Why do we need a reading strategy?
Reading fluency is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with expression. Reading fluency is important because it provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. A child begins to comprehend a text once they can read at a speed of 90 wpm. SATS analysis shows that the amount of words children need to read in the allocated time (15 minutes) has risen drastically from 1,855 (2014) to a staggering 2,168 (2019), this means by year six children need to be reading in excess of 145 words per minute. A sound reading strategy is therefore essential to any school curriculum.
Existing reading strategy
Prior to the 2018/19 academic year, we didn’t have structured reading lessons, we had the carousel type guided reading lessons that every teacher dreads. Pupils are grouped by ability, the teacher sits with the weakest readers, trying to guide and listen to them whilst being interrupted constantly or distracted as the room erupts into chaos.
New reading strategy
Luckily this past year saw none of these types of lessons – our curriculum received a much needed make-over. We had a reading strategy with reading lessons! We made the move to whole-class guided reading and had some amazing new books to work with. The week looked something like this:
Monday: teach tier 2 vocabulary from text
Tuesday: adult reads text to pupils, modelling prosody
Wednesday: pupils answer literal retrieval questions
Thursday: pupils answer inference questions
Friday: pupils summarise the chapter
While this was a vast improvement I still felt it was missing something, the children soon got bored with such a prescribed layout and I didn’t feel it was supporting those ‘weaker readers’, if anything it put them further behind. I felt we were teaching children how to answer certain question types but with no real engagement with the text, they weren’t internalising the text.
I began researching how to support ‘weaker readers’- improve reading fluency and language comprehension. I decided to trial a few changes in my classroom first before rolling it out as a whole school strategy. A lot of our new ideas came from Soloman Kingsnorth’s blog, which you can read here.
Updated reading strategy
Children need to know a whopping 95% of the words they read in order to understand a text, therefore it is crucial that vocabulary instruction is explicit and taught through context. This also means that pupils need to have a good understanding of the world (general knowledge). Unfortunately we can’t predict the topics that will appear in assessments so we need to utilise our class reading books effectively, widening pupils general knowledge and explicitly teach them everything we want them to know about a book prior to reading it. This includes the synopsis, main characters, setting – any geographical and historical relevance. In the time it takes pupils to answer ten questions, you can tell them thirty things about a book. Ditch the pre-reading questions and predictions.
The aim of our new reading strategy is for pupils to create what Jane Oakhill defines as ‘mental models’ of texts in order to understand the next book they read. Our new strategy is not a prescribed one, it is book-centred and depends upon what the book lends itself to, take Holes by Louis Sachar, the book is about a boy (Stanley) who is sent to a detention camp for boys instead of prison. While there, Stanley must dig holes, it is gruelling work, that ‘builds character’. In order for children to comprehend ‘Holes’ and why it is difficult and ‘builds character’ they first need to understand that the story is set in Texas. Not many children will have the necessary general knowledge required to comprehend the book, unless we explicitly teach it.
Our updated reading structure looks something like this:
- Explicitly teach geographical, historical content along with the plot, story type, main characters and setting prior to reading. Use maps, videos, sound effects and dual coding schemas (see Oliver Caviglioli’s book DUAL CODING WITH TEACHERS) to avoid overloading working memory and aid retention.
- The adult reads to pupils, modelling prosody at a fluid pace. Pupils follow along with a ruler and their own text to minimise distraction and maximise impact.
- Explicitly teach vocabulary in context – use graphic organisers, explore etymology and morphology of words to ensure understanding.
- Summarise a chapter or key points through the use of images and notes and model converting these into a written answer.
- Check pupils learning through questioning, be it verbal or written this should be a quick check to make sure everyone is on board.
Our reading strategy is constantly evolving, please check back to see how we are getting on!