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

Monday, 16 October 2017

Reading Roles Testimonials



What Is Reading Roles?

The concept of 'Reading Roles' (resources available on TES resources) is to assign a well-known job, role or profession to each element of the reading content domain. Most children will already understand what the jobs entail in real life and therefore will fairly immediately be able to gain an understanding of each cognitive domain.

Each domain has a symbol and is colour-coded so that there are further ways for the children to remember the domains and what they mean.

These could be used to colour-code questions used in class - the symbols could also be assigned to written comprehension questions so children begin to identify question types.

Click here to read more in my original blog post about Reading Roles.

What are the benefits of using Reading Roles?

Unlike other similar systems that are available, teachers and children already have a good idea of what each role entails because they are familiar with what people with those jobs do in real life. Therefore, they only have to attach the new understanding of the different domains to previously-held understanding, rather than learning two new sets of information - usually an abstract name for each domain, and its meaning.

Reading Roles help teachers to be more deliberate in their teaching of reading skills. Rather than just ask a question inspired by the text, teachers can be more deliberate about asking particular kinds of questions, making their lessons more focused. For example, a teacher might spend a day or a week, asking only 'Editor' questions (summarising) ensuring that they model and children practise that particular skill. Other similar systems advocate a less focused approach where lessons are not focused on particular skills.

Teachers and children are able to use different cues to remember the different elements of the content domain: some remember them by colour, some by the symbol and others by the name. Each Reading Role has a child-friendly explanation of what the domain entails.

Can I See Some Examples of How They Are Used?

Yes, here:

Click here for examples of reading comprehensions (based on RJ Palacio's 'Wonder') which use the Reading Roles.

Click here for examples of reading comprehension (based on Sandi Toksvig's 'Hitler's Canary') which use the Reading Roles.

All the questions in the above examples were generated using question stems from the Key Stage 2 tests. Alison Philipson, a Literacy consultant in Bradford, has put together some very useful documents containing question stems taken from the KS1 and KS2 SATs which are all organised by the domains. These documents have been invaluable in our implementation of the Reading Roles.

What Do Others Think of The Reading Roles?

@son1bun (an English specialist at the Egmont Reading for Pleasure School of the Year 2018) discovered the Reading Roles via Twitter and had this to say:
"With the 2014 Curriculum, came the realisation that the Assessment focuses (AFs) for reading, which we had become so used to, were on longer 'in'. With a sharp intake of breath, we all began to tentatively use the words, Cognitive Domains (CDs). After the Frameworks for the KS2 tests were released and it finally dawned on us, that our beloved AFs had been buried. 
As the English lead for my school, I set about supporting my staff to get to grips with the CDs. We had always placed a great emphasis on teaching comprehension strategies, from Reception to Year 6, so it was just about finding an interesting way to do it. That's where Twitter came in. 
That Boy Can Teach (TBCT) is a prevalent voice on Edutwitter (which is where I first came across him). With his, 'golden nuggets' about writing, reading and all things education, he quickly became a favourite of mine. 
He did a series of blogs about reading and when I came across the Reading Roles, it was a eureka moment. TBCT stated, 'the concept of 'Reading Roles' is to assign a well-known job, role or profession to each of the domains'. It literally was a simple as that!

I introduced this to staff in the spring term and the response from teachers was 100 % positive. Most importantly though, the children love them. It is amazing how quickly they remembered the role and the domain it linked to...even in Reception. The roles are so easy to say and the children really relate to all the roles, as they are familiar to them.

I would strongly recommend this resource. It does what it says on the tin. If you want to get your children engaged in taking ownership of their reading comprehension, in a fun way, reading roles work... simple! Thanks TBCT!"
@rachstebbs (a teacher at my own school) had this to say:
"The introduction of Reading Roles to my class has helped me as a teacher to develop whole class reading sessions and think much more about the questions I am asking. Each one aligns to a domain and so I can be sure that I teach all necessary skills in a structured way. 
For children who had yet to reach the expected level, I initially focused on the Translator and Reporter skills. This meant that I could ensure they had understood the vocabulary in the text and were able to apply that vocabulary when retrieving answers. Initially this took them a significant proportion of the lesson, but I found that their speed increased as they became more adept at investigating the vocabulary (reading for context, using a dictionary etc). Gradually the vocabulary became less of a question focus because they were able to quickly analyse unfamiliar words using the same strategies, without needing the scaffold of an actual question.  
This meant they could begin to use other reading roles to answer a wider range of questions. Each role was taught explicitly, and the class quickly became familiar with the roles, as well as their associated colours and images. Initially, I stuck with a few limited question stems, but as the skills became more embedded, I could use a wider variety. This variety meant that children could practice one skill without it boring them! 
For those who were working at or above ARE, the reading roles developed their independence and confidence in answering questions. All answers were edited before marking, so after a discussion children could expand or change their responses if they wished."
Ben Trevail (@BenTrevail), Assistant Head at Edward Feild Primary School, has used Reading Roles too:
"Reading Roles have played a crucial part in the success of our move towards whole class reading across the school from Year 2 to Year 6. They provide a common language for abstract skills used by teachers and pupils and have been shared with parents too.
Each lesson focuses on one specific skill and using the roles has helped pupils understand the elements of the content domain to be taught and later assessed. There's advice in the EEF Improving Literacy in KS2 document about the gradual release of responsibility model and the explicit teaching of each skill so that's what we're trying to do. After Christmas the plan is for children to practise multiple roles in one lesson based on a stimulus. 
We also use them as our reading targets, building up a picture of pupils as readers by assessing their competence in each role."

Monday, 21 August 2017

Scaffolding Inference: Testimonials

Anna Storey (@StoreyRead), a teacher in the North East, sent me some feedback on her use of the scaffolding inference technique, which you can read about here: http://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/scaffolding-inference-trialling.html

I work in an inner city school with approx 95% EAL speakers, and high mobility. Reading has always been a target area for us, but never more so than this year after the 2016 test! Only 34% passed the reading test, so we knew we had to put some new procedures into practice.

The first step was moving to whole class reading. This has had a positive impact, but we're still figuring out the best way to address the needs of new arrivals and those who are unable to access the text in any meaningful or enjoyable way.

I was given the role of Reading Lead in October, so took to the internet in search of inspiration. I found your blog incredibly useful!

Like many schools, vocabulary was a huge issue for us; the main barrier to children's reading success. I held a staff meeting on ways of teaching vocabulary, and sequencing lessons for shared reading.

Your blog on scaffolding inference really helped me to link the 3 main areas of reading: vocab, retrieval and inference. I found it really useful to teach the three skills together (after spending a lot of time on using context et cetera to define vocab).

Looking at just one section of text in such great detail allowed the children to really get to grips with the intricacies of characters' actions, the narrator's description, and so on. The children also found it easier to remember the new vocabulary because they had an example in context to link it to.

With the prior knowledge taken care of, (definition of the word, and what it referred to in the book) the children were able to make more advanced inferences than I had seen, and took great pleasure in accessing the text on a deeper level.

The impact in SATs results was that our reading SATs score jumped from 34% in 2016 to 55% in 2017.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Teaching Reading: Pairing Non-Fiction with Fiction

Having spent a term with year 6 on reading fiction (and answering questions based on fiction texts) data analysis pointed firmly towards non-fiction as being next on the agenda. Data analysis aside, the reading of non-fiction texts is one of the key ways in which we learn throughout life; as the outgoing POTUS said: "Reading makes all other learning possible". In addition to this, as I have explored in previous blog posts, having a greater knowledge base makes us better readers of fiction and although reading fiction is one way to experience and learn new ideas, non-fiction is arguably better for this purpose.

Still wanting to read a class novel (the reasons for my desire to do this are probably obvious and would take up an entire blog post for themselves) I realised now was the time to put into practice one of my key takeaways from 'Reading Reconsidered': the concept of embedding non-fiction and pairing texts.

In chapter 3 of 'Reading Reconsidered' the authors describe how shorter non-fiction texts chosen to run alongside a class novel fall into two main categories:

Inside the Bull's-Eye: contains "content necessary to support basic understanding of the primary [main] text" (Lemov, Driggs & Woolway, page 123)

Outside the Bull's-Eye: causes "students to look at the primary [main] text in a new and unexpected or more rigorous way"(Lemov, Driggs & Woolway, page 123)

I would absolutely recommend that any teacher interested in teaching reading effectively read 'Reading Reconsidered' - the chapter on reading non-fiction is full of insights guaranteed to improve some aspect of practice. Focusing only on the Inside the Bull's-Eye category of text, here a just a few of those insights, the ones most relevant to this blog post:

"When students start from a base of knowledge, their inferences allow them to engage with the text with much greater depth - to learn from what they read as efficiently as possible. They're more attentive, both to the emotions of the characters and to the factual information presented in the fictional text." (Lemov, Driggs & Woolway, page 123)

"When texts are paired, the absorption rate of both texts goes up." (Lemov, Driggs & Woolway, page 123) The book also describes how children are more likely to understand a non-fiction text if they can relate its content to characters from a novel who they felt connected to - this particularly when the fiction text is begun to be read before introducing some of the non-fiction texts.

"...we typically choose [non-fiction] texts assuming that we are helping our students fill in knowledge gaps... but this results in non-fiction that constantly appears out of context..." (Lemov, Driggs & Woolway, page 125)

"Embedding, pairing non-fiction with related fiction, brings both to life." (Lemov, Driggs & Woolway, page 125)

So with this in mind I set about looking for paired texts to go with our current class novel 'Hitler's Canary' by Sandi Toksvig. The book is set during World War Two in Denmark and is all about the Danish underground resistance. It explore many themes such as antisemitism, homophobia and good and bad. As such, there are not a lot of books in our library with readily available texts to use as secondary texts so I began to prepare texts based on internet sources:

The main characters in the book are a family involved in theatre - there are constant references to theatre throughout the text (even the chapters are called, for example, Act 1 Scene 3) so my first paired non-fiction text was simply a list of theatre vocabulary - already, after reading just a few chapters, the learning from reading this has been invaluable.

The children in my class had not previously studied WW2 so it was important for them to have some context early on. Whilst we reading the second chapter we also read a fairly simple text, which included a world map, about the countries involved in the war; it also mentioned briefly the causes of the war.

The book fairly quickly throws up the idea of persecution, particularly antisemitic persecution. In passing pogroms are mentioned. Pogroms are not usually touched upon in primary schools however I saw it as a way into the whole concept of antisemitism. Rather than skim over the mention of pogroms, perhaps with a brief definition, I decided to prepare a linked text about them. It was full of challenging vocabulary (which the session focused on as well as information retrieval) but the children are already linking this level of persecution with every mention of a Jewish character in the story, helping them to understand the gravity of the situation some of the characters are facing.

Continuing on the theme of antisemitism and persecution I decided to preempt the part of the story when Jews begin to be taken away by the Nazis. I wanted, as mentioned previously, children to understand and anticipate how the Jewish characters (and their friends) would be feeling about the events in the story. For this I chose a non-fiction with a certain amount of narrative: the life story of Zigi Shipper, a holocaust survivor. As well as the narrative provided in the text, there is lots of simply communicated background information about the Nazis and their death camps.

All the resources referred to, along with the 'Reading Role'-linked comprehension activities that children completed alongside the secondary non-fiction texts are available to download here at the TES Resources site. This resource will continue to grow as we read more of 'Hitler's Canary'.

The challenge of this approach will be continuing to find a variety relevant texts - the temptation will be to provide an endless stream of  'non-chronological reports' rather than a mix of newspaper articles, advertisements, information leaflets, diary entries, letters and so on. Hopefully, with careful selection (and creation), I will be able to provide the children with a range of non-fiction text that increase their understanding of the events in 'Hitler's Canary' at the same time as bolstering their knowledge of World War Two and their understanding of issues such as racism and tolerance. As their knowledge and understanding grows, it will be interesting to see if their inferences do become more accurate - they are already engaging with the novel at a deeper level than a previous group of children who were not provided with the paired non-fiction text.

On a similar theme, a group of children working towards greater depth in reading have been reading 'The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas' in our lunchtime book club - they have found the selected supporting texts for 'Hitler's Canary' extremely helpful in their understanding of John Boyne's well-known novel. They have also naturally begun to compare and contrast the two stories, drawing parallels - some are so clear that we sometimes forget which of the two books we're reading! Pairing two fiction texts can be powerful in many of the same ways as mentioned above, particularly if both stories are based on true events. When it comes to World War Two there are many novels to choose from!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

UPDATED: Teaching Reading: A Simple Approach

In response to the 2016 KS2 Reading Test I've spent quite a bit of time researching and re-thinking my approach to teaching reading. This has resulted in the creation of a few resources which I've already blogged about. I have been asked a few times about the context in which I use these resources - this blog post will outline what a basic reading lesson might look like. Following the links throughout will lead you to more thorough information about the techniques and ideas mentioned.

Timetabling - my reading lessons happen on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:45 - 9:45. The children come in to a 'Do Now' which usually involves reading the day's chapter/passage/excerpt independently (more on this later). On those mornings I also teach writing-focused English for the following hour and then 1.5 hours of maths after break.

Whole-Class Reading - I do not have a 'traditional' carousel of activities. All children read and answer questions about the same text; research shows that children benefit from being exposed to higher level texts (when the teacher reads it aloud to them before they answer questions on it). Many of my reading lessons are based on a class novel which we read over a half term or a term; to facilitate this we have 'class sets' of many quality texts. Many people ask how the lower prior attainers can be catered for in these sessions - I've written more about that here. For more on the ideology behind whole-class reading please read Rhoda Wilson's blog post about it.

Lesson Sequence - During these sessions I ask the children to first read the chapter/excerpt independently, then I read the same passage aloud, then without discussion the children attempt to independently work through the questions giving written answers. Once the majority of children have done this we hold a whole-class discussion and I (or children who have written good answers) model best answers and children edit what they have written (in purple so as to distinguish their original answer from their edited answer). This sequence was inspired by Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov. This will usually be followed by a period of reading aloud the next part of the text (usually by me but I plan to begin to ask children to read aloud more often) which is often, but not always, accompanied by lots of discussion and modelling of my thought processes as a reader.

Reading For Pleasure - Many school plan elaborate initiatives in an attempt to entice children into reading with the hope that this will lead to them choosing to read for pleasure. My reading lessons always contain a time of just reading the class novel for enjoyment - books are the most powerful tool when it comes to getting children to love and enjoy reading. I've written more about it here in my blog post entitled 'On Why I'll Still Be Dressing Up For World Book Day And The Power Of Books'.

Comprehension Activities - I use the various question stem documents which are available to set my questions, and I colour-code each question and put the relevant Reading Roles symbol with them (see below for more on Reading Roles). Many of these comprehension activities will follow my Scaffolding Inference structure (see below) although I do teach other lessons which focus on the other cognitive domains. Examples of these activities can be found here. I have written a whole blog post entitled 'How To Write Good Comprehension Questions' which gives more insight into how I go about setting questions for reading lessons. In at least some lessons there is a focus on particular reading strategies, such as inference-making which I have written about here: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making.

Reading Roles - help children and staff understand the 8 cognitive domains. Each of the cognitive domains is colour-coded and has a symbol assigned - as mentioned, we use these colours and symbols when designing our comprehension activities. Reading Roles have been used by other teachers in other schools - some of them have written about it here.

Scaffolding Inference - this is something I've designed and developed based on research and findings from last year's SATs. Please see the quick reference guide which outlines this approach. I would say that this is the most effective thing I have done as it focuses on the reading test's three key areas: vocabulary, retrieval and inference. Not only can inference be scaffolded, other reading strategies can too: Scaffolding Structures For Reading Comprehension Skills.

Growing Background Knowledge - this isn't always easy to do as background knowledge can vary so much from child to child. What we do know is that our understanding of a text hinges greatly on what we already know - this might be a knowledge of vocabulary or just a more general knowledge. I have written about possible strategies to take when it comes to building children's background knowledge: 5 Ways To Make Texts With Unfamiliar Contexts More Accessible To ChildrenAttacking Children's Immunity To Imaginative Literature.

EAL reading activity structure - this is an activity (again, linked to the Reading Roles) which I have designed based on research on how to support EAL learners when accessing new texts.

Pairing non-fiction texts with fiction texts - this increases understanding of both the fiction text and the non-fiction text and has sparked some really deep conversations about moral, ethical and religious issues. I have also written about this for the TES: Why Every Primary School Needs To Embrace Non-Fiction.

We also use these resources in English lessons (with our Talk 4 Writing texts) and topic lessons - much of our work centres around texts so these activities help to ensure children comprehend the information.

The fruit of this approach is that in December over 50% of children in my group taking the 2016 KS2  Reading Test were working at or above average (according to the test's thresholds) after one term of year 6. This is a dramatic increase when compared to my results in last year's END of year results based on the same test.

If there is something you feel I've not covered, please ask and I will edit this to give a fuller picture of my approach. I'm not assuming it to be a silver bullet but am seeing good results after teaching in this way for a term.

Click here to read about how following these approaches impacted on our SATs results.

Further reading about reading from my blog:

Being A Reading Teacher

Reading: 2 Things All Parents and Teachers Must Do

Reading: Attacking Children's Immunity To Imaginative Literature

Reading for Pleasure

Changing Hearts, Minds, Lives and the Future: Reading With Children For Empathy

The Best RE Lesson I Ever Taught (Spoiler: It Was A Reading Lesson)

The Unexplainable Joy of Comparing Books

The More-ness of Reading

The Power Of Books

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Structuring Reading Comprehension for EAL Learners

Three staples of guided reading, be that a whole class session or a ‘carousel’ of activities, are the provision of high-quality texts, teacher reading aloud to children and the subsequent talk about texts.

The British Council website expands on these three pillars:
Reading as a collaborative activity is very beneficial to EAL learners:
  • Read aloud to learners. Recent research has shown that being read to for as little as ten minutes a day can make a significant difference to a learner’s reading ability.
  • Talk about what is being read. Pinpoint specific elements in the text through discussion. EAL learners need practice in reading between and behind the lines: they need to see that text may imply more than it actually says.
  • Make available high-quality texts (picture books/short novels/poetry/manga/illustrated non-fiction) that will encourage EAL learners to read for pleasure.
The British Council website makes other recommendations more specific to EAL learners (a catch-all term I know, but useful for brevity) which are not always incorporated into guided reading lessons:
For reading at paragraph or longer text level:
  • Give learners a clear idea of what to expect from the text, and give them plenty of time to engage with it. Consider providing a brief summary, in pictures or in straightforward English.
  • Prepare for reading: check text in advance, to work out which vocabulary items and structures may be challenging, not only for EAL learners but for others. Consider pre-teaching these.
  • Be aware of familiar vocabulary used in ways which may obscure meaning. What’s a ‘piggy bank’? What happened when the King ‘gave someone his daughter’s hand in marriage’? Also, be aware that texts designed for less able monolingual readers may pose substantial difficulties for EAL learners. The increased use of prepositional verbs and colloquial expressions (‘Oh, I give up!’) can make these texts easy to decode but difficult to understand.
  • Ask learners to say whether discrete sentences (taken from the text, or paraphrases) are true or false.
  • Give learners a number of false sentences, and ask them to reword the sentences to make them true.
The ASCD website also suggests:
  • Use informal comprehension checks: To test students' ability to put materials in sequence, for example, print sentences from a section of the text on paper strips, mix the strips, and have students put them in order.
And the Reading Rockets website adds:
  • The best kinds of activities for building background knowledge are those that get students involved in manipulating language and concepts, rather than just receiving information from the teacher. These include experiential activities such as science experiments, classification activities, role playing, previewing a reading and generating questions about it, and sharing predictions about the answers to those questions.
In order to make meeting these demands a little easier I put together a basic structure for an EAL reading activity. It can be used as a standalone activity or as a pre-cursor to further activities and questioning. It should always be used in conjunction with those three pillars mentioned at the beginning – particularly the pillar of discussion: the activity sheet should not be completed totally independently by the children. In addition to this, it should be noted that once children have made an attempt at reading the text independently (if capable) then the teacher should read aloud the same text to them.

The colour-coding and symbols in the proforma relate to my ‘Reading Roles’ resource which is designed to make the elements of the content domain more memorable for staff and children alike - click here to read my blog post about it..

Download the resource here from TES Resources.

Click here to download an example of how this resource might be used - this resource is based on David Walliams' 'The Boy in the Dress'.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Reading Roles: Elements Of The Content Domain Made Memorable

A few years ago there were many resources available supporting children's understanding of the Assessment Focuses. Teachers found it beneficial to help children to identify the kinds of questions they were being asked about texts. The idea behind making children aware of the question type is that they might have a better idea of what the answer should look like in order to give better verbal and written answers.

With the recent introduction of the content domain (as set out in the English Reading Test Framework) and the upset caused by the difficulty of last year's KS2 reading test I set about reviving an idea that an old colleague of mine and I had a few years ago. Back then, we joked about conceiving it and setting up as consultants, peddling it around the local area but it wasn't even worth creating the resource as there were so many out there already that did the job just fine. Others out there are devising ways to help children understand the elements of the content domain however I believe the simple resource I have devised has some merits.

The concept of 'Reading Roles' is to assign a well-known job, role or profession to each of the domains. Most children will already understand what the jobs entail in real life and therefore will fairly immediately be able to gain an understanding of each element of the content domain. We have been trialing this for a number of weeks now and the children are already able to articulate what questions in each domain require of them. There is still work to be done - confidence in identifying question types consistently, but they now have the tool to do so.

Here are the 8 elements of the content domain and their assigned 'roles' (written for KS2):


This resource can be downloaded here, along with its KS1 counterpart and posters for both KS1 and KS2 containing one domain/role on each page.

As is obvious each domain is colour-coded and is assigned a simple symbol as a memory aid. We have used the colours and symbols to identify question types in the comprehension tasks we have set - the aim of this is to familiarise the children with the question types. Eventually we will remove the colours and symbols and focus more on question type identification. See here for examples of the comprehension tasks I've set in this way.

Click here for some testimonials from people who have used Reading Roles effectively in their school.

Again, as with the Scaffolding Inference technique, I'd love to hear from anyone who begins to use this. It'd be very interesting to see how this helps other children and in what ways it can be developed and used.

With thanks to Herts for Learning for the focus of each element of the content domain.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Scaffolding Inference (Quick Reference Guide)

Inference skills in the new cognitive domains are summarised as:

2d: make inferences from the text / explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text

Penny Slater's helpful article 'Reading Re-envisaged' explores the links between vocabulary knowledge and inference skills. Her conceptual model (pictured left) represents how inference skills rely on good knowledge and understanding of vocabulary. In her own words:

"...the model signifies the importance of vocabulary knowledge. If we consider each circle to be a moat which the children must cross before they are able to access the skills within the innermost circles, then we see clearly that they will not get very far if they do not understand the meanings on the words on the page. This chimes with what teachers are finding in their classrooms: lack of knowledge of vocabulary is a complete blocker. You can’t make any inroads into comprehension without addressing this issue first."

So, another cognitive domain comes into play, one which children must be confident with if they are going to be able to make inferences:

2a: give / explain the meaning of words in context

This approach also explore the possibility that development of inference skills could be supported through the use of retrieval skills.

2b: retrieve and record information / identify key details from fiction and non-fiction

The Theory

The theory that I have been trialing is that inference skills can be taught by first studying the vocabulary used and then retrieving relevant information before going on to make inferences about a text. If inference is 'a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning' then first a reader must be able to identify where the evidence is (retrieval) and before that the reader needs to understand the words used to present the evidence. In the model I propose (see right) the understanding of vocabulary is the foundation on which information retrieval is built, which in turn provides the support for making inferences.

The Practice


1. Decide on an inference question (2d); the question stems based on the 2016 KS2 reading test made available by Herts for Learning on their blog are really useful for this.
2. Begin to work backwards - work out where in the text the children need to go to locate useful evidence and ask a suitable retrieval question (2b).
3. Continue to work backwards - which words or phrases do the children need to understand in order to be able to understand the evidence then ask a careful vocabulary question (2a).
4. Once this process is complete (it may take a while at first), check that the 2a and 2b questions will adequately lead the children into answering the 2d question. If not, go back and tweak the questions.

For a more in-depth exploration of this technique, including examples of questions: http://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/scaffolding-inference-trialling.html
Many of the examples from the blogpost are available for download here:
https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/-11416437

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Scaffolding Inference: Trialling a Teaching Technique

If you are short of time but would like to get the gist of this technique, please see my Quick Reference Guide: http://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/scaffolding-inference-quick-reference.html


With inference being the most-assessed skill in the Key Stage 2 reading tests it is no wonder that teachers spend a lot of time attempting to teach children how to infer meaning from texts, with varying degrees of success. It's the sort of skill that readers (by that I mean those who make a regular habit of reading, and enjoy it) possess without really learning. Because of this, it is a skill that is hard to teach; many teachers infer naturally so deconstructing how they do it in order to teach a process to children can be difficult.

In case you missed it, the reading test framework has rearranged reading skills into eight content domains. The fourth domain, the one we are concerned with here, is: 
2d: make inferences from the text / explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text
Background Reading

The chapter in 'Reading Reconsidered' entitled 'Writing for Reading' (read an excerpt here) discusses the various structures a teacher might use within a reading session. The ideas presented widen the scope of how different task sequences can support the development of different skills. This made me think more carefully about how the teaching and learning sequence could build to help children to infer more successfully.

Penny Slater's helpful article 'Reading Re-envisaged' explores the links between vocabulary knowledge and inference skills initiated the thinking that led to my development and trial of this method. Her conceptual model (pictured left) represents how inference skills rely on good knowledge and understanding of vocabulary. In her own words: 
"...the model signifies the importance of vocabulary knowledge. If we consider each circle to be a moat which the children must cross before they are able to access the skills within the innermost circles, then we see clearly that they will not get very far if they do not understand the meanings on the words on the page. This chimes with what teachers are finding in their classrooms: lack of knowledge of vocabulary is a complete blocker. You can’t make any inroads into comprehension without addressing this issue first."
Anne Kispal's 'Effective Teaching of Inference Skills for Reading', in section 2.3 (page 26) goes into more detail on this and the document as a whole is an informative read. It has also been shown that 95%-98% of the vocabulary in a text needs to be understood in order to be able to derive a general meaning of the text (Schmitt, Jiang & Grabe, 2011).

So, another content domain comes into play, one which children must be confident with if they are going to be able to make inferences:
2a: give / explain the meaning of words in context
I also had an inkling that development of inference skills could be supported through the use of retrieval skills.
2b: retrieve and record information / identify key details from fiction and non-fiction
Children usually find retrieval easier than inference, however it is worth noting that in the 2016 KS2 tests even some of the retrieval questions were difficult, often because of the vocabulary skills that are needed in order to retrieve information. There are plenty of places to learn about how to improve vocabulary skills, so I won't go into detail on that in this article, but I must stress that it is important that children are taught skills such as contextual and morphemic analysis before they attempt the process I suggest. Before my own trial I spent around 4 weeks focusing on teaching vocabulary skills, allowing the children plenty of time to practice.

The Theory

The theory that I have been trialing is that inference skills can be taught by first studying the vocabulary used and then retrieving relevant information before going on to make inferences about a text. If inference is 'a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning' then first a reader must be able to identify where the evidence is (retrieval) and before that the reader needs to understand the words used to present the evidence. In the model I propose (see right) the understanding of vocabulary is the foundation on which information retrieval is built, which in turn provides the support for making inferences.

The Practice

In short:
  1. Decide on an inference question (2d); the question stems based on the 2016 KS2 reading test made available by Herts for Learning on their blog are really useful for this.
  2. Begin to work backwards - work out where in the text the children need to go to locate useful evidence and ask a suitable retrieval question (2b).
  3. Continue to work backwards - which words or phrases do the children need to understand in order to be able to understand the evidence then ask a careful vocabulary question (2a).
  4. Once this process is complete (it may take a while at first), check that the 2a and 2b questions will adequately lead the children into answering the 2d question. If not, go back and tweak the questions.
There are different ways in which the 2a and 2b questions might provide a scaffold for answering the 2b question. In order to explain this I will share some examples. All the examples are based on 'Wonder' by R.J. Palacio. I chose 'Wonder' as our first class novel because although it is fairly heavy in subject matter, it is easy-going with its vocabulary. I wanted to begin by supporting children's acquisition of vocabulary skills in a non-threatening manner before we started to read novels with more advanced language.

The first excerpt takes place in the chapter entitled 'The Summer Table' in which a girl named Summer joins August who is alone at a lunch table on his first day at school.


In the first example (pictured above ) the scaffolding structure can be seen clearly: question 1 is a 2a question, question 2 is a 2b question and question 3 is a 2d question. There is a very obvious grammar discussion to be had to surrounding common nouns and proper nouns - the children asked for clarification on this despite the words in question 1 not being capitalised. The discussion we had cleared up possible later misconceptions that Summer meant the table was only for people named Summer - a misconception which would have been at odds with the basic fact that August was also sitting at the table. I've noticed that test questions are often set about texts with potential misconceptions so I try to take opportunities to incorporate similar tricky bits in my teaching.

The second example is taken from the same chapter; the text follows directly the previous excerpt:



The second example does not lead the children directly to the answer for question 3 but it does provide background knowledge which should inform their own thoughts on the motivation for Summer's actions. In answering question 1 the children realised that there was a long list of names and by answering question 2 they began to get the sense that the quote in question 3 was true; they gained their own insight into why August says that most of the names weren't actually summer names. Questions 1 and 2 allowed the children to understand what Summer was doing (making a long list, bending the rule that only children with summer names could sit on the table) before they began to think about why she was doing it.

Question 3 actually also requires previous knowledge of the text - the children must have already grasped that August (a boy with facial birth defects) is sitting alone on his first ever day in school whilst children whisper about his looks in order to infer that Summer agrees that so many children can sit with them so that he finds more friends. The more perceptive children might also realise that Summer also wants him to have fun so that he forgets about his situation and so that he feels like all the other children. I was satisfied that our previous reading and dialogic discussion (thanks Mat Tobin for the terminology) meant that they understood the whole text well enough to approach this question.

It should also be noted that here there are two retrieval questions and no vocabulary-based question; the vocabulary they needed had been covered in the previous set of questions.

Here is an example of a child's work. This task was undertaken independently directly after completing the previous task (see above). The first task was completed independently prior to a whole-class discussion and then children edited their answers (with a purple pen) based on the discussion that was had. This example contains no edits - the child was able to answer question 3 successfully first time. It is worth noting that this child is one of the best readers in my class - for her the scaffold has had almost immediate impact. In further blog posts on this subject I will provide before and after evidence.


For the next examples I must give credit to Rhoda Wilson for her excellent 'Moving Beyond Comprehension Sheets' resource as I used it along with the Herts for Learning question stems to vary the question styles in these activities.

Here's an example of a very scaffolded set of questions - the scaffold questions (questions 1, 2 and 3) make the answer to question 4 very obvious.


This one worked so successfully that I actually encouraged the children to further their answers for number 4 by explaining how the evidence showed that the children were unsure how to treat August - this was not initially required of them, and when compared to similar questions in the 2016 KS2 test, this would be classed as an inference (2d) question without the addition of an explanation. It also made me contemplate giving them the inference question to answer before the scaffold questions, as well as after, in order to compare the difference and the impact the scaffold questions have on the quality of answer.

Some more activity examples:


Here is an example of child's work. This child entered year 6 in September assessed at a year 4 standard for reading. This method appears to have been very successful for him, even after only a few times working in this way.


One more example:
What Next?

If this way of scaffolding inference questions works for the children in my class then I will begin to adapt it in order to support the development of skills outlined in the other content domains:
2c; summarise main ideas from more than one paragraph
2e: predict what might happen from details stated and implied
2f: identify / explain how information / narrative content is related and contributes to meaning as a whole
2g: identify / explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases
2h: make comparisons within the text
It will also be important to begin to remove the scaffolding - for some children sooner than others - in order to encourage children to use the skills independently; one question often raised against methods such as this is how will this approach help children when the structure is removed, for example, in the SATs reading test? And it's a good question. My hope is that it will provide them with a method for answering inference questions; a method which will be embedded in their way of working. If this technique is successful then children will naturally make inferences using their ability to understand the vocabulary (these skills will need to be taught in addition to this method of scaffolding questions) and their ability to locate and retrieve information from the text.

The trial of this technique for scaffolding inference is in its infancy. As such I will follow up this blog post with others including commentary on what I learn, further examples of questions and some more examples of children's work showing the impact.

I would also love to engage in discussion on this idea - please use the comments section to tell me where I am going wrong, to point me in the direction of relevant research or additional reading or to share your own examples if you decide to try it!

Click here to read a testimonial from one teacher who used the technique.

Click here to read about how this, and other changes made to the way we teach reading, impacted on our SATs results.