Kelly Burke is second in department for English at the Thomas Alleyne Academy, Stevenage. Kelly participated in the Herts for Learning KS3 Reading Fluency Project in Autumn 2020 and, due to its continued success, has created a performance reading programme for Year 7 and Year 9 students who struggled with reading comprehension and self-esteem.
‘Reading prosody’ and ‘performance reading’ are two phrases that struck a chord for me whilst attending the HfL Reading Fluency training. As adults and especially English teachers, we take for granted that reading sounds rhythmical and creates images for us; when we read, we are creating voices, adjusting tone, pitch and pace, and visualising settings and characters as if we are watching each scene roll out. I have now discovered how to teach my students to do all of this through reading fluency sessions and thus have witnessed 15 students from Year 7 improve their reading comprehension by an average of 2 years in the space of 8 weeks. It’s hard to believe without witnessing it, isn’t it?
When my Head of Department arranged for us to visit and observe a Reading Fluency session at a primary school where we knew the project had already been successful, I must admit, I was sceptical. Is this another fad in teaching that will fizzle out quickly? How would this work in a secondary school, with older students who have lost that passion to use their imagination? It was lovely to observe a KS2 Reading Fluency session, yet my questions remained unanswered.
Fortunately, at around the same time, HfL opened their training for KS3. I found the training overwhelming in the early stages and had to remind myself that I was doing this training during a pandemic. This meant that resources and training sessions were all run online, which as a community, educators have probably found very resourceful as it saves time and reduces cover requirements, however, I felt like I was missing the one to one interaction. I was quickly reassured when I was contacted by my allocated advisor from the HfL team, who gave me plenty of reassurance, which continued throughout the project. I needed this as I initially felt out of my depth and most certainly challenged, but gained more confidence in myself and my teaching practice as the weeks went on. I soon realised that the HfL team were very efficient, thorough and each step of the training programme is organised carefully and communicated clearly. As teachers, we are of course very busy, so I found it really helpful that the training was structured so well.
One of my favourite parts of the training was surprisingly the part where a HfL advisor observed one of my sessions with my group of students and gave me feedback. Of course, it gave me a great boost to get such positive feedback, but it also made me incredibly proud of my little team of students and it was just really pleasant to have an educated, general conversation with a colleague about reading fluency and interesting texts. At this point of the project, I felt quite empowered- you can imagine the journey I went on from less experienced, overwhelmed and nervous, to having secure knowledge, discussing the project confidently and delivering presentations to our school governors about reading fluency. The project was blowing up and we had only just begun!
The toughest part of the project was probably working with children who have low attendance. Unfortunately, if a student is not in school, they miss out and with the fast pace of the project (and general fast pace of school life), it is difficult for individuals to catch up. Fortunately, this was not an issue with my first group who were year 7. However, we have found that rolling out the project with older year groups can pose more issues with attendance- particularly in the morning. Further to this, attitudes towards reading are trickier to influence as teenagers get older, although I did discover, not completely impossible.
One of the best parts of the project, yet also one of the most challenging parts, is choosing the texts. It was great to discuss this with the HfL team and other teachers partaking in the training. Sometimes feedback from students about text choice was the opposite to what teachers had predicted, but you don’t learn this until after use of the text. It is just one of those situations where you think ‘next time, it will be even better.’ And it was… I had great success with ‘Suffragette: The Battle for Equality’ by David Roberts as it was not only a favourite with students but also a non-fiction text, exploring important matters of diversity and equality. I then decided to introduce Frankenstein as the final text - my second group were year 9 students and so it was important that they were exposed to an extremely challenging text. We were not wrong. Off we went with the same strategies we had been using week in, week out and it paid off, as they approached their most advanced text with much more confidence than they ever would have at the start of the project.
We were not sure how this would work with older students, but with a very careful selection process, detailed discussions about pupil suitability with English teachers and the head of year, and as a result of using diagnostic reading tests (combined with my new found confidence in delivering the project) it was a success!
I am excited to have created a Performance Reading Overview with resources for our school which will be used with small groups for intervention throughout the year. This will then continue to be developed into our library lessons, where we are reading plays (an idea I got from a webinar with Dr Tim Rasinski, organised by HfL). The plan is to roll this out within the English department in autumn 2021 and hopefully introduce the strategies to the whole school before the end of the year. I envision geography teachers sharing new and up to date texts for us to use in the intervention; or science teachers saying ‘read it again, but performance read it’ after hearing a child read a sentence; or history teachers reminding students to ‘turn the TV on in their head’ as they prepare their class for a teacher-led performance read. After seeing the data repeatedly come back showing progress, students arriving with smiles on their faces and reading with more confidence, it would be a waste if we did not ensure consistency from lesson to lesson in supporting reading fluency.
As much as my job relies on data, especially data to show progress, I personally have always felt that I am in this job to see the students progress in confidence and enjoyment above what figures may show. One boy was not a typical reader - he only attended 75% of the sessions and he wasn’t on ball with the project to start with - but left me with ‘oh I have definitely improved: I know where to pause, put emphasis on words and understand more.’ And for me, that is what makes this project an incredibly worthwhile commitment.
With thanks to Kelly Burke for contributing this blog. We hope that KS3 colleagues find it useful and insightful.
Our next one-day training event will take place on Thursday 3rd March, 2022.
If you are looking to train a large number of teachers, please contact Penny Slater at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding our hosting model or for further details about the projects.
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Blog authored by Kelly Burke, second in department for English at the Thomas Alleyne Academy, Stevenage.