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Updated: Jan 24, 2023

To be effective and move ourselves and our students forward, we all have to ask–how can I do better with what I know?

If you have ever travelled on the London underground, you will know the phrase MIND THE GAP. The voice echoes around the tunnels and warns passengers to watch out for the gap between the train and the platform each time a train stops at a station.

At a recent literacy conference, the presenter Dr David Kilpatrick devoted an entire day to – Recent Advances in Understanding Word-Level Reading Problems – The quote of the day for me was:

“We all do the best we can with what we know.”

Similar to the famous quote from Maya Angelou

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

And these words completely remind me of MIND THE GAP.

We all have that space between where we are and where we want to be, or at times where we should be.

There has been a huge rally cry from organisations, researchers and educators to focus early literacy classes on effective instruction based on scientific research. It is a bold call! The science of reading is not new—it has not yet permeated every primary classroom YET.

We all need to mind the gap because there will always be a gap–you don’t know what you don’t know.

When I first started teaching, I relied on the knowledge from my postgraduate studies and fellow teachers in my school. In the beginning, spelling lists of high-frequency words and a less than explicit program of letter of the week were featured because that was the status quo. Looking back, my studies in education didn’t prepare me at all with subject knowledge. The major focus was on educational theory and classroom management. My English degree course had many modules on our language, linguistics, how we speak, how we learn to talk and lots about grammar, yet I didn’t link this theory to practice until years later in a different country.

Over the years, my practice has changed a lot and is ever-evolving.

As Dr Kilpatrick said at the conference:

“I wish I could go back and say, hey, I now know more. Here is some better stuff.”

I haven’t always taught the way I do now. When I was in the classroom–I just followed the plan. A move to America and a new position in a reading resource room helped transform my thinking on learning to read.

It can be hard to say there might be a better way. To stand and say what I believe might be wrong and what I am doing might not be in the best interests of my time or beneficial for students — there might be a more effective way. This thought pattern can lead to indifference and even disengagement if we don’t wholeheartedly take on board the changes that need to be made.

Nothing is stable, and nothing stays the same.

We only have two options–engage and rumble with the gaps or give up, don’t fix the problem and, in time, disengage.

To be effective and move ourselves and our students forward, we all have to ask–how can I do better with what I know?

How can I take responsibility for this? How do I move all my students forward and build skills they can use as tools?

We must sit alongside each other, change our school's culture, and accept gaps as learning spaces we can move into. All children will benefit from effective instruction, and fewer children will need extra intervention–saving time, money, and school resourcing.


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