For most English Leaders reviewing reading remains a high priority as developing the appropriate skills is crucial to accessing all other subjects and establishing a love of books is something we all aspire to. A good starting point is to investigate children’s experience of reading across the week. Learning Walks will allow consideration of the messages the school environment gives about the importance of, and pleasure in, reading. Listening to children read and talking to them about their learning and their attitudes reveals an enormous amount and also provides enough information to allow you to talk with confidence to external visitors/governors about the reading experiences and ethos in your school.
Where to start?
Teaching decoding is a primary element of teaching reading and all children need rigorous and well-taught phonics instruction. Ofsted reminds us that we must ensure young children’s reading materials are closely matched to learners’ phonics knowledge so that they can swiftly learn the skill of reading and learn to read with good accuracy. Ensuring a good provision of phonically decodable text is a priority to ensure children are not being asked to apply newly acquired decoding skills in books containing phonemes they have not yet been taught. Therefore, as a subject leader, ensuring appropriate book matching is a priority area to audit. (See Getting forensic with phonics: Ofsted’s focus on the early stages of reading | Herts for Learning)
Why this scheme/system?
The DfE set out expectations of English Leaders to develop a team of experts in the teaching of reading within their schools which is an enormous responsibility. Can your staff articulate how they teach reading and, importantly, what is it about the children, the community and the school ethos that informed choices and actions? Systems and resources are important but they will, and should, vary from school to school if they have been designed to support identified needs. One system/scheme is unlikely to fit all schools/children and a useful questions to ask is ‘How do we need to adapt them for our children?’
In addition to the essential high quality scheme books that will allow children to grow stamina and confidence when applying their developing phonic skills, children also have the right to access real, literary books. Teachers must model reading for pleasure. Rigorous phonics teaching helps children arrive at a point where they can access wonderful books for themselves but they also need to be read to, daily, by teachers who will bring texts to life in order to support and develop their appreciation for quality books. Daily readers should usually to be pitched beyond children’s current decoding levels and need to be chosen with care to encourage that engagement and aspiration. If the teacher reading the book isn’t excited by it, there’s going to be a challenge exciting the children.
Why this lesson and why now?
It is essential to ensure that planning for reading is driven by learning need, perhaps led by whole school contexts but certainly driven by individual class demands. We have to know the learning needs of the children we teach but also recognise that these will be different over time and across cohorts. Therefore we have to be prepared to be flexible in our approach if our children are to become better readers.
Teaching and learning in reading should be threaded throughout the whole curriculum, but direct teaching of reading comprehension is crucial. It’s stating the obvious but teaching should make children’s reading better and robust assessment is needed to let you know how effective the choices your school has made around content, pedagogy and timetabling really are.
It’s important to acknowledge that providing children with a piece of text and a set of questions around the text, whilst potentially providing useful assessment information, is unlikely to move them on in their learning. Children need teacher modelling of active reading and high-quality post-reading discussion. Can you see opportunities for this planned into the day? How much modelling of the reading process do you see in classrooms? The skills of comprehension are invisible in a way that many of the skills of writing aren’t. Are your teachers making them explicit and using metalanguage that has been agreed as a whole school so that children have a consistent language they can use to articulate and develop their learning?
It is important to differentiate between scheme books and reading books. Encourage children to use skills developed in ‘reading sessions’ when reading in other subjects. Encourage teachers to explore the children’s access to a good balance of fiction and non-fiction texts as the latter can prove more motivating for some reluctant readers. Comprehension schemes can help with planning workloads but need to be used judiciously and interrogated for appropriate pitch and skills focus. A mix and match approach to text choice for teaching comprehension can be far more powerful in fostering engagement and meeting identified needs rather than working systematically through the generic approaches that a comprehension scheme will, of necessity, embody.
Year Three continues to be a year group where it is difficult to get an appropriate range of texts and a ‘less is more’ approach can be helpful when children become ‘free’ readers otherwise, when they choose without guidance, challenge can drop and pitch and quality can be an issue. If you notice children are regularly choosing books that are too easy or too hard, it’s probably best to remove the ‘too hard’ and move them forward to the next class. It’s important to sort shelves, develop a system for book choosing for taking home and put things in place to support a varied diet of fiction and non-fiction. KS2 ‘free readers’ must be managed and supported in the same way that we would manage KS1.
In some schools, book-banding is being introduced across KS2 which is a hugely expensive approach and can limit children’s access to engaging texts. Is this an issue around confidence with pitch and progression in texts? Are your teachers confident with understanding what an ARE text looks like beyond book bands and scheme books and do they carefully select the texts in their class library? If TA’s are responsible for supporting book choice – what training have they had in coaching children towards appropriately challenging texts? The HfL resource KS1-KS2 reading toolkit | Herts for Learning support teachers with choice of texts for shared and individual reading as well as for class libraries through identifying key features of ARE texts so that they are confident about the pitch of the texts they are making available for their children. This resource also includes brief chapters covering reading fluency, questioning, and reading aloud. Critically, it breaks down the national curriculum statements relating to reading to provide more specific guidance for the teaching and learning of reading across Years 1 to 6, as well as a framework to guide summative assessment.
How do children access texts?
In our attempt to provide a wide offer of texts, we can sometimes provide an overwhelming choice of books. How are they displayed? Are they squashed onto shelves so they are difficult to extract or are attractive book covers accessible and inviting? Are the books on display rotated and refreshed? To create space for display, it can be helpful to hold back some books, adding them across the year so that children see that there’s a regular supply of ‘new’ books keeping the offer fresh.
School Leaders are ultimately responsible for building the reading culture in their school and ensuring that the teaching of reading is as effective as possible through building expertise in staff. Join Jane Andrews and Alison Dawkins 9KS2) and Alison Dawkins and Martin Galway (KS1) for two valuable pieces of training designed to support with this aim by;
- unpicking the progression of skills needed to become a fluent and confident reader
- developing understanding and knowledge of ways to improve reading outcomes
- exploring some of the barriers to reading that will affect some pupils’ progress