Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Getting Ready For The 2020 KS2 Reading Test

If you're just here for the free resources, then here are the links:

Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12250306

Mark Scheme for Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/mark-scheme-for-booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12260913

Booklet 2: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-2-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12257463

However, if you have a little more time, have a read about the thought process that has gone into the resource creation.

But, before you start reading my bit, I can't stress how important it is that you read Penny Slater's blog series of reflections on analysis of the 2019 reading test. It is in 4 parts and it has been the reading of these that has brought me to write this blog post about how I am hoping to prepare for the 2020 test:

https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/reflections-analysis-2019-ks2-reading-sats-part-1

https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/reflections-analysis-2019-ks2-reading-sats-part-2

https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/reflections-analysis-2019-ks2-reading-sats-part-3

https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/reflections-analysis-2019-ks2-reading-sats-part-4

One of our main reflections on having given our year 6 children a go at some of the past papers is that stamina is a key skill which needs to be developed.

With this in mind, I looked at the wordage breakdowns that Tim Roach and Penny Slater provided:

Given that 2019's test had the longest reading extracts ever I decided to use its word count as a benchmark for developing some reading comprehension activities that we could use with the children to develop their stamina.

It wasn't just the word count that was the issue. Previously, we had no way of checking whether or not the reading materials we were using in reading lessons were of a comparable difficulty to the texts used in the tests.

I used a simple online analysis tool to get some more information: https://datayze.com/readability-analyzer.php

I ran each of the three 2019 reading texts through the tool and got the following information:

The Park:


Fact Sheet: About Bumblebees:


Music Box:


Using this data I set about finding similar suitable texts (in both length and readability) to use for a series of test-like comprehension activities. The aim of these activities is to replicate the length and readability of the second and third texts in the 2019 paper so as to provide around 40-45 minutes' worth of reading and answering questions. So far, at my current school, reading lessons have not provided such practice at such length so in the run up to Easter we have adapted our timetable to allow for longer reading lessons.

To aid me in the creation of these questions I re-made the questions from texts 2 and 3 of the 2019 paper and used these as a template (click the link to download these from TES). I also did a quick analysis of both question types (e.g. short written answer, complete the table, multiple choice tick box etc) and an analysis of the content domain coverage (using the information in the mark scheme):

Fact Sheet: All About Bumblebees:

Content Domains:

2a = 2/19 marks = 11%
2b = 9/19 marks = 47% (2 mark questions)
2c = 6/19 marks = 32%
2d = 3/19 marks = 16% (inferences in NF)
2g = 1/19 marks = 5%

Question types:

Short answer (one line): 14, 17, 18, 21, 26 = 5/15 = 33%
Medium answer (two lines): 19, 22b, 27 = 3/15 = 20%
Complete table: 15, 25 = 2/15 = 13%
Multiple choice tick box: 16, 20, 23 = 3/15 = 20%
Tick table: 22a, 24 = 2/15 = 13%

Music Box:

Content Domains:

2a = 1/17 marks = 6%
2b = 5/17 marks = 29%
2d = 9/17 marks = 53% (3 mark inference questions)
2g = 2/17 marks = 12%

Question types:

Short answer (one line): 31, 34, 35, 36, 38 = 5/12 = 42%
Medium answer (two lines): 28, 30 = 2/12 = 17%
Long answer (3 marks): 39 (32 is also 3 marks) = 1/12 = 8%
Complete table: 32, 33 = 2/12 = 17%
Multiple choice tick box: 29, 37 = 2/12 = 17%

So far I have identified several texts which I have begun to create reading comprehension questions for. With the ones I have created so far I have stuck quite closely to the questions from the 2019 test, however will probably deviate more to bring in more variety as I create more resources.

Here are the texts I have found so far (texts in bold are texts from 2019 test):

Fiction:

Title
Wordage
Ave. Score
Flesch Reading Ease
Jane Eyre
807
3.242
98.05
The Wrong Train
800
3.54
97.29
Armistice Runner
774
3.634
92.19
Music Box
908
4.414
90.64
Louisiana’s Way Home
803
4.436
89.78
The City of Secret Rivers
789
4.53
90.56
Floodworld
896
4.646
90.54
The Park
636
5.342
88.51

Narrative Non-Fiction:
Title
Wordage
Ave. Score
Flesch Reading Ease
Lightning Mary
495
3.52
94.32
The Girl Who Fell From The Sky
908
6.066
79.15


Non-Fiction:
Title
Wordage
Ave. Score
Flesch Reading Ease
Human Digestive System
870
5.574
79.7                              
Pets in Cold Weather
650
5.932
83.59
When You Grow Up
700
6.55
84.75
All About Bumblebees
632
6.87
68.48
Henry 8th Wives
748
8.594
70.77
All About The Circular Economy
814 (+diagrams)
8.754
66.51
Dr Jane Goodall Interview
789
8.784
67.47
What is a Bushfire?
657
9.218
64.46
Tutankhamun
649
9.408
61.42


Most texts have been sourced from Nat Geo Kids and LoveReading4Kids.

A note on the Flesch score: The Flesch score uses the number of syllables and sentence lengths to determine the reading ease of the sample. A Flesch score of 60 is taken to be plain English. A score in the range of 60-70 corresponds to 8th/9th grade English level. A score between 50 and 60 corresponds to a 10th/12th grade level. Below 30 is college graduate level. To give you a feel for what the different levels are like, most states require scores from 40 to 50 for insurance documents.

So, looking at the above non-fiction texts, and converting the US grade system to the UK year group system we find that, according to this simple analysis, All About Bumblebees could potentially be a year 9/10 level text, better suited to 13-15 year-olds. However, the Flesch Reading Ease scores are calculated using only number of words, number of sentences and number of syllables in words.

In order to get another idea of readability I also averaged out the scores from the 5 other readability scores that the analyser provides (Gunning Fog Scale Level, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, SMOG Grade, Dale-Chall Score, Fry Readability Grade Level). None of this is an exact science but I hope it gives a ballpark idea of how difficult the texts should be in order to match the texts in the test.

Interestingly, although the text The Park is shorter, and is in the number one position in the 2019 test, it comes out as being a slightly more difficult text than Music Box. In this instance, we must assume the shortness of the text, combined with simpler questions (a heavier focus on retrieval than inference, for example), makes this an easier part of the test. I think it also shows us that the difficulty of the text based on these scores can vary, therefore the questions we ask must be complex enough (if we are wanting to replicate the difficulty of the test for practice purposes).

When choosing the non-fiction texts I tried to find things that of a similar interest level to the SATS texts - I also wanted to make sure that there was a variety of subject matter and text type. When choosing the fiction texts I tried to find extracts in which something happens - it wasn't just a case of finding a chunk with the right wordage.

With all this in mind, with the texts I currently have, I suggest the following order of use for the resources I intend to create:

Lightning Mary + Human Digestive System = 495 + 870 = 1365 words
Pets in Cold Weather + Jane Eyre = 650 + 807 = 1457 words
When You Grow Up + The Wrong Train = 700 + 800 = 1500 words
Henry 8th Wives + Armistice Runner = 748 + 774 = 1522 words
All About The Circular Economy + Louisiana’s Way Home = 814 + 803 = 1617 words
Dr Jane Goodall Interview + The City of Secret Rivers = 789 + 789 = 1578 words
What is a Bushfire? + Floodworld = 657 + 896 = 1553 words
Tutankhamun + The Girl Who Fell From The Sky = 649 + 908 = 1557 words

A few examples of the texts and questions that can be downloaded on the TES website:

Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12250306

Mark Scheme for Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/mark-scheme-for-booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12260913

Booklet 2: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-2-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12257463



Once again, here's the link to download the reading comprehension resources:

Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12250306

Mark Scheme for Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/mark-scheme-for-booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12260913

Booklet 2: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-2-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12257463

Please do keep checking back on that link as I will keep adding resources as I create them. Even if you don't need to use them as I intend to, hopefully they can be useful beyond my own setting.

Postscript:

I'd just like to make it clear that this isn't the only thing we will be doing in the run-up to SATS - we will still be reading a class novel, doing Reciprocal Reading, Fluency Reads and so on. We will also be soldiering on with teaching the wider curriculum!

Friday, 20 September 2019

Extract From 'Guardians Of Magic' by Chris Riddell

An extract from Chris Riddell's latest book 'Guardians of Magic', the first book in the new 'The Cloud Horse Chronicles' series:

Chapter 1: The Runcible Spoon

Zam Zephyr woke early and climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb the other apprentice bakers of Bakery No. 9, who were still fast asleep around him.

It was the day before the Grand Duchess of Troutwine's Tea Ball and Zam was too excited and nervous to stay in bed. Today, they would bake for the tea ball tomorrow. All twelve bakeries in the city competed for the honour of making the most delicious treats for the ball. If anything went wrong again, after last year's disaster that put Bakery No. 9 at the bottom of the heap, Zam and his friends would be sent home in disgrace. The thought of his father's disappointed face was too much to bear. No, Zam thought. He would do anything he could to make sure that his baking was perfect.

In the corner of the attic dormitory, his best friend Langdale the goat boy was gently snoring. Beneath the flour-sack blanket, his hooves twitched as he dreamed of chasing blue butterflies through the summer pine forests of the Western Mountains. In the other corner, the two Shellac sisters clutched the comfort shawl they shared. In the cots in between, the gnome boys from the Grey Hills slept soundless and still, five to a blanket, their small grey-tufted heads just visible.

Looking out of the window, Zam could see the golden roofs of the palaces glittering in the early morning sunlight. He gazed up at a billowing cloud and made a wish: 'To bake the best gingerbread ever, he whispered. 'Cloud horse, cloud horse, far from view, make this wish of mine come true.'

Zam took his apron and cap from the hook and crept out of the attic, leaving his friends to their dreams.

Zam ran all the way down the stairs to the basement, opened the door to the flavour library, and stepped inside. This was his favourite place. He loved how precise, tidy and ordered everything was here. He smiled to himself. With everyone asleep upstairs, it was the perfect time of day to practise without any interruptions.

Shelves lined the basement walls from floor to vaulted ceiling. Looking up through the glass paving stone, Zam could see the shadows of feet walking overhead as people passed the doors of Bakery No. 9.

The shelves around him were stacked with jars of all shapes and sizes, each clearly labelled.



Zam selected the jars he needed, opening each one in turn and taking pinches of the powders they contained. Carefully, he placed the spices on little squares of baking parchment, which he folded neatly and placed in different pockets of his apron. Satisfied with his choices, Zam crossed the stone floor to a large chest of drawers set in an alcove. He opened a drawer labelled 'Index of Crusts' and selected one with crinkle-cut edges and memorized the baking instructions written in small lettering on the underside.

‘For a crumbly texture, short, intense mixing and slow bake in quiet oven ... Zam read. The memory of the calm, reassuring sound of the head baker's voice filled his head, as it always did when Zam read his recipes. 'For a more robust biscuit, easeful mixing with broad, generous spoon and a short, fierce bake in busy oven...

‘Broad, generous spoon,' Zam repeated to himself, returning the crinkle-cut crust to the drawer and closing it. He looked up and was about to select one of the wooden spoons, which hung from the hooks in the ceiling, when he trod on something. It was a large spoon he hadn't noticed lying on the flagstone floor.

'That is so careless,' Zam muttered, picking it up. The spoon was broad and long handled, carved from a single piece of wood, by the look of it. Zam turned it over. It was a slotted spoon, full of small holes, with three large ones near the base of the handle.

‘Easeful mixing with broad, generous spoon,' the head baker's voice sounded in Zam's head.

‘Perfect,' he said, wiping the spoon on his apron before slipping it into a pocket.

He selected a favourite battered old book from a shelf: The Art of Baking. “There you are," he said happily and climbed the back stairs to the kitchen.

An hour later, the other apprentice bakers had been woken by the six o'clock gong and were filing in, putting on their caps and rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Balthazar Boabab, the head baker of Bakery No. 9, followed them into the kitchen smiling.

'Good morning, apprentices!' he said cheerfully, peering over the top of his half-rim spectacles. “As you know, the twelve bakeries of Troutwine are baking for the Grand Duchess's Tea Ball tomorrow, and we all have our parts to play.W

The head baker smiled again, a little ruefully this time. 'Bakery No. 1 is doing the first tiers. Bakery No. 2 the second and third tiers. Fillings are being produced by bakeries No. 3, 4 and 5. While No. 6, 7 and 8 are baking pastry shells and meringues. - Bakeries No. 10 and 11 are fruitcake and turnovers, and Bakery No. 12 is making floating islands...' Balthazar Boabab took a deep breath. 'This means, once again, Bakery No. 9 is picking up the crumbs…'

The apprentice bakers began to mutter. It wasn't fair. They had tried so hard, but they weren't being given a chance.

'I know, I know ...' said the head baker. 'It's not ideal, but after last year's cake collapse and exploding-eclair incident, Bakery No. 9 has a lot to prove ...'

'But that wasn't our fault,' protested one of the gnomes.

'The last head baker didn't pay off the League of Rats, said Langdale the goat boy, stamping his hooves, "and they ruined everything…'

'Nothing was proved,' said Balthazar gently. 'I am head baker now, and things are different, aren't they?'

Zam and the other apprentices nodded. It was true. Bakery No. 9 had changed since Balthazar Boabab had taken over: no more bullying, tantrums or random punishments. The kitchen was a happy place, and everyone was respected and baking beautifully. It was just as well. A year ago, after the disaster of the last tea ball, Bakery No. 9 had almost been shut down and everyone sent home. If Balthazar hadn't joined them from the fashionable Bakery No. 12, the apprentices would have had no future. None of them wanted to let him down.

"But what about the rats?' asked Langdale anxiously.

‘Let me worry about them,' said the head baker, doing his best to sound cheerful. ‘After all, we have heard nothing from the rats since I arrived.
Meanwhile, you have baking to do. We will be making the crusts as well as gingerbread and some spun-sugar decorations. And, at the tea ball itself –

Balthazar cleared his throat; even he couldn't sound cheerful about the next bit – 'Bakery No. 9 will be doing the washing-up.

The apprentice bakers groaned.

‘Langdale and the Shellac sisters are on shortcrust pastry shells,' Balthazar instructed. 'Gnomes are on glazed piecrust. Zam, are you confident to bake the gingerbread and help me with the spun sugar?'

'Yes, head baker,' said Zam excitedly. “I've already been down in the flavour library ...

‘Baker's pet,' muttered Langdale.

Balthazar gave the goat boy a stern look. But before he could say anything, an unexpected sound silenced them all.

In the shop, the doorbell had rung, and now they could hear the scritch-scratch of claws on the floorboards.

'I smell a rat,' said Langdale.
 


Publishing 19th September 2019 | Hardback, £12.99 | Macmillan Children’s Books | ISBN 9781447277972

Monday, 16 September 2019

The Right Book for the Right Child (Guest Blog Post By Victoria Williamson)

I remember very clearly when my love affair with Jane Austen began.

It was the summer between fifth and sixth year of high school, when I was seventeen. I’d picked up Pride and Prejudice for the first time, but not because I actually wanted to read it. It was a stormy day despite it being July – too wet to walk up to the local library. It was back in the nineties before the internet, Kindle, and instant downloads were available. I wanted to curl up on the sofa to read, but I’d already been through every single book in the house. All that was left unread at the bottom of the bookshelf was a row of slightly faded classics belonging to my mother. I only picked the first one up as there was clearly a book-drought emergency going on, and I was desperate.

The reason I didn’t want to read it, was because I already knew it was going to be totally boring.
Well, I thought I knew it. I’d already ‘read’ the classics you see. When I was ten or eleven, thinking I was very clever, I branched out from my usual diet of fantasy and adventure books, and opened a copy of Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I can’t remember why now – it might have been another rainy day and another book emergency situation, but whatever the reason, I spent several miserable hours ploughing through page after page of unintelligible drivel about Lincoln’s Inn, Chancery, and a bunch of boring characters who said very dull things, before giving up in disgust.


I ‘knew’ from that point on that the classic novels teachers and book critics raved about were the literary equivalent of All Bran instead of Sugar Puffs, and I wasn’t interested in sampling any more.

I didn’t pick up another classic until that rainy day at seventeen, when I sped through Pride and Prejudice in a day and a night, emerging sleepy-eyed but breathless the next day to snatch Emma from the shelf before retreating back to my room to devour it. That summer, after running out of books by Austen, the Brontes and Mrs Gaskell, I tried Bleak House again. And what a difference! Where before I had waded thorough unintelligible passages without gaining any sense of what was going on, I now found an engaging, and often humorous tale of a tangled court system far beyond the ‘red tape’ that everyone was always complaining about in present-day newspapers. Where before I’d only seen dull characters who rambled on forever without saying anything at all, I discovered wit and caricature, and a cast of people I could empathise with.

That was when I realised that there wasn’t anything wrong with the literary classics – it was me who was the problem. Or rather, the mismatch between my reading ability when I was ten, and the understanding I had of the world at that age. I could read all of the words on the page, I just didn’t understand what half of them meant, and I thought the problem was with the story itself.

I was reminded of this little episode in my own reading history recently when I spent the summer in Zambia volunteering with the reading charity The Book Bus. One afternoon we were reading one-to-one with children in a community library, when I met Samuel. Samuel had a reading level far above the other children, and raced through the picture books and short stories they were struggling with. I asked him to pick a more complicated book to read with me for the last ten minutes, and after searching through the two bookshelves that comprised the small one-roomed library, he came back with a Ladybird book published in 1960, called ‘What to Look for in Autumn.’

He did his best with it. He could read all of the words – the descriptions of wood pigeons picking up the seeds to ‘fill their crops’, the harvesters – reapers, cutters and binders – putting the oats into ‘stooks’ and the information about various ‘mushrooms and fungi’, but he didn’t understand anything he was reading. Needless to say I looked out a more appropriate chapter book from the Book Bus’s well-stocked shelves for him to read the following week, but the incident reminded me of the importance of getting relevant books into children’s hands if we’re to ensure they’re not turned off by the reading experience.

This is a problem often encountered in schools when teachers are looking for books to recommend to children. A lot of the time we’re so focused on getting them to read ‘good’ books, the ones we enjoyed as children, or the ones deemed ‘worthy’ by critics, that we forget that reading ability isn’t the only thing we have to take into consideration. We have to match the child’s level of understanding to the texts that we’re recommending – or in the case of that Ladybird book, get rid of outdated books from our libraries entirely!

Children often find making the leap to more challenging books difficult, and comfort read the same books over and over again – sometimes even memorising them in anticipation of being asked to read aloud with an adult. If we’re to help them bridge this gap, we must make sure our recommendations are not only appropriate for their reading level, but match their understanding too, introducing new words and ideas gradually in ways that won’t put them off.

Samuel and I were both lucky – we loved reading enough that one bad experience wasn’t enough to put us off, but other children might not be so fortunate. Let’s ensure all children have the chance to discover the joy of reading, by getting the right books into the hands of the right child.

Victoria Williamson is the author of Fox Girl and the White Gazelle (click here for my review) and The Boy with the Butterfly Mind, both published by Floris Books.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Misguided Reading (6 Questions To Ask When Planning A Reading 'Lesson')


How should we teach reading? What do we even mean by 'reading'? Decoding? Comprehension? Both? Is it more than that?

Scarborough's Reading Rope - image from EEF's 'Improving Literacy In KS2'

Scarborough's Reading Rope breaks things down a little more and, if nothing else, serves to show that there is quite a lot going on when one picks up a book to read.

If the above 8 headings (background knowledge; vocabulary; language structures etc) were all the necessary components of being able to read, is it the case that if we teach them all, children would be able to read? If so, how explicitly do they need to be taught? Can some of them be developed unwittingly in a language-rich, book-rich environment? Do teachers and schools really have a chance if a child isn't being brought up in such an environment?

So many questions, and given the range of advice that exists about reading instruction, I'm not sure we have the answers - at least not readily. Indeed, the 'reading wars' have been raging for years (although they focus less on comprehension) - just how exactly should we teach children to be able to read so that they can read words and understand their meaning as a whole?

My personal experience is that this is something that depends heavily on context. During my own career I have taught classes of children who have needed very little reading instruction and vice versa - I am judging this simply on their ability to understand what they have read. A cursory analysis of  the differences between these classes reveals that it appears to me to be the children who have been brought up in a language-rich, book-rich environment who, by the time they are 10 or 11, can read exceptionally well and don't need teaching how to comprehend what they have read. Of course, some children will have been brought up in such an environment and still need help with their reading.

Why does context matter? Well, for the purposes of this blog post, it matters because what one teacher in one classroom in one school somewhere does, might not work for another teacher somewhere else.

For example, a reading lesson consisting of asking children to complete two pages of mixed written comprehension questions might work with children who can already decode, comprehend and encode, but it is questionable as to how much they will have actually learned during that lesson. A lesson like this might have the appearance of being successful in one setting but, share those resources online with a teacher in a different context and they might not experience the same levels of apparent success. The children in the second teacher's class might need teaching some strategies before they can access such an activity.

And what does said activity amount to in reality? Just another test. Weighing the pig won't make it fatter - it's just that weighing it also won't make it any lighter either: if a child can read already, then these kinds of activity might do no harm. But we must be clear: this practice of repeatedly giving children comprehension activities composed of mixed question types is not really teaching children much. However, perhaps the stress, or boredom, of constantly being weighed might start to have negative consequences for the pig: children are potentially put off reading if their main experience of it is repetitive comprehension activities.

So, if weighing the pig doesn't make it fatter, what does? Feeding it. But with what should we feed them with? What should we teach them in order to help them to read words and understand what they mean as a whole?

Is it as simple as Michael Rosen suggests? Is it just a case of sharing books with children and talking about them? I've seen first-hand anecdotal evidence which certainly suggests that 'Children are made readers on the laps of their parents' (Emilie Buchwald). My own children, taught very well to decode using phonics at school, also appear to be excellent comprehenders - they have grown up around family members who read an awful lot, have had models of high quality speech, have partaken in a wide variety of experiences, have broad vocabularies and spend a good deal of their own time reading or being read to. Give them a two-page comprehension activity and they'd probably ace it. However, as already mentioned, this certainly won't be the case for every child brought up in such a way.

But what should schools do when they receive children who haven't had the privilege of a language-rich, book-rich and knowledge-rich upbringing, or those for whom that hasn't quite led to them being excellent readers? Downloading someone else's comprehension sheets and making children spend half an hour doing them isn't going to help them to become better readers. Should we teachers be trying to 'fill the gap' - to do the things that some children experience at home before they've ever even set foot in a school? Or is it too late once they're in school? Does the school-based approach need to be different?

As I said before: so many questions - questions I won't answer in this blog post. But I will leave you with something practical, in the spirit of this blog post, it'll be in the form of some questions to ask yourself when preparing a reading lesson:

Does this activity promote practice of existing skills or is it teaching them new strategies? Sometimes you will want to do some practising, other times you will want to teach them something new - how to ask questions of what they are readin, how to summarise what they have read, for example.

Does this activity help children to understand the text better or does it help them to understand a strategy better? Again, on some days you will just want to do activities that help children to gain a really good understanding of the passage; other days you might want to focus on teaching and practising a strategy such as inference making or visualising what has been described in the text.

Does this activity promote an enjoyment of reading? I tentatively include his question, and provide some clarification: I do not mean Is this activity fun? Reading is nearly always enjoyable when one understands what is being read. A reading task therefore can be enjoyable if it focuses on developing understanding of previously unknown word meanings which then helps he children to understand what hey have read. Anything that makes a child feel a sense of success will probably also be enjoyable for them. If they feel like it's pointless, repetitive or way too difficult, they lose that motivating sense of achievement.

Does the activity require silent completion or dialogic collaboration? I would suggest at the first option is reserved for testing - occasionally necessary; the second option should be key to a reading lesson. Teachers should be reading aloud, modelling their thoughts, demonstrating strategies, explaining word etymology and so on, and children should be joining in with this. Although the act of reading is usually a very private thing, a reading lesson will need to be the opposite if the children are to learn anything in it. A lesson can legitimately feature a set of printed out questions that require a written answer but should never consist of this alone - such activities will need surrounding with plenty of decent talk. And it's that book talk that will make the lesson enjoyable.

Do the children need any new prior knowledge (of the world or of words) before they access this text? Reading sessions can be derailed instantly if the children don't know enough about what they are reading to be able to understand it. Spending some time previously learning new stuff (could be by reading a non-fiction text) will help a following lesson to go much more smoothly - comprehension, including inference-making, relies on prior (or background) knowledge. Of course, some fiction texts (historical novels, for example) can be great ways for children to learn new things about a subject.

Have I (the teacher) read and understood the text and the questions and answers I intend to ask? When I've seen reading lessons go off the boil, it's usually because teachers haven't asked themselves this question during their preparation. Downloading someone else's comprehension sheets can easily lead to teachers not being able to answer the questions themselves and then getting into a right fluster in front of the children. Although a good reading lesson will nearly always follow a tangent or two, it's best to know where you're going in general: pre-empt the questions the children might ask, the words they might not know, and so on. Plan out what you will model, which questions you will ask and definitions you will give.

What other experiences of reading do the children in my class get? The timetabled reading lesson shouldn't be all that children get. They need to discuss vocabulary and read across the curriculum. They will benefit from a physical environment which celebrates reading. Adults who have read the books on the shelves and can discuss them with children will really boost their engagement with books and reading. If a lesson is the only time children experience reading then they may believe that reading only belongs in that slot on the timetable.

Perhaps by asking the above questions during lesson planning sessions, reading lessons might develop a little more focus and direction. By preparing in this way a lesson might end up being more guided than misguided.

Monday, 13 May 2019

From The @TES Blog: Eyes Down, It's Time For SATs Reading Test Bingo


In what must be the article with the shortest shelf life that I've ever written I've made some tongue-in-cheek predictions for the content of the 2019 Reading SATs:

Read it here: https://www.tes.com/news/eyes-down-its-time-sats-reading-test-bingo

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Empathy Day Reading For Empathy Guide 2019

This year's Empathy Day falls on June 11th. Today EmpathyLab has revealed the titles in its Read For Empathy Guide. The day focuses on using books – and talking about them – as a tool to help people understand each other better. As regular readers of my blog will know this is something close to my heart.

Something I was particularly interested to find out about was the selection process for the books included in the guide. Below are the empathy angles used in the judging process. A book that can support Reading for Empathy...:
  • Has powerful characters you care about, whose emotions you feel and which challenge and expand the reader’s own emotional understanding
  • Builds perspective taking – e.g. through different characters’ points of view
  • Gives the reader real insight into other people’s lives and experiences
  • Builds empathy for people in challenging circumstances (e.g. disability, migration, bereavement)
  • Deepens understanding of human experience at other times in history
  • Can help expand young people’s emotional vocabulary/recognition of emotions
  • Motivates the reader to put empathy into action


Having a look down the list of books there are several I have read but plenty more for me to get hold of during the coming months. Here are a few I've read and would like to recommend from the list:

Sweep by Louise Greig, illustrated Júlia Sardà (Egmont Books) - this one I included on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES. It's a great extended but simple metaphor for dealing with anger and other negative emotions - one that children can really connect with. This book, which parents or teachers can share with individuals and groups alike, is certainly worthy of recognition and use at home and in the classroom.

Peace and Me by Ali Winter, illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi (Lantana Publishing) - this is another one I included on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES. It is good to see a non-fiction title on the list - many children prefer reading books such as this. This one focuses on several notable Nobel Peace Prize winners, giving a potted history of who they were and why they won the prize, all accompanied by beautiful illustrations.

The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books) - whilst one of my favourite #ReadForEmpathy books is Stewart Foster's 'All The Things That Could Go Wrong', 'The Bubble Boy' is another great choice. In it the reader really gets to walk in the shoes of a child confined to a hospital bed - I can't think of many other books that offer this experience to young readers.

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf, illustrated by Pippa Curnick (Orion Children’s Books) - I read this one after I had submitted my list of the best books of 2018 but if I'd read it before I would definitely have included it. Empathy is exemplified by the main character as they embark on an ambitious (if not a little crazy) adventure to try to find the family of a refugee who has started at their school.

The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson (Scholastic) - when this was published in January last year I reviewed it here on my blog: "As soon as you hear of Nate's dad leaving and mum's new man Gary you marvel at Lisa Thompson's bravery: tackling a subject like domestic abuse in a story aimed at 9 to 12 year olds? But she does it so beautifully. And it is important that she does - books should tell all stories."  I also included it on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES saying that it "blurs the boundaries between reality, imagination and the supernatural."

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson (Floris Books) - yet another book I included on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES and in my piece for TES on books that take children out of their comfort zone and one which is very possibly my favourite book of 2018. In the review I wrote of it here on my blog I wrote: "'The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle' deserves to be one of 2018's most lauded books. Tackling racism, discrimination and bullying head-on in a book aimed at upper primary children is no mean feat, but Victoria Williamson does it with great sensitivity."



Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (Penguin) - this classic is one I included in my TES piece 13 books to take pupils out of their comfort zone: "Blackman flips the script on race wars, provoking thought with this painful account of how systemic discrimination ruins lives". I read it for the first time whilst on holiday this summer - I found it so distressing that I had to have a break from it to read something else. I am still steeling myself to read the follow-up books.

Running on Empty by S. E. Durrant (Nosy Crow) - EmpathyLab have included this on their secondary list, but I think it is fine for older primary children too: I included it on my Top Children's Books of 2018 list for TES. AJ, the book's protagonist, navigates life's already difficult roads with the added pressure of worrying about his parents who both have learning difficulties; again, this is not a perspective I've come across before in a children's book.

Boy 87 by Ele Fountain (Pushkin Children’s) - this one features on the secondary list as it is a pretty harrowing telling of a young boy's escape from an African totalitarian regime. With the recent so-called migrant crisis hitting the news this is possibly one of the most important books on the list - if only our right-wing politicians would give it a read.

Follow EmpathyLab on Twitter: @EmpathyLabUK and search the hashtag #ReadforEmpathy for more. Visit their website at www.empathylab.uk.