We have been privileged to have the enormously talented Alison Rounce (@ali_rounce) working with us in the north-east of England. We asked her to write about her journey, and this is the result:
Making a career change when you absolutely love your job . . . was not a headline I came across when exploring career options away from the classroom. I wasn’t ticking many of the career change boxes. Feeling unfulfilled? No. Hate getting up for work in the mornings? Nope. Wishing the minutes away until home time? Not that either. I am one (of so many of us) that finds teenagers a joy: vital, raw, challenging. Being trusted with their education is a privilege beyond measure. Yet, as my children started their education, I started to think of my job quite differently. I became far more conscious of how precious children’s time is. Far more conscious of the importance of every decision we make for them, now and in the long term. I started to question my own classroom practice and discovered the best CPD tool I have experienced in my career: Twitter.
I was learning and changing. I felt rejuvenated as a classroom teacher. I started to hunt for and churn out resources: knowledge organisers, vocabulary activities, low-stakes quizzes . . . I banged the drum for the knowledge-based curriculum and scaffolding to differentiate rather than different activities. As an English Language specialist, I was already quite comfortable with teaching syntax, morphology etc, so I gave these elements more prominence. And yet (here comes another yet . . .), and yet I knew that it still wasn’t enough. I was becoming very aware that there was a big group of young people that, even with all our best efforts to ‘support’ them, we are failing. These are the children who are struggling readers.
I started looking for answers. I was conscious of how rapidly my own children were developing the skills needed to become proficient readers and this made me more determined that there had to be a proper answer for secondary age children who haven’t fully acquired what is required for reading to learn. Then I came across James and Dianne’s book, Thinking Reading: What Every Secondary Teacher Needs to Know about Reading in June 2018, and I realised that what I was doing was OK (“A good start”, I think is what James said about my determined focus on vocabulary when we first met back in January 2019), but change was needed. So, during the 2018-19 academic year, I continued with my vocabulary drum, knowledge organisers etc, organised paired reading for Y7s and listened more. I listened to teenagers reading aloud. I started having conversations with them about reading through whole words rather than guessing, developing through to using morphology to work out what a complex word means. This became a regular feature of lessons and, as the children started to recognise that power of being able to apply knowledge of words, was happening on ad hoc basis as well.
Of course, this is all wonderful, heart-warming stuff but, for about 20% of young people, not anything like enough. And while I may have been riding a crest in the classroom, it was absolutely frustrating at the same time. I was realising that I had spent many years – 18 actually – as an English teacher, a Head of English, an AHT for a while, teaching children to pass exams, rather than actually solving their problems with reading. Then I answered a tweet from Thinking Reading, asking for English teachers who have also managed at middle/senior level to consult with them about a training package for trainers, and my career change began.
I spent all last academic year, continuing to beaver away at my school, while talking to James and Dianne in the background. They made me a formal offer of a position in March and waited patiently while I saw my year 13s through to their exams. Then my training began and wow, am I learning! So, what have I learned? I could go on for far more than the suggested 800 words, and feel like I’m only just scratching the surface, but here goes…
Assessment – Assessment is not mean, it is necessary. Detailed assessment of struggling readers is essential if we are going to be able to help them to learn to read. We can’t just ‘start at the beginning’ because they are not starting at the beginning and, crucially, they do not have time. The clock and curriculum wait for no one!
Expectations – You are not ‘asking too much’ when you ask a struggling reader to give you their best reading. We need their best reading to get to the crux of what they require from us, as their reading teachers. When that struggling reader cracks something that they’ve always struggled with (and they will, in EVERY lesson) they will (more than likely) forget that they ever thought you were being mean.
Teaching IS nurture – Every time we impart knowledge to a child, we nurture them and widen their opportunities. Every success is a boost to self-esteem, and a warm, ‘good’ or ‘well done’ each time is enough to keep things moving. Teaching and counselling are separate entities and need to be kept that way.
Written words are code, code that can be learned. There is no sell-by date on that. There is an end-date to school.
So here I am, five months on from having made the leap, and it feels right. I feel like I’ve joined a crusade. We are determined that every child should leave school able to read. It is wonderful and affirming seeing that determination coming to fruition in schools that we’ve trained.
This is a moral crusade. The question is: who’s coming?
Update: Alison has written about how her role has changed since the Covid 19 pandemic in Life After School . . . Diary of a Trainer
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