How can you choose what to teach?

The more efficient the instructional sequence, the greater the benefit to students and this is of particular importance for students who have lagged behind their peers because, if they are to catch up, they will need to learn more in less time. But how can such a goal be achieved? Lessons need to be focused, purposive and communication needs to be clear. However, even if these conditions are met, this will not guarantee that learning will be maximised.

Generativity

DI programmes teach to the general case and teaching can be said to be ‘generative’ if it enables a learner to respond appropriately to untaught situations. In this sense, generativity is very similar to the ideas of transfer and flexible knowledge. For example, if reading instruction enables student to read untaught words, it can be said to be generative. Teaching students that the grapheme ph is a spelling for the /f/ sound can be said to be a generative approach if students can then decode untaught words that contain this grapheme.

Teaching number families in basic arithmetic is also a generative approach. For example, in addition and subtraction, 2, 3 and 5 is a number family because it can produce four basic facts: 2+3=5, 3+2=5, 5-2=3 and 5-3=2. Instead of asking students to memorise these four facts, students can learn one number family alongside the relations necessary to produce the four facts. This approach is far more efficient as it has a lower memorisation load whilst also teaching students relations that can be transferred to other number families.

Teaching students to manipulate the components of a sentence is also a generative strategy and is a much more efficient approach than learning how to copy and apply single example sentences.

Most content domains are so large and complex that it is impossible to teach everything that they encompass. There are far too many possible combinations of content, responses and contexts to teach them all individually. Because of this, we need to teach to the general case, but how can this be done?

Content Analysis

The purpose of content analysis is to identify generalizable relations within a domain and arrange the content in such a way that learning becomes as efficient as possible. Efficiency here means maximizing the amount of learning within a given time and the goal is to produce the most learning from the least amount of teaching.

A content domain is synonymous with the topic that is being learned, examples of which include computer programming, writing analytical essays, mathematics or molecular chemistry. For every possible content domain, there will be multiple ways of conducting content analysis and deciding what to teach and some ways will be more generative than others. For example, in the content domain of spelling, teachers could decide to produce word lists for students to learn based around topic themes or commonly misspelled words; however, such decisions could be problematic as they are not generalizable. Alternatively, words could be grouped and taught according to phonic or morphographic content therefore producing a highly generative approach to spelling instruction.

Content analysis is the base upon which all other pillars of curriculum design stand. Every other part of curriculum design (creating explanations, sequencing examples etc) will depend upon the content analysis. If the content analysis isn’t up to scratch, the generativity of instruction will be minimal irrespective of how well the other aspects have been designed.

So if it is so important, how do we do it properly?

The process of content analysis should involve a cycle of logical and empirical analyses:

The process should begin through logical analysis where teachers generate possible methods of organizing the content. These should then be logically compared before being empirically tested.

Here’s what this might look like in English:

Imagine you want to teach students how to write compelling pieces of persuasive writing.

Step 1: Engage and Generate

You would start by reading research into effective writing instruction, perhaps choosing to read The Handbook of Writing Research

The handbook explains how emulating model texts and teaching students how to structure their writing can be effective approaches. So, you come up with a few possible approaches:

  1. Teaching classical speech structure (Exordium, Narratio, Divisio, Probatio, Peroration)
  2. Asking students to emulate that brilliant article that you found
  3. Teaching a different persuasive structure

Step 2: Logically Compare

By logically compare all three approaches, it quickly becomes apparent that approach b is not optimal. While the article is brilliantly polemic, it does not contain a transferable structure that students can use and, despite the fact that the prose is captivating, sardonic and nuanced, its complexity will preclude all but the most able students from aping its inimitable style. While students may benefit in other ways from reading the article, it will not be the best choice here. As a result, you logically infer that a or c may be more suitable, both containing malleable structures that could be used in a wide range of relevant contexts and tasks.

Here are some possible questions you could ask while comparing approaches:

  1. Is the approach clear enough for all students to understand?
  2. Can you create and sequence sufficient examples and non-examples in order to refine and develop students’ mental representations of what you are teaching?
  3. Can the approach be practiced so that students build fluency?
  4. Does the approach allow space for creativity: is it a straightjacket or a springboard for success?
  5. Is the approach applicable to the full range of relevant contexts that student will encounter? 

Step 3: Empirically Test

Once you have finished deciding which one you will use, you will need to test whether it is efficient and generative. Just because an approach is logically generative does not mean that it will necessarily be empirically generative.

For a test to truly assess generativity, it must involve untaught content. With structuring persuasive writing, you could use Language Paper 2 Question 5 tasks that students have not encountered before so that you can see whether they can apply the approach that has been taught. To make the test as valid and rigorous as possible, you should choose an outlier style of question where the topic and task are maximally dissimilar to what is usually asked for: does the approach work with writing letters? What about topic X? You should also pay close attention to the output of the weakest students and use them as your guide as to whether the approach is successful.

Directly examining the domain

Reading research can be very helpful when beginning content analysis but so can analyzing the domain itself. Wherever possible, content should be chosen for its utility and whatever subject you teach, there will be some big ideas or concepts that can be applied to different units and topics, some even crossing traditional subject boundaries. As an example, the idea of convection can be applied widely in science and geography:

If you are interested, many of the ideas in this blog post are based upon ‘Features of Direct Instruction: Content Analysis’ Behaviour Analysis and Practice 2021. Thanks to @JonOwenDI who posted a link to the paper on twitter.

I would highly recommend Jon’s blog which has some fascinating posts about DI and curriculum design.

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Checking for Understanding

CFU is really important in the I stage and the We stage of  a lesson. Students should be able to do independent practice (You stage) with minimal support and for this to happen, you need to use CFU properly.

The table below gives an overview of the different stages of the I-We-You continuum as well as how it matches ideas from Cognitive Load Theory and Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction.

I stage

You will either be explaining information or demonstrating a skill or process. CFU is important here to ensure that kids understand what you are doing.

Here is an overview of what this might look like when reading a text:

Here is an overview of what this might look like when you are modelling:

We Stage (Guided Practice)

Here is an overview of guided practice:

Features of Guided Practice:

  1. High Frequency of Questions and Overt Student Practice
  • Teachers should ask questions that are directly relevant to the new content or skill, ensuring that they choose the correct category of questions: procedural questions for processes and skill; declarative questions for content and knowledge.
  • Practice activities should be ‘overt’ in that it should be simple for the teacher to ascertain whether the student is performing correctly or not. Written work is ideal here as the teacher can move around the class to check all student responses.
  • Teachers should regularly check for understanding. This could be through oral questions or through checking written work as students are completing it.
  • If it is clear that a student or students do not understand something, the teacher should offer a repeated or additional explanation or relevant feedback as necessary
  • If it is clear that lots of students do not understand, it may be necessary to stop the guided practice and then reteach the whole class.

2) Ask lots of questions and check the responses of all students

Asking questions is an important part of teaching but if questions are to be useful, we need to think about why we are asking them. Questions can be asked to check understanding, to push students to develop or improve their answer, to consider alternative viewpoints or to help them make links between ideas. Questions also provide pupils with vital practice on what is being taught.

Most of the time it is far more efficient to teach stuff, then ask students questions about what you have taught.  Beginning with eliciting questions like ‘Who knows what The Great Chain of Being is?’  or ‘What do you think ‘hubris’ means?’ before teaching them anything is probably not that useful. The worst example of this is ‘guess what’s in my head’ where a teacher asks a question with a specific answer in mind, hoping to elicit that specific answer from the class. This guessing game can go on for ages and is almost certainly a waste of time.

What should be the focus of Questioning?

Successful teachers ask more useful questions to as many students as possible. Their questions will focus on declarative knowledge (the content that is being taught) as well as procedural knowledge (the processes that students need to follow if they are to complete tasks properly.)

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Declarative Questions:

  1. What is the subject of the first sentence?
  2. What is the noun form of ‘benevolence’?
  3. If the audience knows something that the character does not, what is this technique called?
  4. Why does Macbeth want to kill Duncan?
  5. Who is responsible for Macbeth’s demise?

Procedural Questions:

  1. How did you find the answer to that question?
  2. What are the 5 steps you should follow when answering the examination question?
  3. Explain how to write an analytical introduction
  4. What you should include in your first paragraph and why it is important?
  5. How do you know that?

Asking procedural questions is really important. Not only does it provide additional practice as students are asked to explain how they have done something, but it allows other students to understand the process that the student used to complete the task.

Here are some useful strategies:

Using Mini-White Boards

Mini-white boards are ideal for checking an entire class’ answers at once. They are especially useful for lower order, closed and factual questions, their size prohibiting answers that are anything more than a few sentences.

Cold Call

This technique helps to ensure that all students are engaged and thinking about what you have asked. Assuming you have taught them what they need in order to answer the question, this can be an equitable and appropriate means of ensuring everyone thinks of an answer, an outcome that is more difficult to achieve with traditional ‘hands up’ style questioning.

Let’s have a look at an example.

Teacher: How do you know that Ozymandias was arrogant?

The teacher should then pause, allowing everyone the opportunity to think of answer

Teacher: Abimbola……………what do you think?

Choral Response

Asking an entire class to respond at the same time means that everyone answers the question. This allows for far more practice as well as providing the teacher with more comprehensive information about whether their students have understood. Choral response questions are ideally suited to lower order, closed and factual questions. For this approach to be successful, students need to respond at the same time. If some students are faster than others, the slower students can just copy the answer they hear instead of thinking for themselves. If you are thinking that this approach sounds weird or won’t work with teenagers, you may be pleasantly surprised: typically, they enjoy choral response, especially if the teacher is enthusiastic.

Let’s have a look at an example:

Teacher: Which rhetorical technique involves three ideas in succession?

The teacher then needs to give a cue: clicking fingers, saying ‘Go’, or dropping a raised arm all work well.

Whole class: Tricolon


Building Flexible Knowledge

I have written before about ‘The Instructional Hierarchy’, a framework that splits learning into five stages:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Fluency
  3. Retention
  4. Generalisation
  5. Adaptation

This blog will demonstrate how a multi-lesson instructional sequence can be used to ensure that students are able to generalise. Such an approach can help students develop the flexibility of their knowledge so that they can transfer and apply what they have learned to a good range of relevant contexts.

If you want a more detailed explanation of how to teach appositives, this blog might be of interest.

Stage 1: Acquisition

One of the key points about acquisition is to begin with lots of model sentences, explaining, labelling and questioning the key points.

In the example below, students were asked to complete sentences 2, 4 and 5. I then asked them to write 3 more appositive sentences about these topics:

  1. Gothic Literature
  2. Asia
  3. Summer

Before they started, I gave lots of oral examples and made sure they knew a synonym for each topic (genre/continent/season etc) so that they had the knowledge required to write the sentence: the synonym would be used as the noun in the appositive phrase: The largest continent, Asia is also the most populous.

Stage 2: Fluency and Stage 3: Retention

In this second lesson, I went over the example sentences (1-5 in the example) with students, ensuring that initial teaching spanned 2 lessons. I then asked them to write their own (they were not allowed to copy mine). I gave them 3 minutes to do this. Most were able to finish in this time.

Stage 3 Generalisation and Stage 4 Adaptation.

After they had done a few lessons of timed fluency practice with simple descriptive appositives, I introduced these examples in order to demonstrate how these constructions can be adapted and used as part of extended analytical writing. I then chose some pieces of evidence from a non-fiction text we had recently read about giraffes and asked the students to complete short analytical paragraphs about each piece, following the same sentence constructions.

The next lesson involved this:

In this lesson, students began by completing 5 appositive sentences. Some sentences required retrieval of the content we are currently learning (Romantic Poetry), others didn’t. We then went over the two examples at the bottom, further reinforcing the fact that these constructions lend themselves well to analysis too.

I then asked students to help me complete these:

  1. The persona wears ‘clothes of death’
  2. The child is described as a ‘thing’
  3. The church makes a ‘heaven of our misery’
  4. Blake lists ‘God and his priest and King’

In the next lesson, we then widened the application even further by asking them to practice a reduced form of an analytical introduction, a useful approach to beginning essays. At this stage, I want the year 8s to be able to write a short version of this important essay component; in year 9, they will develop this into something that is far closer to what they will eventually be expected to include in their GCSE essays.

TGoL here is The Garden of Love by William Blake. We had previously read and analysed the poem in detail and come up with a list of 6 big ideas that the poem could involve and I asked students to write versions of the model, choosing the ideas that they liked the most and could explain convincingly.

All of the previous instructional examples involve restrictive drills; the next step was to get students to apply what they had learned to extended writing.

This was the next step:

The plan demonstrates the link between the mini-analytical introduction and the two subsequent paragraphs. I wrote this start of a model live under the camera so that students knew what to do (apologies about the squiggly crossing out-that should read ‘title/name’). At this stage, students are prompted to include what they have previously practiced to fluency in restrictive drills. (see “3+ analytical appositives” in the example above)

This example sequence moves quite quickly through the stages of learning and this is testament to the speed at which this particular class learn. Other classes may need much more practice and the instructional sequence would span many more lessons.

Teaching AQA Language 1 Question 4

Out of both AQA English Language papers, question 4 on paper 1 is the biggest and most valuable, containing more marks than any other reading question.

This blog outline some approaches that I have found to be successful.

Being successful at any form of extended writing involves being fluent (accurate and fast) in a range of different sub-skills, elements or components and I have written before about how the composite skill of extended writing can be split up and practiced .

So what are the components of this particular question? What sub-skills do students need to be proficient at if they are to write a good answer? Although students will probably need to have reached a knowledge crafting level of writing expertise to succeed, this post will focus on things specific to question 4 and the approaches assume that students have fluent transcription as well as sufficient background knowledge to access the text.

Approach 1: Start with Literature texts that they know well

Question 4 asks students to respond to a critical statement, something along the lines of: A student said ‘This part of the story, set during breakfast time, shows that Alex is struggling to cope with his mother’s illness’ How far do you agree with this statement?

Instead of beginning with unseen extracts, it can be useful to initially use literature texts so that students can focus solely on the approach needed for this question. If you have already taught the literature text, then students will already know the content that they are expected to use when attempting a Q4 style question. This essentially lowers the cognitive load as they have less information that they need to manipulate or hold in mind. If you begin with unseen extracts, students will not only have to grasp what the question is asking them (as well as the nuances that are required for high marks), but they will also have to maintain a coherent representation of the text in their minds so that they are able to select relevant information for their answer.

Here are some examples:

EXAMPLE 1: Teacher modelling

  1. Write the question on the board and give some oral examples as to how to answer it, modelling to students that they need to explain HOW the writer makes Mrs.Birling seem cold:

Mrs.B has a dismissive attitude and uses curt language like ‘impertinent’, making her seem cold. etc. etc.

2. You can then add other words to describe Mrs.Birling (red pen in the example) and give further oral examples:

Mrs.Birling is worse than cold; she is a spiteful woman who, through her disparaging language, denigrates and objectifies Eva, referring to her as ‘girls of that class’. etc.etc

Debating and discussing the key words in the statement by offering alternatives can help students to fully engage with the prompt as well as ensuring that they adopt a more nuanced and evaluative approach to the task. With this example, I came up with other words that students could use to lead their evaluation and analysis: spiteful, egotistical, opaque, sclerotic, ossified. Thanks to DiLeedham for suggesting this approach to me: it has been really successful in pushing HA kids towards full marks.

EXAMPLE 2: Guided Practice

  1. Write this second question on the board and ask students to discuss why Utterson is dull (analysis/evaluation) and how they know that (methods)
  2. Ask them for other words they could use instead of ‘dull’. In my example, all three of the red suggestions are vocabulary terms that they learned in the Jekyll and Hyde unit.
  3. They can then discuss why he is austere/authotitative/hypocritical (analysis/evaluation) and how they know that (methods)
  4. You can then ask for verbal answers checking that students engage with the prompt, analyse, refer to the text and include methods.

EXAMPLE 3: Same process as Example 2

Once these literature focussed examples have been completed, you could then compile a list of methods, demonstrating to the students that a method is any possible way that a writer expressed an idea, ranging from the microscopic and phonetic (things like ‘plosives’ and dashes) to the structural and macroscopic (things like transitions, sections and changes in focus).

Using Short Stories

You could then look at a question 4 based on a short story that you have already taught and discussed, again the advantage here being that students already know the content so they can focus on what question 4 requires them to do.

Here is an example that focusses on Helen Phillip’s phenomenal short story called ‘The Knowers.’:

The example above further outlines what q4 is asking them to do as well as continuing the idea of ‘debating/discussing the question words’ in order to encourage more nuanced responses.

As explained in this post , I would start with a model answer and annotate it to show students what they need to do:

You could then skip straight onto an unseen extract and accompanying question. A really good extract (and I can’t remember where I found it so please let me know so I can credit you!) is from ‘She Wasn’t Soft’ by T Boyle.

Here’s a question 4 for this extract:

A critic said ‘The Writer has created a tense and suspense filled scene’ How far do you agree.

After reading the extract, students can then write down other words that could be used to describe the scene: instead of ‘tense and suspense filled’, they may come up with ‘chaotic, exciting, nerve-wracking, fear-inducing etc’. You can then show another model answer, highlighting components in the first part like this:

….before asking the students to read the rest of the model, identifying the same components and using your annotations as an analogy.

Beginning with lots of modelling is always important so that students can understand exactly what it is you want them to do.

Approach 2: Break it down into Sequential Steps

While the approach above may work with higher ability students, some students will require you to break things down even further.

  1. Read and discuss a short story (The explanation below is based upon ‘Story of an Hour’ by Kate Chopin )

Short stories are often easier for students to understand than extracts. Because of this, they are ideal for the initial teaching of language questions. Although they won’t be able do this in the exam-and we all know that students who struggle with GCSE language are often those with insufficient background knowledge to understand the unseen extract that they have to read-in class, you can spend time checking for understanding, explaining and ensuring that they know what happens.

2. Focus on the question

This part of the text where Mrs Mallard reacts to the news of her husband’s death makes us feel both pity and joy for her. To what extent do you agree?

Students need to understand that the question is a prompt that directs them to find relevant evidence and steers their response. You could underline the key words and then demonstrate how to find evidence that fits them. To model this, the teacher could find things that fit ‘pity’ like this:

Showing them how to do this under the visualizer allows them to see the process in action.

You could then ask them to find things to fit ‘joy’:

As you have already demonstrated HOW to do this under a camera, they should know what they are expected to do and should be able to find relevant evidence.

Even with lower ability students, it can still be useful to get them to debate the question words by looking for evidence that supports another interpretation of the woman’s actions:

These two quotations could be seen as evidence that she is callous; equally, they could make us feel horrified rather than piteous or joyful.

With lower ability students, it is really useful to outline non-examples so they know what not to do in this question. I find that some students slip into writing advice to the character instead of engaging with the question properly:

Addressing these misconceptions before students begin writing makes it far more likely that they won’t do this!

While more able classes could cope with whole models, I would split up the answer for lower ability groups so that they are not overwhelmed:

  1. Show how to engage with the question:

Once you have shown students how to engage with the question through a model like the one above, you could ask them to rewrite it in their own words. This will be very close to mimicry but that may be an important first step on the journey towards flexible knowledge. Later practice opportunities could use the alternation strategy where students use your model as an analogy rather than something to directly emulate.

2. Create a diagram that describes the answer:

3. Show how this abstraction can be realized as writing:

You could then ask students to label the rest of a model answer, checking whether they understand what is required.

Approaches that will be important whatever the level of the class:

  1. Lots of modelling at the start so students know what to do.
  2. Lots of distributed practice, moving closer and closer to examination timings and combining practice with other reading questions too so as to build examination stamina.
  3. Asking students to check their own work for key elements: METHODS + EVIDENCE + ANALYSIS/EVALUATION

Short Stories 5

This is the fifth post in this series. You can find the others here: one, two, three, four.

Here are some more short stories that I have enjoyed reading and teaching:

Strawberry Spring by Steven King

One of King’s earlier works, this story explores a number of mysterious killings that plague a local town and university campus. It has a good twist at the end.

The Street Sweeper by Meron Hadero

Shortlisted for the 2021 Caine prize, Hadero’s story reveals the strange world of NGOs and governmental agencies and how they impact upon the country that they work within. Getu, the main character, is a translator and fixer for international aid workers and the story focusses on the invisible barriers that separate him from his employers.

That Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Exploring the nature of stereotypes and culture shock, this story follows a young Nigerian who emigrates to the US only to find herself disappointed by her new country.

Reports on the Shadow Industry by Peter Carey

Carey has created a dystopian society where people chase after ‘packaged shadows’. A critique of consumerism and capitalism, it encourages us to question our obsession with material goods and the disposable nature of modern life.

We Ate The Children Last by Yann Martel

Martel has written a surreal story that not only asks questions about the limitations and ethics of science, but also explores the fickle nature of humanity.

The Frolic by Thomas Ligotti

A psychiatrist moves with his family to a new town. As he explains talks to his wife about one of his most disturbed patients, a child-abductor, they realize that they have made a big mistake.

A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka

The unnamed artist travels from town to town, attempting to impress people with his ability to starve himself. Unfortunately, his popularity is waning. Kafka’s story explores the themes of pride and artistic devotion.

The Deep by Anthony Doerr

Tom is a young boy with a heart condition that means he will die before he reaches adulthood. This often poignant story explores what it is that makes life worth living.

Marriage Lines by Julian Barnes

In this touching story of grief and loss, a recently widowed man returns to a Scottish Island where he and his wife used to spend their holidays.

Reading and Writing: A Reciprocal Relationship

If you were to choose the best writers from a group of students, I would bet heavily that they are also avid readers. Pupils who read widely and regularly are often better at writing than pupils who rarely read at all. Timothy Shannahan  points out that 70% of the variance in reading and writing ability is shared. This strong correlation points to a reciprocal relationship between reading and writing. Combining instruction, therefore, can be immensely beneficial and this is because reading and reading instruction can help pupils to improve their writing and vice versa.

But why is this? What is the link between the two modalities?

Shared Knowledge Theory

According to this framework, both reading and writing rely upon the same body of knowledge. As Steve Graham puts it:

‘We write so others will read, and we read what others write’

There are four main knowledge sources that pupils rely upon for both reading and writing:

  1. Domain Knowledge

Pupils who know more about a text are more likely to comprehend what they are reading. Knowledge is important for writing too: it is far easier to write about a topic that you know a lot about.

2. Metaknowledge

This includes knowing the function and purpose of reading and writing and how readers and writers interact. Writers, if they are to be truly effective, need to write with a reader in mind , ensuring that what they write is suitably pitched and coherent. If students are to read effectively, they need to develop and employ a high standard of coherence in that they need to care about whether a text makes sense to them or not. Similarly, if students are to write well, they need to care about and monitor the ideas that they generate and how they are turned into sentences.

3. Knowledge about Texts

Knowledge about the function and purpose of texts is crucial for both modalities. When reading, this knowledge might assist with interpretations, helping pupils to notice the tone or mood of a piece. When writing, pupils use it to ensure that what they are writing fits the task at hand. For novices, this knowledge is best built up by studying worked examples. Pupils should experience a high volume of reading at school and they should regularly deconstruct relevant exemplar texts in order to better understand what it is that makes them effective. Understanding is often predicated upon conceptual depth and breadth and this can be achieved by teaching through examples.

4. Knowledge of universal text attributes

To read and write effectively, students need to know their Grapheme Phoneme Correspondences. When reading, this knowledge allows them to decode and correctly pronounce written words; when writing, it aids accurate spelling. Reading and writing also rely upon syntactical knowledge or the rules and grammar for composing sentences and using punctuation. Finally, knowledge of text structures, formats and organisational elements like the relationships between graphics, diagrams and text underpins both modalities.

5. Procedural Knowledge

This involves knowing how to set goals, retrieve relevant information from long term memory and employ higher level strategies like questioning, drawing analogies, analysing and summarising. When reading, these can be used to aid comprehension; they can also make writing more focussed as students regulate the writing process.

Rhetorical Relations Theory

According to this theory, reading and writing are forms of communication, each involving a conversation between readers and writers. Expert writers produce texts in a constant interaction and conversation with an imaginary reader. Skilled readers do the opposite as they try to tease out or analyse the absent author’s intentions or purpose. This theory proposes that these dialogues help students to develop new insights and knowledge. By reading closely and paying attention to specific word choices and turns of phrase, a reader may acquire new knowledge about writing as they realise how a writer employs specific techniques or achieves certain effects. Similarly, writers may gain new insight into reading as they juggle mental representations, striving to compose text that will appeal to a reader.

Empirical Support

Writing Instruction Improves Reading

The theories above suggest that this is true but what is the empirical support for these ideas? Graham and Hebert (2011) conducted a meta-analysis of 95 true and quasi-experiments and here is a summary of their findings:

Spelling instruction can improve reading fluency and enhance word reading

Teaching students how to spell provides them with the necessary knowledge about how sounds and letters connect, allowing them to recognise and decode words that contain taught grapheme phoneme correspondences. The process of connecting and building from the smallest units of letters to words and then sentences is likely to provide them with further advantage when reading.

If you write about what you have read, this can help with comprehension.

Richard E Mayer, one of the authors of Learning as a Generative Activity, would explain this benefit through his SOI model of generative learning:

  1. Select relevant information
  2. Organise it into a coherent cognitive structure in working memory
  3. Integrate it with relevant prior knowledge from long term memory

When asked to write about a text, students have to engage in all 3 stages of cognitive processing. If all three stages are successfully engaged, then it is likely that they will understand what they have read. There are, however, many things that may preclude this from happening such as a lack of relevant prior knowledge or the fact that the text contains too many unfamiliar words.

Graham and Hebert found that note-taking, answering questions, writing summaries or writing extended answers can all aid comprehension. Interestingly, they found that the benefit was greater for middle school students compared to high school students.

Reading Improves Writing

Students who read a lot tend to be good at writing but is this assumption also supported by empirical findings? Graham et al (2018) conducted a meta-analysis of 92 true and quasi-experimental studies that examined whether reading and reading instruction improved students’ writing. Here’s a summary of the findings:

Increasing how much students read can result in an improvement to their writing

Reading allows students to acquire new knowledge and understanding about how texts have been written. Students will be exposed to a wider range of sentence structures and vocabulary, some of which will rarely exist in speech or functional written communication. Similarly, students who read more will be used to thinking about and considering word choices, effects and intentions.

If students read and analyse the work of their peers, this can improve their writing

When giving feedback on extended writing, I almost always show a couple of good pieces under the camera and we discuss what makes the writing effective. This can be really powerful, demonstrating to the class that what I have asked for really is achievable, and giving a massive confidence boost to the person who is being praised. As well as deconstructing whole pieces, I often draw a star next to exceptional sentences in different books, noting the names down in my class exercise book. These pupils are asked to read out their brilliant turns of phrase and the class are invited to explain why the sentence is so effective.

Finding a Balance

A curriculum that involves lots of challenging and varied reading as well as providing lots of opportunities for pupils to practise their writing is probably on the right track. However, for a curriculum to be maximally effective, it also needs to focus upon the relevant components that make up the composite skills of reading and writing. Novice writers will benefit from increasing the volume of their reading, but they will also benefit from writing fluency practice, sentence level instruction and strategy instruction. Novice readers, who do not decode securely, will also benefit from being read to as this will help build their background knowledge which will then aid comprehension. They will, however, also need systematic instruction that focusses upon the components of reading, if they are to clear up their decoding problems.

Many of the ideas in this post are based upon ‘The Sciences of Reading and Writing Must Become More Fully Integrated’ by Steve Graham (2020)

Writing: The Case for Deliberate Practice

One of the main goals of teaching English is to help pupils become better at writing. Expert writers seem to be able to write with minimal effort. They write quickly, accurately and effectively, their sentences well-constructed, their ideas expressed with clarity, producing texts that appeal to the reader whilst also being suited perfectly to the task at hand. This is, however, no easy feat: expert writing involves the control of cognitive, perceptual and motor processes, each of which has become relatively effortless, most likely through extended and deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice can help to reduce the attentional demands of particular processes. Simple perceptual-motor processes can, through deliberate practice, become completely effortless. If you have ever trained in a particular sport, you will recognize this process of automisation. I play football and, as a result of sustained deliberate practice, do not have to think about the position of my feet, the angle of my leg or where my foot will meet the ball when kicking. Someone who has never kicked a ball before will need to concentrate on all of these things. The sheer number of things to consider (and we haven’t even talked about positioning or anything to do with other players) will mean that this may be a difficult task to execute proficiently and consistently. Writing, however, is not a simple perceptual-motor process and in my last post, I attempted to outline its complexity. Because of this complexity, effective writing instruction should seek to reduce rather than entirely eliminate the relative effort required for each of the components and processes involved.

Deliberate practice can do exactly that. By reducing the attentional demands on the components, it can free up pupil’s attention so that they can concentrate on the whole performance, allowing them to respond flexibly and effectively to the task at hand.

Real Life Case Studies

Isaac Asimov, one of the most distinguished and prolific writers of science fiction, wrote almost 500 books in a career that spanned more than 40 years. A study (Ohlsson 1992) explored Asimov’s writing career in an attempt to draw inferences regarding the effects of practice. The study split his oeuvre into groups of 100 books. Although the books would obviously vary in length and complexity, the researchers assumed that this would roughly average out. Asimov completed his first 100 books in 237 months; his second 100 books in 113 months; his third 100 books in 69 months and his fourth in 42 months. His writing sped up significantly as his career progressed and it seems reasonable to attribute this improvement to practice and increasing expertise.

A second study (Raskin 1936) found that scientists and authors produced their best work in their mid-30s, ten years or so after their first publications. In a study of poets (Wishbow 1998), researchers found that over 80% of 66 poets that were listed in the Norton Anthology of Poetry were first published ten years after starting reading and writing poetry. Both of these studies can also be seen as lending support to the idea that practice is beneficial.

Defining Practice

We are all familiar with the general meaning of practice, perhaps equating it to sustained effort or repetition, but what else is required to ensure that practice is maximally effective. In his brilliant book ‘Peak’, Anders Ericsson, the world’s leading expert on deliberate practice, explains that if practice is to be an effective means of developing expertise, it needs to ‘purposive’ or ideally ‘deliberate’. Let’s have a look at each one in turn.

Purposive Practice

  1. Well defined, specific goals

Teachers should choose goals that are suited to their student’s current level of expertise. If their pupils are struggling with transcription, then asking them produce extended pieces of writing will not be the best instructional choice. It will be more useful to build their transcriptional fluency, perhaps through systematic spelling instruction, dictation activities or short, timed writing practice.

A pupil’s level of writing expertise is unlikely to be the same across genres or different types of tasks. Expertise is often very narrow and highly domain specific. When pupils enter year 7, they are often pretty good at writing stories, having learned and practiced this text type a lot during primary school. Although they are adept at writing narratives, they are usually relative beginners or even complete novices at writing analytically. Because of this, it will probably not be a good idea to expect them to write essays that are of a comparable length to their creative pieces. Instead, instruction and practice should be focused at the sentence and paragraph level, building fluency with these components with the eventual aim of creating fluency in the wider, composite task of writing text response essays.

2. Putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer term goal

Although the goal may be fluent and proficient extended compositions, the best way to achieve this is likely to involve practicing the components that build up the composite whole. Designing restrictive practice activities that focus on isolated components can be really helpful.

3. Focus and Attention

If pupils aren’t concentrating or paying attention, then it doesn’t matter how good we think we our lesson is, they won’t get better at writing. Mike Hobbis explains some of the research into attention in this post

4. Feedback

In Peak, Ericsson points out that ‘meaningful positive feedback is crucial for motivation……..this can be internal feedback such as the satisfaction of seeing yourself improve at something, or external feedback provided by others’

To prevent errors from becoming ingrained, in the initial stages of instruction, corrective feedback should be immediate. Effective feedback requires the giver to have a well-developed mental representation of what is being performed. If a task is vague, then this can makes things difficult. Feedback involves comparing these expert mental representations to the performance: the difference is what the student needs to do to improve.

5. Getting out of your comfort zone

Purposive practice should involve a level of challenge that is just above pupils’ current performance levels. It should be achievable yet challenging and this is often a hard balance to achieve. Rosenshine’s principles of Instruction, based upon the product-process research, would point to 80% as being an optimum success rate for pupils: on average, pupils should be getting 80% of the answers correct in a lesson. Too easy and pupils may lose interest; too hard and pupils may give up. They need to see that if they devote sustained attention to the task, that the goal is achievable. Asking pupils to write answers to GCSE exam questions in year 7 is unlikely to strike this balance.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice requires that teachers ‘set practice activities designed to help pupils improve’. In order to create such activities, the teacher will need to follow a number of guidelines:

  1. Teachers must know what makes up expert writing

Deliberate practice is different from other forms of practice because it requires a fairly well established domain where ‘the best performers have attained a level of performance that clearly sets them apart from people who are just entering the field.’ Writing seems to fit this description. Although there will be huge variations in style, tone, register and form across expert writing, even within a specific genre or text type, expert writers will likely have utilized similar cognitive processes in order to create their pieces. Deftly juggling mental representations that span author, text and prospective readers, they will have recursively planned, composed and reviewed their writing. These processes can be isolated and practiced with students and these mental representations can be incrementally developed too, through extensive reading and studying models. Pupils should also be taught and asked to apply specific sentence structures or literary techniques.

How can this be achieved:

  • Practice, practice practice! Teachers should regularly be practicing writing themselves by completing the same tasks that pupils are asked to do. Almost every time pupils write, I write as well.
  • Reading, analyzing and discussing student work with colleagues

2. They must understand the relationship between components and wholes

Extended writing, like most other complex cognitive or physical skills, can be split up into different components, each of which can be taught and practiced in isolation before being combined into increasingly complex wholes. There are many advantages to this approach and it is no surprise that drills and restrictive practice tasks are standard in sports training and music teaching. Drills allow initial massed practice so that pupils, through immediate corrective feedback, are able to perform accurately. These drills can then be distributed over time so that pupils retain the skill and, once the desired level of accuracy has been reached, pupils can begin to work on their fluency by attempting to complete trials within a specific time limit. If pupils become fluent in these components, they are far more likely to be able to use them in wider writing.

Practising sentence structures on their own, however, is unlikely to be very successful. Pupils need to eventually use these components in their wider writing and an effective instructional sequence will gradually shift from restrictive practice to wider application. Something like this:

How can this be achieved:

  • Components should be chosen and sequenced based on their utility-anaphora may well be more useful to pupils than anastrophe.
  • Components should be chosen that are easily combined with others: specific high utility sentence structures are ideal here.
  • Particular attention should be paid to the shift from drills to wider application so that pupils are able to apply what they have practiced in extended writing. If not, pupils will not transfer their knowledge to wider writing. Transfer is notoriously difficult to achieve, although one method of achieving it is to make pupils  aware of the similarity between different contexts or tasks. This can be achieved through prompts, success criteria and asking pupils to underline the components that they have included in their writing.
  • Ensure that there is a suitable balance between practicing components and appropriate extended writing. Most of the time, classes should be doing both: drills to develop accuracy and fluency; extended writing to push pupils thinking about the content as well as to combine and apply fluent components. If pupils only complete drills, this will only help them get better at drills and they may not transfer this knowledge to extended writing. If pupils only do extended writing, this is unlikely to accelerate their progress as much as balancing the two.

If you are interested, many of the ideas in this post are based on ‘Training Advanced Writing Skills: The Case for Deliberate Practice‘ by Ronald T Kellogg and Alison T Whiteford.

Next Post: Reading and Writing: A Reciprocal Relationship

The Development of Writing Expertise: From Telling to Crafting.

Although there are lots of models for describing writing, many split it into three main cognitive processes: planning, writing (often called ‘translating’ in research) and reviewing. These processes should not be seen as sequential or separate and the act of writing will involve recursive interaction between all three:

But what does expertise mean in writing? How can we describe the development of expertise? One particularly influential model (Bereiter and Scardamalia 1987) splits the development of expertise in writing into three stages:

  1. Knowledge Telling
  2. Knowledge Transforming
  3. Knowledge Crafting

The diagram above attempts to describe how writers develop in expertise by focusing on the wider processes of writing (planning, translating and reviewing) as well as the mental representations that writer’s rely upon. Cognitive Load Theory and research into expertise would suggest that an important difference between experts and novices is the depth and breadth of their background knowledge. Experts have more accurate and comprehensive mental representations of whatever it is they are thinking about and are able to retrieve and apply these from their long term memories, thereby circumventing the seemingly unalterable limitations of working memory. If you look at the diagram above, you will see that this model of writing development is in agreement with these ideas.

Knowledge Telling

At this novice stage of writing, pupils are focused on retrieving what it is they want to say and then turning these ideas into a written form. Writing at this stage will be a simplistic restatement of a pupils’ thoughts. While they are unlikely to be focused on how an imagined reader may interact with what they have written, this is not to say that they are entirely solipsistic in their approach: even very young children recognise that other people think differently and have different perspectives.

At the ‘knowledge telling’ stage, it is assumed that the pupil is likely to have an impoverished mental representation of what the text they have written actually says as well as how a reader may interpret it.  Young children can sometimes struggle to understand what they have just written and this may be because when they are writing, they are almost entirely focused on the process of converting their thoughts into writing and not on how the text actually reads. At this stage, pupils’ transcription skills will be far from fluent: their handwriting may be laborious and their spelling may require sustained concentration and focus. Because pupils have to direct their attention to these component skills, they may be unable to concentrate fully on the meaning of what they have written.

A second assumption here is that it is impossible to focus on reader interpretation in the absence of fully comprehending what has been written. Additionally, because these mental representations are not stable or clear within a pupils’ mind, they are unable to use them when planning and reviewing and this explains the limited use of planning and reviewing by writers who are within this early stage.

Knowledge Transforming

This second stage involves a constant interaction between the writer and the text that they are writing, with the writer changing what they want to say as a result of the process of writing. As they read what they have already written, they will not only strengthen their mental representation of their writing, but they may also trigger additional planning or sentence generation. For example, if the writer was writing a paragraph about Macbeth’s dagger soliloquy, they may begin by writing about his introspective questioning; this may then help them to decide what would come next in their analysis.

At this stage, the act of writing has become a process of actively constituting knowledge. Whereas knowledge telling involves the simplistic translation of thought into text, proficient writing (and the ‘knowledge transforming’ stage could be seen as the beginnings of proficiency) often involves a process of discovery in that writers only discover exactly what it is they want to say during the actual process of writing.

Flower and Hayes (1980) describe the shift from’ knowledge telling’ to ‘knowledge transforming’ like this:

‘At one end of the spectrum, writers are merely trying to express a network of ideas already formed and available in memory; at the other, writers are consciously attempting to probe for analogues and contradictions, to form new concepts, and perhaps even to restructure their knowledge of the subject.’

Knowledge Crafting

This third stage represents true proficiency and expertise; writers who are operating at this level are constantly thinking about their readers and how what they have written will be interpreted. This will likely involve review and adjustment during the writing process, perhaps changing words or rephrasing sentences in order to maintain a specific tone or perspective. Writers operating at this level of expertise are more likely to make extensive structural adjustments and will be concerned with the form and shape of their argument. At this stage, writers are able to devote attention to what they have written, the ideas in their head that are yet to be translated into text as well as the needs or reactions of a potential reader.

Instructional Implications of this Model of Expertise

Knowledge Crafting requires a writer to do multiple things at once as they juggle different mental representations (text, author and reader) whilst simultaneously generating ideas, spelling accurately, forming letters properly and writing coherent sentences. Writers will also be recursively planning and reviewing as they write.

Writing is a composite skill made up of multiple interacting components. If pupils are to develop in expertise and therefore devote attention to the text, author and reader, they will need to reduce the load on their working memories. Beginners are likely to only focus on ‘telling’ because their dysfluent spelling and handwriting will take up a lot of their working memory capacity. Once their spelling and handwriting has become fluent and therefore automatized, they are more likely to be able to devote attention to the wider processes of planning and reviewing.

So what can we do to help pupils develop in expertise? How can we ensure that pupils move from telling to transforming to crafting?

  1. Reading and Writing: connecting the two.

One possible avenue for instruction is through harnessing the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing, both of which share a common knowledge base. Reading can improve writing and writing can improve reading.

2. Knowledge

Effective composition requires an extensive range of knowledge, including vocabulary, grammatical know-how, discourse structures and domain specific knowledge. If writers are to be successful, they need to be able to rapidly retrieve this knowledge when writing. If it is not accessible from long term memory, perhaps through lack of practice or because too much time has passed since they original learned it, then they will be unable to use it when writing.

3. Attentional Funneling

It can be helpful to explicitly teach pupils strategies for each of the three main cognitive processes of writing (planning, translating and reviewing). Initially, and in order to reduce unwanted cognitive load, each process should be taught in isolation. Strategy instruction, like almost everything else, will be made more efficient if it is taught through the I-We-YOU continuum, beginning with lots of modelling and moving gradually towards independent practice. While splitting up the writing process and teaching each part separately may be very different to how experts write, this is to be expected: effective instruction will often look different to the final performance.

4. Deliberate Practice

If pupils receive sufficient practice in the components and wider cognitive processes of writing, then each will require gradually less attention and effort. Like attention funneling, the goal of deliberate practice is to bring pupils to an acceptable level of writing fluency so that they can then successfully use and juggle multiple representations (text, author, reader) whilst writing.

Deliberate practice requires:

  1. Effortful exertion to improve performance
  2. Intrinsic Motivation to engage in the task
  3. Tasks that are within the reach of an individual’s current level of ability
  4. Effective feedback
  5. High levels of repetition

If you are interested, many of the ideas in this post are based on ‘Training writing skills: A cognitive development perspective‘ by Ronald T Kellogg

Next post: Writing Expertise: The Case For Deliberate Practice

What are Effective Approaches for Teaching Writing?

‘The Handbook of Writing Research’ is a good overview of some of the current areas of research:

So what approaches to teaching writing are effective? I have written previously about the importance of restrictive practice activities for teaching components, using model answers, helping students see the deep structure of writing tasks and strategies for ensuring that students write enough.

This post will explore a chapter from ‘The Handbook of Writing Research’. Entitled ‘A Review of Reviews’, the chapter synthesizes evidence from 19 previous evidence reviews covering pupils from KS1-KS4, many of which were meta-analyses, and includes both quantitative and qualitative studies. While there are undoubtedly limitations and potential issues with such large scale reviews (see this article for a brief overview as to the use of meta-analyses in education), this chapter gives a good overview of potentially effective approaches to the teaching of writing. What follows is a summary of the chapter’s recommendations.

Recommendations:

  1. Increase the amount of time that students spend writing

Effective teachers ask students to write often for a variety of useful purposes. Although this may seem a little reductive, much of GCSE English writing, spanning both literature and language, can be grouped into three main genres: rhetoric, descriptive/creative and responding to texts. These are broad categories, each containing a range of typical tasks that require slightly different approaches, but there are more similarities than differences within each one. Teachers should ensure that students are given enough opportunities to practice each type. Perhaps unsurprisingly, increasing the amount of time students spend practicing writing will likely increase the quality of their writing. To be maximally effective, practice needs to be deliberate and appropriate to the level of expertise of the students: asking pupils to write essays in year 7 may not be the best approach, their lack of fluency in the various components that make up an essay may mean that they will struggle with such an extended task.  

2. Create a Supportive Writing Environment

Students benefit from spending time gathering information and building their knowledge base so that they can then apply this in their writing. Knowing more about a topic or genre of writing is likely to result in better final pieces. This is an ideal opportunity to combine reading and writing within lessons. Asking pupils to read texts on relevant topics or read texts that can pupils can emulate will be good preparation for their writing.

Students should also be given time to plan and organize their ideas. A lot of writing research splits the writing process into three stages: planning, writing and reviewing, and teachers should be teaching students how to approach each of these stages, demonstrating how to approach each stage as well as providing them with models and specific strategies for each one.

Teachers who are enthusiastic and emphasize the importance of effort about writing are more likely to be effective; they should set specific goals (how much? what style? which components? what content?) and have relentlessly high expectations of all students. Support should be given to those who need it: after setting a writing task, I often go and give individual help to specific students, providing further prompts, giving sentence frames or asking them questions about process or approach.

3. Teach Writing Skills, Strategies, Knowledge and Motivation

In the US, there is a substantial body of writing research centred around ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Development’, known as SRSD. Strategy Instruction is often focused upon the three main stages of the writing process and teaches students how to plan, write and review their work. This approach is particularly effective when students are taught self-regulation procedures. A subsequent blog post will explore SRSD in more detail but this paper provides a good overview.

SRSD tends to focus on the wider process of writing, but effective teachers also focus on foundational skills and the components that make up the wider performance. Student who struggle with transcription (handwriting and spelling) will need instruction in these if they are to succeed in developing their writing fluency. If handwriting or spelling is laborious and slow, this will preclude students from being able to concentrate on the wider processes of writing like generating ideas, composing sentences or planning as their attention will be unduly focused on this area of dysfluency.

Seen through the lens of limited working memory, we can only concentrate on so many things at once. Skilled, fluent writers are able to write at a rapid pace whilst directing attention to planning, the needs of the audience and subtle ideas like tone or voice because their transcription has reached a state of automaticity, most likely through extensive reading and writing practice. For a useful overview of the importance of fluent handwriting, this post by Alex Quigley is worth reading.

As well as focusing on foundational skills, effective writing instruction will also involve sentence based work. This could be through sentence combining or through modelling and practicing specific constructions. The aim of this teaching should be fluency and optimal instruction and practice will be distributed and sufficiently varied, support being gradually faded as pupils gain in expertise.

Cognitive Load Theory would suggest that novices learn best from worked examples and this research view corroborates that finding. An effective approach is to ask pupils to emulate model texts. If you are teaching creative writing, a well-chosen short story can provide a transferable narrative structure for pupils to hang their ideas upon.

Enhancing student motivation can also be effective and one of the most powerful ways of doing so is engineering regular opportunities for pupils to succeed. If pupils are not succeeding, then this should make you stop and think. Perhaps you are aiming instruction at a composite skill when you should be focusing on the dysfluent components that are preventing pupils from succeeding. Perhaps you have removed support too quickly and you have not spent enough time on a specific instructional stage within the I-We-You continuum.

4. Provide Feedback

Students make better progress if they receive useful feedback about their writing. This does not mean extensive written marking, an approach that is incredibly time consuming and doesn’t seem to result in the gains that it promises. Self-assessment can be effective, although it is perhaps most useful when it involves pupils checking for whether they have included specific things or followed a specific process. Similarly, peer assessment can be really useful, particularly when pupils are given guidance as to how to approach it. 

5. Use 21st Century Writing Tools

The chapter points to how typing can help pupils become better writers. As adults, I’m sure that most of the writing that we do is on a computer but most examinations are still handwritten. Even in KS4, lots of pupils still need to build their writing stamina, their English examinations being amongst the longest that they will sit at GCSE, and this is why regular writing using a pen is still really important.

6.Use Writing as a tool to Support Student Learning.

Reading and writing are inextricably linked, both drawing upon the same body of knowledge and skills. Timothy Shannahan summarises the relationship between the two modalities here. Asking pupils to write about what they have read can be seen as a generative activity. Students need to select relevant material, organize it within their working memory and connect it to prior knowledge within their long term memories. If pupils successfully engage in these three stages, this is more likely to result in understanding. For example, asking pupils to write summaries of what they have read can be really effective.

Caveats and Limitations

The writers acknowledge that this review cannot tell us exactly what combination of approaches is needed for effective writing instruction. While all of these strategies are deemed to be effective, the writers are careful to point out that teachers should make decisions as to the selection and application of the recommendations based upon their knowledge of their students. One way of making effective instructional choices is by focusing on pupils levels of accuracy and fluency. The writers also point out that these recommendations tell us nothing about how to develop a writer’s voice, the awareness of audience or how to teach EAL students.

Next post: The Development of Expertise in Writing: From Telling to Crafting

Short Stories 4

Here are some more short stories that I’ve enjoyed reading and teaching.

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

When a mysterious winged man appears in a family’s backyard, the local people are shocked and confused. Is he an angel? Is he human? A classic example of magical realism, the story satirises religion and asks us to consider the difference between beliefs and reality.

Who Will Great You At Home by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Another work of magical realism, this story explores ideas of motherhood and the social pressures that accompany it.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver

A man is suspicious and jealous when an old friend of his wife comes to stay. Over the course of an evening, his prejudice is gradually replaced with empathy and his perspective changes.

Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit by Silvia Plath

This short story deals with ideas of loyalty and betrayal, focussing on how children often create scapegoats in order to avoid culpability. A young girl is blamed for pushing another girl and ruining her snowsuit. Plath explores how children blur the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

Then Later His Ghost by Sarah Hall

In a post acopalyptic world battered by 100mph winds and constant storms, a young boy ekes out a fragile existence. As he searches for a copy of The Tempest, he risks his life to help a woman.

The End of Something by Earnest Hemingway

Nick and Marjoe are on a fishing excursion. As they talk about their activity, it becomes clear that their relationship is crumbling.

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang

Fuwaad ibn Abbas discovers a magical gate in a shop in medieval Baghdad. The shop owner tells him tales of how others have travelled through the portal to meet their future selves. Fuwaad learns that the man has another gate in Cairo that allows people to return to their past and travels there in order to undo an error he made twenty years earlier.

Mr Loveday’s Little Outing by Evelyn Waugh

Angela goes to visit her father, Lord Moping, who is a patient at an asylum. This short story is filled with dark humour and has a great twist at the end.

The Invisible by Jo Lloyd

In a rural Welsh village, Martha tells the other villagers that she has befriended an invisible family who live a luxurious life of wealth. Lloyd explores how people create fantasies in order to make life tolerable and her story delves into themes of class and inequality.

The Statement of Randolph Carter by H.P. Lovecraft

Carter tries to explain the horrific disappearance of his companion, the occultist Harley Warren. Carter recounts the unsettling tale of how they travelled to an ancient graveyard in search of a portal to the underworld.

A Good Man in Hard to Find by Flannery O’Conner

A family travel to Florida for their summer holidays when they hear of a serial killer called The Misfit. With a shocking ending, this story explores what it means to be good.