Moving Reading On

Planning intervention at secondary school for HOW to move pupils’ reading to more difficult levels is far from simple. Our objectives are twofold: teaching students with RAs between 9.0 and 11.0 how to use:

  • Word-attack strategies to read and understand unknown multi-syllabic (MS) words
  • Linking these word-attack skills and strategies to comprehension at sentence and text levels
  • Working on oral language where necessary  – for EAL pupils with inadequate spoken English.

Just over twenty years ago, when The National Literacy Strategy was first launched, the government’s prime goal was for ‘pupils to use phonological, contextual, grammatical and graphic knowledge to work out, predict and check meanings of unfamiliar words and make sense of what they read’, thus orchestrating a range of language and reading skills simultaneously. This (previous NLS Level 4) challenging goal is the average expectation for all Year 6 pupils, but is still a long way from being met for a huge proportion of learners. So, based on this National reading aim, this school’s reading project focuses on:

  1. Changing/improving word reading behaviours at multi-syllabic level – connecting these word level skills to sentence/text – to enable comprehension.
  2. Using improved skills and strategies across the NC to improve subject-based learning.
  3. Developing both breadth and depth of reading comprehension.

The students chosen for this pilot intervention (two Year 7 groups, one Year 8, one Year 9) will have a weekly one hour session, for about six weeks. But is one half term enough to show significant improvement in word, sentence and text level skills, I ask myself? Time will tell. The basic lesson plan for developing word attack skills, based on reading, spelling and understanding difficult words, is as follows:

1. Pupils read selected texts aloud, and/or separate MS words. They note words not understood, from own or other’s read-aloud texts.  

2. Each learner identifies MS words not known: highlight on printed text, deconstruct phonic parts, count syllables, discuss word meanings in sentence, read, spell. Identify meaning of prefix/suffix if applicable. Depending on types, use relevant phonic/morphemic knowledge as strategies to build wholes from parts. Could identify little words inside (‘pan’ in pandemic, ‘son’ in reasonable).

3. Cue meaning from context – sentence or paragraph. Pupils, a) invent own sentence, using MS word, b) insert own alternative word/phrase into same sentence. Both activities demonstrate pupil’s understanding. Could work as group – discuss which inserted word is most accurate match? 

4. List week’s focused words in small exercise book (write date), identifying word class: noun, adjective, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction – as its function sentence. May return to these words periodically to write them in sentences

5. Game if time: snap, word jigsaws, pairs – could take games home to practise 

6. HWK: each pupil to collect MS words not understood in subject lessons, for next week’s session (list in small exercise book).

A key component of this intervention is to encourage pupils to take ownership of their own reading development and use their skills across the subject curriculum. Having listened to, and observed, many KS3 children read during library sessions designed for independent reading, I came to the conclusion that many of these learners rush through their (mainly fiction) books with minimal reflection on characters, plot, theme or any other aspect of reading. Whilst these books work well enough for independent reading practice, avoiding frustration, there is insufficient challenge for moving to a more difficult stage. The reading materials used for this supported intervention are therefore about 2 years above each learner’s assessed RA. 

I begin this interesting project next Tuesday. It’s a huge challenge for me too, as well as the students. 

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