Lost queens and dodos: some reflections on knowledge, comprehension and how we teach reading

Reading is built on knowledge. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

This post was co-written with Barbara Bleiman (@BarbaraBleiman), and is also published on the English and Media Centre blog.


In 2016, the passages on the new-look Key Stage 2 ‘Reading’ test caused some controversy, seen by many as being too demanding for too many pupils. They have since been used widely to illustrate the argument for a ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum in primary schools, and – perhaps more significantly and concerningly – as a rationale for teaching factual knowledge (sometimes called cultural literacy) as a major plank in the teaching of reading.

Continue reading “Lost queens and dodos: some reflections on knowledge, comprehension and how we teach reading”

Resuming the curriculum, September 2020

Questions for subject leaders and teams

Subject leaders and subject teams are already working hard on planning for September – for what they will teach, in what order and in what way – in order to meet the challenges of a return to full-time school.

It will not be possible just to switch the curriculum back on. Most pupils will be returning after an extended break from regular teaching and learning, and will have made very different rates of progress during this time. Some may have made little, and some may not have retained all of what they learned before. Planning within subjects will need to take all of this into account.

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‘In this school, English is about…’

Practical tools for reflecting on the what, why and how of English teaching

Venn.JPGA friend’s nephew, when in Year 8, remarked to him: “I used to enjoy English, but all we do now is write PEE paragraphs.” If this is a pupil’s view (even an unfair one) of English in their school, then something has gone badly wrong. It’s extreme, but it is – I think – indicative of a trend in secondary English, in which the narrow imperatives of external assessment are dominating planning and thinking, and when GCSE ‘AOs’ are busily colonising Key Stage 3. Meanwhile, tests and secure-fit assessment frameworks are increasingly dominating primary teachers’ thinking about the teaching of reading and writing.

In this post, I offer two simple tools which I have used with both primary and secondary teachers for reflecting on the principles behind English as a subject. This might be as part of a process of curriculum renewal, of the revitalising of practice, or of a deliberate attempt to build cohesion and shared purpose. Or it might just be to to stimulate professional discussion about some basics – on what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why.

Continue reading “‘In this school, English is about…’”

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