Starter for Five is a UK based advice blog for new teachers. You can find it on twitter here. Each post gives 5 quick pieces of advice on a particular topic for new teachers and trainees submitted by experienced teachers.
Name: Josie Mingay
Twitter name: @JAMingay
Subject taught (if applicable): English and Literacy
Position: Literacy leader / Lead Learner
What is your advice about? SEN at Secondary
1: No SEN label should cause you to lower your expectations of students. Do all you can to remove specific obstacles to learning in order for students to reach ambitious goals.
2: Be explicit about praising students for effort and hard work, rather than achievement. Students with SEN need to see that the journey to the destination is rewarded too.
3: Make use of your SENCo/Learning Support dept – a great resource, often with a wealth of knowledge. Utilise their expertise to aid your planning/teaching.
4: Talk to your students! More than any official document listing suggested strategies, students usually know their obstacles best and can tell you what support they need.
5: Model using metacognitive strategies. One of the best tools for students with SEN is the ability to think about their learning and select strategies to apply to given tasks.
If you have a topic you’d like to contribute advice about, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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)
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.
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.
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’.
Both 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.
I noted the importance of Graham Nuthall’s working memory model here, stressing that three conditions that lead to effective processing are:
- Strength – multiple exposures to new information (at least 3 or 4 within a limited time) is essential in order to embed knowledge
- 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
- Elaboration – providing opportunities for learners to make connections and associations with previously acquired knowledge, in order for this to ‘latch’ onto something
In discussing which words should be targetted for direct instruction, I made reference to three sources:
- 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
- Beck’s contribution of the tiered vocabulary pyramid suggests that words can be categorised into three tiers.
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.
- 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:
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.
Taking direction from Marzano’s work, we have implemented 6 steps of effective vocabulary instruction in our Year 7 research trial.
See 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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a rough idea of how much direct instruction students might receive over a fortnight’s cycle.
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!)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Hope to see you there!
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.
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.
Let’s build it in, not add it on: Andy Tharby (@atharby) wp.me/p43kJZ-lq
- 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
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
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:
- Factual errors
- Procedural errors
- Transformation errors – incorrect application to new situations
e.g. biology and bicycle – not knowing difference between bi and bio roots
- 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
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
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.
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.
EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK: My ‘Top 10’
- Effective feedback often happens most DURING lessons, not after
- LA sets will not benefit from long streams of marked written comments
- Symbols over work, work best – be careful not to give them the answer
- 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
- DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time) – Build time into lessons for valuable drafting & redrafting focus sessions
- Model high quality work – show outstanding examples and feedback as a group
- 1:1 conversations – be specific, giving high quality feedback
- Self-efficacy (praise of tasks/achievement) vs. self-confidence (praise of ego) – see Dylan Wiliam: http://www.journeytoexcellence.org.uk/videos/expertspeakers/selfefficacydylanwiliam.asp
- Make peer/self- assessment valuable … model what effective feedback looks like
- Maintain highest expectations and don’t accept less than their best
Have you ever had one of those unexpectedly heartwarming conversations with a student before? You know – the kind that you’re really not expecting, but when it comes it hits a nerve and makes you want to reflect on it/ act on it/ share it with someone? I had one of those this week and felt it was far too important to keep to myself.
I was teaching a 1:1 session on Wednesday, working with a year 8 girl who has severe dyslexia. While ‘Kelly’ is making good progress with her literacy and it is obvious to see she can now read far more independently than when she joined us a year ago, inevitably the gap between her and her peers is still wide and, sadly, it continues to grow. Perhaps surprisingly, the sadness in this for me is not the fact that Kelly is ‘behind’ most of her peers. Nor is it that she is having to work so hard in order to keep up. What I believe to be the saddest thing about Kelly’s situation is the fact that this is not how it has to be.
In the quite brief but almost-epiphanic conversation I had with Kelly, she revealed a number of ‘wishes’ she had in relation to her learning experience. She gave such an impassioned speech, I couldn’t not write it down.
Kelly’s ‘Top 5’ Wish List
1. “I wish I could get a piece of homework that I could complete entirely on my own without help from my Mum.”
2. “I wish I could show I understand in a way that doesn’t need me to write loads.”
3. “I wish I could just have a print out of the lesson PPT next to me, so I can use the time to process the information rather than copy loads of words I can’t read from the board.”
4. “I wish I didn’t have to copy out tables/charts but get blank examples instead so I could fill them out and show I know what to do.”
5. “I wish my teacher wouldn’t ask me to read out loud.”
(I should say at this point… wherever I refer to “Kelly’s teachers” I don’t mean ‘
all‘ but ‘some’. I also intend the word ‘teachers’ to mean teachers generally – across the profession, in a number of schools.)
Kelly is very bright. Her verbal recall is pretty impressive, her understanding of concepts and ideas across the different curriculum subjects is good and her emotional intelligence is high. She has the ability to relate to people incredibly well – on a deeper level than many other students I’ve come into contact with – and can express how she feels eloquently. All that said, she is not showing progress in many of her lessons and crucially, in her end of unit graded assessments.
This leads us to assume the position of an enquiring young child in that all-important developmental phase where they relentlessly follow a series of steps, asking that essential (if a little annoying) question:
So let’s use it.
FACT: Kelly isn’t showing progress.
REASON 1: Because she isn’t being given the opportunities to do so.
REASON 2: Because Kelly’s teachers aren’t providing differentiated work for her.
Now, I realise I’m putting this out there without huge amounts of investigative research, but through observations and conversations, I’m quite confident of the following two points…
A) I’m quite certain that the lack of differentiation in some (not all!) mainstream classrooms is NOT because Kelly’s teachers are lazy. I know the hours that teachers work. I am one! I see the time and effort given to planning lessons, both within my own school and in others.
B) I’m also sure that Kelly’s teachers aren’t so mean and cold-hearted that they’d refuse her requests for help, should she pluck up the courage to ask.
No. What I think is more likely to be the case (and am pretty sure is common across many primary and secondary schools), is this:
REASON 3: Kelly’s teachers don’t necessarily know the best ways to support her.
In this profession with time as precious as it is, as a mainstream teacher we may hear the word ‘dyslexia’ and, not knowing enough about it, can almost mentally pass the responsibility of that child’s progress onto the SEN department, because “they’ll surely know how to provide for Kelly best, and will support her with the work she clearly can’t do on her own. Right…?”
The word dyslexia takes it’s root meaning from two Greek words:
Dys = ‘difficulty’
Lexia = ‘words’
Kelly has a problem with words – with reading, writing and spelling – FACT. But, Kelly has potential for great success too – FACT. Kelly can understand. Ask Kelly to respond verbally, and she’s got it. Ask her to draw it, to act it, to explain it and she meets the lesson objectives. However, ask her to write her answer down … fail.
Don’t get me wrong. I realise I’m simplifying the situation. Believe me, more than most I’m fully aware of the fact that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ nature with our students. I’m not so naive to believe that every student with literacy difficulties could easily match the ability of their peers if it wasn’t for the reading and writing aspect. Some students positioned on the spectrum of dyslexia are also low-ability in some subjects and would not be able to grasp some of the concepts taught in a mainstream classroom. I’m not professing that it’s as simple as handing out a mindmap and shouting ‘abracadabra!‘ and instantly the ability gap is miraculously closed.
What I do believe, however, is that there are some incredibly simple but powerful ways in which we can support students in the mainstream classroom, making the learning far more accessible.
Give Kelly a template to show her understanding rather than demand that she copies out the table like everyone else, and she’ll show you what she can do.
Give her a device, an app, a programme to work on instead of asking her to write every single word by hand and she’ll be able to prove she knows what’s going on.
Give her a flash of colour on a PPT slide instead of black and white and she’ll be able to follow along without losing interest so quickly.
Don’t demand that she reads aloud in front of her peers and she won’t kick off like she normally does.
The document below is definitely not designed to be an exhaustive list or a miracle cure for students with literacy difficulties in your classroom. However, it may be a handy visual reminder to help you create a more dyslexia-friendly classroom.
PREVIEW: The un’4’gettables in a dyslexia-friendly classroom
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD: The un’4’gettables in a dyslexia-friendly classroom