Our education system has enough medicinal soundbites prescribed for imaginary ills invented by snake oil salespeople or the latest utopian demagogue. They feed the false belief in methods that have long failed and create a smokescreen to producing the educational outcomes that we are capable of achieving and which our pupils deserve.
Spending two days at the Reading Reconsidered workshop in London (run by brilliant trio of Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Maggie Johnson) was enlightening, challenging and has left me with much to do.
First of all, this was no attempt to recreate a golden era in the past or to peddle an ideological agenda. It’s quite simple – they identify the barriers faced by children accurately, analyse why they occur and present a toolkit of solutions.
If your children don’t have a problem inferring meaning, tackling challenging texts, analysing them, summarising meaning, writing effective sentences, et.c, then as you are folks. This is a lot of things but imposing a way of teaching onto those who don’t need it isn’t one of them.
If, like me, you have been frustrated by the progressive orthodoxy and want to teach pupils to the best of your abilities knowing full well that you can’t come up with all the solutions yourself then the TLAC approach has a range of well thought out strategies. Essentially it is a way of planning, scaffolding, modelling and assessing that is effective and works because the thinking behind is robust.
In all the training I have ever received on teaching reading, I have never been as challenged to think about what and how I teach reading.
Over a decade since I trained to become a teacher, I’ve had to face the aspects I have taught well but, more importantly, the aspects that I haven’t. I have left feeling inadequate, that is not a criticism of the course, but a truth of facing up to what I thought I knew and what I actually know. How good I thought by subject knowledge was and what it actually is. This is off the back of getting good results from the pupils, especially in SATs. What does that tell us about the system that we are in?
Years of spreading myself too thin in guided reading lessons while trying to keep the rest of the class on task (worse still having hands-on activities going on in the background that kept the children occupied but never did improve their learning) left me with the feeling this wasn’t the best way but no comprehensive alternative to implement either.
I thought my questioning was good but trying to come up with the kind of text-based questions demanded of me the last two days shows how much better I could have been. Do I really understand the themes of text? I may be good at identifying the vocabulary that children would struggle with but am I just as good at identifying phrases? sentences? Did I really ensure that the literal meaning was established? What other background knowledge should I have fed in enable pupils to understand the texts better? Where would I get the information from?
This is training how it should be, enlightening, challenging and a means of growing and developing in order to improve the outcomes pupils achieve.
Real solutions for real problems faced by real teachers teaching real pupils to read. Now ain’t that something?