Vocabulary | Literacy | Grammar

Knowledge & Comprehension: Uncomfortable truths and Ways Forward

By Andy Sammons QTS, MA, PGCE, NPQML

05 Jun 2024


The brilliant Mary Myatt has recently explored the notion of comprehension, arguing that it is ‘not a generic skill that can be taught through comprehension exercises.’ We wholeheartedly agree.

Having led the subject of English and in more recent years, watching my own children’s language development, it’s abundantly clear to me that learning is fundamentally messy. Throw in the National Literacy Trust’s recent data on declining numbers of children reading for pleasure, as well as the 25% of learners leaving primary school without reaching the expected reading standard, and curriculum and assessment leaders have some tricky decisions to make.

Inequality becomes more entrenched, too, by the way, when you consider that only 10% of disadvantaged children leaving primary school without meeting the expected standard will achieve even a standard pass in English and Maths.

We’ve written before about the role of knowledge in comprehension. Recently, reading Susan Nueman’s paper has prompted us to further develop our thinking. Consider this example:

“When Melissa arrived at the restaurant, the woman at the door greeted her, checked her coat and looked for her name. A few minutes later, Melissa was escorted to her table, and shown the daily specials. The attendant was helpful but brusque, almost to the point of being rude. Later, she paid the woman at the door and left.”

To fully comprehend this text, you have to lean on some level of knowledge about restaurants.

With some level of domain knowledge, you have a better chance of working out who ‘the woman at the door’ is, as well as the attendant. We have to compute all kinds of information to completely unpick what’s happened; namely, why did she pay the woman at the door? Was she annoyed? Was she running late?

Yes, ‘reading between the lines’ is something we can practice (and indeed something we can embed in our school and classroom culture), but Mary’s point about meaning-making and content-rich texts has really important implications for the way leaders should think about their curriculum offers.

We need to give serious consideration not only to the types of skill that learners need in order to read and write effectively, but also their structural access to wide-ranging knowledge that they need as well. This includes both domain-specific knowledge and more wide-ranging cultural capital.

My colleague Kaley Riley speaks with passion and eloquence about the improtance of curriculum design (so much so after an afternoon with her I seriously rethought my entire content and assessment framework, as I recall). She introduced me to the idea of ‘golden threads’ that run through curricula, which speaks directly to Mary’s assertions about content-rich curricula.

Timothy Shanahan’s disciplinary literacy work has allowed us to really appreciate the significance of apprenticing learners into our disciplines, and it’s amazing to see many schools inviting us along on their disciplinary literacy journeys. However, something we spend the vast majority of our time supporting schools with is the range of solutions that Bedrock provides:


Vocabulary: A personalised, robust framework for tier 2 vocabulary instruction- it also uses fiction and non-fiction narrative to teach new concepts, as well as accounting for spacing, ensuring that learners retain the words in their long-term memory. All of the word trends are fed back to teachers on an individual, class, year and school level; the nature of tier 2 vocabulary means that these insights can be analysed and shared across all curriculum areas with ease (more here).


Grammar: A mastery-driven grammar curriculum that sequentially teaches complex knowledge, ensuring that pupils master all of the knowledge they need to write successfully. All instructional content is now available in our Classroom Hub, so teachers can easily bring Bedrock into their classrooms as well.


Mapper: Mapper is, basically, everything that makes Bedrock Vocabulary special, but in subject-specific areas: we have over 38,000 subject-specific, curriculum-aligned words that teachers can select and sequence to be taught to their learners. Not only this, but our learner-driven algorithm reteaches and recaps knowledge to remain secure in their long-term knowledge. Not only this, but again, teachers can also bring these activities to the front of their classrooms using the Classroom Hub as well.


Reading: Underpinned by Gough & Tunmer’s Simple View of Reading, our completely adaptive test gives you specific insights into learners’ reading, and how successfully they are able to engage with different aspects of the curriculum. More here.

Our team of Teaching and Learning Consultants works with schools to ensure that their implementation plans are robust and sustainable. The complexities of the challenge that schools face are not going anywhere: Bedrock offers scalable, insightful solutions to navigate these complexities.

Listen to our Literacy Works podcast

Listen here

Subscribe to Bedrock's Literacy Works podcast