What are your teaching and learning priorities? Are you brave enough to have just one?
Imagine you had to select one teaching and learning priority and had the luxury to focus on it relentlessly.
Imagine you could prioritise it above all other teaching and learning strategies, with the passion and insight of knowing that this one strategy had the answer to student progress, student outcomes and teacher effectiveness.
Would you be bold enough to prioritise this above everything else?
Vocabulary as a curriculum priority.
With youth illiteracy rates increasing like never before, it can be argued that golden thread should be the explicit teaching of reading and vocabulary, replicated whole-school, in every classroom.
The impact of poor reading and vocabulary is seen across all subjects. Students who implicitly know how to interpret spoken and written language have a clear and recognisable advantage to those who don’t.
Arguably, teachers who have implicit or learned knowledge of how to teach vocabulary and reading have a similar advantage. Those are the teachers who have the skills to navigate through content in a way that makes the language of their subject accessible, allowing students to decode and deconstruct concepts and knowledge at a deeper level.
A teacher with the skills to explicitly teach reading and vocabulary automatically lessens cognitive load by providing instruction and techniques, enabling students to decipher language in any given context. This lessens the need to remember list upon list of vocabulary and, more importantly, gives students the self-belief to manoeuvre themselves through a text and make the conscious need for committing words to memory unnecessary.
When and where was the last time you witnessed expert vocabulary and reading teaching?
Was it in every classroom, with the under-pinning training and quality assurance process to support and further enhance the delivery? Do you have a fluid, academic and rigorous approach to the explicit teaching of reading and vocabulary in every classroom or a more ad hoc approach?
As school leaders, we have to ask ourselves if we are clear about the skill set of our teachers in this crucial area.
Are we confident that all teachers and teaching assistants explicitly know how to effectively teach reading and vocabulary? Do we provide a structured approach across the curriculum, to lessen teacher variability and ensure students can access expert instruction, whichever classroom they are in?
Prioritising vocabulary teaching
The explicit teaching of reading and vocabulary is a learned skill that takes investment and time.
We need to allow our teachers to access the correct training, to begin to make tweaks in their delivery and see the teaching of reading and vocabulary as students access code for the content.
To get beyond the rhetoric of illiteracy, leaders need to be brave and bold. To reverse the reading and vocabulary deficit, a review of teaching and learning priorities, staff training and investment is vital. We have been talking about the reading and vocabulary deficit for decades and will continue to do so unless we make it our number one priority for teacher development.
So what are your teaching and learning priorities? Are you brave enough to have just one?
Are you willing to take the plunge and tackle the reading and vocabulary deficit once and for all – to let it drive your school improvement priorities and become the golden thread that underpins and supports all others?