From novice to expert: seven signs your school is dealing with reading effectively

Feb 8, 2020 | Effective Practice, Teaching Struggling Readers, The Science of Learning, Whole School Literacy

The focus is changing! It’s exciting to see the shift in attitude and intent towards teaching struggling readers at secondary school. When we started blogging on this subject six years ago (Why is there a reading problem in secondary schools? – 25 January 2014), it would be fair to say that in secondary schools and on social media, this was a topic of little interest to all but a few. The prevailing attitude was about compensating for reading difficulties and having lowered expectations, rather than teaching effectively to overcome these completely. In many cases, we encountered a complete denial of the scope of the problem (Addicted to Denial? – 6 February 2016).

Where once this was seen as an area firmly in the province of SEN (The natural home for reading interventions (and it’s not SEN) – 28 June 2015), now many English Departments are grasping the nettle and taking responsibility (Te Wero – The Challenge – 28 June 2015). And thankfully, there is now an increasing acknowledgement that this is an area that calls for expertise developed through thorough training (SEND the right message – 27 June 2015).


Here are seven ways to tell if your school is on the road to addressing literacy issues seriously:

1. Accepting responsibility for addressing the problem effectively

Are school leaders thinking about how to move from just increasing the quantity of reading, and ‘developing a love of reading,’ to removing the barriers that prevent students from reading – that is, ensuring that they are able to decode text accurately? Are they on focused exam scores and league tables, or is there a deeper commitment to ensuring that every student leaves school reading well?

2. Understanding that reading is complex

This means moving from a global view of reading, as if it is a single skill, to understanding that reading is made up of many interwoven strands. This means that there are a number of different types of reading needs that will need to be addressed. Effective teachers of reading will be able to support their students in many different domains of reading, such as knowledge of the relationship between sounds and spellings, vocabulary, morphology, etymology, comprehension, and fluency.

3. Applying detailed knowledge of reading to close assessment

Students have often been allocated to interventions without sufficiently thorough assessment to know whether the intervention would actually meet their needs, or to show what to teach them. Highly effective schools know that powerful teaching is built upon detailed assessment.

4. Believing that success is possible

In the past, there has been a general expectation that older students with reading problems will make slow progress.  Effective reading intervention turns this idea on its head: students in this situation must make very rapid progress so that they catch up completely.


5. Focusing on measurable impact

Is the school moving away from a list of ‘activities’ or ‘provisions’ to actually evaluating how much progress students are making, using pre-, during, and post-intervention measures? And are these measures objective? It is not the number of interventions that matters, but whether students catch up completely.

6. Using efficient instructional procedures

If students are to make rapid progress which can be empirically measured, reading teachers and tutors need to be familiar with teaching techniques which teach more content in less time. The willingness to admit that we have new skills to learn is crucial to solving reading problems.

7. Having a knowledge of reading science versus popular beliefs

Just as everyone thinks that they are an expert on education because they have been to school, so many people assume that they know about teaching reading because they can read. This has given rise to many erroneous and frankly harmful beliefs. It has also limited expectations through the many myths and misconceptions around labels such as ‘dyslexia’. Thankfully, many schools and teachers are beginning to get to grips with the realities of reading science, and changing children’s experiences of school as a result.


Helping schools to make this transition is what we do. If you would like to know more, read our book or find out about our one-day consultation service. We will provide a comprehensive review of your literacy provision, recommendations for reducing costs while increasing impact, and an actionable plan for improving the quality and depth of literacy provision.


You may also be interested in:

Reading Intervention That Gets Striking Results

12 Qualities of an Effective Reading Teacher

Beware the Reading Traps

I Tried That And It Didn’t Work . . .

Anything but the teaching . . .


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