Thursday, 22 December 2016

UPDATED: Teaching Reading: A Simple Approach

In response to the 2016 KS2 Reading Test I've spent quite a bit of time researching and re-thinking my approach to teaching reading. This has resulted in the creation of a few resources which I've already blogged about. I have been asked a few times about the context in which I use these resources - this blog post will outline what a basic reading lesson might look like. Following the links throughout will lead you to more thorough information about the techniques and ideas mentioned.

Timetabling - my reading lessons happen on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:45 - 9:45. The children come in to a 'Do Now' which usually involves reading the day's chapter/passage/excerpt independently (more on this later). On those mornings I also teach writing-focused English for the following hour and then 1.5 hours of maths after break.

Whole-Class Reading - I do not have a 'traditional' carousel of activities. All children read and answer questions about the same text; research shows that children benefit from being exposed to higher level texts (when the teacher reads it aloud to them before they answer questions on it). Many of my reading lessons are based on a class novel which we read over a half term or a term; to facilitate this we have 'class sets' of many quality texts. Many people ask how the lower prior attainers can be catered for in these sessions - I've written more about that here. For more on the ideology behind whole-class reading please read Rhoda Wilson's blog post about it.

Lesson Sequence - During these sessions I ask the children to first read the chapter/excerpt independently, then I read the same passage aloud, then without discussion the children attempt to independently work through the questions giving written answers. Once the majority of children have done this we hold a whole-class discussion and I (or children who have written good answers) model best answers and children edit what they have written (in purple so as to distinguish their original answer from their edited answer). This sequence was inspired by Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov. This will usually be followed by a period of reading aloud the next part of the text (usually by me but I plan to begin to ask children to read aloud more often) which is often, but not always, accompanied by lots of discussion and modelling of my thought processes as a reader.

Reading For Pleasure - Many school plan elaborate initiatives in an attempt to entice children into reading with the hope that this will lead to them choosing to read for pleasure. My reading lessons always contain a time of just reading the class novel for enjoyment - books are the most powerful tool when it comes to getting children to love and enjoy reading. I've written more about it here in my blog post entitled 'On Why I'll Still Be Dressing Up For World Book Day And The Power Of Books'.

Comprehension Activities - I use the various question stem documents which are available to set my questions, and I colour-code each question and put the relevant Reading Roles symbol with them (see below for more on Reading Roles). Many of these comprehension activities will follow my Scaffolding Inference structure (see below) although I do teach other lessons which focus on the other cognitive domains. Examples of these activities can be found here. I have written a whole blog post entitled 'How To Write Good Comprehension Questions' which gives more insight into how I go about setting questions for reading lessons. In at least some lessons there is a focus on particular reading strategies, such as inference-making which I have written about here: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making.

Reading Roles - help children and staff understand the 8 cognitive domains. Each of the cognitive domains is colour-coded and has a symbol assigned - as mentioned, we use these colours and symbols when designing our comprehension activities. Reading Roles have been used by other teachers in other schools - some of them have written about it here.

Scaffolding Inference - this is something I've designed and developed based on research and findings from last year's SATs. Please see the quick reference guide which outlines this approach. I would say that this is the most effective thing I have done as it focuses on the reading test's three key areas: vocabulary, retrieval and inference. Not only can inference be scaffolded, other reading strategies can too: Scaffolding Structures For Reading Comprehension Skills.

Growing Background Knowledge - this isn't always easy to do as background knowledge can vary so much from child to child. What we do know is that our understanding of a text hinges greatly on what we already know - this might be a knowledge of vocabulary or just a more general knowledge. I have written about possible strategies to take when it comes to building children's background knowledge: 5 Ways To Make Texts With Unfamiliar Contexts More Accessible To ChildrenAttacking Children's Immunity To Imaginative Literature.

EAL reading activity structure - this is an activity (again, linked to the Reading Roles) which I have designed based on research on how to support EAL learners when accessing new texts.

Pairing non-fiction texts with fiction texts - this increases understanding of both the fiction text and the non-fiction text and has sparked some really deep conversations about moral, ethical and religious issues. I have also written about this for the TES: Why Every Primary School Needs To Embrace Non-Fiction.

We also use these resources in English lessons (with our Talk 4 Writing texts) and topic lessons - much of our work centres around texts so these activities help to ensure children comprehend the information.

The fruit of this approach is that in December over 50% of children in my group taking the 2016 KS2  Reading Test were working at or above average (according to the test's thresholds) after one term of year 6. This is a dramatic increase when compared to my results in last year's END of year results based on the same test.

If there is something you feel I've not covered, please ask and I will edit this to give a fuller picture of my approach. I'm not assuming it to be a silver bullet but am seeing good results after teaching in this way for a term.

Click here to read about how following these approaches impacted on our SATs results.

Further reading about reading from my blog:

Being A Reading Teacher

Reading: 2 Things All Parents and Teachers Must Do

Reading: Attacking Children's Immunity To Imaginative Literature

Reading for Pleasure

Changing Hearts, Minds, Lives and the Future: Reading With Children For Empathy

The Best RE Lesson I Ever Taught (Spoiler: It Was A Reading Lesson)

The Unexplainable Joy of Comparing Books

The More-ness of Reading

The Power Of Books

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Structuring Reading Comprehension for EAL Learners

Three staples of guided reading, be that a whole class session or a ‘carousel’ of activities, are the provision of high-quality texts, teacher reading aloud to children and the subsequent talk about texts.

The British Council website expands on these three pillars:
Reading as a collaborative activity is very beneficial to EAL learners:
  • Read aloud to learners. Recent research has shown that being read to for as little as ten minutes a day can make a significant difference to a learner’s reading ability.
  • Talk about what is being read. Pinpoint specific elements in the text through discussion. EAL learners need practice in reading between and behind the lines: they need to see that text may imply more than it actually says.
  • Make available high-quality texts (picture books/short novels/poetry/manga/illustrated non-fiction) that will encourage EAL learners to read for pleasure.
The British Council website makes other recommendations more specific to EAL learners (a catch-all term I know, but useful for brevity) which are not always incorporated into guided reading lessons:
For reading at paragraph or longer text level:
  • Give learners a clear idea of what to expect from the text, and give them plenty of time to engage with it. Consider providing a brief summary, in pictures or in straightforward English.
  • Prepare for reading: check text in advance, to work out which vocabulary items and structures may be challenging, not only for EAL learners but for others. Consider pre-teaching these.
  • Be aware of familiar vocabulary used in ways which may obscure meaning. What’s a ‘piggy bank’? What happened when the King ‘gave someone his daughter’s hand in marriage’? Also, be aware that texts designed for less able monolingual readers may pose substantial difficulties for EAL learners. The increased use of prepositional verbs and colloquial expressions (‘Oh, I give up!’) can make these texts easy to decode but difficult to understand.
  • Ask learners to say whether discrete sentences (taken from the text, or paraphrases) are true or false.
  • Give learners a number of false sentences, and ask them to reword the sentences to make them true.
The ASCD website also suggests:
  • Use informal comprehension checks: To test students' ability to put materials in sequence, for example, print sentences from a section of the text on paper strips, mix the strips, and have students put them in order.
And the Reading Rockets website adds:
  • The best kinds of activities for building background knowledge are those that get students involved in manipulating language and concepts, rather than just receiving information from the teacher. These include experiential activities such as science experiments, classification activities, role playing, previewing a reading and generating questions about it, and sharing predictions about the answers to those questions.
In order to make meeting these demands a little easier I put together a basic structure for an EAL reading activity. It can be used as a standalone activity or as a pre-cursor to further activities and questioning. It should always be used in conjunction with those three pillars mentioned at the beginning – particularly the pillar of discussion: the activity sheet should not be completed totally independently by the children. In addition to this, it should be noted that once children have made an attempt at reading the text independently (if capable) then the teacher should read aloud the same text to them.

The colour-coding and symbols in the proforma relate to my ‘Reading Roles’ resource which is designed to make the elements of the content domain more memorable for staff and children alike - click here to read my blog post about it..

Download the resource here from TES Resources.

Click here to download an example of how this resource might be used - this resource is based on David Walliams' 'The Boy in the Dress'.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Reading the Warning Signs


We’ve all experienced the moment when, mid-work, the computer begins to automatically shut-down; it needs its updates and a restart.

Our bodies send the same messages, often in code and rarely in the glaringly obvious written-across-the-screen way of digital devices. No, our bodies are more subtle and there are positives and negatives to that.

Continue reading here at www.integritycoaching.co.uk

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Reading Roles: Elements Of The Content Domain Made Memorable

A few years ago there were many resources available supporting children's understanding of the Assessment Focuses. Teachers found it beneficial to help children to identify the kinds of questions they were being asked about texts. The idea behind making children aware of the question type is that they might have a better idea of what the answer should look like in order to give better verbal and written answers.

With the recent introduction of the content domain (as set out in the English Reading Test Framework) and the upset caused by the difficulty of last year's KS2 reading test I set about reviving an idea that an old colleague of mine and I had a few years ago. Back then, we joked about conceiving it and setting up as consultants, peddling it around the local area but it wasn't even worth creating the resource as there were so many out there already that did the job just fine. Others out there are devising ways to help children understand the elements of the content domain however I believe the simple resource I have devised has some merits.

The concept of 'Reading Roles' is to assign a well-known job, role or profession to each of the domains. Most children will already understand what the jobs entail in real life and therefore will fairly immediately be able to gain an understanding of each element of the content domain. We have been trialing this for a number of weeks now and the children are already able to articulate what questions in each domain require of them. There is still work to be done - confidence in identifying question types consistently, but they now have the tool to do so.

Here are the 8 elements of the content domain and their assigned 'roles' (written for KS2):


This resource can be downloaded here, along with its KS1 counterpart and posters for both KS1 and KS2 containing one domain/role on each page.

As is obvious each domain is colour-coded and is assigned a simple symbol as a memory aid. We have used the colours and symbols to identify question types in the comprehension tasks we have set - the aim of this is to familiarise the children with the question types. Eventually we will remove the colours and symbols and focus more on question type identification. See here for examples of the comprehension tasks I've set in this way.

Click here for some testimonials from people who have used Reading Roles effectively in their school.

Again, as with the Scaffolding Inference technique, I'd love to hear from anyone who begins to use this. It'd be very interesting to see how this helps other children and in what ways it can be developed and used.

With thanks to Herts for Learning for the focus of each element of the content domain.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

TBCT Interview @ Schoolwell.co.uk

SchoolWell, a school staff wellbeing directory, asked me a few questions about wellbeing, marking, Twitter, reading and #OptimisticEd; the full interview is posted on their site at: http://schoolwell.co.uk/exclusive-interview-thatboycanteach/.

"I am always conscious of how hard the work can be and that part of my job is to ensure that my own colleagues’ wellbeing is prioritised"

"I’ve found it really beneficial to read before I sleep: it takes my mind off all the things I’ve been doing during the day. If I don’t read I often have vivid dreams about those things which leads to a restless night and tiredness the next day."

"What schools should focus on is their expectations of teachers: of the amount of planning, marking, preparation that is explicitly expected. Every new initiative needs to be passed through a filter to ensure that it is purposeful and efficient"

To read the full interview, click here to be taken to the SchoolWell website.

My Ambition Isn't Just About Me

Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt once said “It is my fervent wish and my greatest ambition to leave a work with a few useful instructions for the pianists after me.” And that’s my ambition too. Well, apart from the pianists bit.

Leaving a few useful instructions actually sounds a little unambitious, but in essence that’s what education’s all about. If those ‘few instructions’ were how to multiply two digit numbers by four digit numbers and how to hyphenate words then, as a teacher, I’d be lacking in ambition. But if they are how to be confident in your own abilities, how to be respect others and perhaps ultimately how to be ambitious, then my ambition is great.

Click to continue reading this article on the Ambition School Leadership website.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Dogs & Sledges: Harnessing Action To Clarity Of Vision

Inferring information from a text. Vocabulary building. Mental recall strategies. Written methods for calculations. Reasoning. Test skills. Attitude to learning. Accelerated progress. Improved combined ARE scores. Mastery. Greater depth. Inclusion. Just a few of my priorities this year. All things my team and I are working full-throttle to ensure are embedded in our lessons and culture. We look for as many opportunities as possible to address these issues, always trying to safeguard the children from feeling the pressure of all this. And I work hard to shield my team from all of the pressure, too, even when I have a sleepless Sunday night because it's all turning over in my mind. 

Imagine these 'priorities' as husky dogs running amok in an Alaskan landscape, wild-eyed, full of energy but lacking in purpose. Some of them are gainfully employed, hunting, rearing their young, but others are tearing around aimlessly, chasing their own tails, never achieving much of any use.

Simon Sinek encourages us to 'start with why'. His main idea is that leaders and organisations can inspire others by being clear on their purpose; by having clarity of vision. According to his website 'Simon Sinek believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together.' But without a clear purpose and a shared vision it is very difficult for collaboration and teamwork to take place, let alone building together for a bright future. And this is particularly difficult in schools where it is often perceived that everything is a priority. In schools we can be spinning so many plates that it's hard to tell which ones are actually contributing towards the vision that the school has. Patrick Lencioni's book 'The Advantage' (click here for a summary) proposes that organisations, and that can include schools, should think through the answers to six questions. The first of these is 'Why do we exist?': start with why. 

Suppose we see 'why' as a sled. A team of husky dogs properly employed will be guided by their leader from the seat of the sled. The purpose of the dogs comes from the sled and its driver, but the dogs are the ones who do the work, pulling the sled to its destination. All our actions to improve the issues outlined earlier should be harnessed to a purpose, otherwise they are just actions; actions which may achieve something, but are never destined to definitely have specific outcomes.

Patrick Lencioni recommends that once that first question 'Why do we exist?' has been answered leaders can then go on to ask themselves 'How do we behave?', 'What do we do?', 'How will we succeed?', 'What is most important, right now?' and 'Who must do what?'. In schools, we often have deeply entrenched answers to these questions and we carry on in those ways regardless of whether we know our 'why' or not. Look at my list in the opening paragraph - we definitely know what we do! We are also fairly clear on how we behave and who must do what, but often none of this is aligned to a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve. As a result we perhaps lose sight of what is most important right now - it's hard to tell if all the things we are doing are actually useful and having an impact.

We must start with why. We must start with our sled and its driver. In schools we have to think 'What is the end of the journey?' Where does our sled need to go? Steven Covey cites the importance of planning backwards: 'Begin with the end in mind.' Without a sled a distant arctic destination would be very difficult to reach; without the 'why' an aspirational goal will similarly be a struggle to achieve. And Lencioni does recommend that when answering the first question we have to be 'completely idealistic' and that the 'why' that we arrive at should be 'grand and aspirational'. We should be setting an optimistic vision initially.

Lencioni also outlines six possible categories for the question 'Why do we exist?': customer, industry, greater cause, community, employees and wealth. There are some of these categories that we can rule out right away: we don't run schools to make money, our schools don't exist simply to give employees a job and although many consider teaching to be vocational, we don't do it because we love the industry of teaching. That leaves three categories: customer, greater cause and community. The 'why' of the community category is making 'a specific geographical place better'; I'd argue that to be an indicator of success for a school, but not it's main purpose (although for some schools, this might be their main purpose). Which means the 'why' of a school is either about our customers, the children, or a greater cause. The greater cause of education might be seen as, rather than educating for education's sake, focusing on the reasons why we educate - and those reasons are many, depending on who you are. So it is possible that a school's 'why' is probably a mix of existing for the customer and a greater cause. 

Once an optimistic vision of the future has been set, once the sled has been prepared, it is then time to begin to harness those huskies: which dogs would work best towards a common goal? Which ones would work together well? Which ones would pull off in another direction? Which ones would be too weak to provide enough pulling power? Which ones would require disproportionate amount of sustenance to their output? Our analogy points towards a reassessment of all the things that we do just because that's what we do. Schools need to work out whether the things they are madly doing actually contribute to achieving their goals. They need to decide whether the overall vision is being realised by all the actions that are taking place: the interventions, the CPD, the focus of planning and teaching, the conversations SLT are having, etcetera, etcetera. It might be that some of the dogs have to be turned loose - sadly, as arctic explorers know, there is no allowance for sentiment. There is no point in doing things in schools simply because we love doing them - everything must have a purpose greater than tradition or romance.

During the summer I attended the Teaching Leaders (now Ambition School Leadership) residential as a fellow of the programme (only having to complete the second year of the two-year programme). I was challenged by some inspirational leaders to ensure that I was clear in my vision. Steve Radcliffe, coach to powerful and influential figures the world over encouraged me first to think of the future before engaging others in that vision of the future. Andy Buck told me to focus on one thing in order to gain clarity. Baroness Sue Campbell reiterated the need to be clear on where we are going, asking me to consider if everyone gets my vision and wants to follow me. She also caused me to consider whether my targets were good enough and whether or not I knew what great looked like. James Toop discussed creating culture - my key piece of learning from that session: 'Be clear on what my vision is', I wrote in my Moleskine - I knew that without a clear vision I would struggle to create a culture within my own team. Sir David Carter issued a performance challenge, the first point of which was to 'de-clutter' - cutting loose those dogs which are not helping to pull the sled in a common direction in huge pursuit of a common destination.

Walt Disney said 'Of all the things I've done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.' And so, I have come to a place where I have an analogy to help me to begin to think through my answer to the question 'Why do we exist?' Perhaps if I were opening a new school I might find that question easier to answer but as it is I'm working in a fully-functioning school complete with it's embedded practice and so I have to begin by ignoring what all those dogs (remember the dogs are the things we are busy doing, not the people themselves!) are doing for the time being and focusing on what they could achieve if they were harnessed to just the one sled. My current thinking needs to revolve not around what we can do next, but around what we want to achieve by doing all the things we are doing. Once I have clarity it will be my job to communicate that clear vision and to begin to de-clutter and streamline, letting go those practices which don't contribute to the vision and carefully implementing new ones that truly align to the goals we set.