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Reading strategy updated

Why must reading be a priority?

Reading is at the heart of our curriculum. If children can’t read, they can’t access the lessons. Poor literacy leads to negative-life outcomes, low confidence and high frustration. BBC documentary: Jay Blade Learning to read at 51 brings this topic firmly into the spotlight.

I have written about the development of our reading strategy previously. You can read the full post here.

A lot has happened since then, but the main ideas have stayed the same. We decided on the active ingredients that underpin reading. These are the key concepts that teachers need to have a clear understanding of an plan into lessons to ensure reading is taught well.

Reading Strategy | Active ingredients

Vocabularybackground knowledge and fluency are, in my opinion, the most important. Children need to understand the words they read and use in their writing. They need to know the intricacies and contextual meanings in order to articulate their ideas effectively. We teach words we feel that children might not know, tier 2, words that they wouldn’t ordinarily use in their everyday speaking and writing. Children say the word, draw an icon to represent the meaning to them and explore related synonyms and antonyms. This is followed by a sentence / oracy activity to check their understanding.

Comprehension means understanding what has been read. We understand what we know. Therefore, we need to tell children everything they need to know about the book before we begin to read it, this is background knowledge. Comprehension is not giving children 10 questions to answer about a book or extract. If the book is set in the Victorian Era, what do we need to make sure the children know in order to understand the story? When we read, we draw on our existing knowledge, our ideas about the subject and world. We combine this with what we read to build our wider schemas, so why wouldn’t you let them in on the secret? We cannot know every child’s experiences or lack thereof, so let’s open up the world around them and provide them with the tools they need to feel successful and confident.

Fluency is the ability to read as if speaking naturally. This means that each child’s reading fluency will sound different. There is no single benchmark to assess against. Fluency involves word reading and language comprehension (understanding what has been read). Word reading is the ability to decode the language – the scribbles on the page – into legitimate words that make sense. Children need to be explicitly taught the code of our language and how to use it. English is an opaque language that has been influenced by many invaders throughout history, and it is constantly changing. It is a melting pot of English, Latin, Greek, and French words; it is no wonder that some children struggle to grasp it. We use Sounds-Write in our 3-6 year junior school – phonics should continue beyond KS1.

There are four main concepts that underpin the Sounds-Write programme:

1. Letters don’t make sounds, we do.

2. One sound can be spelled in many ways.

3. Sounds can be spelled with 1-4 letters.

4. One spelling can represent many sounds.

This is a whole-school, whole-class approach, much like the rest of our curriculum. Each class allocates at least 15-20 minutes to spelling using Sounds-Write lessons, but the techniques are used when the need arises – especially when we look at vocab. Teaching words by sounds makes so much more sense than giving children a list of random words on Monday and testing them on Friday. Children are taught the skills needed to become skilled readers and spellers: to blend sounds –> syllables –> words and the reverse, segment, to break words –> syllables –> sounds. Children focus on the tricky part for them and bundle with other words that have the same spelling of that sound. Once children are equipped with the tools and understand the code, they are able to free up working memory for understanding what they read, but it is not always that easy. If a child reads robotically, ask them to re-read the text, each time it will be smoother. Another activity is my turn, your turn, where an expert (teacher) models reading with prosody and the child repeats. If a child comes to a word that they are unsure of, remind them to say the sounds and read the word. If they still don’t know the word, you can point to the tricky sound tell them the sound and ask them to say that sound there. After all, you have equipped them with all the tools they need in order to read, they just might need prompting as to which tool to use!

Reading Structure

Once we had decided on the active ingredients, we needed a structure to make sure that those things happened. For reading, this involves 3-phases:

Reading unit structure

In order for children to understand the text, we must explicitly teach unknown vocabulary and the relevant background knowledge. We cannot assume that all children have had the same experiences, we know this is not the case. Therefore, we make it explicit for all. The next phase is to develop fluency through prosodic reading techniques. The final stage is to check understanding through comprehension tasks. Comprehension for us, is not answering 10 questions, it is a host of practices that provide a holistic overview of what has been understood. Including, but not limited to: low stake testing (book quizzes), book talk statements, debates, character analysis and summarisation tasks.

Which books?

The next stage was to decide which books would help build and deliver this structure.

Building a reading for pleasure culture or enticing a love of reading for children starts with carefully selecting high-quality stories that children might not be able to read independently, but can follow along and be immersed in the rich language and beautiful story, as an expert (teacher) reads it.

Choosing which books to use in each year group can be challenging. There is a wealth of books to select from and like the reading strategy, it will constantly evolve, adapting to the needs of your cohorts and school curriculum.

Choosing books comes down to two key components:

1. What does the book offer?

2. How does it link to the school curriculum?

Here are our Y4 and Y5 reading overviews:

Y4 + Y5 reading overview

Y4 read The Firework Maker’s Daughter, which then supports the teaching of the Shang Dynasty in Y5. They also read Cloudbusting, which delves into the complexities of bullying (PSHE curriculum) and develops an understanding of the rebirth of character story type.

Y5 read Letters from the Lighthouse, which then supports the teaching of The Battle of Britain in Y6. They also read Wonder, a brilliant book about a boy who is born with a facial deformity, supporting our PSHE curriculum and building emotional literacy, which is another key driver in positive life outcomes.

Y6 read Cogheart, a Victorian Steampunk adventure story, which relates and supports the teaching of many topics, cross-curricular, such as monarchs in history and evolution in science. The Last Wild, supports the teaching of climate change as does Melt by Ele Fountain.

The careful selection of books, opens up the word to children, providing them with a world-class education, builds belonging and doesn’t allow assumed biases to put a ceiling on their capabilities.

Providing children with the knowledge needed to understand these stories and their intricacies allows them to form underlying patterns and identify and understand them in the next book they read. They can then engage, interact with, and comprehend what they have read.

Our reading lesson structure…

Providing teachers with a reading template, enabled us to make sure that the active ingredients and structure was adhered to. Reading lessons across the school share similar components but teachers have overall autonomy over the lessons:

review of previously taught vocabulary or concepts about the book takes up the first 5-10 minutes of a lesson. Children need to interact with a word at least four times to remember it for later recall. This is a checkpoint for teachers to assess if children are ready to move forward through the book.

There is a vast array of fluency activities that can be used for 5-10 minutes of the lesson unless the lesson has a fluency focus to it. Repeated reading (my turn, your turn), choral reading (one row reads line 1, the next, line 2 etc) are some of the techniques used to ensure children are practising prosodic reading. Rasinski’s Megabook of Fluency is a great source for fluency based activities. Such techniques support developing readers, as opposed to round-robin, to grow their confidence as readers. You can give a line to each row in your class or use call and respond (one side reads the narration, the other reads the response). Repeated reading is a key life skill, great speakers rehearse what they are going to say over and over again. Practice makes progress.

Tier 2 words are pre-taught. Vocabulary instruction involves explicitly teaching the meaning of words in a child-friendly way, reducing working memory by talking over icons, and reducing the amount of text on slides. Children must interact with the word; therefore, they repeat the word and use it in context. They might complete sentence level work using the words, list their synonyms, and organise them based on their level of impact or analyse the word in the context within the text.

Oracy plays a huge role in our reading lessons; children are taught and practise reading with prosody. Prosodic reading is the ability to read as though you would speak naturally. Using the correct rhythm, pace, volume, and expression where appropriate.

A few retrieval questions, no more than 5, form a learning check to ensure that all children understand the text.

The content of each book drives the lessons for the unit. What the book lends itself to and what teachers feel are key to explore, determines the main activity of the lesson. It can be anything from book talk, debates or written analysis to exploring vocabulary or reading with prosody focus.

The aim is to ensure that we do everything we can collectively, so that children leave school as competent and confident readers.

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