The Secret of Literacy – Making the implicit explicit

David Didau

I’m starting with this book because I’ve come to realise that I was never properly taught to teach reading.  I’m not saying my teacher education was bad but it was a long time ago and I think the assumption was that because I could read, I could teach someone else to read.  I learned about  the sounds in phonics, about how to get children interested in reading, to make games to help children learn to read.  I learned about different genres, about how to create reading comprehension passages linked to the current topic but I don’t think I actually learned to teach reading.  I spent 4 years going between school and college and although I watched children reading, I’m not sure I learned anything about the skills they were using so for me we really do need to make the implicit explicit and change the way we teach reading which is the first reason why this title interested me.  The second reason was the use of the term ‘literacy’.  Prior to the late 90’s it wasn’t a term I really used then the Literacy Hour appeared and suddenly it was a word used a lot …. fast forward a few years and we seem to have gone back to teaching English not literacy.

Didau starts his book looking at the term literacy.  In the introduction he also says that ‘a lot of literacy teaching is done unthinkingly’.  That’s certainly my experience until reasonably recently.

Didau points out the gulf between the language spoken at home and the language used in school – especially for EAL learners and how that becomes a barrier to learning.  Didau goes on to give us a sequence for developing independence:

  • Explain (setting the context and building the field)

  • Model (modelling and deconstruction)

  • Scaffold (joint construction)

  • Practice (independent construction)

This sequence works for teaching literacy but could be applied to anything we teach.  

There are chapters dedicated to oracy, reading and writing.  Each chapter has a variety of practical suggestions for you to use.  One I particularly liked was in Oracy:

Pose – the questions you pose have clear and specific purpose

Pause – stop and give everyone time to think of an answer

Pounce – select who answers the question

Bounce – ask pupils to bounce ideas off each other and evaluate their classmates responses.

Towards the end there is a chapter on how written feedback and marking can support literacy.  In this chapter Didau looks at how marking can be both an element of planning and differentiation.  He looks at the problems with peer assessment and gives suggestions on how to make this work better,  Didau recommends that part of every lesson should be given over to DIRT (Direct Improvement and Reflection Time).  This is the visible impact from your marking.

Whilst I think there is lots in this book for a primary school teacher or specialist English teacher to reflect on and lots of ideas for them to consider using, I really think that this book should be read by secondary school teachers who do not teach English.  I work in a school where a really small percentage of our children have English as their first language.  If every teacher had the knowledge and skills to improve the children’s English then the benefits would be seen in all subjects.

Well worth a read.