Review | Reading Reconsidered

Reading Reconsidered bills itself as ‘a practical guide to rigorous literacy instruction’ and it definitely does what it says on the tin. Obviously geared more towards Secondary practitioners – or Middle School and above if you’re in the States – this book provides a detailed look at the struggles that developing readers face as they move towards reading for meaning and analysis. That said, looking through a Primary lens and thinking about curriculum design this book is extremely useful.

The biggest question that this book provokes in my mind was: what do we think about when we choose texts for children? Are we just picking texts that we like? What was on the shelf and easy to grab? It really makes you think critically about the texts that we put before our young readers, and how to provide them with a rich curriculum that prepares them for life.

Doug Lemov’s main thrust is that there are five plagues of the developing reader:

  • Archaic Language
  • Non-linear time sequences
  • Misleading / narratively complex
  • Figurative / symbolic texts
  • Resistant texts

His blog (here) explains each of these in better detail, and they are really useful when thinking about text choice. It is so easy as a teacher to fall into the trap of picking what you liked or enjoyed as a child (Roald Dahl I’m looking at you here), and we leave children with real gaps in their learning. The book provides you with instruction for how to create a canon of texts that support children with their journey towards literary analysis. I found this amazing document created by Mr A, C and D which gives you further ideas for texts to combat these plagues – it is really useful as a jumping off point!

I have a feeling that in the coming years we’ll really be debating how and why we choose texts in our classrooms, and I think this book will be a really useful one to have in your book corner. Order here!¬†

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Review | Cleverlands

As a teacher, you often hear talk about the world’s best education systems – starting school later, more respect of the profession, mastery – but it can be hard to turn this policy into something workable. Lucy Crehan’s Cleveland manages to shed some light on this.

Cretan travels the world visiting the top performing PISA countries, and takes a good look at their education systems. Through her visits to Finland, Singapore, Japan, Shanghai and Canada, we see why these countries are so successful and the possible foibles of their education systems.

Rather than an enforced theory or set of ideas (at least until the final chapter), Crehan enables us to have an insight into the lives of students and teachers across the globe. The book allows for ideas about streaming (when, if at all?), motivation, professionalism, accountability and curriculum design to bubble in your mind as you read, so you are able to come to your own conclusion as she does.

This is a really good read if you are interested in education policy or over-arching ideas about education systems! Order here

Review | Bringing Words to Life

I came to this book hot off the heels from The Secret of Literacy; I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready for the world of robust vocabulary instruction.

Beck, McKewon and Kucan’s book explores the deficit between ‘word rich’ and ‘word poor’ students, and how best educators can go about fixing this. It definitely fulfils it’s remit. There are some shocking figures about the language deprivation of the children studied (the case studies are all American I should note – no value judgement, just interesting to compare!), and in short children who begin school with a vocabulary deficit will only see the gap between them and the ‘word rich’ widen as schooling progresses.

The book offers a structure for vocabulary introduction and teaching, and the biggest piece of learning for me was the splitting of vocabulary into three tiers. ‘Tier One’ words are the basic, high frequency words that children should know; ‘Tier Two’ the wow-words of old that are uncommon in oral language but often found in writing; and ‘Tier Three’ is the vocabulary of academic disciplines (think¬†filibuster). I found this distinction particularly useful, and as I design my next unit of teaching I will definitely think about the ‘Tier Two’ words to focus my instruction on.

My only real problem with this book, was that it was a smidge dry. It’s style is densely academic (often sighting many studies and authors), it had lots of reproduced teacher-student conversations, and a slightly cheesy ‘your turn’ section at the end of each chapter. Its lessons are definitely worth hearing, but for a read on the train to work, this probably isn’t for you. Give it a go over the summer holidays, and don’t feel ashamed skipping the boring bits!

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Review | The Secret of Literacy

Wanting to shake up my practice, I’ve been ploughing through some educational books and, broadly, they fall into three categories: policy, practice and pedagogy. It is really tricky to find a book aimed at teachers that includes elements of each, while remaining readable. The Secret of Literacy does this.

David Didau, author of the must-read blog The Learning Spy, has managed to do exactly what his tag line suggests we do for learners – make the implicit explicit. He explores the different ways we can reveal the structure of our learning to children, and his book is peppered with fantastic ideas that are practical and really work. What I like about this book, is that Didau strikes the tonal balance between offering practical ideas but supporting it with sound pedagogy. I’ve already tried ideas such as Slow Writing, which have been a great hit with my class!

This book is a must read for anyone in the Primary classroom, and it’s easy to access ideas and thinking will transform your teaching.

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