When we started to implement Read Write Inc we were introduced to the 5Ps of Ruth Miskin’s programme. They are simple, easy to remember and a good lens through which to look at much wider aspects of curriculum delivery. I have reviewed the 5Ps below and added some reflections on the lessons we learnt as the RWI approach was implemented.
Pace is key to the RWI programme in two ways:
- Firstly, for children to complete the RWI programme as quickly as possible: to know the sounds thoroughly, and to read as many books as necessary to learn to decode effortlessly.
- Secondly, children should be so involved in the lesson that they do not have any ‘down time’. This is not to say we want teachers to rush through the lesson – but for them to be energetic and rigorous. To ensure that no time is wasted, ‘silent signals’ are used to ensure quick, effective class management. They save the teacher from using her voices for low-level management, shouting, shushing and nagging.
Silent signals and effective transitions have been key to ensuring no time is wasted. But PACE can easily be interpreted in ways that hinder the learning:
- constantly moving the pupils from the carpet to the board – or stopping the whole class for more input – which results in the pupils having little sustained time to actually do the tasks.
- cutting short teacher input at the start of the lesson for fear of too much teacher talk. As a result pupils are not sure of what to do, or have not got a clear picture of what success looks like and so don’t achieve what they could have done.
- cramming too many ideas into a topic so that there is no time to achieve any depth of understanding. A typical idea might be planning a Roman topic over seven weeks (why are we still confined to topics that must fit the length of a half term) and having seven different ideas: roads, clothes, gods, technology etc. To try and negate this we looked at splitting a topic across a 3FE team. The topic would start with the WOW day to get them enthused about the era. Armed with a little knowledge about lots of different aspects, pupils could then choose which class they wanted to study in so that they could look at a specific area in more depth. At the end of the topic the children would then present what they had learned in their field of expertise.
- believing that as soon as a child has shown they can do an objective they are immediately pushed onto the next. An easy example of this is in place value. If pupils can round to the nearest hundred then they are pushed to round to the nearest thousand, then hundred thousand… but they may have no idea of the size of the numbers, no depth of understanding about the actual value of the place value.
So PACE is important, but as a leader it is imperative that you are clear about what you mean. With children it is dangerous to assume that what you teach is the same as what they will learn. With staff, when giving feedback it is dangerous to assume that what you say/mean is what they will hear/understand.
Children learn quickly in a positive climate. Children learn more quickly when they are praised for what they do well, rather than nagged for what they do wrong; catch children displaying behaviour you need for learning to be successful – particularly praising effective partner work. Always praise the teaching partners for their effective teaching.
- Be specific with your praise – linking it clearly to the skills/knowledge you have been covering or the behaviour goals that you have
- Don’t focus on the black spot (a reminder of Bill Roger’s advice on behaviour management from @teacherhead)
- Look for pupils who have gone ‘above and beyond’ – advice from Paul Dix. Rather than have traffic light systems where pupils can move up and down (and where some pupils only go down) note those who exceed expectations with your agreed behaviours. Once on the board they can’t come off!
- If you give out certificates, value them! It is a huge bug bear of mine when I see pupils being given certificates with: messy handwriting, spelling errors, poorly cropped on the trimmer (half the border missing), on paper… the list goes on. If you are going to do something, do it properly. We tried to avoid this by having a corporate design to our certificates so that they all had a high quality of finish.
Every part of the lesson has a specific purpose. The teacher sets the purpose at the beginning of each activity so the children fully understand what they are learning and why. The purpose of the teaching is made clear through modeling and thinking out loud.
The thinking out loud is a very useful skill that is underused. John Tomsett wrote an article about how his now improved understanding of meta cognition and the role it has in aiding pupils with retrieving knowledge enabled him to transform pupil outcomes without teaching any more knowledge: click here for the blogpost. There is also another article with the same focus here.
We have tried to support teachers through our coaching process in becoming more adept at:
- talking out loud as they make vocabulary choices and sentence structure tweaks during their edit of a piece of writing. Too often editing is confused as being about looking for mistakes, rather than seeking to improve.
- modeling aloud the process behind a maths problem – and in doing so highlighting the common misconceptions that pupils can trip up over.
- picking out the juicy parts of a text when reading to the class – but without killing the moment. Let the children enjoy the story for its own sake, but balance that with reading consciously and highlighting to the pupils vocabulary choices and sentence structure that the author has employed to have a particular impact on the reader.
- we have also tried to develop our skills with ‘assessing through talk’ conversations with pupils. Book looks don’t show you what processes the child was going through in their head. If you videoed them talking about how they are approaching a problem, or talk to them about the methods they used, it can reveal a lot more than the jottings in their book.
This is a very prescriptive programme. It is the energy, enthusiasm and passion that teachers put into the lesson that bring the teaching and learning to life! Be passionate in your teaching. Show the children how much you love teaching the lessons. Exaggerate your modeling of thinking and behavior. Make your teaching larger than life so children engage in the learning. The greater the passion, the faster their progress!
No explanation required! Of course there will be times when you are not quite feeling up to it, but that is when you FAKE IT TIL YOU MAKE IT!
A strong feature of RWI lessons is partner work and the partners ‘teaching’ each other (based on research which states that we learn 70% of what we talk about with our partner and 90% of what we teach).
This is the last of the 5Ps and another where the best of intentions can lead to a sorry mess.
- Highly practical history lessons where pupils study the Tudors and make: a Tudor boat, design a Tudor house; paint a portrait of Henry VIII. What’s the problem – they were active weren’t they? How many of these lessons developed the pupils’ skills as historians and how many developed their skills as an artist? The activity must be PURPOSEFUL!
- Doug Lemov points out a great distinction between using lollipop sticks to choose the next contributor to the lesson vs cold calling. Click here for the link. Teachers want to ensure that all children feel that they may be called on, but lollipop sticks are too random. The teacher needs to be more in control of who they call.
- There will be lessons where the teacher has to impart knowledge and ensure that pupils know enough to be able to tackle a task independently. Jon Severs talked about this for the TES. I have watched lessons where the teacher clearly modelled what they wanted, included pupils through purposeful questioning and gave a detailed explanation. This took time, pupils had to sit and listen, but it was worth it! There was real purpose and relevance. I have sat in other lessons where the teacher just rambled on, often into areas that had nothing to do with what the children needed to know, with little coherence or structure. Pupils were bored and when they started the task they had no idea what to do. That was poor use of teacher talk.
So once again the poor NQT does face a barrage of conflicting advice… get pupils involved, but make sure you give them enough information. Maintain pace, but don’t go to fast. Praise but don’t give praise cheaply. However with some supportive coaching, a little time and a dogged pursuit of the 5Ps I am sure you will make it in the end!