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

Monday, 14 May 2018

Teaching Reading Comprehension: Modelling and Practice (Example Lessons)

I’ve been thinking, reading and writing a lot lately about how we teach reading strategies and skills in primary schools. I won’t bore you with all the details but thought I’d simply share some lessons that I’ve prepared for some year 3 teachers at the schools I work in. If you want to find out more about what I’ve been discovering, and the thinking behind the lessons I’ve planned, I’ve provided some links at the end of this blog post.

These lessons, although not fully-formed (I didn’t want to dictate everything), are a good representation of how I think teachers should model the use of reading strategies and skills in a lesson and how children can be given practice of using the same strategies and skills that their teachers have modelled. The lessons involve both opportunities for oral and written comprehension activities; the written activity can just as well be worked on orally, although it is designed so that children can work on it independently by giving written answers.

Some of the lessons you will see here were based on versions of Aesop's Fables written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, published by Orchard Books. Although the book hadn't been chosen with inference-making in mind, it was serendipitous that there were plenty of opportunities to focus a few lessons on that particular skill. Hopefully these examples will show that, even whilst having a focus on a particular strategy or skill, other strategies and skills might be used in support whilst developing the skill which is the focus of the lesson (in this case inference-making).

For each lesson I outlined the L.O. (based on the National Curriculum POS for year 3/4 in this instance) and some introductory questions and items for discussion:



I then suggested some exemplar questions for the teacher to model which focus on the lesson's L.O.:

All of the above could be done as a whole class reading lesson, or as a guided group. The point of all of the above is to have discussions about the text and to orally develop strategies such as clarifying (what do the words mean?) and inferencing (why do the characters do what they do?). The intention is that children will then be better prepared to have a go at some similar questions themselves without the teacher having already answered them by way of demonstration.

In this particular example the questions are focused around multiple choice answers with the hope that children will consider each option in order to decide whether or not it is good evidence for the character's motives. Notice that not all the questions are inference questions; other questions are asked which might support the child's understanding so that they are able to make the more difficult inferences (see my blog posts on scaffolding for more information on this idea).




For more information on the symbols/colours use in this example, please read the following: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2016/12/reading-roles-cognitive-domains-made.html

This part of the lesson could be done as an independent written activity or as part of a guided group. The multiple choice questions should spark some good discussion about why the correct one is correct and about the reasons children have for selecting their answers. If this was being completed as an independent written task there is the potential for a follow-up written task asking children to give their reasons for their selection.

Following this, and in order to practice another strategy, I suggested the following:

The following lesson follows a similar structure:




You can download these resources on TES - they are editable so even if you don't have the book, you can use the activities as a template: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/aesop-s-fables-reading-comprehension-teacher-notes-and-pupil-activities-11900274

These two lessons represent the first two in a potential sequence where children might move beyond being given multiple choice options. In another sequence of lessons based on David Almond's 'My Dad's A Birdman' children moved onto giving spoken and written answers to inference questions (which throughout the sequence all focused on characters' actions only). To begin with they answered questions with a structure that had been provided and modelled to them, as exemplified in the teacher notes:


They then answered their own questions. Again, this could be done independently, collaboratively or as part of a guided group with a teacher:

The children spent two lessons practising this before being shown how to further add to their answer, as demonstrated in the teacher notes:


The children then practised using this addition to the answer structure (although they only practised one as this was a chance for teachers to assess children's attempts at what is quite an advanced skill for year 3 children):

In the sequence of lessons on My Dad's a Birdman children spent 5 sessions focusing just on making inferences about character's actions followed by another 5 sessions focusing on making inferences about characters' feelings. For more on why there was such a sustained focus please read my blog post entitled 'Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making'. Along the way the children also exercised other reading comprehension strategies and skills in order to support their inference making and general understanding of the text. They also spent time just reading the book and enjoying - teachers and children alike kept telling me how much they loved the book. The fact that they had spent time completing such activities as outlined above enabled them to enjoy the book, rather than spoiling their enjoyment of it.
See my blog post entitled 'Giving the Gift of Reading: Activities That Promote Reading for Pleasure' for more on this.

You can download these resources on TES - they are also editable so even if you don't have the book, you can use the activities as a template: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/inference-questions-for-my-dad-s-a-birdman-by-david-almond-chapters-1-to-10-inc-teacher-notes-11842172

Further reading from my blog on teaching reading in primary schools:

Teaching Reading: A Simple Approach
Reading Roles: Elements Of The Content Domain Made Memorable
Reading Roles PLUS: Teaching Metacognitive Reading Comprehension Strategies (not exemplified in this blog post)
Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making
Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination?

Friday, 16 March 2018

Comprehension Strategies And The KS2 Reading Test - What and How Should We Teach?

Comprehension Strategies And The KS2 Reading Test - What and How Should We Teach?
In my first blog post in this series I explored the difference between reading comprehension strategies and reading skills. I noted that many of the skills that are tested in the KS2 SATs also have a matching reading comprehension strategy. With the conclusion that the deliberate use of strategies develops and embeds skills, I posed a question to myself:

Is there a way to teach comprehension strategies that prepares children well for the KS2 reading test?

In answering my second question I had to consider that which is different about the reading test. Whereas the commonly-used comprehension strategies do not require children to give written answers to questions they ask or generate themselves, the test does. This is the main difference. In addition to this, the year 5/6 National Curriculum objectives mention no requirement for children to provide written answers to questions and many of the objectives aren't tested at all by the SATs. The objectives circled in red aren't tested by SATs; the ones outlined in blue are.
Without having any evidence back this up with, I believe that there are children who, having been taught strategies which have become skills, are able to complete the reading test, confidently giving written answers to the questions it asks. I suspect that these children are also able writers and they have probably had a healthy relationship with literacy in general from an early age. There is a potential argument here for a sole focus on teaching comprehension strategies and never asking children to spend time practising giving written answers to comprehension questions.

But, I also think that there are probably children for whom some explicit instruction about how to give written answers to comprehension questions will be useful and necessary (if they are to have a chance of demonstrating their reading skills in a test, which all year 6 children are). Again, I have no research evidence to back this up, only anecdotal experience. However, there is research evidence to back up the idea that particular written activities do support reading comprehension.

I turned to Steve Graham and Michael Hebert's 'Writing to Read' report which states:

"Writing-about-text activities had a positive impact on struggling students’ understanding of a text. An important key to success in using these activities with lower-achieving students was to provide them with ongoing practice and explicit instruction."

The report recommends that students do write in response to things they have read and outlines a series of recommendations of activities. One of the recommendations is that teachers should have students answer questions about a text in writing, or create and answer written questions about a text:

"Answering questions about a text can be done verbally, but there is greater benefit from performing such activities in writing. Writing answers to text questions makes them more memorable, as writing an answer provides a second form of rehearsal. This practice should further enhance the quality of students’ responses, as written answers are available for review, reevaluation, and reconstruction (Emig, 1977).

For generating or responding to questions in writing, students either answered questions about a text in writing; received practice doing so; wrote their own questions about text read; or learned how to locate main ideas in a text, generated written questions for them, and then answered them in writing. These practices had a small but consistently positive impact on improving the reading comprehension of students in grade 6–12 when compared to reading or reading instruction."

Lemov et al's 'Reading Reconsidered' also provides plenty of classroom evidence that writing supports reading comprehension. They summarise:

"...the strategic use of writing made reading and discussions of reading- the other core activities of English class—more rigorous, focused, productive and engaging- ‘better’ in short.  Writing is a deeply valuable endeavor in its own right, but it is also an endeavor that works in synergy with reading in specific ways."

From 'Writing To Read'
Activities other than answering questions include responding to a text through writing personal reactions or analyses/interpretations of the text, writing summaries of a text, taking notes on a text, and creating and/or answering questions about a text in writing. Actually, all of these activities have a greater effect size than answering questions and therefore should be explored further in the primary classroom - another blog post for another time!

What does come through both the 'Writing To Read' report and Lemov et al's 'Reading Reconsidered' chapter entitled 'Writing For Reading' is an emphasis on explicit teaching: if we want children to be able to write well about the things they read in order to develop a better understanding of what they read, we must explicitly teach these skills - they must be modelled well by the teacher.

What I have found is that evidence from both research and successful classroom practice shows that an approach to teaching reading strategies which includes giving children the opportunities to practise giving written answers to comprehension questions (in order to prepare them well for a test) is not something we should avoid, but is something that, if done right, could be beneficial to the children we teach.
From the IES guide
So, is there a way to teach comprehension strategies that prepares children well for the KS2 reading test? Yes, I think so. As long as there is modelling, discussion (book talk) and time for children to practise, a sequence of learning that will improve reading skills can (and should) focus both on teaching reading comprehension strategies (as outlined in the EEF and IES guidance) and the elements of the National Curriculum (as outlined in the content domain in the KS2 test developers' framework) as they can act reciprocally due to similarities between the skills and the strategies. Reading instruction which includes, amongst other things, teachers, asking children to respond in writing to well-written questions based on a manageable amount of text is a good idea when preparing children for KS2 tests. It shouldn't be the only element of reading instruction but it should help. Where children lack particular skills it will be best to focus modelling and practise on those particular skills.

If children are only given written comprehension activities the comprehension strategies are not likely to be employed or developed. But if the written comprehension activities are backed up with explicit teaching of the supporting strategies (as well as vocabulary, any other necessary background knowledge and how to write answers), then comprehension strategies should be developed. Such explicit teaching (including modelling and discussion) should focus on ensuring that children know what the strategy is, how it is used and why and when to use it. Children can be shown how to use the strategies when completing written comprehension activities.

The York Reading for Meaning Project assessed three reading comprehension interventions delivered by teaching assistants in 20 primary schools. The three interventions were carried out with children who had been identified as having the poor comprehender profile - the three interventions were intended to help children who struggled with reading comprehension to overcome their problems. The three interventions differed:
  • Oral Language Programme: vocabulary, reciprocal teaching with spoken language, figurative language and spoken narrative
  • Text Level Programme: metacognitive strategies, reciprocal teaching with written language, inferencing from text and written narrative
  • Combined Programme: all of the above (vocabulary, reciprocal teaching with spoken language, figurative language, spoken narrative, metacognitive strategies, reciprocal teaching with written language, inferencing from text and written narrative)
Based on the findings, the report concludes that 'the Oral Language intervention overall was the most effective of the three programmes. Theoretically, this finding provides strong support for the theory that the reading comprehension difficulties seen in those who show the poor comprehender profile are a secondary consequence of these children’s oral language weaknesses.'.

Here then is evidence that children who are struggling with reading comprehension, and are falling behind, will benefit from an oral language programme as intervention. In the context of this blog post - which focuses on teaching all children (including those are aren't struggling with comprehension but are still learning new skills and strategies) - it is worth questioning whether these research findings bear relevance - should we scrap writing as part of first teaching of reading and focus solely on an oral approach?
Examples of combined programmes from The York Reading for Meaning Project: An Overview


However, the outcomes of the project also show that 'all three interventions (Text Level, Oral Language and Combined) improved children’s reading comprehension skills'. In this blog post I have been suggesting what is essentially a combined programme for everyday classroom-based reading instruction (see the examples above). The question the research doesn't answer is, where first teaching of reading comprehension is concerned (i.e. not interventions for poor comprehenders), whether or not the benefits of writing discussed above are still outweighed by only focusing on an oral-only approach.

What is potentially telling is that 'the children who received the Combined programme experienced all components but at half the quantity of the other two intervention programmes'. What if children were given a whole quantity of both oral and written approaches? Isn't this something that a reading lesson, with an adequate amount of time given over to it, could offer children that an intervention (in this study set at 30 minutes long) could not?

It would be interesting to know which approach (oral, text or combined) shows the best results for all learners rather than interventions for poor comprehenders . For teachers working on helping children to be prepared for KS2 testing it would be good to see research which focuses on first teaching for all learners where the results are taken from SATs performance. Whether you are in support of year 6 testing or not, they are currently a feature of the UK's education system. In order for children to feel prepared (and hopefully not stressed by uncertainty about the tests) and in order for schools to demonstrate accurately the reading ability of their children, most schools will want to allow children to practise giving written answers to comprehension questions. Would it be too much of a gamble in this case for schools to take an oral-only approach?

Expanding on some of the ideas in this blog post, in previous blog posts I have written about...

Monday, 12 March 2018

Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination?

I recently posted a thread on Twitter which attracted some opposition. The thread went like this:

If you are currently planning reading lessons that don't have a focus on developing just one strategy (i.e. retrieval or inference) then I suggest that you might revisit your plans, changing them so that only one strategy is focused on at a time. I would suggest that one lesson spent on one reading strategy followed by another lesson on a different strategy is not enough for teaching children the strategies they need to be able to comprehend well. A sequence of lessons focused on just one strategy is preferable. 

Within reading teaching sequences that focus solely on one strategy ensure that you model answering questions and give children chance to practise answering similar questions with similar answer structures. If you truly want children to improve their reading strategies make sure plenty of your lessons are focused solely on one main strategy rather than always asking a range of questions. 

Planning lessons that expect children to exercise a range of strategies will help them to understand the whole text BUT won't provide the best opportunities to focus on the development of a particular strategy, meaning they are less likely to improve in their use of it. For example, if you want children to become better at making inferences plan several lessons where ALL the questions you ask are inference questions EXCEPT where retrieval and vocabulary questions will help children to make better inferences. 

When teaching reading strategies it is my belief that whole sequences of lessons should focus on just ONE of those skills UNLESS using other strategies helps children to practice the focus strategy of the lesson.

Whilst replying to people who opposed my ideas I found it necessary to clarify some matters:
  • within such a lesson other strategies may be employed, but usually in support of the focus strategy
  • by using the word focus I mean that that strategy would be in the spotlight being the thing you intend children to improve at, but that this would not mean other strategies weren't used in support
  • such lessons should only be taught when wanting children to improve their use of a particular strategy and shouldn't be imposed on children who can already sufficiently use the strategies
  • in such a lesson, a teacher wouldn't attempt to suppress the use of already strong strategies that children wanted to use
  • this shouldn't be the only reading provision that a child receives - there should be plenty of additional opportunities for children to naturally employ a full range of reading strategies whilst reading
  • these lessons should be taught with a view to children eventually becoming independently responsible for using the strategy alongside a range of other strategies in their reading

The EEF guidance report 'Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2' says that 'the following strategies should be modelled and practised to ensure they become embedded and fluent: prediction, questioning, clarifying, summarising, inference, activating prior knowledge'. It goes on to suggest that for each strategy children should 'learn three things: what the strategy is, how the strategy is used, and why and when to use the strategy.' It goes on to state: 'Developing each of the strategies requires explicit instruction and extensive practice... These strategies can be introduced in isolation, but pupils should also be taught how to integrate combinations of strategies to develop effective comprehension of different texts'

And it is the aforementioned isolated introduction with which I am concerned. By singling strategies out for those not yet adept at using them, then explicitly modelling how they can be used and then giving children time to practise using them, children will improve their ability to use particular reading strategies in combination with others.

And, as already mentioned, I think it is difficult to develop such independence in the combining of strategies by only spending the odd lesson on each one. Sustained modelling and practise of the same strategy which follows the gradual release of responsibility model (an explicit description of the strategy and when and how it should be used; modelling of the strategy in action by teachers and/ or pupils; collaborative use of the strategy in action; guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility; and independent use of the strategy) is surely more likely to have an impact.

A few contributors to the thread provided some interesting additional reading:

Daniel Willingham's 'Infer this...' blog post discusses the findings from some research and how it supports his interpretation of the effect of comprehension instruction in that, in the case of teaching inference-making as a strategy, 'it alerts students to the importance of making inferences, and perhaps more broadly (for less skilled readers) that it is important to THINK while you read. But practising inferences does not lead to a general inferencing skill for two reasons. One, as noted, inferencing depends on the particular text, and two, whatever cognitive processes contribute to inferencing are already well practised from use in oral language---we continually draw inferences in conversation.' He summarises saying 'comprehension instruction is a great idea, because research consistently shows a large benefit of such instruction. But just as consistently, it shows that brief instruction leads to the same outcome as longer instruction'.
Tim Shanahan's 'Teaching Reading and Reading Comprehension Strategies' blog post summarises: 
'I would definitely teach comprehension strategies. The way I think of strategies most basically is that they give readers some tools they can use independently to make sense of what they read... Some programs [teach and gradually release responsibility] with multiple strategies, all at one time, and others teach the strategies one at a time, adding them together as you go (both approaches work—but I find the latter to be simpler and easier to teach). You can usually teach a strategy well in 3-4 weeks if you have students practising with lots of different texts... Summarising a newspaper article is different than summarising a story, and both are different than a science chapter. Make sure that the students are learning not only the strategy, but the content of the texts too. Finally, remind the kids from time to time to use their strategies or engage them in strategies discussions.'

The IES Practice Guide 'Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade'  has as its first recommendation that we 'Teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies'. It states: "Good readers use many forms of thinking and analysing text as they read. It is therefore important to teach beginning readers strategies for constructing meaning from text. A strategy is the intentional application of a cognitive routine by a reader before, during, or after reading a text  Comprehension strategies help readers enhance their understanding, overcome difficulties in comprehending text, and compensate for weak or imperfect knowledge related to the text. The strategies may be taught one by one or in combination. Both approaches can improve reading comprehension, so the panel recommends that teachers choose the approach they are most comfortable with in the classroom. Teachers should also help students learn how to use comprehension strategies independently through the gradual release of responsibility. When releasing responsibility to students, however, be mindful that students differ in the extent of modelling or support they need from teachers in order to use strategies effectively."

Although all three resources go into more detail than the quotations I've included here, and I'd recommend that you read them for yourselves, there are some general things I'd like to pull out of what we've read:
  • It would seem that whilst Willingham agrees that comprehension strategies should be taught, he also thinks that research shows that the amount of practise time children get is not important. He points out that the main outcome we should be aiming for is that children remember to use strategies - in this view, the only benefit of repeated practice of particular strategies then is that children will have practised them so often that they never forget to employ them. But with inference-making for example, if children are not aware of the vast array of possible questions they might ask of a text in order to infer necessary information they might never know to ask those questions of a text, even when they do remember that they should ask questions of a text to ensure they have made necessary inferences. It is only possible to expose children to such a vast array of possible questions through a whole sequence of lessons, or, admittedly, a range of disconnected one-off lessons or questions within lessons over a longer period of time. A one-off lesson or question, with little time spent on it, is surely less likely to prompt a child to remember to use inference-making strategies than the recollection of a whole sequence of focused lessons.
  • Both Shanahan and the IES guide state that strategies can be taught in isolation (as does the EEF guidance report) but that strategies can also be taught in combination and that the choice is down to teachers. So perhaps, my belief in teaching strategies in isolation is just a personal preference - mine and Tim Shanahan's! To my mind though, that intentional application of a cognitive routine is a lot easier to approach as a teacher if I, and the children, are only having to think about one cognitive routine whilst we are teaching it and learning it. The potential benefit in doing this is that it limits the cognitive overload that might come with trying to learn and practise too many new strategies all at once when you aren't sufficient in using one, some or all of them.
  • The IES guide recognises that some students will need different amounts of modelling and practise before they can apply it independently and consistently. It will be the case that, if you teach strategies in isolation, some children will move beyond the need for this and therefore will not need to be involved in such activity as the explicit teaching of isolated strategies - this is common sense.
Whilst I know there are still many out there who would disagree with me, I think I would still advocate the teaching of reading strategies in isolation for readers who are not yet strong in the use of particular strategies. Certainly, for teachers who are hoping that, for example, children in their class get better at making inferences, I would recommend, instead of asking the odd, random inference question in a discussion or as part of a written reading comprehension, that lessons are more focused on the modelling and practise of particular kinds of inference questions about a range of texts. Without taking this approach teachers leave the learning of particular strategies to chance, hoping that children gain certain skills as a result of random exposure to infrequent opportunities to practise those strategies.

I've not fully thought through the implications of the following analogy but it's one a few have used in support of my position. We wouldn't teach children to solve a complex maths problem that required the use of several different maths facts and strategies until children were able to each one individually. Imagine a problem that required children to complete some multiplication, some division and to have a good idea about percentages and measures - we would first teach extensive learning sequences on each of the constituent parts before expecting a child to understand how to complete the question.

In reading, we are not afforded the luxury of being able to teach things in such isolation - a spiral curriculum approach is necessary, partly facilitated by increasing the complexity of the text. For example, decodable books used in the Early Years and KS1 require very little comprehension, for example, whereas whole novels used in KS2 require children to decode, recognise words, utilise background knowledge, retrieve and infer information, summarise and so on. Along a continuum in the middle of those two extremes children use age-appropriate books which allow them to exercise existing word recognition and language comprehension strategies and skills.

However, at any point along that continuum a child might struggle with any one of the strategies that they usually use. It might be that one child finds themselves in this position, it might be a group of children and it may be a whole class. At this point it might be useful to isolate the strategy they are particular struggling with and teach them accordingly, modelling and giving practise time across a range of age-appropriate texts whilst releasing the responsibility to them so that they can eventually use the strategy independently in the texts they are currently reading.

Whether or not we will all agree with my stance, I'm sure that more of us would agree that a great deal of thought needs to be put into how we go about teaching children to read. Over the years I have been guilty of expecting children, particularly those with limited reading experience, to just absorb the ability to comprehend well through the odd read aloud and the rare comprehension task - this didn't work. My reaction to this has been to seek structured approaches to teaching children the strategies they need to be able to read well, the focus of this blog post being one of them.