Book Review: The Secret of Literacy by @LearningSpy

Please be seated. What we are about to share will shock many, and we don’t want to be responsible for any accidents. Are you sat comfortably? Here goes – There’s no such thing as literacy! There, it has been told. Mind blown? Anyway, this is the claim of David Didau, in his book, “The Secret of Literacy – Making the Implicit Explicit” further advocating that literacy is, in fact, a meaningless chimaera which should be consigned to the hell of previous whimsical educational jargon initiatives. Indeed, creating resources in a bid to make pupils communicate better is a pointless exercise, yet the practices that have fallen under the ‘literacy’ umbrella should be embedded into every subject, is the responsibility of every teacher, in every school setting.

Literacy skills are crucial and the importance of these is given great credence throughout this book, as Didau points to statistics which highlight the high levels of the population who struggle with literacy, with one in six falling below levels expected for 11-year-olds. With many young children entering formal education with poor literacy skills, based on their experiences, the onus falls on the education system to pick up the pieces – usually starting with a very low base-line.

Didau takes us on a journey exploring the teaching sequence for developing independence, however, we are reminded that getting the balance right between engagement and learning is a delicate process; just because pupils enjoy your lessons doesn’t mean they’re learning. In relation to this four major elements should be embedded into the learning process: explaining; modelling; scaffolding; and practice, which are all explored in great depth. In fact, an exploration of the growth/fixed mindset principles developed by Dr Carol Dweck (Click to view book via Amazon UK) is given attention, with Didau developing a grit/flow cycle (image below) which is a never-ending cyclic process of development. At the heart of all these principles are key literacy skills.

[pullquote]In-depth attention is given to oracy, reading and writing[/pullquote]How you plan literacy principles into all lessons can be a challenge, but it is essential that it is not seen as a bolt-on extra; with Didau advocating that it should be at the very core of all lessons. In-depth attention is given to oracy, reading and writing (in that order, possibly deliberately), offering tips on how to teach these elements, and how to incorporate literacy learning opportunities in all subjects. These are bedrocks of literacy, with the book sharing examples of how each element can be incorporated into lessons in a cross-curricular way, yet crucially the analysis offered in the book prompts the reader to reflect and develop their own pedagogical practice in each of the key skills mentioned.

The book concludes with a discussion on the importance of feedback and marking, including a mention for DIRT and the potential pitfalls of peer assessment, plus a plea to avoid bolt-on literacy activities that have nothing to do with the subject you are teaching.

Although references are made to the system of education in England (citing Department of Education requirements, and the inspection regime of OfSTED), this book should not be ignored by educators outside of this system. Many of the ideas, values, and philosophies are those which should be embodied and celebrated in education systems globally, rightfully placing Literacy principles at the heart of all learning.

Published by Independent Thinking Press, “The Secret of Literacy: Making the Implicit Explicit” by David Didau has a RRP of £16.99, but is currently available from Amazon UK priced £12.99, or available for Kindle at £12.39*. Click on the link below to view/purchase in store.

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About @digicoled 446 Articles
Colin Hill - Founder, researcher and editor of ukedchat. Also a bit of a tech geek! Project management, design thinking, and metacognition.

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