EEF Blog: Sweating the small stuff
Megan Dixon, Director of Aspirer Research School, introduces the EEF’s early literacy guidance report and explains how the small stuff can make the biggest difference when it comes to learning to read and write.
After two terms at school, Anna had made very little progress in learning to read and write. She seemed to be attentive in lessons but was described as dreamy. She tried her best, but nothing seemed to make sense to her. Her teachers were beginning to think she had an unidentified learning difficulty and were wondering what the next steps might be.
Acting on a hunch, her class teacher arranged for her to have her eye sight tested. A visit to the optician led to a visit to the hospital and after several weeks, Anna returned to school the proud owner of a brand new pair of glasses and transformed attitude to learning. To Anna, the world had become bright and clear, full of details and features she had never seen before. Remarkably, it appeared that she had always had poor vision, but with her new glasses, she was amazed the world looked so different. As she told her teacher, she now understood what everyone had been talking about. Her eyesight had always been poor and no one around her had considered that she might not see well – she was just Anna.
Foundations, the small building blocks on which progress rests, are vital when it comes to learning to read and write. It is impossible to learn to read if, like Anna, you can’t see well enough to discriminate the different in how letters look, or see what the teacher is pointing to. If you can’t understand the difference between letters and words, don’t have the ability to hear and discriminate sounds in speech or understand how a book works, then it is easy to fall behind your more experienced classmates.
Sadly, the evidence suggests that for children who live in persistent disadvantage, these challenges are a constant reality, regardless of the school they attend.
Cornwall Teaching Schools Together – a Partnership with EEF and the Research School networkDownload PDF get_app
Tameside Metropolitan Council and Oldham Research SchoolDownload PDF get_app
Chief Executive’s Letter: School closures - the disadvantage gap may widen, but there are practical steps we can take to minimise itDownload PDF get_app
Supporting schools through the Covid-19 crisis - EEF and Sunday Times launch new appealDownload PDF get_app
Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools
Five recommendations on special education needs in mainstream schoolsDownload PDF get_app
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)Download PDF get_app
Complement high quality teaching with carefully selected small-group and one-to-one interventionsDownload PDF get_app
Ensure all pupils have access to high quality teachingDownload PDF get_app
Build an ongoing, holistic understanding of your pupils and their needsDownload PDF get_app
Create a positive and supportive environment for all pupils without exceptionDownload PDF get_app
Guest Blog: How our school leadership became more evidence informedDownload PDF get_app
See full evidence reviews underpinning EEF guidance reportsDownload PDF get_app
Guest Blog: Top 7 Tips for Researchers Working with SchoolsDownload PDF get_app
Chief Executive’s Letter: What does R&R mean to the EEF?Download PDF get_app
EEF Blog: What can 63 EEF trials tell us about closing the attainment gap for young people with social care experience?Download PDF get_app
Systematic review of evidence on feedback: call for proposalsDownload PDF get_app
Can teaching GCSEs over three years help boost grades? New EEF grant to find outDownload PDF get_app
What works at Key Stage 4, two or three years of study?Download PDF get_app
New EEF grants announced, including three focusing on maths from the early years through to GCSEDownload PDF get_app
TEEM UP: Teaching Effective Early Mathematical Understanding in Primary SchoolsDownload PDF get_app
Thinking, Doing, Talking Science (second re-grant)Download PDF get_app
EEF announces expansion of Research Schools NetworkDownload PDF get_app
Becky Francis: “Surface-level compliance is the biggest threat to any change in education”Download PDF get_app
EEF Blog: Reading aloud with your class – what does the research say?Download PDF get_app
Guidance on data protection for grantees delivering or evaluating an EEF-funded projectDownload PDF get_app
Guidance on data protection for schools and settings involved in an EEF-funded projectDownload PDF get_app
Privacy notice for identified potential or current supportersDownload PDF get_app
Privacy notice for those attending an EEF-organised eventDownload PDF get_app
Privacy notice - information that we need to tell everyoneDownload PDF get_app
Chief Executive’s Letter: The EEF’s is a story of two gapsDownload PDF get_app
EEF Blog: Improving mathematics - why starting early is crucialDownload PDF get_app
New EEF guidance published with 5 recommendations to improve early mathsDownload PDF get_app
Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1
Five recommendations to support practitioners in developing the maths skills of 3-7 year-oldsDownload PDF get_app
‘The 7 things 100 RCTs tell us about the attainment gap’Download PDF get_app
Use high quality targeted support to help all children learn mathematicsDownload PDF get_app
Ensure that teaching builds on what children already knowDownload PDF get_app
Use manipulatives and representations to develop understandingDownload PDF get_app
Dedicate time for children to learn mathematics and integrate mathematics throughout the dayDownload PDF get_app
Develop practitioners’ understanding of how children learn mathematicsDownload PDF get_app
EEF Blog: The Voices informing Teacher ChoicesDownload PDF get_app
Social and Emotional Learning Evidence ReviewsDownload PDF get_app
Invitation for expressions of interest to be a peer reviewer (closed)Download PDF get_app
Donations to Sunday Times Christmas Appeal in partnership with EEF top £1 millionDownload PDF get_app
EEF Blog: What does research say about the application of cognitive science approaches in the classroom?Download PDF get_app
Review of evidence on cognitive science approaches (closed)
We're commissioning a systematic review of the evidence about the application of cognitive science in the classroom.Download PDF get_app
Digital technology (2019)
Evidence review commissioned to support the Using Digital Technology to Support Learning guidance report.Download PDF get_app
EEF partners with The Sunday Times on its Christmas appeal 2019
How you can support schools in disadvantaged areas putting on holiday activities for childrenDownload PDF get_app
New £1.5 million partnership to help scale up EEF Promising ProjectsDownload PDF get_app
Evidence review commissioned to support the Improving Behaviour in Schools guidance report.Download PDF get_app
EEF statement: re-publication of the evaluation of school breakfast clubsDownload PDF get_app
Foreign language learning and its impact on wider academic outcomes: a rapid evidence assessmentDownload PDF get_app
Regional Lead (East Midlands and East) (closed)
We're looking for a Regional Lead for the East Midlands and East of EnglandDownload PDF get_app
EEF Blog: Does research on ‘retrieval practice’ translate into classroom practice?Download PDF get_app
EEF Blog: Teacher Choices needs Teacher Voices!Download PDF get_app
New EEF podcast: ‘Exit Interview’ with Sir Kevan Collins – is teaching becoming more evidence informed?Download PDF get_app
EEF Blog: How can schools manage change and make it stick?Download PDF get_app
Putting Evidence to Work - A School’s Guide to Implementation
A guide to implementation applicable to any school improvement decisionDownload PDF get_app
EEF Blog: Is quick, cost-effective and robust evaluation of education interventions possible?Download PDF get_app
EEF partners with The Sunday Times Christmas appeal to support schools serving disadvantaged familiesDownload PDF get_app
Improving teacher and pupil feedback - EEF scales up Embedding Formative Assessment programmeDownload PDF get_app
IIT: A systematic review of attainment measures (closed)Download PDF get_app
EEF Blog: Randomised controlled trials - 3 good things, 3 bad things, and 5 top tipsDownload PDF get_app
School Choices: EEF funding round 2 (closed)
Funding for research teams to test how the different choices schools make lead to different outcomes for pupilsDownload PDF get_app
The EEF report, The Attainment Gap, found that the attainment gap between children who live in disadvantage and those who do not starts early. By 5 years old, when most children are starting school, there was already a 4.3 month gap in attainment in literacy and mathematics between disadvantaged children and their classmates. Once the gap has started, unless targeted and addressed, the report shows that it grows and grows, doubling by the end of primary school.
So wouldn’t it be better, if the gap didn’t exist, at all – if we ensured that all children received the teaching and learning they needed, as early as possible, before they decide that the world is a place they will never understand, like Anna.
Preparing for Literacy, the EEF’s latest Guidance Report, gives us the starting point for this challenge. It is not intended to be a definitive guide – instead it highlights what the consensus of research evidence suggests are places to begin.
The seven recommendations emphasise the importance of the ensuring that each small building block of learning to read and write are firmly in place. They underline the need to ensure children can see properly and hear well. It reminds us to teach the children not only what letters look like, but the correct sequence of movements to write them. It stresses the fundamental role oral language development plays in all aspects of early literacy acquisition and challenges us to ensure we give this essential foundation the respect and attention it demands. It suggests we pay close and careful attention not only to what children can do, but the processes they use when they do these things and quickly respond to difficulties.
It reminds us to sweat the small stuff, to attend to the finer details of literacy learning in a systematic and robust way, ensuring that no stone is left unturned. It reminds us that often the answers are in front of us, already known. If we attend to this, just maybe, we can begin to close the gap, before it starts.