This blog was written, and was scheduled to be shared, prior to the current lockdown. With the potential for more reading time on our hands now, we hope that it is a good time to share.
At the time of writing, twenty-three schools from across Central Bedfordshire have taken part in the Herts for Learning KS2 Reading Fluency project and the results have exceeded all our expectations. And our expectations were pretty high. Having read about the phenomenal impact of reading fluency (RF) on the early cohorts in Hertfordshire [KS2 reading fluency project autumn summary report], the attraction for us was a well-tested approach, grounded in research, which offered the prospect of shifting the doggedly stubborn ‘tail’ of under attainment in reading in Year 6, particularly among our pupil premium children. The fact that the Herts data showed the approach had highest impact for PPG children was the clincher.
Over the past year, Penny Slater and Kathy Roe from Herts for Learning have worked with me and one of our local SLEs, Sarah Hughes, to introduce the approach to our schools. To say it has gone down well is an understatement. At this time of year, I am bumping into lots of teachers from our first RF cohort at writing moderation training. A year after our first launch, they are still enthusing about the project and it is wonderful to hear how they have rolled reading fluency out to other year groups including, in some middle schools, up to Year 7.
What was the best thing about it? “Confidence,” said one year leader. “Having a child who would have done anything to avoid reading aloud actually ask if they could please do a reading when we all went to church at Christmas was just incredible.”
For another teacher, it was the change in attitude towards reading: “Reading has become something they actually look forward to. They want to know when our next session is. They want to talk about what they’ve read.”
Another said, “Parents evening was fantastic – so many parents telling me that they could see a real difference in how well their child was reading and that they were wanting to show off what they’d been reading in school.”
This kind of qualitative feedback is where a massive part of the value of the project lies. While of course we want to improve our KS2 results, there is a moral imperative driving our investment: giving children who have somehow missed the ‘reading bus’ a chance to get back on in time to be able to access the KS3 curriculum, and able to make that key educational and social transition without living in fear of being picked to read aloud.
However, it is definitely the quantitative data that tends to grab the attention of people who have not yet been directly involved. Our results in terms of reading age progress have very closely mirrored those achieved by the Hertfordshire cohorts. The average across the 105 children in our most recent cohort was 22 months progress in their comprehension reading age – very impressive for an eight-week intervention that involves just two sessions a week. The 22 PPG children in the cohort made an average of 30 months progress. 30 months, in eight weeks!
The progress measure is achieved by pre- and post-testing using the GL Assessments YARC test. The YARC was new to me, and to all of our schools. It is a deceptively simple assessment that adds a lot of value to the process. Each child reads two passages and answers questions. The teacher notes different types of miscue and the time taken to read each passage, then reads the questions to the child and scribes their answers. The process is repeated at the end of the intervention with different texts, pitched at the same level as the pre-test.
Many of our teachers told us they learned a huge amount from the process of sitting down and closely listening to a child read. This is a rare occurrence in Year 6 and teachers found they gained important insights into how much (or more to the point, how little) a child was taking in of what they were reading, and the relatively simple words that floored them. Listening to a child individually answer comprehension questions was enlightening: the degree to which many children simply guessed based on their own life experience was quite alarming.
Analysis of the YARC test provides three different reading ages for each child - for accuracy, reading speed, and comprehension. This instantly provides clues as to how to help some children improve in comprehension… slow them down! For other children, the miscue analysis coupled with the accuracy score gives teachers lines of enquiry in terms of re-checking phonic knowledge, or looking at visual tracking.
As well as the reading age for comprehension, the YARC provides a breakdown of the type of questions a child has answered correctly. Some questions require simple retrieval of information – this was an area of relative strength for our group, with two-thirds of questions being answered correctly in the pre-test. Others need some kind of pre-existing knowledge: for example, if a text involving a fire refers to someone rushing to get a bucket of water, a child would need to know that water puts out fire to answer a question about which character was the first to spot the emergency. Some depend on vocabulary - key words or phrases within the text or question. This was our children’s lowest area at the start.
On the pre-test, our cohort’s second lowest average score was on questions requiring ‘evaluative’ comprehension. These are questions asking the child about characters’ emotions, or which require a prediction about likely reactions or consequences. Finally, ‘cohesive inference’ is measured by including questions that rely on the child being able to make use of cohesive devices such as pronouns or synonyms to link questions to the relevant information.
Analysis of these types of comprehension in the pre- and post-test data provides an interesting insight into what the intervention changes about the way children read. The table below summarises the results from our second cohort of 105 children.
The fact that the intervention has had no impact on knowledge-based comprehension suggests that it is the increased engagement with meaning that has impacted on overall comprehension. Prosodic reading seems to enable children to be more aware of the cohesive ‘hooks’ a writer uses and helps them tune in to what the text is actually about, to recognize and think about the relative significance of words and phrases, rather than ‘barking at print’.
In addition, although the intervention does not explicitly teach vocabulary, and there is no tier 2 or 3 vocabulary from the pre-test that is repeated in the post-test passages, strategies for dealing with unknown vocabulary as part of the intervention appear to have been effective.
This is the really exciting part of this work – its potential to give children lasting strategies for dealing with texts where they have no pre-existing knowledge to scaffold their understanding. Meanwhile, looking to the short-term, this latest cohort are already signs of showing accelerated progress and we hope they will move up to high school with reading test scores that reflect their new found confidence and enjoyment.
With many thanks to Kate Charlton for submitting this guest blog. At HfL we are committed to working collaboratively with our colleagues both locally and nationally to provide the best services for our children.
Kate Charlton is Newly Qualified Teacher Coordinator and LA Moderation Manager for Children's Services/School Improvement at Central Bedfordshire Council.
Central Bedfordshire Schools with Year 5 and Year 6 intakes are invited to contact Kate (kate.Charlton@centralbedfordshire.gov.uk) to find out about the next cohort which will launch in autumn 2020. Priority will be given to schools that have not yet run the project, but returners are welcome too!
The next round in Hertfordshire will begin in autumn 2020. This round is open to schools in Hertfordshire as well as those in neighbouring counties and London Boroughs.
For dates for our national training programme, please visit the HfL KS2 Reading Fluency Project page.