involved in such activity as the explicit teaching of isolated strategies - this is common sense.
Whilst I know there are still many out there who would disagree with me, I think I would still advocate the teaching of reading strategies in isolation for readers who are not yet strong in the use of particular strategies. Certainly, for teachers who are hoping that, for example, children in their class get better at making inferences, I would recommend, instead of asking the odd, random inference question in a discussion or as part of a written reading comprehension, that lessons are more focused on the modelling and practise of particular kinds of inference questions about a range of texts. Without taking this approach teachers leave the learning of particular strategies to chance, hoping that children gain certain skills as a result of random exposure to infrequent opportunities to practise those strategies.

I've not fully thought through the implications of the following analogy but it's one a few have used in support of my position. We wouldn't teach children to solve a complex maths problem that required the use of several different maths facts and strategies until children were able to each one individually. Imagine a problem that required children to complete some multiplication, some division and to have a good idea about percentages and measures - we would first teach extensive learning sequences on each of the constituent parts before expecting a child to understand how to complete the question.

In reading, we are not afforded the luxury of being able to teach things in such isolation - a spiral curriculum approach is necessary, partly facilitated by increasing the complexity of the text. For example, decodable books used in the Early Years and KS1 require very little comprehension, for example, whereas whole novels used in KS2 require children to decode, recognise words, utilise background knowledge, retrieve and infer information, summarise and so on. Along a continuum in the middle of those two extremes children use age-appropriate books which allow them to exercise existing word recognition and language comprehension strategies and skills.

However, at any point along that continuum a child might struggle with any one of the strategies that they usually use. It might be that one child finds themselves in this position, it might be a group of children and it may be a whole class. At this point it might be useful to isolate the strategy they are particular struggling with and teach them accordingly, modelling and giving practise time across a range of age-appropriate texts whilst releasing the responsibility to them so that they can eventually use the strategy independently in the texts they are currently reading.

Whether or not we will all agree with my stance, I'm sure that more of us would agree that a great deal of thought needs to be put into how we go about teaching children to read. Over the years I have been guilty of expecting children, particularly those with limited reading experience, to just absorb the ability to comprehend well through the odd read aloud and the rare comprehension task - this didn't work. My reaction to this has been to seek structured approaches to teaching children the strategies they need to be able to read well, the focus of this blog post being one of them.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

From the @BradResearchSch Blog: 9 Things You Didn’t Know About Being A Fluent Reader

From the @BradResearchSch Blog: 9 Things You Didn’t Know About Being A Fluent Reader

My latest blog post for Bradford Research School takes a look at what's going on behind the scenes when someone is reading fluently. In it I suggest that there are 9 things teachers might not consider when teaching and assessing fluency in children's reading. Each of the 9 points is a development of information provided in the EEF's 'Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2' guidance report. The 9 points are as follows, but you'll have to click through to the Bradford Research School blog to find out a little bit more:
  1. Decoding and sight recognition both have a part to play
  2. There are no quick ways to develop reading fluency
  3. The more you read, the more fluent you’ll be
  4. You’re not a fluent reader unless you understand what you read
  5. In order to read fluently you have to find and infer information
  6. Fluent readers bring more to the text than they realise
  7. A good vocabulary unlocks fluency
  8. Fluency can be modelled
  9. Scarborough’s Reading Rope can be used diagnostically

Monday, 5 February 2018

How To Use Questioning When Teaching Inference-Making


How To Use Questioning When Teaching Inference-Making
In my last blog post on inference-making (Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making) I provided lots of questions which might support inference-making, along with some suggested answer structures for teachers and children to use when answering inference questions. In this blog post we will look at how these questions can be used wisely in lessons so that children's inference-making skills are developed.

Anne Kispal, in her literature review entitled 'Effective Teaching of Inference Skills for Reading', writes: "Underpinning the research reviewed is the assumption that pupils must be explicitly taught the skills they need for comprehension. They cannot be left to pick them up through simple exposure to texts, or through the natural process of maturation." (page 24) It is clear that we should teach children the strategies they need in order to be able to understand what they read - the strategy we are concerned with explicitly teaching here is inference-making.

The questions I shared previously should be used carefully - they are not solely for use in a written comprehension activity which children complete independently. They should also be modelled, discussed, answered orally and asked about aurally-presented texts as well as read texts.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the why, I propose a sequence (flexible, of course) to help use inference questions in the most effective way:
  1. Teacher reads aloud a part of the text
  2. Teacher allows children to read the same part of the text
  3. Teacher provides a summary of the text
  4. Teacher models inference-making (which might include clarifying word meanings, locating specific information and discussing necessary prior/background knowledge)
  5. Teacher provides a second summary of the text which takes what has been inferred into consideration
  6. Teacher reads aloud next part of the text
  7. Children read next part of the text themselves
  8. Children summarise text
  9. Children answer inference questions (and any supporting vocabulary, retrieval and background knowledge questions, this could be a written task, or an oral one)
  10. Children summarise text a second time taking into consideration what has been inferred
  11. Teacher models answers and, if written, children edit their work to improve their answers
Now let's see a break down of why it might be a good idea to roughly follow this sequence when using the inference questions:

1. Teacher reads aloud a part of the text

On the Reading Rockets website (a great and accessible online resource) Judith Gold and Akimi Gibson provide an excellent summary of the research on reading aloud:

"Reading aloud is the foundation for literacy development. It is the single most important activity for reading success (Bredekamp, Copple, & Neuman, 2000). It provides children with a demonstration of phrased, fluent reading (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). It reveals the rewards of reading, and develops the listener's interest in books and desire to be a reader (Mooney, 1990)."

Whether or not you have the children reading along with you is another matter; David Didau, in his blog post 'The Problem With 'Reading Along'', proposes that we don't because the act of listening and reading at the same time can overload the working memory and hinder comprehension of the text. If that is true, then the next step is an important replacement for children reading along.

Note: during this read-through it is best not to stop reading to ask too many questions. Although Kispal summarises that teachers should "practise inferential questions on aurally presented texts" she also provides these cautionary notes on questioning:
  • not to interrupt pupils by asking questions during reading time
  • not to launch into questioning too soon afterwards. The teacher must allow time for consolidation of what has been read as a mental representation
  • practise inferential questions on aurally presented texts

With the first bullet point above in mind Kispal also reports that "the only condition that was found [by Hannon and Daneman (1998)] to significantly encourage inferencing was that of integrating questions into the text combined with allowing longer reading time" (this was in a study of university students rather than young children).

2. Teacher allows children to read the same part of the text

An end goal of reading instruction is to ensure that children can independently decode and understand something. Once the reading has been modelled it is a good idea for children then to have a go themselves in preparation for times when they won't have an adult to read for them. Typically we might ask children to do this in silence, but this isn't the only way. Re-reading aloud to a partner or to themselves has added benefits.

The Key Stage 2 Literacy Guidance Report from the EEF mentions that one way to improve fluency is for children to read aloud the same text that they have just had read to them. It also summarises research that shows that "fluent reading style supports comprehension because pupils’ limited cognitive resources are freed from focusing on word recognition and can be redirected towards comprehending the text." (page 11)

If re-reading a text develops fluency and fluency supports comprehension of the text then that is definitely something we should be building in to our reading lessons. This time spent re-reading also allows children to consolidate what they have heard and read (see Kispal's cautionary notes above).

3. Teacher provides a summary of the text

In his book 'Reading Comprehension: Assisting Children with Learning Difficulties' Gary Wooley outlines how mental models, or representations, are created by the reader:

"While reading, skilled readers normally develop a text-based model, which is a mental representation of the actual text discourse. The text-based model incorporates propositions extracted from the reading of successive sentences that are sometimes supplemented by inferences that are necessary to make the text more coherent."

I suggest that before a teacher models the inference-making that will lead to the creation of a more complex situation model (more on this in step 5) they should model a summary of the text to help children who have not developed a sufficient enough text-based model from which to begin to draw inferences. Providing summaries of the text for children is known to be a useful strategy to help EAL learners and so might they be for others learning reading comprehension strategies.

4. Teacher models inference-making

Kispal writes that "teacher modelling is regarded as the first step in training children to ask and answer questions of this type of themselves... Teachers should attempt to find texts rich in inferencing possibilities and to have in mind which inferences they will elicit in discussion."
(page 30)

The literature review then goes on to suggest that to show inference-making in use teachers should "model inferencing by asking relevant questions aloud and answering them" and that they should "think thoughts aloud to show how teacher arrives at an inference." 
(page 51)

Inference-making relies on the reader having done other things with the text such as clarifying word meanings, locating specific information and discussing necessary prior/background knowledge so these processes may need to be modelled also. When considering the activation of prior knowledge Kispal's review of research makes the following suggestions to take into consideration when discussing questions:
  • pupils generate initial associations 
  • they discuss and clarify their collective knowledge 
  • they reformulate knowledge, clarifying what they now know as a result of discussion

According to Kispal's review of literature, whilst modelling and discussing inference-making teachers should ask "questions about relationships between characters, goals and motivations" and ask "questions that foster comprehension monitoring, such as Is there information that doesn’t agree with what I already know? Are there any ideas that don’t fit together (because of contradictions, ambiguous referents, misleading topic shifts)? Is there any information missing or not clearly explained?" Teachers should always be asking "‘How do you know?’ whenever an inference is generated in discussion of a text." Teachers can also "show examples of how all types of questions can be derived from a text" using the question words (i.e. who, ‘when, why).
(page 38)

Questions that can be used to support systematic and structured teaching of the wide variety of inferences can be downloaded here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/questions-to-support-inference-making-11825987

5. Teacher provides a second summary of the text which takes what has been inferred into consideration

In point 3 we looked at how teachers might share a summary of the text for the purpose of aiding the development of a text-based model. Once a text-based model has been created, and further inferences have been made, a situation model can then be developed.

In his book 'Reading Comprehension: Assisting Children with Learning Difficulties' Gary Wooley outlines how situation models (a kind of mental model or representation) are created by the reader:

"In contrast [to text-based models], situation models include elaborative inferences that integrate prior knowledge with text-based information.teacher modelling is regarded as the first step in training children to ask and answer questions of this type of themselves.

"Thus, the construction of a situation model is a dynamic constructive process that is determined by the interaction of the reader, the text structures, and the semantic content. 

"In constructing a situation model the reader is required to search for coherence at the local and global levels and to infer meanings that are often implied by drawing from their existing background knowledge. While doing this, the reader actively constructs the situation model by using information within the text and also information from stored prior knowledge. Thus, the main difference between text-based and the situation model is assumed to be one of inference making, the text-based model is inferentially light while the situation model is inferentially dense." 

It seems important to reassess the mental models that are created after making new inferences from the text.

6. Teacher reads aloud next part of the text

See point 1

7. Children read next part of the text themselves

See point 2

8. Children summarise text

See point 3. Children, having had this modelled to them, have a chance to practise their own summary to aid their text-based mental model before they answer any inference questions. This could be done in writing or verbally.

9. Children answer inference questions

This could be with support, without support, in pairs, independently, as a group, as a written task or as an oral task. Children may also need to understand the vocabulary used in the text, retrieve information from the text and link their background knowledge to the text - this could be done through discussion or by a structured sequence of questions (see my idea of scaffolding inference).

Kispal summarises that paired or group work allows pupils share the thought processes that led them to make inferences and that the younger the children, the more aural work they should undertake.
Kispal also writes that research on inference-making suggests that we should "train pupils to acquire the habit of asking themselves why-questions occasionally while they are reading, as these are most supportive of understanding". Another suggested strategy is to ask "pupils [to] generate questions using these question words [who, when, why etc] from a text and group members answer."
(page 38)

10. Children summarise text a second time taking into consideration what has been inferred

See point 5. Children, having had this modelled to them, have a chance to practise their own summary to aid their mental situation model once they have answered the inference questions. This could be done in writing or verbally.

Summary

Whilst structures like the one I've suggested can be useful, it is only there as a suggestion and will need to be adapted according to need. Having said that, this sequence takes into account many research-based practices which aid in the teaching of inference-making and therefore should be a good solid starting point for reading lessons that focus on inference-making (and probably other reading comprehension strategies). Use with discretion not because I said so!

For an example of how this might work with a real class novel, please see my planning for the first 10 chapters of 'My Dad's A Birdman' by David Almond. 5 whole lessons are focused on making inferences about characters' motives and a further 5 lessons focus on making inferences about characters' feelings. In the teachers notes I have not included information about the text summaries but every other part of the sequence is detailed.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Teaching Mathematical Problem Solving: What The Research Says


Recently the EEF published their guidance report for KS2 and KS 3 maths. It gives 8 recommendations for improving the teaching of mathematics:


In this blog post for Bradford Research School I focus in on problem solving but touch on the use of manipulatives, developing a network of mathematical knowledge and other areas of the guidance. In the article I outline a maths lesson which follows much of the advice given in the guidance (the cube trees at the centre of the lesson):

https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2017/12/20/teaching-mathematical-problem-solving-what-the-research-says/

Friday, 15 December 2017

Why You Might Be Getting Feedback Wrong! (Part 2)


At the launch of Bradford Research School I held a workshop entitled Why You Might Be Getting Feedback Wrong! The workshop is now available in blog form over on the Bradford Research School blog. It comes in two parts:

Part 1 addresses 5 myths:

  • Myth 1: marking is evidence-based
  • Myth 2: feedback = marking
  • Myth 3: marking is time consuming
  • Myth 4: Ofsted require a particular kind of marking
  • Myth 5: children need to know what level/grade their work is

Part 1: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2017/12/08/why-you-might-be-getting-feedback-wrong-part-1/

Part 2 addresses 4 more myths:

  • Myth 6: marking needs to be done in great detail
  • Myth 7: marking will have an impact on progress
  • Myth 8: all errors are equal
  • Myth 9: triple/dialogic marking is best

Part 2: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2017/12/15/why-you-might-be-getting-feedback-wrong-part-2/

I have also uploaded the PowerPoint I used in the workshop for anyone to use in their own training or discussions with SLT: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/why-you-might-be-getting-feedback-wrong-powerpoint-for-staff-training-11795794

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Why You Might Be Getting Feedback Wrong! (Part 1)

At the launch of Bradford Research School I held a workshop entitled Why You Might Be Getting Feedback Wrong! It's a slightly clickbaity title, and I wouldn't have been surprised if no-one came to it, after all, who wants to be told they're doing something wrong?

Anyway, people did come and I've begun to write up what I presented in the workshop. The information I was presenting all came from the EEF's review of the evidence on marking 'A Marked Improvement' - my workshop was an attempt to summarise their findings into a 20 minute bite-size chunk.

Read part 1 here: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2017/12/08/why-you-might-be-getting-feedback-wrong-part-1/

Friday, 10 November 2017

Book Review: 'What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?' by Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson

With the full title of 'What Does This Look Like In The Classroom? Bridging The Gap Between Research And Practice', this book pretty much does what it says on the tin. Hendrick and Macpherson have harnessed the voices of some of education's leading lights in order to answer questions about classroom practice from real teachers. The book's chapters each focus on a particular aspect of teaching: two specialists are assigned per chapter to share their wisdom, according to their expertise.

With Assessment, Marking and Feedback, Behaviour, Reading and Literacy, SEN, Motivation, Memory and Recall, Classroom Talk and Questioning, Learning Myths, Technology and Independent Learning all covered, this is a fairly comprehensive overview of education. Of course, there are questions and answers not given in the book, but often the commentators give good starting points for teachers to seek out further reading. The added focus on the potential of research-informed practice to improve workload provides further reason for this book to be read.

The book's crowning strong point is that it is incredibly readable. The format makes for bite-size chunks and all the contributors are gifted communicators. There are one or two bits of jargon (particularly relating to cognitive science) that might have benefited from the provision of a glossary but this doesn't at all detract from the overall accessibility of the book. It is probably best read as a whole so that the contents are familiar in a time of need - it is the sort of book that should be constantly referred back to. Having said this, it is organised well enough to be dipped into as and when is needed.

My one criticism of the book is that much of what is presented as research isn't backed up with any references as to who did the research, when it was done, under what circumstances, and so on. This leaves the reader to trust that the authors either have conducted the research themselves, or have internalised the findings of other research. Having said this, the book is aimed at teachers so it necessarily leans towards classroom practice rather than the intricacies of the research.

I would go so far as to say that  'What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?' is an essential volume for a school's CPD library - it could be the gateway to developing research-based practice for some teachers, so accessible does it make the material. It will confirm some of your teaching practices and give you an understanding of why things that you do already work, and it will challenge other practices, but in the least confrontational way possible - this is because it never belittles or devalues teacher experience and expertise. Even if every teacher doesn't read this, if a school's research lead and other leaders do, there is a good chance that classrooms will begin to reflect more of what research outlines as best bets.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

From The @BradResearchSch Blog: What The Research Says About Primary Literacy Priorities In Bradford


As some of you are aware I am part of the team at Bradford Research School. One of our methods of outreach is blogging. On the Bradford Research School blog I will be focusing in on how research, particularly that reported on by the EEF, can be used in schools in the Bradford area.

My first blog post looks at the EEF Literacy guidance reports for KS1 and KS2 and proposes that a priority for Bradford is for schools to have an embedded culture of oracy:

https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2017/10/31/what-the-research-says-about-primary-literacy-priorities-in-bradford/

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Right(est) Way To Teach Spelling (part 1)

Why words ought to be spelled correctly is an opinion piece best left for another time (or never at all). For now, let's assume that we want children to be able to spell correctly for no other reason than to be able to communicate efficiently in the written form. Yes, language evolves over time, but not usually as the result of the odd child sitting in a primary school who sometimes overcompensates by adding an 'h' into 'went'.

One aim of the teaching and learning of spelling is that children's encoding skills become more fluent, thus allowing them to focus more on composition when they are writing. For the same reason, most teachers care about children having good handwriting (let's not get into that one here, either). In order for children to write interesting, thought-provoking, engaging pieces of writing they need not to be hindered by atroshus poor spelling skills. And if you agree with me up to this point, you'll probably agree that teachers need to do something about the teaching spelling - for most, the ability to spell well does not come naturally.

Most teachers will have some ideas about what good spelling instruction looks like but 'there is limited evidence about what constitutes effective approaches to teaching spelling.' And for a blog post all about what the research shows about teaching spelling, that's highly inconvenient. But we will push on.

The EEF report on improving Literacy in KS1 does have this to say: 'Some approaches do have some evidence to support them, especially when evaluated on the basis of improvements to the spelling of individual words. It is less clear which approaches lead to better spelling in the context of pupils’ composition of full texts.' So, if you were hoping for a silver bullet to get children to spell correctly when they're actually composing pieces of writing, then perhaps you'd better stop reading now! However, surely the best bet in this case is to at least ensure they can spell individual words with a hope that this will eventually feed into their longer written pieces? I think so, especially if there's no obvious other way.

Choosing Developmentally-Appropriate Spellings

In their work 'American Spelling Instruction: What History Tells Us' Schlagal and Trathen (1998) concluded that providing levelled spellings was particularly effective in improving the skills of low and mid-level ability spellers. In an article by Bear and Templeton entitled 'Explorations in developmental spelling: Foundations for learning and teaching phonics, spelling, and vocabulary' they report that one of three important structural practices for spellings is that 'students should be grouped appropriately for spelling and word study'.

With the National Curriculum's prescribed word lists for each year group (I can find absolutely no information about how these spelling lists were generated) it is very tempting for teachers to give children spelling lists based on their age, rather than their current level of spelling achievement. With other research showing that setting children by level of attainment is not good for their development, many teachers are beginning to 'teach to the top', including in spelling, meaning that children are potentially being provided with spelling lists of words that are not suitable for their level.

It is best for teachers to assess children's spelling level in order to inform the kinds of words they are then asked to learn. Bear and Templeton are keen to point out that this is not 'for creating a label' but that it is to serve as a starting point for spelling instruction. Children who are seen to forget how to spell words, even if they spelled them correctly in a test after a week of teaching, are usually ones for whom the spellings have been pitched too high.

Schlagal and Trathen make sense of why children don't learn spellings when they are pitched too high:'some children may have insufficiently developed word knowledge for a given level of words'. If we think of spelling being like a building, children need foundations on which to build and these phases of building, according to the research, cannot be skipped.

Selecting Known Words

Bear and Templeton also propose that 'students should examine known words' and the EEF report on improving Literacy in KS1 suggests that 'the teaching of spelling is likely to work best when the spellings are related to the current content being studied in school and when teachers encourage active use of any new spellings in pupils’ writing.' However, at this point it is worth remembering that words selected from reading books, topics or children's spoken vocabulary should also be developmentally appropriate. Bear and Templeton point out that 'if theme is the sole criterion for selecting words... then students are reduced to learning how to spell one word at a time, with no opportunity to discover or explore the spelling patterns that apply to many words.' (more on spelling patterns later)

Testing As A Memory Aid

So, from this (which is based on a whole tonne of research and has been written about an awful lot) we might surmise that testing is a key part of the learning process when it comes to spelling.
  • young spellers studied high frequency words;
  • students corrected their own spelling (under teacher supervision);
  • teachers used the pretest-teach-test method of delivery and assessment; and
  • spelling was allotted between 60 and 75 minutes of instructional time per week.
So, in between the pre-test and the test, teachers should be teaching children to look for and identify spelling patterns in the selected words - this is called word study. Bear and Templeton outline different stages of spelling and suggest a progression of focuses for word study based on each developmental stage (these can be found on pages 225-226 in the article).
This could be summarised into three main areas around which our explanations, instruction and any learning activities should be based upon:
  • word origin and history (etymology);
  • syllable patterns and units of meaning (morphology); 
  • letter patterns (phonics).
A simple timetable can sum up what we've seen so far from the research on teaching spelling. This structure can be applied to children working at different developmental levels of spelling with different lists of spellings:

How Do We Learn?

Let's look at learning in a broader sense and ask ourselves, how do we learn? Without going into too much detail, one of the most effective techniques is to work on the recall of information from our long term memories. In Clare Sealy's super-helpful blog post 'Memory Not Memories - Teaching For Long Term Memory' she summarises research that shows that 'we can strengthen our ability to recall long-term memories by retrieving them.' This is called 'the retrieval effect' or 'the testing effect' and is where testing becomes a learning tool rather than an assessment tool. Clare goes on to explain that 'the more times we try and retrieve something, the stronger the memory gets. But it is the struggle that is important. If we reteach content instead of getting children to try and retrieve stuff they’ve probably forgotten, the memory does not get strengthened in the same way.' 

In his 2006 literature review 'Characteristics of Effective Spelling Instruction' in Reading Horizons, Randall R. Wallace, based on the work of Fitzsimmons and Loomer (1978), reports that spelling lessons offered in a word list format were effective when teachers followed the following guidelines:
In 'Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology' by Dunlosky et al, it is reported that, based on much research, low stakes practice testing (p26) 'enhances learning and retention': pre-testing is an example of this practice testing.

Focusing in on the middle two points made by Wallace and linking that to what we know about recall of information from the long term memory, it would make sense that during a week children are pre-tested, taught and then tested again. To make this practical, we might say that they are pre-tested on their spellings on, say, a Monday, and that on that day they correct their spelling mistakes whilst self-marking their test. On the Friday of the same week, after being taught the spellings in between, the children are then tested again. If the process is left at this point then children are likely to forget the spellings learned in that particular week. It seems that the key to aid retention of the spellings from any given week would be to keep including past spellings in future tests, particularly those spellings which children find tricky.

Teaching Spelling Explicitly
    So far we've discussed selecting words and using testing at either end of a week. But what happens in between? Do we just send lists home and get children to somehow magically learn them? No. The EEF guidance simply says 'Spelling should be explicitly taught'.

    The third of Bear and Templeton's three important structural practices is that 'students should be guided towards discovering patterns and generalisations among the words they examine'. The EEF in their guidance for improving literacy in KS1 are a little less sure: 'there is some evidence to suggest that teaching word patterns may help with spelling.'

    Examining Spelling Patterns

    In a language notorious for having many exceptions to the rules, what sort of patterns are we looking for?

    In their 2008 article 'How Words Cast Their Spell' Joshi and Moats write 'good spellers develop insights into how words are spelled based on sound/letter correspondences, meaningful parts of words (like the root 'bio' and the suffix 'logy'), and word origins and history. This knowledge, in turn, supports a specialized memory system - memory for letters in words. The technical term for this is “orthographic memory,” and it’s developed in tandem with awareness of a word’s internal structure—its sounds, syllables, meaningful parts, oddities, history, and so forth. Therefore, explicit instruction in language structure, and especially sound structure, is essential to learning to spell.'

    When it comes to using etymology as a strategy for teaching spelling Bear and Templeton suggest that this only comes when children are at an advanced stage of development reading and writing (aged 10 and up). This should not stop etymology being a part of vocabulary instruction earlier on, indeed, it is likely that this practice is a possible stepping stone for using etymology as a spelling strategy.

    Goodwin's meta-analysis (2010) of morphological interventions for spelling shows that this method of teaching spelling is successful. A simple definition of morphology can be found on wikipedia:
    'the study of words, how they are formed, and their relationship to other words in the same language.It analyzes the structure of words and parts of words, such as stems, root words, prefixes, and suffixes.' The National Curriculum appendix gives a good breakdown of the spelling patterns that children should be learning. This seems to be the area that most research agrees on as being the main focus for spelling instruction.

    Looking at letter patterns is helpful to a point but Fitzsimmons and Loomer reported that heavily depending on phonic rules is ineffective and intuitively we know that to be true - many misspellings we come across in children's work are as a result of spelling phonically without applying knowledge of other rules.

    In Summary (So Far)


    In the next blog post we will look at research-based, practical ways of teaching spelling on the days between the tests and we will add to our weekly timetable.

    Monday, 11 September 2017

    Translating Research Into Practical Advice (Reflections On ResearchED)

    At the weekend (sounds like a year 3 recount, I know) I went to my first researchED event - the national conference, which was held at Chobham Academy in some part of London or other where you can almost see the money pouring into it (but as a Northerner, that's a rant I'll avoid now). With a whole host of speakers it wasn't easy to pick which sessions to attend - a good proportion of the train journey down was spent poring over the workshop descriptions and in some slots I had up to 5 possible choices. There was a definite air of excitement as teachers and other professionals poured into the school's largest hall; it felt good to be part of something which, compared to other conferences I've attended, seemed so big.

    Almost immediately I spotted the familiar face of Mark Enser, a wonderful teacher (I'm sure) and writer whose articles I always find myself nodding along to vehemently (in truth, he writes the stuff I most wish I'd written). It was great to meet him in person albeit briefly and I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time some other people who I had previously 'known' online: Dr Emma Kell (who may live to regret a subsequent proposal to co-present something one day), Justin Gray, Karen Wespieser and Kieran Dhunna Halliwell as well as a second time meeting with Martin Galway. Making those face-to-face connections was a real highlight although in each case I wish I'd had longer to chat, but it was always onto the next workshop.

    Allow me to give you some of the context behind why I was so keen to attend researchED. My MAT recently won the bid to be one of the EEF's research schools as we are situated in one of the 'opportunity areas'. I will be working on the team to develop the research school's role in our area and, although I have recently attempted to be more evidence-informed in my approach, I felt this a good opportunity to sharpen my understanding and skills with regards to educational research.

    The main role of the research school is actually to disseminate research to the schools and teachers in our area - a city where social mobility is low. Also, as leaders in a primary school, my colleagues and I had reflected that although lots of what we ask our staff do is evidence-based, they often don't know it as we have distilled the findings into practical steps for them to take - they are  teaching using evidence-informed methods without knowing it. This is something we'd like to change so that:

    • they become more autonomous in seeking research and using it themselves;
    • they know we aren't just plucking ideas out of nowhere;
    • they understand that when they are asked to do something it's because there's a good chance it'll work.
    Because of all this I chose some sessions to help me begin to think about how to help teachers who have no knowledge of or interest in educational research to begin to take notice of its possible benefits. Dr Gary Jones led a session on being efficient when it comes to evidence-based practice and Nick Rose spoke on helping new teachers to use research in their teaching. Both speakers were incredibly knowledgeable and I found much of what they had to say to be very interesting but I struggled to come away with much down-to-earth, practical advice for how to help teachers to make their practice more evidence-based.

    And that would be my overall observation of the day. Speakers presented knowledgeably but left me with very few concrete ideas as to what to do with the information. Now, I don't claim to be at all academically-minded in the way that many of the presenters are, but then, neither are many teachers - the ones who we'd like to use evidence or research to inform their teaching. Upon reflection, it is very clear that there is much work to be done to bridge the gap between research and classroom practice.

    For example, Nick Rose discussed in great detail that which hinders new teachers (and other teachers) from reading research and using it to inform their teaching but in amongst that he mentioned that the best way is to use case studies. If that's the case, I'd have liked the session to focus on how to access case studies, how to write case studies, how to help teachers see the potential and limitations of being inspired by case studies. Dr Gary Jones provided a wide range of ideas but I would have benefited more from spending more time on just one or two of them.

    Dr Gary Jones helpfully pointed out that research is only one of the strands which informs evidence-based practice and that data is one of the other pieces of evidence we have to help us make decisions about teaching. Mike Treadaway shared some fascinating national data on pupil premium children but again, there was very little suggestion as to how teachers might use this information to inform their teaching, only a suggestion that the funding formula needs changing - something none of us have a say in.

    When blogging and writing articles I often get to the part where I've made my point, discussed the theory or presented the research (or finished my rant) and there I want to stop. But increasingly I've forced myself to go further to do the hard bit: provide some practical advice relating to the subject of the blog post or article. It's not easy and I suspect the ability to do it it relies on teacher expertise and experience, not just research. Much of the advice I've ever been given has not been borne out of research, but out of teachers' own experience. One point discussed in Rachel Lawrence's session on 'What should a research leader in education do?' was whether or not someone leading in research needs to be a teacher: the discussion seemed to conclude that they would be listened to better if they were a respected teacher who colleagues knew could walk the walk. Perhaps the divide between research and practical advice arises because those involved in research aren't always teachers, and vice versa? I can't be sure.

    Having said that, I am aware that there are many resources out there which marry research with good practical advice. The EEF reports for example, and Dominic Salles' book 'The Slightly Awesome Teacher'. I also noticed that Robin Macpherson (whose session I didn't manage to get to) has a book in the pipeline called 'What Does This Look Like In The Classroom? Bridging The Gap Between Research And Practice' which does sound very promising. There are clearly also many books written on many subjects which seek to translate research into practical advice and it's this approach that more teachers would benefit from.

    Martin Galway gave me food for thought when it comes to disseminating research by pointing out that often we don't read the original source of the research but instead read blog posts, news articles and meta-studies of the published research. Often we read secondary or tertiary accounts of the research and much can be lost in translation resulting in practice which doesn't do what it is supposed to do. This will be a real challenge for the research school and something that needs navigating carefully. Again, some practical information on how to do this would be really helpful - this may have happened  in some of the other seminars.

    I managed to take in a wide variety of seminars, including a panel discussion, and whilst the short sessions meant that interest never dipped, it did mean that some presenters were pushed for time. It's totally out of the organisers' hands but it may have been more beneficial to narrow the focus of some sessions in order to get one point across well and include some time for questions and discussion. Again, this reflection is important for how the research school carries out any CPD - a honed down, precise objective needs to be stuck to when presenting crucial information about research and how it might impact on practice.

    Now obviously I only attended a very small percentage of the available workshops and so my reflections may not be an accurate overall picture - I'm very aware of this. In fact, this blog post from Jessica Fear just goes to show that some will have left the researchED brimming with practical advice to follow. Hopefully it's clear that I've framed my thoughts by thinking not about how researchED might change (I'm under no illusions - I don't have that influence) but by thinking about how my limited experiences at the conference will form how I think about how to engage teachers in the use of research over the coming year.

    To finish, I would reiterate that the conference gave me much to think through and made me aware of research that has already taken place, research techniques that I knew nothing of before  and gave me a better overall idea about the world of educational research. There are things that I will go on to explore further and there are other seemingly small titbits of information that will actually hugely influence my own practice once I've spent more time thinking through how to apply them practically.

    Would I recommend a researchED event? Yes, to anyone. I'd say go with an open mind, even if you think research isn't the be all and end all. After all, Tom Bennett himself in his opening speech reminded us all that "the craft of teaching is enormously important" and Nick Rose made it clear that "evidence-based practice is not a recipe to dictate what a teacher does, nor is it to undermine professional judgement, rather it is to inform and refine it".

    researchED links:

    Livestreams: https://livestream.com/L4L/rED17?t=1504937237924
    Mike Treadaway's blog series for Education Data Lab exploring long-term disadvantage: http://educationdatalab.org.uk/tag/long-term-disadvantage/