If you can read this, thank a teacher. Attributed to Harry S Truman
In the wake of recent pronouncements on reading, it is a wonder just how children in the past learned to read, especially without rigorous tests to make sure that they were learning. A high quality reading curriculum has benefits across the whole curriculum, so deserves to be centre stage. It is often the prescribed, often narrowing approaches that get in the way.
I’ll admit at the outset that I’m not a fan of pure “fonix” being the only route to reading. It is an important component among many that contribute to accuracy.
In and of itself, it does not develop fluency, nor enjoyment, nor meaning and comprehension, with children engaging in reading for pleasure, creating their own reading dynamic.
It is a tool and like any tool, needs to be handled carefully at the right time and honed with use.
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
Learning to read should 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 be based on trialling methodologies, with evaluation and feedback to develop others.
Phonics were taught, either directly 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.
At the same time personalised sight vocabularies were being 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. Children learned to read and to gain pleasure from reading.
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.
stage 0 red; stage 1 yellow; stage 2 white; stage 3 dark blue; stage 4 pink; stage 5 brown; stage 6 green; stage 7 grey; stage 8 orange; stage 9 black; stage 10 beige; stage 11 dark pink; stage 12 pale blue.
If each colour was stocked with sufficient books, this allowed free access to children to change books as and when they finished them, rather than waiting for a defined change time.
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 was probably 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 competition 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, linked to NC levels 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.
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, 85%, in classes with 20%+ SEN. Others will have greater evidence.
By now the reader will have noticed a theme developing.
- A good range of reading material should be available, organised to support progress. Colour coded?
- Teacher awareness of individual reading abilities and interests is essential.
- The reading journey should be guided and supported as well as personal practice and a dynamic that encouraged sharing books as widely as possible.
- Adult engagement with different aspects; 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.
- Create a book corner which actively encourages engagement.
- “Author of the month”; 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; Commentary instead of formal book review.
- Reading walls, considering an audience. Potential for home activity?
- Photocopy book covers. Speech bubble commentary from children.
- Storyboarding a book. A book as a 5 picture cartoon.
Where 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.