Some things are priceless, and having parents bring their family from Mallorca to Cambridge to take my wife and myself out to supper was one of them. Their daughter, aged 9, had been assessed as dyslexic, when her problem lay in moving from the regularity of Spanish spelling to the fuzzy logic of English. As usual, I explained the patterns in English spelling, and how they had come to be as they are, before moving to a text of her choice and explaining them further as they arose, using the technique of not teaching a word that had been misread, but another with the same pattern. The pupil was soon reading complex vocabulary with ease, and learning to work out new words for herself.
The latest success, a A in A level French, was based on the same principles of making things very clear, and then practising. The pupil had suffered from teaching in the early stages that tolerated errors rather than using them as a basis for teaching, and did not focus on full understanding of the language and its use. Going back to first principles, and combining these with very detailed study of the set text and film, brought together grammar, idiom and vocabulary in a way that gave the pupil enough knowledge to succeed, though it would have been much easier without the original misteaching.
The link between basic reading and A level French is simpler than it might appear. In both cases, we are building, extending and consolidating networks of brain cells in ways that enable people to adjust the way they think, and so succeed in what they are trying to do. The principles are simple, and explain the success of mastery approaches across a wide range of subjects. They also explain the failure of teaching methods that expect people to work things out for themselves when they do not have the means to do so, or rely on a mystical quality known as "talent" that enables people to makes sense of instruction and build on it.
The modest progress in music - I can just about play simple tunes on the piano after decades of struggle - has come from the same source. Instead of having to work out each chord from scratch, particularly in the bass clef, I've begun to see the principles behind their formation, why discords occur, and perhaps most importantly, to know enough chord positions in both hands to be able to focus on the music rather than battling to fit in each individual component. I am by no means a good pianist, or even advanced enough to be considered a bad one. I'm still learning. But it's getting better, and I understand why.
All of education should be based on this understanding of the operation of the brain and how to promote it.