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

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Reading Roles Linked To Reading Comprehension Strategies

Recently someone contacted me through my blog asking a very important question:
I have recently come across your Reading Roles. From 2016 you have the weather forecaster etc ones and then from 2018 there are also the student/quiz master roles - do you recommend using all of these to cover content domain or focus on the newer ones? It seems like a lot of roles to remember.
 And here's my answer:
I would focus on the ones that are reading strategies, rather than ones which are only areas of the content domain from the test frameworks: 
Professor: Activating Prior Knowledge
Quiz Master: Questioning
Director: Visualization
Student: Monitoring/Clarifying (this one covers the Translator and the Interpreter so those two can go, although there needs to be a heavy focus on the vocab)
Detective: Drawing Inferences
Editor: Summarising 
I need to blog about this properly, so thanks for the prompt!
So here's my blog post:

When I initially developed the Reading Roles I focused solely on the areas of the content domain taken from the KS2 test framework. This was in reaction to the infamous 2016 KS2 reading test.

As time has gone by I have learned more about reading strategies as opposed to the reading skills that are tested. Some of the research-backed strategies are linked to the reading skills that are tested (inferencing, summarising, predicting) but not all of them are. This led me to add to the Reading Roles that I initially developed in order to shift the focus to learning metacognitive strategies that children can apply in order to better comprehend what they read.

Now, as in my answer above, I would advocate a much heavier focus on developing the reading strategies instead of just getting children to prtactise skills (by answering test-style questions, for example). Thus, whilst the other Reading Roles might still be used, I suggest that anyone choosing to use the Reading Roles might choose to focus on the following:

Click here to download this as a PDF: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/reading-roles-linked-to-reading-comprehension-strategies-12016559
These reading strategies are recommended in the EEF's KS2 Literacy Guidance under recommendation 3:


Another useful document giving a summary of reading strategies is the IES Practice Guide 'Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade' where its first recommendation is to teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies (pages 10 - 16).

Both the EEF's guidance document and the IES practice guide point out that responsibility for the use of these strategies should gradually be transferred to the child. The intention of assigning familiar job titles to reading strategies is that children are given an easy-to-refer-to system for being more deliberate with their thinking during reading, with the ultimate goal of being able to comprehend texts. Therefore, Reading Roles should only be used until children are using the strategies automatically.

In addition to this, DT Willingham, in his article Can Reading Comprehension Be Taught?, says that research shows that "the strategies are helpful but they are quickly learned and don’t require a lot of practice... And there is actually plenty of data showing that extended practice of reading comprehension strategies instruction yields no benefit compared to briefer review... Ten sessions yield the same benefit as fifty sessions."

Again, to reiterate, these Reading Role strategies should only be described, modeled and practised collaboratively and individually until the strategies are seen to be internalised - this will most likely occur at different points for different children.

It is also worth mentioning that the Reading Roles are not designed to be assigned one to each child in a group. Children should be working towards being able to select strategies to use and therefore should be allowed to practise all of them. Having said this, in some sessions you may choose to only focus on one strategy at a time whilst the children become familiar with them.

Further reading:

To find out more about the Quiz Master, Student, Professor and Director Reading Roles, please click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/04/reading-roles-metacognitive-reading-strategies.html

To find out about a generic reading activity that uses the Director, Student, Professor, Quiz Master and Editor roles, click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/09/reading-roles-plus-generic-reading.html

To see the generic Reading Roles reading activity exemplified, click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/09/reading-roles-plus-comprehension-strategy.html

This blog post goes into much more detail about HOW we might teach reading comprehension strategies: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/03/reading-strategies-isolation-combination.html

Monday, 24 September 2018

Reading Roles PLUS Generic Activity Exemplified

In my blog post Reading Roles PLUS Generic Reading Activity I presented a reading activity which focuses on some of the widely-accepted reading comprehension strategies. Where possible I like to exemplify things that I write about, so that's what this blog post is.

Context: A small group of boys (not sure why, just was), end of year 3 but working below age related expectations, reading Fantastic Mr. Fox (their choice).

Session 1 (Chapter 1 of Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl):

A written record of session 1
We began with the Student Reading Role which matches the reading comprehension strategy of clarifying. After reading through the text the children wrote down words and phrases they didn't know the meaning of. This felt like a bit of a dry start, but without understanding key vocabulary it isn't easy to comprehend a text.

The children identified some words but missed many other words which in later discussion they admitted to not knowing the meaning of. Part of training children in this seems to be allowing them to be honest, or encouraging them to think more deeply rather than just skipping over words they don't know.

I then shared a pre-made PowerPoint which contained the words I anticipated the children wouldn't know. Some of the words (mainly nouns) were accompanied by pictures, others had a child-friendly definition.

We then moved on to the Quiz Master Reading Role. I modelled some of the sorts of questions they might want to ask whilst reading. We then read the text again giving the children another exposure to the text and allowing them to focus on the new strategy. Not all the questions generated were that insightful but others were: How come they were mean men? Are they rich? I'd say these ones were because they are linked to main principles of the story. The answers to some questions were perhaps best avoided: Why does he drink so much cider? It was clear that the children were not used to asking questions of the text - all the more reason to make them aware of this strategy.

After that we thought about the prior knowledge they had that helped them to understand parts of the chapter: the Professor Reading Role. The children found it quite easy to identify things that they already knew about. The potential and intended impact of this is that children begin to search their own memory banks when they come across something that they don't understand in their reading: hopefully they will begin to ask themselves 'what do I know already that could help me understand this?'

The fourth part of the session was to focus on the Movie Director Reading Role. This required children to draw or write about what they saw in their heads as they read. I quickly realised my mistake in asking them to do this: you can't draw or write about what you visualised whilst reading a whole chapter! The children focused on parts of the text that were not main points of the story.

Lastly, we looked at the Editor Reading Role which focuses on summarising. Together we developed 4 points which we thought might be important to remember as the story moved on. We discarded facts that we thought might not be crucial to the narrative.

Session 2 (Chapter 2 of Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl):

For the second session I decided to head the session up with something a little lighter, and a little more engaging to ease the children in. After recapping the summary from the previous session, we started with the Movie Director Reading Role but this time focused on just three sentences which described the setting. In doing so I discovered why in fact it might be a good idea to always start with visualising:

One child drew a rectangular piece of wood instead of a wood
I gave them a three-sentence quote describing the chapter's setting: "On the hill above the valley there was a wood. In the wood there was a huge tree. Under the tree there was a hole." Had this activity not have come first, I wouldn't have discovered that one child didn't know what a wood was. Actually when he read the word wood, he imagined a rectangular piece of wood (see the picture, left, where you can make out his rubbed out rectangle of wood which is incorrectly placed in the valley rather than on the hill). This probably wouldn't have come out in the Student/clarifying activity as he believed he knew what a wood was (although if he was properly clarifying he would have realised that in this context the sort of wood he had in mind didn't make sense).
My modelled drawing

Once the children had done their own I completed my own drawing as a model to them and used it to explain any inaccuracies (particularly relating to positional language/prepositions) in their own drawings.

A written record of session 2
We then read the chapter again and the children made a note of words that they didn't understand (Student Reading Role: clarifying). As well as the pre-made PowerPoint (see session 1) we did some quick vocabulary activities: can you put that word in your own sentence? Can you act that word out e.g. Can you approach me? With the word plump, we also had a chance to discuss an inference question: why would the farmer want a plump chicken?

Completing the Professor Reading Roles this time made me realise the need to reconsider how this section is tackled. Children worked at quite a basic level saying that they knew what things were e.g. hill, valley, geese, turkey. The way the prompt was worded did not really engage children in thinking about wider concepts of the text, or facts that they already knew beyond word meanings. On reflection this is an area of practice that I need to think and read more about. My question: how do we go about helping children to activate their prior knowledge? Does it need to focus more on when there is something they don't understand?


When working on the Quiz Master Reading Role the second time round I noticed that my modelling and prompting was centred around a more generic overall question: what do I want to know? Many of the questions the children asked were surrounding information that the author had chosen to leave out as it wasn't important enough to the story: how did Mr Fox get the animals? How did the farmer find the fox hole? The questions that I guided the children towards asking were more about things that might happen as the book progresses: how will Mr Fox get his food now? Will the farmers succeed in killing the foxes? These kinds of question are the kind that skilled readers ask all the time as they read. Other questions may also link to the act of clarifying in the case of information that is included in the text but is not understood on the first reading. It may be worth creating a list of exemplar questions to help teachers and children to practise this strategy.

Completing the summary activity (Editor Reading Role) after doing the other sections of the activity certainly seemed to help the children - after reading the text several times, clarifying their understanding and engaging with the narrative by asking their own questions about it and visualising parts of it the children readily picked out the main points and sequenced them. In my experience children don't always find it easy to prove in this way that they have good comprehension of a chapter as a whole.

Session 3 (Chapter 3 of Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl):

Children recorded far more words in session three
The children completed the visualising (Movie Director Reading Role) task quite slowly during this session but it did provide lots of opportunities to discuss the text which is always welcome as it is the discussions more than what is recorded that demonstrates and develops the knowledge and understanding. However, on the whole, this is probably a part of the session that should eventually happen quite quickly.

Rather than have the children record words individually for the clarifying activity (Student Reading Role) they all added to their lists as we read together, often as a result of prompts from me or another child. I found that asking if they understood particular words made them more honest about words that they didn't understand. As a result of this, we discussed a lot more vocabulary than we had in previous sessions, sharing new definitions and images of nouns on the pre-made PowerPoint, using the words in sentences and so on. It is this that is so crucial: if children do not understand the meanings of individual words then they will struggle to make meaning of text constructed using those words.

On clarifying: it is important that children feel like they are allowed to ask, and that it isn't a bad thing to not know what a word means, if they are to begin to automatically clarify when they read. Too often I suspect that children skip over words they don't understand simply because they are afraid to admit it. A culture of 'it is O.K. not to know yet' must pervade if children are to improve.

As we read I noticed that the children were beginning to ask questions of the text (Quiz Master Reading Role) without the prompt on the sheet. As they asked, I reminded them to record them on their sheets, and we discussed the possible answers to their questions before moving on. During these discussions we were also able to bring in snippets of prior knowledge which helped us to answer our questions - it may be that the Professor Reading Role doesn't benefit from any sort of recording but just needs to be brought in to discussions.

In summary:

It would seem that even after only three sessions the children began to use the strategies more readily: they were particularly more open to questioning a text as they read it and they became more enthusiastic about learning what the words meant. It was as if in practising the strategies and as a result understanding the text better, they became more keen to use the strategies again - perhaps because it helped them to understand and enjoy the story better. They certainly improved their ability to write a summary - this probably as a result of such a deep dive into the chapter with repeated reading.

The main area that needed improving was how they activated prior knowledge: it wasn't that they didn't as it was clear that they were all bringing and using knowledge of what farms were and so on, but this is at quite a basic level. Of course, there are two main potential issues at play when it comes to background knowledge:
  1. Do they actually have relevant background knowledge in the first place?
  2. Are they deliberately searching their background knowledge when they come across something they don't understand?
If you have any experience of working with these strategies, or even have tried out the Reading Roles relating to them, I'd love to find out what you've done to help children develop their use. Please point me towards relevant reading or share some examples from your own practice, either in the comments section, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Reading Roles PLUS Generic Reading Activity

Reading Roles PLUS is a resource designed to aid children’s metacognition when reading. Metacognition can be defined simply as ‘thinking about thinking’. Reading Roles PLUS takes familiar job titles and assigns them to reading strategies and skills thus giving children an easy-to-refer-to system for being more deliberate with their thinking during reading, with the ultimate goal of being able to comprehend texts. Alongside the job title (or role) there is a symbol which can be used as a further way to prompt certain kinds of thinking – some children may find these easier to remember.

For more information about Reading Roles PLUS please visit my blog post 'Reading Roles PLUS: Teaching Metacognitive Reading Comprehension Strategies'.

The Reading Roles focused on in the below activity are:
  • Director The director uses words and makes them into pictures and moving images. Focus: visualising. Pupils make mental images of a text as a way to understand processes or events they encounter during reading.
  • Student The student knows that they don’t yet understand everything and they work hard to make sure they understand new things. Focus: clarifying/monitoring. Pupils identify areas of uncertainty, which may be individual words or phrases, and seek information to clarify meaning.
  • Professor The professor thinks about what they already know and uses the information to help them understand new things. Focus: using background/prior knowledge. Pupils think about what they already know and make links. This helps pupils to infer and elaborate, fill in missing or incomplete information and use existing mental structures to support recall.
  • Quiz Master The quiz master asks lots of questions. Focus: questioning. Pupils generate their own questions about a text in order to check their comprehension.
All of these Reading Roles are based on widely-accepted reading comprehension strategies. For example, they are featured in the EEF's Improving Literacy in Key Stage Two Guidance Report where research supporting this way of teaching is judged as being extensive.


Reading Roles PLUS Generic Reading Activity

The aim of this activity is to help children gain a better understanding of a text. It focuses on using 5 of the main widely-acknowledged reading strategies. Although the activity itself has a goal of enabling understanding of one text, the cumulative effect of doing several of these activities is intended to be that children begin to use these strategies automatically when they read any text.

The activity and guideline sheet can be downloaded for free on the TES website.

Using the activity

There are no rules as to how this is used although there are some guidelines:
  • This activity is probably best used with a small portion of text: probably no more than 4 pages, but more ideally, in a longer novel particularly, a double page spread.
  • Children unfamiliar with the roles of Director, Student, Professor, Quiz Master and Editor will need these explaining to them one by one. It might be a good idea to focus on one role/strategy per reading session to begin with to help children to understand the different reading strategies.
  • Once children are familiar with the different roles/strategies it would be a good idea to read the text, complete the first box (Director) then discuss before reading the text again and completing the second box (Student) and so on. The first times of doing this may take quite a while!
  • As the children get more familiar with the format they may cope with fewer readings of the text and may remember to make a note of, for example, questions they have (Quiz Master) or words they don’t understand (Student) whilst reading for the first time. This is desired, showing that children are probably beginning to internalise the strategies of checking, questioning and so on.
  • The activity could provide a format for a group activity where teacher records under the headings and children don’t have their own copy – this would promote lots of discussion. Equally, children could complete their own. Children could also complete these about their own book, or about a class book individually as part of an independent session. The activity is versatile.
  • Before running the session it is worth going through the text and making a note of all the potential words and phrases that children might not know – a PowerPoint of pictures and definitions, for example, could then be created to share with the children if they identify those words and phrases as being ones they don’t understand. There will always be surprises though: things you thought the children would know but don’t.
  • Use of this should probably be short term – once the strategies have been practised explicitly in this way, or in other ways, children should be using them automatically. Once embedded, deliberate repeat practise of strategies such as these is thought not to have any further impact. If children don’t appear to improve in their reading comprehension then they made need further intervention of another kind, potentially focusing on deeper issues such as decoding, fluency, vocabulary or background knowledge.
With regards to these guidelines, and the intention of using activities like this, the guidance report has this to say:

'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. The effectiveness of teaching pupils to integrate multiple strategies is well supported by research evidence, and this approach is likely to be more effective than relying on single strategies in isolation. Ultimately, the aim is for pupils themselves to take responsibility for automatically using these strategies to monitor and improve their reading comprehension.'

Click here to see this activity exemplified.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Reading Roles PLUS: Philosopher Exemplified

The Philosopher Reading Role (click here to find out more about Reading Roles) is concerned with thinking. To explain more, here is my initial explanation of the Philosopher role:

Asking and answering philosophical questions about a text allows children to engage further with what they have read. Doing this has the potential to improve comprehension for the same reasons as we have discussed under other Reading Roles: the deliberate act of thinking about what has been read can lead to better comprehension.

Philosophical questioning and discussion should encourage children to ask and talk about more open-ended questions – questions of morality, questions about life and the universe and so on. Often these questions will touch on curriculum areas such as religious education and personal, social, health, cultural education (PSHCE).

SAPERE’s Philosophy For Children, Colleges and Communities (P4C) resource website is a useful starting point when teaching children to think philosophically:  https://www.sapere.org.uk/Default.aspx?tabid=289

SAPERE outline that philosophical questions:

  • Should be open to examination, further questioning and enquiry
  • Can't be answered by appealing only to scientific investigation or sense experience
  • Are questions about meaning, truth, value, knowledge and reality
Many children’s books lend themselves well to asking questions that fall into those categories. Teachers can look out for opportunities but should also be aware that children might surprise them with philosophical questions prompted by what they’ve read, especially if they have been trained to ask them.

To exemplify this I have some materials from one of my colleagues. As part of a local history unit he asked his year 4 children to read a case study on child labour in mills in the Victorian period (this can be downloaded here). They then spent some time discussing their thoughts on the issue of child labour, prompted by some questions: 


The children then followed this discussion up by answering some basic retrieval questions. I observed the subsequent lesson where children were preparing to write a report on working conditions in the mills from the perspective of a mill inspector. Their engagement with the above Philosopher activity clearly had an impact on their comprehension and understanding of the issue. The fact that the content bore some relevance to them - they too are children living in Bradford - possibly also factored in their engagement with the text and their comprehension of it. 

A few simple prompts in the form of questions are all it takes to get children thinking about what they have read. A lesson based on the Philosopher role does not need to take a lot of preparation - the time spent preparing some prompts is a fraction of the time the children will actually spend discussing their thoughts. 

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?

Monday, 30 April 2018

Reading Roles PLUS: Teaching Metacognitive Reading Comprehension Strategies

Reading Roles PLUS is a resource designed to aid children’s metacognition when reading. Metacognition can be defined simply as ‘thinking about thinking’. Reading Roles PLUS takes familiar job titles and assigns them to reading strategies and skills thus giving children an easy-to-refer-to system for being more deliberate with their thinking during reading, with the ultimate goal of being able to comprehend texts. Alongside the job title (or role) there is a symbol which can be used as a further way to prompt certain kinds of thinking – some children may find these easier to remember. The Reading Roles developed from the areas of the content domain in the KS2 test framework are also colour-coded in order to be another memory aid (more information here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2016/12/reading-roles-cognitive-domains-made.html).

Each of the Reading Roles promotes a different metacognitive strategy which children can actively use as they read. Below is a summary of each strategy but for more details and ideas a quick google search will arm you with plenty more information – these strategies are well-known and borne out by research.

To download this blog post as a PDF as well as other supporting materials, including an outline of all the Reading Roles please visit my TES resources page: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/reading-roles-plus-teaching-metacognitive-reading-comprehension-strategies-11890964

Student – clarifying/monitoring

This Reading Role encourages children to stop and think about things that they don’t immediately understand. Some children are content to skip over what they don’t understand which can lead to holes in their understanding – this strategy helps to avoid that happening.

Children should be taught to identify and parts of text that they need to clarify and then to do something to help their understanding. To do this they can:
  • Ask questions of themselves, such as: What does this word mean? How can I find out its meaning? What does this phrase mean in this context?
  • Re-read the parts they didn’t understand (sometimes reading out loud or hearing it read aloud will help them to understand something better)
  • Read ahead to see if it brings clarity to the parts they didn’t understand
  • Ask others for help
  • Begin to read more slowly and carefully
Professor - using prior/background knowledge

As this article points out ‘We've had our share of lively debates in the field of reading, but not on this particular topic: background knowledge. There is a virtual consensus that background knowledge is essential for reading comprehension.’ When we read we need background knowledge of word and phrase meanings, text type and for making inferences.

D.T. Willingham gives good examples of how having background knowledge is essential to comprehension. Look at the following excerpt:

“John’s face fell as he looked down at his protruding belly. The invitation specified ‘black tie’ and he hadn’t worn his tux since his own wedding, 20 years earlier.”

Of this he writes:

‘…. [having] background knowledge …means that there is a greater probability that you will have the knowledge to successfully make the necessary inferences to understand a text (e.g., you will know that people are often heavier 20 years after their wedding and, thus, John is worried that his tux won’t fit).’ (https://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/spring-2006/how-knowledge-helps)

This strategy can be employed easily in the classroom by asking questions such as:
  • What information do you already know about…?
  • Where have you seen something like this before?
  • What prior knowledge do you have that has helped you to understand? Where did this prior knowledge come from? Experience? Another book? A film?
Encouraging children to think deliberately about connections they are making should eventually lead to this strategy being an automatic skill.

There is an overlap with this Reading Role and others, most notably Translator – vocabulary and Interpreter – authorial intent. It helps to have prior knowledge of words and phrases in order to exercise these skills. The use of prior knowledge is also a significant component in making inferences (Detective – inferring).

Quiz Master – questioning

Questioning is a key part of other reading strategies which goes to show how important this strategy is for reading comprehension. Questions help us to engage with a text and this engagement leads to greater comprehension.

‘Numerous studies have shown that training students in self-questioning enhances comprehension (Andre and Anderson, 1979; Nolte and Singer, 1985; Palincsar, 1984; Singer and Donlan, 1982; Yopp, 1987). As Singer (1978) and Yopp (1988) have argued, the process of self-questioning, or active comprehension, facilitates comprehension because it requires students to use their metacognitive capacities and activates their background knowledge.’ 
(https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1459&context=reading_horizons)

In addition to questioning their own understanding of the text (see Student – clarifying/monitoring) children should be taught to ask questions about the text as they read. Examples of these questions might include:
  • What is the author hiding from me?
  • What is going to happen next? Why do I think that?
  • I wonder why the character feels that way?
  • What would I do if I was in that situation?
  • What other stories does this remind me of?
  • How does the author want the reader to feel right now?
  • Why did the character do that?
  • How will the character solve this problem?
It’s impossible to give a definitive list of questions that might be asked as every text should provoke different lines of questioning. The best way to teach this will be for the teacher to think aloud as they read, modelling the questions that they ask themselves when reading. The classic ‘W’ words are a good starting point for the development of questions about a text.

Director – visualising

Picturebooks are brilliant for comprehension – the pictures often deliberately give extra information that the text does not. Children who learn to read with picturebooks are usually quite good at using pictures to help them with their understanding. But what happens when they begin to read books with fewer pictures? They will need to learn to create their own pictures in their head, or ‘mind movies’.

This strategy is concerned with building a good mental image – the better a text has been comprehended the better the mental image (or visualisation) will be. But the act of deliberately trying to visualise a text means that readers are paying more attention and exerting more effort into the comprehension which actually ends up improving the levels of comprehension. This Reading Role could easily have been called Artist but stories in books are more akin to stories in movies as the story moves along.

The Reading Rockets website has a good example of how teachers might develop this strategy with children: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/picture-using-mental-imagery-while-reading

Philosopher – thinking

Asking and answering philosophical questions about a text allows children to engage further with what they have read. Doing this has the potential to improve comprehension for the same reasons as we have discussed under other Reading Roles: the deliberate act of thinking about what has been read can lead to better comprehension.

Philosophical questioning and discussion should encourage children to ask and talk about more open-ended questions – questions of morality, questions about life and the universe and so on. Often these questions will touch on curriculum areas such as religious education and personal, social, health, cultural education (PSHCE).

SAPERE’s Philosophy For Children, Colleges and Communities (P4C) resource website is a useful starting point when teaching children to think philosophically.

SAPERE outline that philosophical questions:
  • Should be open to examination, further questioning and enquiry
  • Can't be answered by appealing only to scientific investigation or sense experience
  • Are questions about meaning, truth, value, knowledge and reality
Many children’s books lend themselves well to asking questions that fall into those categories. Teachers can look out for opportunities but should also be aware that children might surprise them with philosophical questions prompted by what they’ve read, especially if they have been trained to ask them.

Click here to see Philosopher exemplified.

In addition to the Reading Roles outlined above, the following are also important reading strategies to teach:

Weather Forecaster – predicting
Editor – summarising
Detective – inferring (for more on inference click here)

For more on teaching reading:

Reading Roles Testimonials - find out about the impact from others who have already been using Reading Roles in the classroom

Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination? - a look at how best to use the different Reading Roles in your teaching

Reading Strategies vs. Reading Skills - What's The Difference? - an exploration of the terminology used when discussing teaching reading

How to write good comprehension questions - advice on preparing questions to aid children with their understanding

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Whole Class Reading: Providing Challenge For Children Working At Greater Depth

With whole class reading increasing in popularity, one of the most asked questions is around the issue of catering to the needs of all learners. Recently, I tackled how to help lower prior attainers within the whole class reading session and promised at the end of that blog post to write this one. So here it is.

To preface my suggestions I'd like to point out that this list is not at all exhaustive and what you do with the children in your class who are working at greater depth should very much depend on what their individual needs are, based on your assessment of them. I'll also admit that although some of these are ideas that I've tried out, others are ones that I'd like to try so any feedback when you have tried them would be gratefully received!

I've also managed to get some insights from some other teachers who are advocates of the whole class approach to reading, so it's not just me going on at you for once.

Howay, let's get doon to business.

Remove all scaffolds

This is an obvious one. To be working at greater depth you would expect a child to be working independently. If you've been providing vocabulary definitions for the children then remove this and require that the children use contextual and morphemic analysis to work out word meanings. If you've been giving children prompts as to how to word an answer, remove these. If you've been doing something similar to my Scaffolding Inference technique (where you lead children towards making inferences by first asking relevant questions about vocabulary and information retrieval) then switch to providing a variety of question types that don't link or scaffold.

Answers with more detail

This will just be an extension of the skills required to be age-related but you might require children to find more pieces of evidence from the text, and to give more detailed explanations as to how the evidence they have found helps them to answer the question. Sometimes structures borrowed from secondary school can be helpful (ie PEE) but an over-reliance on structures is probably not what you'd expect of children working at greater depth. In a sense, what you are looking for here is that reasoning that we expect children to do when working in maths. Linked to this, you might look to set more difficult inference questions, for example ones that might rely more heavily on prior knowledge*, than on what information is presented in the text (*all inferences rely on some amount of prior knowledge).

Succinct answers

If it's SATs you're thinking of, then time is at a premium. If you want your greater depth children to have a chance of answering the questions about the third text well, then they're going to need a decent amount of time during the hour to do it. This time is only really available if children work quickly through the first two texts. But quick work can often mean mistakes are made, so we need to ensure that rather than rushing children are really good at giving succinct answers. Perhaps you could give a word limit on answers, or get children to edit their existing answers down so that thy still communicate their understanding, but with an economy of words. This technique is part of the Reciprocal Reading approach.

Creative written responses

If children are already a dab hand at answering the whole range of comprehension questions (verbally or in writing) then ask them to produce a creative written piece in response to what they have read. Perhaps they could rewrite something in a different genre, write their own version of what they've read or write the next part of the story using clues from the text? You can specify as much or as little as you like as to the outcome, but you might want to stipulate that their writing demonstrates a reading skill, for example, that what they produce summarises all the main points of what they've read.

Comparisons to other texts

Children working at greater depth should have the capacity to read several texts within a lesson, including the whole class text, and to respond by comparing them. This variety of texts could be provided by the teacher, or selected from the library by the children themselves. You might want to point them in a general direction by asking them to get books on a particular theme, or containing certain character types. You could make it really difficult and ask them to draw parallels between their current reading book and the class text - there may be very few links so this would really stretch their comparison skills. The outcome of an activity like this could be written or verbal and could be developed into a short presentation such as one entitled If you like the class book, then you should also read...

Creating aids for future reading

This could be done as more of an extension task. Children could read ahead looking for words and phrases that their peers might need clarification on. They could then access a computer to create a interactive whiteboard slide which contains word meanings, or pictures of unfamiliar nouns, for the next lesson. This will encourage them to engage with the text thoughtfully and will also challenge their own vocabulary skills. Alternatively, they could create a set of questions, based on question stems and the reading domains (see my Reading Roles for a way to get children really autonomous with this) which could then be used in the next lesson.

Similarly, Ashley Booth (@MrBoothY6) suggests a children predict the questions they are going to be asked:
"I like to get my higher ability to read the text independently and then predict the questions they believe will be asked."
Read and respond to more

This is a simple tweak. Whereas lower attainers and your core group might be focusing on smaller chunks of text, children working at greater depth could be looking at large excerpts, or even whole chapters, particularly when it comes to summarising. For example, in the third text on the 2017 Reading KS2 test, questions were asked that require children to either skim or scan large parts of the text in order to locate information that would help them with providing an answer. This kind of exercise definitely builds resilience - our children working at greater depth can't get away with saying 'But there's nothing in the text to help me answer this!'.

Book-based debate

Debate is a great way to get children responding to a text. It would require a certain amount of collaboration if children were to work in teams to develop an argument either for or against a notion proposed by the teacher. Alternatively children could debate one on one after spending some time developing their argument independently. Another option would be to get children to write a discussion text where they present both sides of an argument. To really push children on this, you could children to work together to come up with a notion based on the book or text they have read. For example, notions could be around whether or not a character acted morally, whether or not a character is good or bad, whether or not a character should do what they are contemplating doing.

Linked to this, @_MissieBee has asked children more formal test-like questions along these lines:
"Something I’ve found that challenges the kids is to find evidence to support opposing points. For example, in a mock 3-mark question based on Wonder, I might ask “August is a shy character. How far do you agree with this statement?” They would they have to find evidence to argue both sides of the coins - where/how does he show he is shy, but also, does he do something that could prove that he isn’t? If they don’t do this effectively, it’s also a good lesson in how a quote can be taken out of context (in the media!)."
Another debate-related activity is this idea from Rhoda Wilson (@TemplarWilson):
"Posing questions with no clear-cut answers encourages the children to argue their point of view, justifying with evidence from the text.
For example, the question Who is most to blame for the death of Romeo and Juliet? could be answered and argued in lots of different ways:
  • The parents - After all they started the feud that forbade their relationship
  • Friar Lawrence - he married them. Surely he should've know better as a responsible man of the church?
  • Romeo and Juliet themselves?
Once the different arguments have been generated, they can be ranked from most to least reasonable and justified with evidence from the text."
And now for some more ideas from some of your favourite Whole Class Reading advocates:

Mr. Dix from @MrACDPresent recommends working on fluency and reading aloud:
"I'm currently trialling something I read Herts For Learning are giving a go in terms of intonation and expression. I'm spending more time focusing on children reading accurately and correctly, thinking about which words to emphasise in sentences and which syllables to stress when pronouncing longer words (we have very high % of EAL and this is proving beneficial). 
This in turn is allowing children working at greater depth to start playing with this aspect of the curriculum and it has been really exciting so far to see them do something they've never done in class before. Children can change the stressed words in sentences/extracts to see if they can change the meaning by doing so. They can also change their expression (tone, speed, volume) to manipulate meaning and discuss author intent. They then need to share and explain these meaning shifts to others. This is not only supporting their fluency when reading but also allowing them to purposefully manipulate inferences rather than just decipher them, as well as explain a complex process to their peers."
Alex Rawlings (@MrARawlings) has worked with his children who are working at greater depth on answer questions where two different reading domains are combined:
"An example of this would be requiring the children to make a prediction as well as give an explanation of author's intent. The question might be: 'Use the text to help you predict how the character will respond and explain why the author would allow this to happen.' So children would have to predict what would happen to a character next based on what is stated/implied in the text, and then record an explanation about why the author would want this to happen to the character. Maybe the author wanted you to feel sorry for him/her; or the author was staging a twist in the story as the plot has plateaued; or as the story has reached its climax, the author is beginning to tie the loose ends of the storylines; or maybe the author wanted the character's reaction to be unexpected as he/she wanted to leave the story on a cliffhanger."
I hope all these ideas are useful as you develop both your practice as a teacher of whole class reading and your children who are, or have the potential to be, working at greater depth. I leave you with a challenge of your own from Jo Payne (@MrsPTeach):
"Think of the children working at greater depth when planning your main lesson objective and activities. Aim them at your strongest readers and scaffold and support others to achieve the same or similar. That way, you know they'll be challenged appropriately. We call this top-down planning."

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

How To Write Good Comprehension Questions

Many of the commercially available reading tests often have some questions which are poorly written, so poor that it is unclear as to what the questioner is getting at. These ambiguously written questions can hardly help children to develop their ability to understand what they have read, nor can they be a useful assessment of what they understand. The problem is that asking good comprehension questions that make sense to children is really difficult – it’s an art we have to practice, and that we might not always get right. But what can we do to ensure that we provide the best questions possible in our reading lessons?

Choose Texts Carefully

Before thinking about the questions, you need to select the text carefully. If you know that you want to practise a particular reading skill then the text you choose needs to support that. For example, there would be very little point in choosing an instructional text to teach and practise inference skills. That is an extreme example, but it makes the point - make sure the text you choose supports the skills you want to teach.

Of course, sometimes you might select a text and the focus of that lesson will be simply understanding the text as a whole - in a lesson like this you wouldn't want to focus solely on teaching one particular skill, you'd want to ask the necessary questions which really ensure that children are reading for meaning.

Plan Ahead

Even the most experienced teachers run the risk of asking superficial and poorly-worded questions if they have not pre-read their text and planned out the questions they are going to ask. The tendency also is to ask low-level literal questions (retrieval) rather than any other kinds of questions which probe deeper into a text. Write down the questions you want to ask.

At this point I should point out that when I refer to writing good comprehension questions I don't necessarily mean questions that will be presented to children in written form. The questions that you write might only go as far as your planning sheet - in an actual lesson they will be questions that you pose orally. The same goes for the answers that children might give - they could be written or oral.

Use SATs Question Stems

One thing I would have to say in favour of the SATs is that at least they are well written and to a proficient reader the answers, however difficult, are not ambiguous. Sometimes perhaps the mark schemes are a little narrow, and children don’t get marks when they clearly have shown understanding, but that is not to do with the way the questions are asked.

We can learn how to write better questions by studying the KS1 and KS2 tests but unfortunately not all teacher in all year groups are familiar enough with them. Several useful documents have been produced containing the question stems from the most recent tests:
The questions in the documents above are organised into the different content domains – for an easy way to remember these content domains, please see my blog on the Reading Roles.

Use Different Response Formats

Many comprehension activities set by teachers are in the simple form of a written question. A quick flick through a test will provide plenty of other ideas for how to present questions:
  • Multiple Choice (tick or circle)
  • Ordering Events by Numbering
  • True or False
  • Matching
Some examples (the colours and symbols here relate to the Reading Roles):





It is well worth creating a word document that contains some pre-made questions like this to copy and paste each time you create a reading comprehension activity. I have plenty of examples available on TES so you don’t even need to create them yourself.

Although not featured recently in tests, not in their strictest form anyway, cloze tasks are a good way to test reading comprehension. When creating a cloze procedure it is best to remove words that are crucial to the meaning of the original text that children read. Cloze procedures can also include a multiple choice element if the line for the missing word is followed by a choice of several words for children to choose from.

In their book Understanding and Teaching Reading Comprehension, Jane Oakhill, Kate Cain and Carsten Elbro recommend true/false, multiple choice and cloze task questioning formats, but point out that the different formats lend themselves better to differen question types. For example, true/false judgements are better for retrieval questions, whereas a multiple choice question might help children to recognise an inference that can be made from what they have read.

Research shows that presenting questions in a true/false format is also good for children for whom English is an additional language. Click here to read more on this.

Focus on a Particular Skill

The temptation is to just ask the first questions that come into one’s head when reading the text intended for the reading lesson. This is fine for a summative assessment (that mixture of question types and skills is how the SATs are presented) and for understanding a text, but isn’t great for teaching children specific comprehension skills. If children are only ever presented with a scattering of questions across the content domains there is little opportunity for deliberate teaching and practice of particular skills such as inferring, summarising or predicting.

Most lessons should focus on one skill; sometimes a whole sequence of lessons will be focused on the teaching and practise of one skill. I have written more about how to break down the different kinds of inference so that they can be focused on in lessons: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

Scaffold Answers

There are several ways to do this so that you support children. I have written a lot about scaffolding inference by first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions, but there are other scaffolding structures, too.

Here's an example of scaffolding inference:


Before being able to make plausible predictions children might first need to answer relevant questions about vocabulary, they will then need to be able to retrieve information and make inferences based on them – prediction is a form of inference.

In order for children to answer questions about author’s purpose they might need to first answer well-crafted questions about vocabulary, retrieval and/or inference.

Similarly, in order to summarise information children may need to go through the process of answering relevant questions about vocabulary, retrieval, inference, author’s purpose before they can give an accurate summary of a text.

When writing sequences of questions like this it is a good idea to start with the final question you want children to answer, and to work backwards from there – the children should be able to draw on all the information they have given in previous questions to answer the final question.

To read more about potential scaffolding structures click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2017/12/scaffolding-structures-for-reading.html

Give Relevant Information

Don’t leave children searching forever for the place in the text where they might find their answer. Give them pointers such as:
  • Look at this sentence: 
  • Look at the paragraph beginning 
  • At the top of page it says…
Some examples:



Even the tests provide this sort of information. Children cannot demonstrate their comprehension skills any better without this information, although by giving no such clues children may practise their scanning skills.


Checking Your Questions

Once you have written your questions it is a good idea to either get another teacher to have a look through them, or to return to them later and read them with fresh eyes: Do they make sense? Is it clear what the answers should be? Do they need re-wording? Ask yourself these kinds of questions and edit accordingly - you don't want children to be turned off answering the questions due to a lack of clarity.

As Oakhill et al point out in 'Understanding and Teaching Reading Comprehension', it is important to check that the questions you have written actually check comprehension of the text. They outline how some questions could be answered using prior knowledge solely, without reference to the text at all.

Pie Corbett made a few salient points to me on this issue which I'll use to conclude:

"You have to be able to find a text worth reading then design questions (or focuses) that challenge and begin to deepen thinking. It is worth thinking about questions that are worth asking and ones that are not worth asking."