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Context Embedded vs Context Reduced Reading Instruction

The release of John Sweller’s recent report about inquiry learning has been followed up with a range of tweets, Facebook posts and articles either coming out in favour of either explicit teaching or inquiry learning.  In this post I am going to share my own thoughts on this in a way that I hope is measured and nuanced. But let’s be clear, I am not going to go down the road of ‘teachers use a range of techniques based on what they believe is best for students so just leave them alone to make thei…

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My students are learning things. Aren’t they?

 Early in 2021 I held a Masterclass called ‘The Top Three Mistakes Foundation Teachers Make in Reading Instruction – and How to Avoid Them’.  This week’s post revisits mistake number 2

Assuming that because you have taught something, students have learned it.

Every single one of us has made this assumption at one point or another only to realise later that we were so wrong!

The first thing to consider are three little words -

Engage, practice, apply

Essentially, students need to do something with and think about…

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Simple Phonics Solutions For Home Learning

One of the struggles I have seen teachers have in put together their home learning packs for phonics is ‘what on earth do we give our children who can’t read anything yet?’   This is especially challenging if your school is not offering live stream lessons or families do not have access to unlimited internet data.   In our regular phonics lessons the teacher is absolutely crucial to scaffolding and leading learning. No worksheet or set of instructions for parents can replace that.   So, how do…

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Struggling with Self-Doubt? Don't Believe Everything You Think.

For a while now I have been in contact with an early career teacher who co-teaches with a teacher who is more experienced than her. This arrangement might work out beautifully, except that the more experienced teacher is an ‘expert’ in a balanced literacy approach and the early career teacher is firmly ‘on the bus’ of evidence informed practice. This leaves my young colleague in the precarious position of taking 2 steps forward and then doubting everything she does.  I know that there are so man…

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10 Tips for Teaching the Complex Code

You may have heard that English is way too complicated and illogical to teach explicitly.  This myth is one of the reasons that memorising words persists as a spelling strategy, but it is simply not true. What is true is that English has an opaque orthography. This means that the relationship between phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (letters that represent those phonemes) is, well….busy. The ‘basic code’ is reasonably simple. One alphabet letter represents consonants and the short vowels, with a …

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Decodable texts - how do we get it right?



It is now generally accepted that decodable texts of one sort or another are a key part of a systematic approach to reading instruction. Decodable texts provide the practice students need to develop strong decoding skills with reading material containing limited graphemes and sentence structures. In light of the announcement that all NSW Foundation classrooms will receive a delivery of decodable texts, let’s dive deeper into the what, when, who and how of decodables in learning to read. 

What, when, who

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Clarity for the next 6th months of reading instruction.

If you are an Australian or New Zealand teacher you are more than likely actively planning for Semester 2 and if you are a US or Canadian teacher you will be contemplating your new class and the brand new school year ahead. Whether you are looking down the barrel of online lesson delivery or in-person school, the same principles apply when it comes to comes to creating a classroom program to maximise student learning in reading.

The first thing we need to do is understand what reading developme…

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Simple Steps for Big Change


It is the school holidays and I know that it is very likely you have half of your brain occupied by what you’ll be doing next term to create great learning opportunities for your students.  You might have big plans that you are excited about, or you might have big wishes that you know you can’t implement because your school still follows a balanced literacy approach.  Whether you are in the first or second situation, I want you to know that while our goal is to have a fully evidence aligned cl…

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“Watch out!” – Avoiding the pitfalls of shifting practice

With all that we hear about the science of reading, we can get caught up in the idea of ‘one big thing’ that will make our reading instruction the best in the universe. If only it was so!  The reality is that creating a really strong, systematic reading approach in our classrooms comes from an infinity of small things (that might seem massive as we make the leap) that we will never finish learning about. Now, before you log off and reach for the ice-cream, know that I am not saying the task of l…

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Harnessing the 4 Pillars in Phonics Instruction

In last week’s post, ‘Phonics without the Froo Froo’, I wrote about the need for phoneme grapheme instruction to be direct, simple and explicit. If you haven’t read that post, you can find it here.  In this post I also outlined Stanislas Dehaene’s 4 pillars of learning. You can learn more about these pillars in his book, ‘How We Learn’.

How We Learn : Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine... for Now - Stanislas Dehaene

This week, I’d like to take the discussion even further and evaluate some common classroom practices against Dr Dehaene’s 4 pillars to help you maximise the i…

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