Learning to read should be a dynamic activity and be based on a whole school approach, to ensure that children pass through different classes, but still are enabled to make steady progress. This can still allow for trialling of different methodologies, with evaluation and feedback to develop others. Passing through the schemes can be as simple as that for the majority, flowing through the system in an ordered manner.
Dealing with individual needs has always been an issue, often requiring specific teacher-level intervention.
The prevailing advice from inspectors was that those with identifiable specific learning needs must be individually heard daily, those not quite keeping up at least three times and the better readers at least once.
With a class of 39 children that created a need for a lot of reading time.
An integrated day, child-centred approach afforded some time, while playtimes and lunchtimes offered more. USSR, Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading happened straight after lunch, sometimes, but not often becoming ERIC, Everyone Reading in Class. Parent helpers were always welcomed. In the era of tape recorders, children had a personal tape, to be able to record themselves reading and to listen back to themselves as a self-correction activity. Almost another adult.
Phonics were taught, either directly to the whole class, to specific groups of children or within games situations. Approaches were multisensory, with sand trays, sandpaper shapes, plastic models, painting letters while saying out loud. We often did “rainbow letters”, overwriting or painting letters with different colours along strips of cardboard that came from the local materials bank. There was a link between gross motor and fine motor skills, enhanced by the use of blank paper exercise books with different width guide lines.
At the same time personalised phonics skills and sight vocabularies were regularly checked, developed and supported with spellings home and regular tests. Spelling was based on the look, cover, write and check approach, developing aspects of short term memory.
Cliff Moon’s Individualised Reading approach effectively colour coded the available reading schemes into bands within a defined readability level, from approximately age 5, rising by 6 months for each colour. Variation occurs, but an example from a school is below.
It is important to recognise that the colours also had an essence of reading age embedded, so that progress could be described both in terms of colour movement and reading age, which can be compared with chronological age as a rule of thumb. Colour coded schemes also highlight children who are “stuck” and might need particular guidance.
Home-school reading record books became all-purpose reading records and comment books, shared by teachers and parents, with comments made at the time of hearing a child read. Individualised reading records were kept.
This approach created an understandable spine, with defined progression embedded. It allowed consideration of the different needs of readers, in that where a child needed some guidance within a book in order to be able to read it, defined a teaching level book. All books below this would be fluent level books, while any book above the guided level might be at a frustration level.
For reading at home, children could select from their fluent colours, changeable daily if needed. Inevitably, the movement from one teaching level to another determined the books read at home, so there was an element of motivation engendered, as well as a desire to be seen to be making progress.
Guiding teachers, children and parents within these books was achieved through bookmarks which had been written with a specific level in mind. Based on a “can do” approach, the statements, such as talk about the setting or a specific character, were given to encourage conversation between reader and listener. Colour coded to link with the books being read, they had an appreciable impact.
Beyond and around the spine, other books were available. Children took home a non-fiction book each week within their library exchange period. “Free reader” was the ultimate accolade, when self-selection from the available books required different guidance and knowledge from the teacher of the available texts. Non-fiction texts were displayed within the topic corner, available for reading, but also for study skill lessons, using the books to enhance the literacy curriculum, through note taking and information gathering. The index and contents offered opportunities for alphabetical order and judgements about suitability of the text.
Author sets of books became a feature of each classroom, changed each term. This allowed consideration of author styles and approaches to writing across the class. In many case, the range of books written by the chosen authors allowed access across the whole class. One or more of the books would be chosen as teacher books to share with the children.
Free readers need the skills of choosing a book for themselves. To facilitate this, children were taught the “five-finger” rule; read the first page and fold one finger for each word that caused a problem. If five were counted, it’s probably too difficult. They also had to read the blurb to support their decision, made in discussion with the teacher. Children also had the (adult) right to say that they were not enjoying a book.
Children learned to read and enjoyed the process, in doing so becoming avid readers. Proof? For want of better, SAT English L4+ scores at age 11, usually 85% plus in classes with 20%+ SEN. Others will have greater evidence, from different approaches.
- A good range of reading material should be available, organised to support progress. Colour coded would be my preference, as it saves some teacher decision making.
- Teacher awareness of available material and individual reading abilities and interests is essential.
- The reading journey should be guided and supported as well as guided personal practice and a dynamic that encourages sharing books as widely as possible.
- Adult engagement with different aspects is essential; diagnostic if necessary, such as miscue analysis and developmental feedback, written records of books read and qualitative statements of reading. Consider a home-school diary, especially for those who need close monitoring, and make sure that there is a positive dialogue, not just a parent notebook.
- Reading between guided sessions is essential to fluency. This can be in the form of expectation to read to a certain point in a specific timescale. Just to say to read at home for homework is not a sufficient driver.
- Create a book corner which actively encourages engagement.
- “Author of the term”; a collection of books by one author, to be read and then followed up.
- Postcards to an author; Fold A4 in half; Side one, a pictorial interpretation of the book, side two a postcard commentary, aimed at the author.
- Letters to an author, alive or dead; offers opportunity for commentary instead of formal book review.
- Reading walls, considering an audience. Potential for home activity?
- Photocopy book covers. Speech bubble commentary from children.
I LOVE books
· Wordsmiths. Ten interesting words I have found in ……….(book title)
· Settings, characters. Descriptions into art, art into words.
· Settings in a box. 3D theatres allowing story telling, possibly animation.
In 1995, I wrote an article for Books for Keeps, based on 3D models. Can be read here:-
- Storyboarding a book? Eg a book as a 5-picture cartoon.
Parents as partners
While parents are considered as partners within this process, there is no guarantee that they will all have a clear understanding of expectations, nor can it be assumed that every child goes home to a literate household.
Schools need to be aware of this dynamic, to avoid stress either to the child or the parents. Support and help may be needed and, where there is limited scope for support, this may need to be the focus for in-school intervention, such as additional TA time for reading.
Many schools have developed parent evenings specifically devoted to reading guidance, with modelling to parent of how to share books, not just talking about reading policies.
Where this was repeated over time and with an assurance that every parent participated, the impact on reading progress was often very impressive.
TEN SIGNS OF A SUCCESSFUL (ENGLISH) TEACHER
(Exeter University; Primary Improvement Project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust 1997)
This project looked at learning dynamics within reading classes and found the following:-
- A high level of personal enthusiasm for literature, often supplementing the school’s resources with their own books.
- Good professional knowledge of children’s authors and teaching strategies
- Importance of literacy stressed within a rich literacy environment
- Progress celebrated publicly and children’s confidence increased
- Teaching individualised and matched to pupil’s ability and reading interests
- Systematic monitoring and assessment
- Regular and varied reading activities
- Pupils encouraged to develop independence and autonomy, attacking unfamiliar words, or teachers backing pupils’ judgment as authors
- A high quality of classroom management skill and personal relationships with pupils
- High expectations, children striving to reach a high standard, whatever their circumstances