ROOT MAP: A Vocabulary Instruction Model

ROOT MAP: A Vocabulary Instruction Model

Last July, I wrote the first of a two-part blog post (see part 1 here) sharing some early musings around the best approach for a new vocabulary model that we wanted to introduce at my school. This generated much interest and a number of people since have asked for the second instalment. As a result of the programme’s ongoing evolution, there have been alterations along the way. Nevertheless, I finally present to you the sequel, in the form of a write-up from my session at ResearchED last Saturday. My colleague, Phil Stock, has also written about this here.

Footage of the session will be available here soon.

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On Saturday 7th November, I was privileged to speak at the first ResearchED Secondary English & Literacy conference at Swindon Academy. (To see my Top 5 takeaway points from the day, see here.) My session explored the importance of direct vocabulary instruction.
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To begin, I asked those present to spend a few minutes discussing where they would rank each of these actions on a scale from least energy required to most.

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When feeding back as a group, two members of the audience beat me to my own teaching point, making the case that this task would be impossible without the semantic knowledge of the words in bold. I then displayed the following slide, which I had composed to exemplify how unfamiliar words can instantaneously become unwelcome hurdles that students must face when trying to comprehend a given text.

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“Those who know 90 percent of the words in a text will understand its meaning and, because they understand, they will also begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words.” (E.D. Hirsch, 2003)

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I proceeded to explain that a study conducted by Beck et al. into the acquisition of new vocabulary resulted in the speculation of a continuum, whereby different texts can present a reader with a variety of scenarios, some which offer the necessary clues to help us learn a word meaning and, for others, no clues at all. More information is given in the PPT slides embedded at the foot of this post.

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As a result of their studies, Beck’s team resolved that “…relying on learning word meanings from independent reading is not an adequate way to deal with students’ vocabulary development.” Beck, McKeown & Kucan (2013)

I’m in full agreement with this, not least because there are a great number of students who won’t necessarily come into contact with unfamiliar vocabulary through independent reading anyway, as a result of a lack of interest in books, or they may be reading texts that lack enough challenge.

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Next, I outlined the memory process we believe to be true when acquiring new information. I shared Anderson’s theory (1994), asserting that information is stored in biomodal packets, separated into linguistic packets called ‘logogens’ and non-linguistic packets called ‘imagens’.

Slide22Both Anderson’s theory and that of Sadoski and Paivio’s Dual Coding Theory (1994), support the notion that experiences are stored in language terms but also in ways more connected to senses, feelings, emotions, visual perceptions etc. From these theories, it can be ascertained that an individual learns new information by initially creating an episodic memory of an event (ie. a one-off experience) which, with repetition, can become a semantic experience whereby the learner begins to assimilate new information as part of a deeper network of knowledge around a particular idea or theme.

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I noted the importance of Graham Nuthall’s working memory model here, stressing that three conditions that lead to effective processing are:

  1. Strength – multiple exposures to new information (at least 3 or 4 within a limited time) is essential in order to embed knowledge
  2. Depth – ensuring students think ‘hard’ about new information so as not to allow it to just hover on the surface, instead challenging learners to wrestle with new ideas and concepts to ensure they are deeply rooted
  3. Elaboration – providing opportunities for learners to make connections and associations with previously acquired knowledge, in order for this to ‘latch’ onto something

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In discussing which words should be targetted for direct instruction, I made reference to three sources:

  1. Rolfus and Ackerman (1999) asserted that subject knowledge has a high degree of specificity i.e. little transfer. The five particular areas they recommend to teach are:
    a) Subject specific words and phrases embody deep, underlying concepts e.g. condensation, genre
    b) Roots and suffixes e.g. gen, anti-
    c) Proper nouns e.g. Carl Lewis
    d) Compound words e.g. drummer boy
    e) Subject and verb phrases e.g. book review
  2. Beck’s contribution of the tiered vocabulary pyramid suggests that words can be categorised into three tiers.
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The advice from Beck suggests that it is Tier 2 words that should be taught explicitly, since these are the words that arise less frequently in conversation, more in writing. This theory would suggest that, as a result of teaching Tier 2 words, Tier 3 words can then be accessed more easily by the learner. While there is some sense in this approach, much of the research undertaken in the area of memory would dispute this method, arguing that the teaching of words need to be deeply rooted within their subject domain, in order to connect new information to already-learnt knowledge.

  1. The final source was taken from a synthesis of research studies undertaken by the National Reading Panel (NRP) in the US, 2010. As a result of their analysis, they identified eight findings that provide a scientifically based foundation for the design of rich vocabulary instruction. These were:

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These findings, as well as the great research undertaken by Robert J. Marzano in his book “Building Academic Vocabulary“, have directly informed our delivery of vocabulary instruction at Greenshaw.

All too aware of the gap between word-rich and word-poor students, we recognise the crucial importance of providing all students with direct and indirect experiences, broadening their understanding of the world, enabling students from both privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds alike to obtain and retain new words taught.

[There is an] estimated difference of vocabulary knowledge of 4,700 words between students of high and low social economic status.” (Templin, 1957)

It is through the mediums of those listed below that we might be able to develop students’ vocabulary in a way that meets their individual needs.

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Taking direction from Marzano’s work, we have implemented 6 steps of effective vocabulary instruction in our Year 7 research trial.

Slide41See slides 41-60 of the PPT shared at the bottom of this post for more information and the filmed session, which will be available here shortly.

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In closing, I will attempt to outline the structure we have designed, in order to deliver two strands of vocabulary instruction, namely subject-specific English words (Tier 2&3) and roots, prefixes and suffixes.

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As you can see from the image above, one tutor time session a week is reserved for a morphology and etymology focus on words. During this time, tutors across a range of different curriculum subjects deliver 15 minutes of intensive vocabulary delivery, teaching the meaning of common roots required at KS3 and beyond.
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In addition to this, students are also explicitly taught Tier 2 and 3 subject-specific words in their English classes, directly linked to the text being studied at the time. See the slide below for our first cycle of Autumn term words and roots taught.

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Here is a rough idea of how much direct instruction students might receive over a fortnight’s cycle.

Slide65 As I explained in my talk and, as is the reality for so many teachers, there is never enough time to teach the content of the curriculum, let alone trying to cram in additional vocabulary content. This is why we have moved some of the definitions and connections tasks originally designed to take place in English lessons to our online learning platform, giving students the opportunity to revisit information multiple times by completing multiple choice quizzes and games online between lessons, set as homework. (When I figure out how to share the demo of this on here, I will!)

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I hope this has given some insight into the development of our vocabulary curriculum design, but would encourage you to check out the footage from the session when it becomes available for a complete walk through.

PPT slides here: 

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My Top 5: ResearchED Secondary English and Literacy

My Top 5: ResearchED Secondary English and Literacy

Saturday 7th November saw the first ResearchED Secondary English & Literacy event at Swindon Academy. It really was a fantastic day. Whether you made it to the event or not, here’s my top 5 moments of the day:
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  1. Professor Ray Land opened the day with a keynote talk on Threshold Concepts, revealing why new knowledge can be so troublesome and unsettling for learners at any age. It would be foolish for me to even attempt to summarise Ray’s presentation as it was brilliant in many ways. His research-rooted insight into why students struggle to understand or take hold of such large scale concepts in the classroom was fascinating.
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  2. The structure of the day; the travelling, the cake breaks and the pockets of times waiting for sessions to begin, offered welcome spaces for some geeky, intellectually provocative and nutritious conversations about teaching and learning matters with colleagues both familiar and new.
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  3. The menu of sessions on offer was packed with so many great choices. There was real opportunity to hear some fantastic teachers and leaders share their knowledge of research and how they are applying this to their curriculum design and pedagogy in the school where they work. For me, this included:
    a) listening to Summer Turner share the English curriculum design with a heavy focus on rich literature that she and colleagues have put in place at the East London Science School
    b) learning from Katie Ashford about the importance of rigorous grammar instruction – something we are evolving at our school, so it was great to see that Michaela Community School is one step ahead
    c) soaking up the wisdom offered by Eric Kalenze on the importance of background knowledge (was sorry not to see the end of this, but grateful for technology!)
    It was a shame to miss other great speakers including Phil Stock, Andy Tharby, James Murphy, but am looking forward to catching up with their sessions online when they’re available.
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  4. The priviledge of delivering a session myself alongside some excellent speakers, on the importance of direct vocabulary instruction. I do believe this is one area of literacy that has huge value in the classroom and enhances students’ deeper learning, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to lead on this (blog post soon to follow on here).
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  5. Not wishing to wrestle any credit away from Tom Bennett or David Didau, there’s a warm sense of achievement that I believe those involved can enjoy on days like this. It’s worth reflecting that the ResearchED community is central to this ever-growing grassroots movement, snowballing solely because those people who live and breathe education are passionate enough to ensure that this super profession remains transparent, research-driven and authentic.
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I will blog about my talk here in the next couple of days.

Here’s to the next one!

Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Vocabulary Matters – My contribution to ResearchED Literacy, 7th Nov 2015

Next Saturday, I will be one of a number of gathered teachers and researchers who share a common aim – hopeful that, through organic grass roots events like @researchED1, it might be possible to reduce the considerable chasm between educational research and classroom practice.
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Attending this event for the first time last year, I was surprised by the number of delegates present who had sacrificed a day of their weekend to travel, ready to participate in the workshops on offer and be willing to engage in educational conversations with others there. It was refreshing to experience an approach to teaching and learning so rooted in research and, after a powerful day, I left feeling positively challenged.

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That’s why this year I’m really pleased to have been invited to lead a workshop at the @researchED1 Literacy event on Saturday 7th November at Swindon Academy, run by event directors David Didau, Tom Bennett & Hélène O’Shea.
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As Literacy Leader in my school, and also recently appointed as a Lead Learner in research too, I will be delivering a workshop on the importance of teaching vocabulary in order to enhance students’ understanding across the curriculum. Incidentally, the session itself is far more interesting than the somewhat tedious title I gave it: “Improving students’ understanding through direct vocabulary instruction”.
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Many months ago on my blog, I wrote Part 1 of a 2-part post on the new vocabulary programme we were soon to implement in my school as a result of the research we had carried out called ‘Root Planner’. See here. It was always intended that the second part of the duo (‘Root Map’) would be published soon after, outlining the implementation of the programme. For a number of reasons this failed to transpire and, so, albeit a year later, I will be posting Part 2 of this post following my presentation next Saturday.

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A great colleague of mine, Phil Stock, has shared the journey of this whole-school language intervention with me and has recently written about this on his blog here, following the presentation he gave at #TLT15 earlier in October.
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I’m very much looking forward to the day; to hearing some super speakers, to reflecting on my own practice and to embracing the possibilities an event of this nature can bring to teaching and learning.

Hope to see you there!

The Oracy Priority

*This article was written for the bi-monthly newsletter
of a national education organisation.

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“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The-limits-of-my-language-means-the-limits-of-my-world.

It is no great secret that British politics and many top professions in the UK continue to be steered by an overwheming majority of “public” school graduates. While we might attribute much of this to students’ consistently hard work, avid parental support, privileged learning experiences and networking opportunities through financial circumstance (not to mention some darn good ‘pedestalled-by-people-in-power’ teaching), we must not neglect another significant constituent lying beneath the surface here.
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These schools are masters in cultivating learning environments that nurture students to become confident, articulate public speakers. A degree in neuroscience is not required for me to suppose that regular exposure to effective speaking and listening skills – modelled by confident speakers who talk effectively to other confident speakers, whilst employing a wide range of impressive vocabulary to express themselves and their ideas – is far more likely to be the reason why we become confident speakers ourselves, rather than some genetic predisposition to possessing superior oracy skills from birth.

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Neil Mercer, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, explains,

“The British public schools, which educated many members of the present Westminster government, of course place great emphasis on developing the confident and effective use of spoken language. For the sake of social equality, state schools must also teach children the spoken language skills that they need for educational progress, and for life in general.”
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Despite being considered one of the top three skills that employers look for in potential employees, leaders in education could be considered guilty in recent years of overlooking the importance of the explicit teaching of oracy. Current evidence of this within government legislation includes both the downgrading of ‘speaking and listening’ to ‘spoken language’ in the Primary Curriculum, and the entire removal of the oral language assessment at GCSE in 2014. The message this sends is contrary to large volumes of educational research advising that opportunities to discuss, debate and reason with others are essential in the process of assimilating new knowledge and broadening vocabulary. While some students regularly participate in debating groups and thrive in smaller classes where teacher-student and student-student interaction is optimum, others simply dread the moment when their name might be called to answer a relatively straightforward question in front of their peers.

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Studies in this area have revealed that by providing greater opportunities within the classroom for structured exploratory talk, which promotes the sharing and challenging of ideas raised by peers in a safe and well-managed environment, this leads to a greater and more ‘rounded’ understanding of topics raised. Geoff Barton, Headteacher, author and leading literacy expert in his book “Don’t Call it Literacy!” (2012) suggests,

“Group work provides an opportunity for the word-poor to mingle with the word-rich, to hear language being used by pupils of their own age in ways that they might not otherwise encounter. So, at the risk of being too grandiose, we mustn’t forget the importance that thoughtful groupings give to the social mobility agenda.”
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Another crucial type of talk is one that enables students to review concepts and ideas in a critical manner, reflecting in a way that leads to higher order thinking. Designing opportunities where students can rehearse presentational talk is also vital in ensuring that we are fostering future generations of confident public speakers.
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Good oracy is clearly an essential tool in achieving success, not only to enhance a list of employability skills on a CV, but it is also necessary for the process of learning itself. Best practice oracy teaching includes; effective communication modelled by teachers and staff within a school, a range of opportunities provided to rehearse talk through intentional, planned discussions, a combination of different types of talk, discrete teaching of advanced and unfamiliar vocabulary, exemplar modelling of good oracy skills and feedback on student progress in oracy with built-in revisits to enable future improvements.
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With so many obvious advantages to teaching oracy, not least to function as the foundation on which all reading and writing is constructed, it is perplexing that this fundamental aspect of literacy has been removed from the education agenda. As long as the metaphorical ‘gap’ continues to exist between private and state schools, so too should any intervention we can offer that seeks to close it.

Illiteracy: What are we going to do about it?

Illiteracy: What are we going to do about it?

On Saturday 28th March, I was invited to speak at a conference organised by the Reading Reform Foundation (RRF). The purpose of the event was to highlight the vital importance of systematic synthetic phonics (SSP)*. A great variety of speakers with different areas of expertise were asked to talk on the subject and it seemed many fruitful conversations were had by those who attended. I was invited to talk about my decision to use SSP with secondary school students within SEN, which will be available online shortly.

*Simply put:

Systematic Synthetic Phonics (or SSP) is a structured, repetitive approach to teaching reading with a total reliance on the smallest units of explicit sounds – in both spoken form (‘phonemes’) and written form (‘graphemes’) – to teach reading. This method usually starts with the most common sounds and moves through to more complicated ones e.g. knowing a ‘dge’ makes the same sound as a ‘j’, and a ‘tch’ makes the same sound as a ‘ch’.

This is in contrast to analytic phonics, where students are often asked to read beyond a difficult word to the end of the sentence, then attempt to guess it using contextual clues. This approach, while helpful in the opinion of some, does not develop the reading skills of a student nor help them learn explicit sounds, since they have simply guessed the word through their understanding of the rest of the passage. This also often has negative impact for those new to English, since their knowledge of vocabulary at entry point to the UK is minimal, so there are flaws in the reliance of a guessing technique.

While I have been aware of the benefits of using a structured approach to reading for a long time, it has made me more sure than ever that this is the most targetted, reliable, efficient and, without wishing to go overboard, moral way to teach reading.

Unfortunately, official governmental guidance does not stipulate that a single methodical approach to teaching reading is key though does advise this. For me, a directive which would acknowledge the necessity of teaching reading through SSP would be a great step towards ensuring that far more students might have the opportunity to learn to read before they leave primary school.

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Not to add fuel to the fire in the debate around the phonics screening check at the end of Year 1, but I am a keen and outed supporter. Ensuring that any individual has a good grasp of the fundamental skills of reading and writing can surely only be a good thing.

With my SEN head on, however, there seems to be a flaw in the system. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of it is as follows:

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The DfE website states that:

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… And after that? What happens then?

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If, as educators, we acknowledge that children physically grow at different rates, mature emotionally at different times and adopt new knowledge at different speeds, is it okay that we let so many fall off the radar beyond Y2 simply because their learning of our complex alphabetic code has not fit into our man-made termly organisation?

There seems to be a black hole for those students who have not grasped reading by this point and, in my opinion, this could be one key factor contributing to the situation I’m faced with as Literacy Leader of a secondary school, welcoming in substantial numbers of students arriving in Y7 who are still unable to read. Pass at Y2 or branded SEN. Hereth begineth the dreaded ‘gap’.

I have no doubt that schools in the majority do their best to scaffold the learning of students who fail to pass the phonics check at Y2. It is our moral obligation to ensure that our learners are equipped as best as possible for the education journey they walk. However, there are questions we need to be asking here:

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  1. What does the research suggest and how are we applying it to our own classrooms?
  2. If there are so many students failing to grasp reading across the UK, are we really using the most suitable approach that meets the needs of ALL our students?
  3. How else can we support students beyond this stage if they haven’t learnt it by the end of Y2?
  4. Have we done all we can to ensure this student is able to access the curriculum?

 

Disclaimer: I have been a primary school teacher. I have seen the amazing job that primary school teachers do, day in, day out. This post is by no means an attack on the teachers who deliver phonics to younger students. My intention is simply to verbalise my thoughts on the current situation I observe from a secondary perspective and explore ways we might overcome some of the flaws in the system.

 

If we are to see illiteracy in the UK reduce by any significant measure, we have a duty to ensure that:

  1. the most targetted, research-based, fail-proof, methodical approach to teaching reading is employed
  2. ALL students are supported to a point where they are able to read and write independently as early as possible (and beyond!) 

By achieving these two points above, I am almost certain that we would see numbers of those arriving at secondary labelled as ‘SEN’ dramatically decrease, since there would have been no gap (or at least a much smaller learning gap) to close. I’m sure we would begin to witness less students arrive at secondary who are clearly able in many areas of the curriculum, extremely competent in verbal responses, but branded with a ‘Specific Learning Difficulty’ in reading. I do acknowledge that there will always be some level of need in this area, which is likely to extend to education in the older years. I do also recognise, however, that we are clearly doing something wrong at present and, until it is addressed and corrected, we are failing a great number of our students.

Phonics in the Secondary Classroom – Reading Reform Foundation Conference

Phonics in the Secondary Classroom – Reading Reform Foundation Conference

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Saturday 28th March 2015 marks the date of the next Reading Reform Foundation Conference.  It’s key focus will be on the use of phonics to teach reading and is entitled “From the Rose Review to the New Curriculum.”

I have no direct link with this organisation in any other capacity than keeping up with their movements on Twitter, but I do hold deep admiration for the work they do in promoting the use of synthetic phonics in the development of language and reading.

Having taught at both primary and secondary school level, and now in my role as Literacy Leader at the large secondary school where I teach, I have witnessed countless times the overwhelmingly positive impact that the systematic teaching of synthetic phonics can have on a weak reader. To be armed with the tool belt of phonics is, in my opinion, the key to unlocking the door of illiteracy for so many children, older students and adults.

Arriving at secondary school as a student unable to read is a sad affair. There is an element of injustice here in that, due to whatever reason – be it difficult behaviour, unstable home life, a physical impairment (e.g. poor vision or hearing), a slower processing speed, poor or inconsistent teaching – students are still failing to access mainstream education at this age. And the truth is that, for some, this obstacle to learning could have been overcome simply through a better delivery of phonics.

On their website, the RRF claim that:

“For too long now the teaching of reading has been affected by the idea that children should learn by discovery, leading to the rejection of systematic, explicit instruction. This idea is deeply ingrained in education and still has a powerful influence on how reading is taught, despite having no scientific validity.”

On the 28th March, my presentation on ‘Phonics in the Secondary Classroom’ will explore the potential drawbacks and advantages of using synthetic phonics with students of an older age. I also intend to give insight into the systematic approaches I have implemented as Literacy Leader at my own school, which have shown to produce real, deep progress for our struggling readers in Years 7-11.

I’m privileged to be speaking alongside some true experts in this educational field and look forward to attending the day myself; to soak up some great teaching from others. More information and the link to book tickets can be found here:

http://www.rrf.org.uk/conference%202015.html

Hope to see you there!

Feedback to Feed Forward

A couple of weeks ago, the focus of our school INSET day was on Feedback. Phil Stock (@joeybagstock), our Assistant Headteacher of Professional Development and Language challenged us as a staff body to consider what we perceive to be the most effective method(s) of feedback, both within and outside the classroom. Following a hearty breakfast, we were gifted a rare hour of our time dedicated solely to reading. Phil had recommended a number of blog posts by a range of different writers within the educational sphere and encouraged us to choose a selection from the menu provided.

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I suppose it was a bit of a risk to kick off a day of training with an hour of silence and solitude, but I loved it. If you’re any kind of educationalist who has spent some time in a school environment, you’ll know how incredibly rare it is to find time in the school day to make room for this kind of personal study. And yet, it’s possibly one of the most important things we really should be doing to develop our knowledge on key principles of teaching and learning. We were invited to read up to 5-6 blog posts or articles within the hour and then reunite later to share findings and consider the potential positive impact these ideas could have within our own classrooms.

The purpose of this post is simply to share my notes on the posts I read (and found to be very worthwhile), as well as offering a simple ‘Top 10’ list I wrote as a result, to share with members of staff I lead who teach lower set Y7 groups. These points are in no way exclusive to SEN, but have been designed around the effective strategies I know to work within my own intervention classroom.
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Blog Posts
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Planning

Let’s build it in, not add it on: Andy Tharby (@atharby) 

  • Most useful feedback happens while students are working, not after
  • Should be indistinguishable from other elements of a lesson such as explanation and questioning
  • Feedback from and to students informs every decision we make
  • A balance is required between the challenge of a high level of “correctness” without creation of a dependency culture

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Presentation

improving the basics: Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) http://wp.me/p2qGQb-15J

  • Devote time to drafting and redrafting – Austin’s butterfly
  • Maintain higher expectations, and praise for progress/achievement
  • Students just need to know what the standards are and how to reach them
  • Very much about shift of attitude

Frequency

Making time for feedback: ASCD http://tinyurl.com/8jdyysv

  • Work smarter, not harder
  • Focus on errors, not mistakes
  • We recognise simple mistakes by students when we know them – it shows as uncharacteristic
  • Mistakes are ones we can correct using our knowledge
  • Errors are ones we make because we do not possess the necessary knowledge to correct
  • “Correcting errors typically results in new understanding and improved performance; moreover, once teachers implement this practice, students rarely make those errors again.”
  • 4 main error categories:
  1. Factual errors
  2. Procedural errors
  3. Transformation errors – incorrect application to new situations
    e.g. biology and bicycle – not knowing difference between bi and bio roots
  4. Misconception errors
  • Should look for patterns in student errors to be able to target specific areas rather than reteach a whole concept or unit
  • Distinguish between global and targeted errors
  • Use prompts and cues to shift the learner’s attention

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Focus

Have we got feedback backwards?: Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish) http://tinyurl.com/oos78r4

  • Time spent on marking isn’t equal to the impact it has on learning – onus is on the teacher in this model, not student
  • DIRT – Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time – onus moves to student to reflect and respond to feedback, making changes to their work
  • More time spent responding to feedback that marking
  • Feedback vs. feeding forward – should impact future learning
  • Symbols, not comments
  • Dot round to signal error but student must work it out
  • Assess in colour – colour code
  • Self assessment before teacher assessment
  • One to one
  • Active process – oral feedback just as effective

Dialogue

Improving peer feedback with gallery critique: David Didau (@LearningSpy) http://tinyurl.com/pttamzl
I didn’t make notes on this as I had already read it extensively for a workshop I had previously led on peer assessment, but I would highly recommend it.

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As a result of these brilliant, really gritty, content-packed pieces of writing, I was able to draw ten key points from these to share with colleagues.

For me, the most successful methods of feedback I’ve seen to have the most positive impact in the classroom are those listed below. One beautiful thing about teaching intervention groups is the way in which it is possible for me to reach every student within one lesson. To have the opportunity to get round to each of them and offer targeted, one to one support with their work right there and then is invaluable in their learning journey. It is wholly possible to apply many of these below to the mainstream classroom, though as with most pedagogical approaches, it would take some thought around how to implement them.
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EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK: My ‘Top 10’

  1. Effective feedback often happens most DURING lessons, not after
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  2. LA sets will not benefit from long streams of marked written comments
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  3. Symbols over work, work best – be careful not to give them the answer
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  4. Concentrate on errors, not Remember:
    A mistake = incorrect due to tiredness/one-off mistake that can be corrected with own knowledge
    An error = a common pattern of errors made due to the learner not possessing the knowledge to correct themselves
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  5. DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time) – Build time into lessons for valuable drafting & redrafting focus sessions
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  6. Model high quality work – show outstanding examples and feedback as a group
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  7. 1:1 conversations – be specific, giving high quality feedback
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  8. Self-efficacy (praise of tasks/achievement) vs. self-confidence (praise of ego) – see Dylan Wiliam: http://www.journeytoexcellence.org.uk/videos/expertspeakers/selfefficacydylanwiliam.asp
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  9. Make peer/self- assessment valuable … model what effective feedback looks like
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  10. Maintain highest expectations and don’t accept less than their best
WARNING! There’s a Pattern Emerging…

WARNING! There’s a Pattern Emerging…

It’s that time of year again when thousands of exhausted teachers find themselves aimlessly pacing up and down the staffroom at 3.30pm, too tired to talk or sit or check their pigeon hole, managing to communicate with colleagues only through a series of synchronised puzzled looks, shoulder shrugs and a selection of appropriate nods and grunts. September welcomes the start of the new academic year; a second chance at a January 1st -esque renewal for both students and teachers.

 

Where I’m currently based, in the SEN department of a super local secondary school, it’s no different. The buzz in the air around the new baseline testing data and information from feeder schools offers a welcome sense of optimism, as we work as a team to number crunch and meet with students to identify those needing additional support. Aware of debates around data and levels and ways to effectively measure progress, I agree that there are huge drawbacks in the over-assessment of our students and the over-reliance on data. There are clearly flaws to be found here. However, for us it is crucial.

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In order to best scaffold the learning for our students who need additional support on entry to this daunting brand new world of secondary school, at least until we know individuals within the new Y7 cohort better, we have to rely on our baseline data and historical information sent up from our feeder primary schools. It is through the initial testing and then further investigation into particular scores that we can identify students who have learning weaknesses in particular areas of the curriculum – be that in literacy (e.g. in reading or spelling), in speech and language, or in maths. I’m confident we have a strong assessment process in place that prevents students slipping through that all-important metaphorical ‘net’. It is from here that we then stream pupils into the most appropriate targeted support to meet their specific need(s), be that at Wave 1 (in class support), Wave 2 (group intervention support), or Wave 3 (1:1 support).

 

As Literacy Leader, it is naturally my priority to scrutinise the testing results of our students’ performance in reading, writing and spelling. Through the standardised tests we have invested in since I have been in post, we identify those performing at a level significantly below that of their peers and address needs on an individual case basis. Our tests provide a detailed breakdown into reading accuracy, comprehension, reading rate and processing speed. The method we have followed this year has remained much the same as previous years. However, something has changed. And it’s something I predicted might happen a couple of years ago.

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While the reading accuracy scores at the point of intake of our new Year 7 cohort seem to be rising year on year, comprehension scores are dropping. I can only talk of my experience where I work so this may not be seen among other schools across the borough/region/country. However, it’s a consistent change and one that is worth exploring.

 

At this point, I’m keen to declare my support for the teaching of synthetic phonics* in primary schools. I have seen, both through classroom experience (at primary and secondary) and through data analysis that this strategy for teaching reading accuracy works. I am an advocate, as outlined in a previous post here, so please be clear that this post is in no way a concern around the teaching of synthetic phonics itself.

*Note:
‘Analytic phonics’ = the teaching of a word within context (i.e. analysing what the word as a whole could be based on the words around it)
‘Synthetic phonics’ = the teaching of individual sounds, irrelevant of context (e.g. ai, ee, aw, igh)

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I am confident that phonics works. I personally rely on it as a method of teaching many of our intervention groups or 1:1 sessions, working with students who reach us at KS3 and still cannot read. I am concerned, however, that as educationalists in both primary and secondary, we need to recognise the many demands that reading brings and should therefore not only explicitly teach reading accuracy, but comprehension strategies also. My fear is that in improving reading accuracy across the nation through the implementation of synthetic phonics, we may be masking an issue around reading comprehension.

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Phonics was introduced to schools as statutory in September 2007 following the Jim Rose review in March 2006. His ‘Independent Review of the Early Teaching of Reading’ in the UK was revealing and its impact great in changing the national pedagogical approach to teaching reading. Rose insisted that the government’s rejection of phonics in 1997 as a valid method of teaching reading was a very bad mistake and, in light of his findings in this 2006 review, succeeded in influencing those in power to change their minds.

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The diagram above shows the interdependence between two key features of reading:

a) word recognition processes
b) language comprehension processes

The act of reading is simply impossible without the ability to:

  1. read words accurately
  2. understand the meanings of words

If a student shows poor reading accuracy and poor comprehension processes, they will undoubtedly struggle to read a text. Similarly, if a student possesses a good reading accuracy ability but poor comprehension around the words they are able to read, they will still struggle to grasp the meaning of a text. Take the word ‘comprehension’ itself. Phonetically, it is a word that can be decoded relatively easily = com/pre/hen/sion. However, since there are not many semantic clues within the word itself, without the direct teaching of what this word actually means, students may be left confused.

In his review, Jim Rose explains,

“Comprehension occurs as the listener builds a mental representation of the information contained within the language that a speaker is using. The comprehension processes that enable the mental representation to be built up occur at the word, sentence and utterance (text) level. Individual word meanings are identified from phonological input. Parsing of the language occurs. This ensures that meaning is mediated through grammatical structure. A number of inferential processes are also used. These all happen simultaneously and the resulting information interacts with the listener’s general knowledge to enable as accurate a mental representation of the spoken message as the listener is capable of at any particular stage of development. It is important to bear in mind that the extent of the listener’s general knowledge and level of cognitive development will have a bearing on the comprehension of the message. To generate an accurate mental representation of this the listener has to process the language and the concepts.”

Rose reminds us that learners need to be able to assimilate new words that are suitable for their own personal level of cognitive development. He goes on to advise that,

“Teachers also need to be brought up to date with research into reading comprehension. As reading comprehension has now been shown to depend crucially on language comprehension, teachers also need to have good knowledge and understanding of oral language development, and of ways to foster language comprehension.”

Rose acknowledges that language comprehension (ie. the explicit teaching of words and their meanings) needs to be taught within the classroom. I see this as vital in both primary and secondary, since language acquisition takes place at any, and every, age. There is great enjoyment to be had in sharing this depth of knowledge with students, hopefully stirring an interest in language and word etymology in the process.

If students are able to access language at a more advanced level since their accuracy is improving, teachers of all key stages should bear in mind that even though a student may sound fluent and can read more challenging texts, their comprehension of what they are reading may not match up. It is therefore essential that teachers continuously check students’ understanding irrelevant of age, key stage or ability, through the use of targeted questioning and regular low-stake formative assessments.

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This diagram from the Rose Review demonstrates, quite obviously, the importance of a learner’s general knowledge and language system in the acquisition process of any new vocabulary encountered. Rose states,

“It is widely agreed that phonic work is an essential part, but not the whole picture, of what it takes to become a fluent reader and skilled writer, well capable of comprehending and composing text. Although this review focuses upon phonic work, it is very important to understand what the rest of the picture looks like and requires. For example, nurturing positive attitudes to literacy and the skills associated with them, across the curriculum, is crucially important as is developing spoken language, building vocabulary, grammar, comprehension and facility with ICT.”

Students should be actively and constantly engaging in the process of reading. In my opinion synthetic phonics is, without a doubt, essential for students to develop an independence in reading accuracy but, of equal importance, there needs to be an explicit teaching of vocabulary to students within the classroom too. This is a responsibility of primary teachers and secondary teachers too, across the broad spectrum of curriculum subjects taught. As a result, students will not only be able to phonetically decode an unfamiliar word, but will know the deeper semantic significance behind the words they read too. Language development begins at an early age but has no limits to its growth. A love of vocabulary is something we need to nurture in the learning environment, and the explicit teaching of new words is one way this can be achieved.

researchED 2014

Saturday 6th September 2014 saw the second national researchED conference take place; an event for those interested in teaching and research and the complicated relationship between the two. Tom Bennett (@tombennet71) and Helene O’Shea (@hgaldinoshea) captained the ship, welcoming onboard an array of speakers, all who possess a wealth of expertise in their own specialist area.

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While I’ve been to a few education-based events before (both larger national gatherings and more local teachmeets etc.), being my first research conference I didn’t arrive with any predefined expectations of the day. On arrival, I was greeted with a customary lanyard and a less customary branded wicker bag, complete with free branded pen and educational paper. Impressive. After a warm welcome, delegates were invited to attend up to seven different sessions of their choice, all lasting roughly one hour. Session leaders had knowledge in their various different curriculum/research/government fields and the workshops reflected this.

Though I’m sure you’re fascinated to know which public transport route I took and what I had for my lunch, I’ll spare you the details and simply note the ‘takeaways’ I left with from the day. Ideally, this penultimate sentence of my intro would see me writing about how much better equipped I now feel to a) source accurate research around my own subject and pedagogy of Literacy and SEN, and b) know how to carry out my own effective research studies into the best methods of teaching and learning. However, I left the conference feeling a little more perplexed by educational research and yet, at the same time, very much refreshed.

Here’s why:

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Nick Rose (@turnfordblog), a teacher/ researcher/ psychologist

presented his audience with a healthy challenge to approach pedagogical theories and highly regarded, well-known teaching programmes with caution. He was unapologetic in his quest to inform those that were present of the lack of authentic evidence behind some of the most widely used teaching methods we know of in the world of education. His ‘hit list’ included the likes of preferred learning styles (including VAK), right/left brain theory, NLP and even… wait for it… brain gym.

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Rose proposed that educationalists need to develop a real ‘professional skepticism’ around research in education. He commented that schools tend to have a very low immune system, allowing a whole variety of costly approaches and strategies to pass through the door without thoroughly vetting their validity first. This is an interesting concept and one we need to be aware of. Nick’s own personal account of the conference can be found here.

  

David Didau (@learningspy), a teacher/ consultant / author

offered a number of interesting points to consider when looking into edu-research. He quoted Henri Bergson who famously said:

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This supported his claim that brains are not rational but rather illogical and, as humans, we therefore fall into some of the well-known traps below:

Anchoring Effect: a tendency to use anchors or reference points to make decisions and evaluations, sometimes leading us astray.

Sunk Cost Fallacy: following through with a project because of our investment (time/money/effort), irrespective of whether evidence would suggest that is the best thing to do.

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He outlined that progress is not a linear journey but a complex messy one. Didau posed questions such as “How should we measure true progress?” and “With what educational ‘unit’ of measurement should we assess?”

He stated that evidence is not the same as proof, offering a comment on those strategies that ARE well researched and understood to be effective within the classroom environment. These include the ‘Spacing effect’ and the ‘Testing effect’ both of which are explained in his full presentation, available here.

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David left the audience with a quote from Carl Sagan:

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John Thomsett (@johntomsett), a Headteacher from Huntingdon School in York and
driver of a new research project along with his Lead Researcher, Alex Quigley

outlined a number of essentials to consider around educational research. He quoted Tom Bentley, who said:

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What is the point of research if it doesn’t alter the way you work/plan/teach?

While depth of teachers’ subject knowledge and choice of pedagogical approach is undeniably critical in the development of strong teaching and learning, if neither are realigned to best meet the needs of students as a result of research findings, there’s very little point in getting engaged in it at all. If the research suggests what you are doing currently is right, great! That’s welcome affirmation to keep on doing what you’re doing.

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Interestingly, Tomsett commented on his blog this week,

Perpetual self-doubt is a relatively healthy condition in which to exist. At an event like yesterday’s [researchED] I look to take away some learning and what I took away yesterday made me doubt myself and our developmental priorities just a little bit.”

Research is a grey area and one that so many professions have wrestled with, both in the past and still today. But if we fail to recognise its obvious benefits, we are doing a disservice to our students.

Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam), a teacher ‘guru’, researcher, writer,
Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the IoE

gave a great talk entitled, “Why teaching will never be a research-based profession (and why that’s a GOOD thing)”.

You can find a link to his full presentation here.

One of the key points Wiliam made saw him challenge the audience to consider what part ethics plays in educational enquiry. He claimed that researchers have a moral obligation to pursue fair studies that are valuable to school teachers and students, rather than ones carried out simply in an effort to validate one’s own already-held opinion. He raised the interesting point that many published research studies already available in the public arena are selective in the results they share, omitting details of findings that do not support the cause behind their study.

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While Wiliam sees a lot of value in Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) as a method of research, he recognises four main drawbacks.

These include:

  1. Clustering: in comparing two students within the same school, despite potentially being in different groups (ie. one in an active group and the other in a control group), there will inevitably be some similarities through their shared experiences in school etc.
  2. Power: the various teachers/leaders/students involved in an RCT may not follow direct instructions, thus reducing the fairness of th test.
  3. Implementation: there are nearly always logistical barriers to carrying out RCTs, which includes aspects such as timetabling, time allowed for interventions outside of curriculum subjects, relevant staff to support etc.
  4. Context: Perhaps the best way to sum up this point is to quote a blog I came across recently. Dave Algoso, Director of Programmes at Reboot (a social impact firm dedicated to inclusive development and accountable governance) states,

“I think the danger here comes from a false level of precision. We talk about RCTs as having a scientific rigor that distinguishes them from pseudo-experimental approaches. There is some truth to this. However, if the calculated average effect of a program is stripped of all the caveats and nuance about the things we were unable to measure and calculate, then we risk being overconfident in our knowledge. Science brings a potentially inflated sense of our own expertise. RCTs, and the development industry as a whole, would benefit from less certainty and greater humility.”

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Food for thought.
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Wiliam also made reference to the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) toolkit, highlighting how research studies have led educationalists to rate various aspects of teaching and learning based on their supposed level of positive impact on students. According to this list, interventions such as peer tutoring and phonics score very highly (of which I am in full agreement), in comparison to others such as teaching assistants and ability grouping, the latter actually being the only one listed that shows a negative impact score. While there may be some validity in some of these results, Wiliam leads us to question the authenticity behind the scores.

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For example, when considering ability grouping, Wiliam makes the point that in a large majority of cases the best and most experienced teachers are usually assigned to the top sets in any given cohort where groups are set by ability. Similarly, lower sets often do not get the access to the differentiated teaching they require to make solid progress. He argued that the gap widens in these cases, often as a result of the top set moving so fast that no students within the middle range of ability can progress to join those at the ‘top’ and, in contrast, the lower sets move far too slowly, thus preventing weaker students to make sufficient progress. This is a great challenge to schools and school leaders and one that, in my opinion, must be addressed in order for all students to make the most positive progress possible. Dylan Wiliam advised that those within the teaching profession should continue to improve their practice through the process of disciplined enquiry.

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As a final reflection on researchED 2014, while my impression of educational research is perhaps a little more hazy than it was prior to the event, I’ve returned confident that authentic enquiry into “what works” in this profession is crucial. I’m quite sure that it is a responsibility of ours as educators to ensure we are providing students with the best foundation possible for their future. This includes a willingness to invest time and energy into exploring what “best practice” really is within education.

Videos from the event can be found here.  

You can also follow researchED on twitter @researchED1.

Gohtt Spelling Dyphickalteaz?

“Phoney Phonetics” by Vivian Buchan, NEA Journal 1966/67, USA

One reason why I cannot spell,
Although I learned the rules quite well
Is that some words like coup and through
Sound just like threw and flue and Who;
When oo is never spelled the same,
The duice becomes a guessing game;
And then I ponder over though,
Is it spelled so, or throw, or beau,
And bough is never bow, it’s bow,
I mean the bow that sounds like plow,
And not the bow that sounds like row –
The row that is pronounced like roe.
I wonder, too, why rough and tough,
That sound the same as gruff and muff,
Are spelled like bough and though, for they
Are both pronounced a different way.
And why can’t I spell trough and cough
The same as I do scoff and golf?
Why isn’t drought spelled just like route,
or doubt or pout or sauerkraut?
When words all sound so much the same
To change the spelling seems a shame.
There is no sense – see sound like cents –
in making such a difference
Between the sight and sound of words;
Each spelling rule that undergirds
The way a word should look will fail
And often prove to no avail
Because exceptions will negate
The truth of what the rule may state;
So though I try, I still despair
And moan and mutter “It’s not fair
That I’m held up to ridicule
And made to look like such a fool
When it’s the spelling that’s at fault.
Let’s call this nonsense to a halt.”
Published in Spelling Progress Bulletin Spring 1966 pdf, p6