Showing posts with label scaffolding inference. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scaffolding inference. Show all posts

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?

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

The EEF KS2 Literacy Guidance document states that "reading comprehension can be improved by teaching pupils specific strategies that they can apply both to monitor and overcome barriers to comprehension". It goes on to say "strategies should be modelled and practised to ensure they become embedded and fluent". It concludes that "The potential impact of these approaches is very high, but can be hard to achieve, since pupils are required to take greater responsibility for their own learning. This requires them to learn three things: what the strategy is, how the strategy is used, and why and when to use the strategy. Developing each of the strategies requires explicit instruction and extensive practice".

In order for children to make inferences independently the EEF's gradual release of responsibility model is useful. It describes how greater responsibility for using these strategies can be transferred to the pupil:

1. an explicit description of the strategy and when and how it should be used;
2. modelling of the strategy in action by teachers and/or pupils;
3. collaborative use of the strategy in action;
4. guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility; and
5. independent use of the strategy.

In my last blog post 'Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making' I concluded that children will probably benefit best from having the chance to practise specific inferences based on the different types of inference-making listed above. If teachers can provide questions that are of a similar structure, and provide structures for the answers too, then children who are at the learning stage of inference-making might have a better of chance of being able to make inferences whenever they are reading.

With this in mind, here are some inference question focuses that might help teachers to structure their lessons and questioning more carefully in a way that allows them to model particular skills which the children can then practise:

Making inferences about actions

Ask questions about:
  • how a character feels
  • why a character feels a particular way
  • why a character acts/behaves in a certain way (motives)
  • why a character says certain things (motives)
  • why a character says things in a certain way (motives)
  • why a character does things in a certain way (motives)
  • what a character thinks
  • why a character thinks/believes/expects (etc) certain things
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children. I suggest this sequence of questions takes place over a series of lessons, rather than in just one lesson, especially where written answers are required:

<quote from text> This tells is that x feels... <multiple choice answers> 

Provide a quote from the text that children can infer information from, provide a description of what is felt/said/done and then give a choice of possible inferences for children to choose from. Questions like this might be used more often with younger children. As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below:


Character feels x. How do you know? 

Possible answer structure: In the text it says ________________. This shows the character feels x because _______________________.

Give a description of what is felt and ask for children to locate information that supports this theory. Children will probably benefit from being asked several questions with the exact same question and answer structure in order to practise based on what the teacher has modelled, as exemplified here:



This type of question is also exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below, where the cat is the character and the lack of enjoyment is the feeling and the request for three ways in which the cat shows this is in place of the How do you know? question:


How does x feel? What does x think? Explain your reasons. 

Possible answer structure: X feels ________________. I know this because in the text it says ________________. This shows the character thinks x because _______________________.

This is more difficult than the previous questions as the child has to do more: they have to find their own word to describe what is felt/thought etc and they have to support it with evidence from the text. Ensure that children are presented with several opportunities within a lesson to answer questions at this difficulty level - keep the lesson focused on this one question type. As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below where the question asks about thoughts of expectation:


Making inferences about events

Ask questions about:
  • what happened (where details are not given explicitly and retrieval skills can't be used)
  • why something happened
  • where something happened
  • when something happened
  • how something happened
  • why something happened in a certain way
  • what was unusual or different about what happened
  • how something has come to be
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children:

Questions about what happened:

<quote from text> What do you think happened? <multiple choice answers> 

What evidence is there that x happened?

Possible answer structure: In the text it says ________________. This shows that x happened because _______________________.

In the paragraph beginning... what do you think happened? Find two pieces of evidence from the text to support your answer.

Possible answer structure: I think that _____________________ happened. I know this because in the text it says ________________. This shows that x happened because ______________________.

Questions about why something happened:

Read the story/paragraph beginning... Join each event to its cause. <provide a list of events next to a jumbled list of the causes for each event>

<quote from text> Why did x happen? <multiple choice answers> 

x happened. Why did this happen? Give evidence from the passage.

Possible answer structure: I think x happened because in the text it says ______________________. This suggests that __________________________________.

Questions about where something happened:

Read the story/paragraph beginning... Join each event to its location. <provide a list of events next to a jumbled list of the locations of each event>

Where did x take place? <multiple choice answers> 

Where was a when x happened? Explain how you know using evidence from the text.

Possible answer structure: I think a was _________________________. I think this because in the text it says ______________________. This suggests that __________________________________.

Making inferences about state

Ask questions about:
  • what something is
  • what a place or object is like
  • why a place or object is as it is
  • what we know about someone's character (what a person is like)
  • where something is (different to where something happened)
  • why something is where it is 
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children:

Questions about what something is:

Tick two pieces of evidence from the text that tell us that the object is x. <provide several quotes from the text which may or may not provide evidence for the state of x>

The object is x. Find three pieces of evidence from the text that support this theory.

<provide an excerpt from the text> What does this suggest that x is? Give your reasons.


Possible answer structure: This suggests that x is ________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

What is x? How do you know?

Possible answer structure: x is _______________________. I think this because in the text it says ______________________.

Questions about what a place is like:

The place is x. Which of the options below could be used as evidence? <provide several quotes from the text which may or may not provide evidence for x>

The place is like x. Find supporting evidence in the text.

Possible answer structure: This suggests that x is ________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

What feeling does the character get of place x? What evidence is there in the text?

Possible answer structure: The character thinks the place is ______________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

Questions about what a person is like:

<quote from text> The character is made to seem...: <multiple choice answers> 

<quote from text> How is the character made to seem x? Explain two ways, giving evidence from the text to support your answer.

Possible answer structure: In the text it says _____________________ which suggests that the character is _________________________.

As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below, where the character is the whale and the characteristic (mysterious) is given:

<provide an excerpt from the text> What impression does this give us of the character? Give your reasons.

Possible answer structure: In the text it says _____________________ which suggests that the character is _________________________. It also says that __________________________ which makes the character seem ______________________.

As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below where the characteristic is not given and information to support the answer has to be found:

Read the whole text. Which aspects of the character's personality change? Use examples from the text.

Possible answer structure: At the beginning the character is _______________ but by the end they are ________________________. I know this because at the start the text says ________________________ and at the end it says __________________________.

This is an example of making a global inference based on understanding of the whole text. This can be more difficult than making local inferences about small parts of the text (as in the previous question examples).

A note on answer structures: the examples given are all full sentence answers - you may want to teach ways of being more concise in order to save time, particularly with timed-tests in mind. Bullet-pointing and more note-like answers are often good for this.

These questions and more can be downloaded as a simplified word document at TES resources.

I have by no means covered all the possible kinds of inferences in this blog post, nor have I exemplified them all. Hopefully what I have managed to convey is:
  • Inference-making can be modelled by the teacher and practised by the children
  • Teachers can ask specific kinds of questions to provide practise of inference-making
  • Children can practise specific kinds of inference-making
  • Children can be provided with structures to help them answer questions
  • There are a levels of question difficulty within each kind of inference questions
  • Children can be given multiple opportunities to practise each kind of question, especially where there is a written answer
For an example of how this might work with a real class novel, please see my planning for the first 10 chapters of 'My Dad's A Birdman' by David Almond. 5 whole lessons are focused on making inferences about characters' motives and a further 5 lessons focus on making inferences about characters' feelings. The first lessons in each section feature multiple choice questions, moving onto questions which require increasingly more writing using an answer structure.

This blog post is the fourth in a series of four:


See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.
How To Write Good Comprehension Questions - this blog post goes into more detail on what else to take into consideration when it comes to writing your own comprehension questions.

Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making


Following on from my blog post entitled 'Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?' this blog post provides practical advice about how inference-making might be taught in a structured and simple way. If you are interested in the research base for what I put forward in this blog post then do read 'Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?' first. 

Based on my reading of research, and on my analysis of my own experience of teaching inference-making, I put forward that when we make inferences we are thinking about why things are or are not so. To break that down I also suggest that:

  • Inference-making can revolve around actions such as what is (or is not) said, done, thought, felt, believed, perceived and so on. Inference-making is also about why, how, when and where these actions take place. These action-based inferences might pertain to actions in the past or the present, or to intended actions.
  • Inference-making might also involve events (or happenings, or occurrences) such as what happens or does not happen. Inference-making is also about why, how, when and where these occurrences take place. There are obvious crossovers here with how the actions of a story's characters, or a text's subject, influence events. Making inferences about events might focus more on things that happen with or without human influence e.g. as a result of natural processes or a sequence of other events.
  • Thirdly, inference-making might be about the state of things. These inferences might refer more to inert, insentient things such as places, buildings and objects and could focus on why things are as they are, what they are, how they came to be and where they are. In a way, Class 8: Instantiation of Noun (see my previous blog post) is actually an example of this. Using the same example, and posing is as a question that a reader might ask themselves: What is breakfast? It is bacon and eggs. In the same way Class 1: Referential is an example of making an inference about a thing's state: What is it? It is a fork.

If at least the majority of inferences that we make whilst reading revolve around a verb, including forms of the verb 'to be', then we have a sensible starting point to teaching inference-making. There may be disagreement about whether or not inference can be learned, but what is certain is that it can be modelled by teachers and practised by children in simple comprehension lessons where questions are posed and answered. Since much of reading instruction follows this process it would make sense to be a little more deliberate about teaching inference-making, especially as it is not always easy to do - the very nature of it means that information is not always explicit and takes more finding.

Reading lessons involving comprehension questions, I'd be willing to bet, often follow one of the two patterns:
  • a sequence of questions that naturally arise from the text, usually a mixture of different reading skills
  • a more deliberate set of questions that aim to allow children to practise a specific set of reading skills
These are fine if your aim is for children to have a complete understanding of a piece of text, or if you are giving children the chance to practise a range of skills after they've had specific skills teaching. What I suggest, at least for lessons where you intend to teach reading skills, is that individual skills are modelled by the teacher and practised by the children. If, for example, you wanted children to get better at making inferences you would model inference-making and then make provision for children to practise inference-making.

But, even this presents a problem: not all inferences are the same. A teacher might model an inference about why something happened and then give children practise questions about how someone feels. This won't allow a child to practise particular skills; only children who are already very skilled in making inferences will be able to answer them and in this case the child would need some more challenging work.

Children will probably benefit best from having the chance to practise specific inferences based on the different types of inference-making listed above. If teachers can provide questions that are of a similar structure, and provide structures for the answers too, then children who are at the learning stage of inference-making might have a better of chance of being able to make inferences whenever they are reading.


This blog post is the second in a series of three:

Part 1: Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?
Part 3: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.

Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?

In her literature review 'Effective Teaching of Inference Skills for Reading' (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED501868.pdf) Anne Kispal asks are there different skills within inference? and goes on to define and exemplify the most frequently cited inference types:

Coherence inferences maintain textual integrity. For example, in the sentence 'Peter begged his mother to let him go to the party', the reader would have to realise that the pronouns ‘his’ and ‘him’ refer to Peter to fully understand the meaning.

Elaborative inferences enrich the mental representation of the text, e.g: 'Katy dropped the vase. She ran for the dustpan and brush to sweep up the pieces'. The reader would have to draw upon life experience and general knowledge to realise that the vase broke to supply the connection between these sentences.

Local inferences create a coherent representation at the local level of sentences and paragraphs. This class of inferences includes:

  1. coherence inferences (described above).
  2. “case structure role assignments”, e.g. Dan stood his bike against the tree. The reader needs to realise that the tree is assigned to a location role.
  3. some “antecedent causal” inferences, e.g. He rushed off, leaving his bike unchained. The reader would need to infer that Dan was in a hurry and left his bicycle vulnerable to theft.

Global inferences create a coherent representation covering the whole text. The reader needs to infer overarching ideas about the theme, main point or moral of a text by drawing on local pieces of information (thus supporting my theory that one must be able to make inferences before trying to summarise a piece of text).

In 'Constructing Inferences During Narrative Text Comprehension' Graesser, Singer and Trabasso identify 13 classes of inference:

In all but two (or three) of the inferences in the right-hand column it is interesting to note that each class of inference contains a verb, and therefore is concerned with something being so. We might assume that most inferences are about action, state or occurrence.

The two (or three) classes of inference which appear not be concerned with something being so (or are not about action, state or occurrence) is Class 1: Referential, Class 8: Instantiation of Noun Category and potentially Class 5: Thematic.

These thirteen classes can be linked to Kispal's summary of the most frequently cited inference types:

"The order in which the inference classes are listed in Table 1 is not altogether arbitrary. Inference classes 1, 2, and 3 are needed to establish local coherence, whereas inference classes 3 and 4 are critical for establishing explanations. Classes 4,5, and 6 are important for establishing global coherence. Classes 7 through 11 are elaborative inferences that are not needed for establishing coherent explanatory meaning representations. Classes 12 and 13 address the pragmatic communicative exchange between reader and author." (Graesser, Singer and Trabasso, 1994)

Whilst the authors state that "these classes do not exhaust all of the potential inferences during comprehension" they provide a very good starting point to thinking about teaching inference-making at a primary level.

So, by and large, when we make inferences we are thinking about why things are or are not so.

This blog post is the second in a series of three:

Part 2: Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making
Part 3: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Scaffolding Structures for Reading Comprehension Skills

This is a very different blog post to the sort I normally write; it represents some very hypothetical thinking and the purpose of writing it is to open it up to discussion. My hypothesis is that the reading skills outlined in the English Reading Test Framework for KS2 (and KS1) might be best taught in a particular order. I also hypothesise that when teaching particular skills (represented as being higher up the model pictured) teachers can guide children through how to use other skills (lower down the model) to arrive at a better ability to practice and use the skills that are higher up the model. First of all, here's the model I've put together to which I refer:


Skills (taken from English Reading Test Framework for KS2) are listed in the order that they might best be taught. This suggested order is based on the idea that some reading skills might be required prior to developing others. The most basic skills are towards the bottom.

The inclusion of 2d (inference) may depend on the text type. For example, in many non-fiction texts there is no requirement to infer information, only to retrieve it. In these cases the 2d (inference) step/building block can be skipped.

The only reading skill from the test framework which isn’t included here is 2h (make comparisons within the text). It is possible that texts can be compared at many different levels, for example, the vocabulary used can be compared (2a), summaries of plot can be compared (2c) or structure of the text can be compared (2f). The skill of making comparisons (2h) could be seen as a ‘floating’ skill – one which could be applied in different ways alongside other reading skills.

All of the following symbols and colours refer to the Reading Roles, a system I designed to make the different skills memorable for children and teachers. Read more about the Reading Roles here: http://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/reading-roles-cognitive-domains-made.html


In order for children to begin to make inferences they need to at least be able to retrieve information in the text, and before this they need to be able to understand what the words mean.

(2a)       give/explain the meaning of words in context
(2b)       retrieve and record information/identify key details from fiction and non-fiction
(2d)       make inferences from the text/explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text

2f and 2g are very interlinked as they are both about meaning – one with a focus on word and phrase choice, and one with a focus on content choice. It is possible that 2g and 2f should precede 2d in the teaching sequence but if making inferences is one way in which we take information from a text, then arguably we need that information to make meaning; we can then go on to identify and explain how that meaning is enhanced through word choice and how the content included contributes to the meaning. The fact that these skills are not included in the KS1 test framework might suggest that this is correct, and that these are more advanced skills than making inferences.

2g – Author’s purpose

(2a)       give/explain the meaning of words in context
(2b)       retrieve and record information/identify key details from fiction and non-fiction
(2d)       make inferences from the text/explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text
(2g)       identify/explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases

2f – Language structure and choice

(2a)       give/explain the meaning of words in context
(2b)       retrieve and record information/identify key details from fiction and non-fiction
(2d)       make inferences from the text/explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text
(2g)       identify/explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases
(2f)        identify/explain how information/narrative content is related and contributes to meaning as a whole

Once children understand word meanings, can find and infer information, explain how language has been used to communicate meaning and, as a result, can understand the meaning of a whole piece of text, then they can begin to summarise the text, or make predictions based on their understanding. It might not be necessary to summarise a text before making a prediction, and the ability to summarise a text should not rely on the ability to make predictions based on it. These two skills are both included in the KS1 test framework, but children at this stage summarise and make predictions based only on word meaning, information retrieval and inference (missing out 2f and 2g) – summaries and predictions at this stage might be at a simpler level. It is probably true that in KS2 similar summaries and predictions could be made, without paying heed to 2g and 2f.

2c - Summarising

(2a)       give/explain the meaning of words in context
(2b)       retrieve and record information/identify key details from fiction and non-fiction
(2d)       make inferences from the text/explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text
(2g)       identify/explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases
(2f)        identify/explain how information/narrative content is related and contributes to meaning as a whole
(2c)       summarise main ideas from more than one paragraph

2e – Predicting

(2a)       give/explain the meaning of words in context
(2b)       retrieve and record information/identify key details from fiction and non-fiction
(2d)       make inferences from the text/explain and justify inferences with evidence from the text
(2g)       identify/explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases
(2f)        identify/explain how information/narrative content is related and contributes to meaning as a whole
(2e)       predict what might happen from details stated and implied

The model suggests that an understanding of word meaning is core to all reading – this model assumes that children already have the skills of decoding, sight recognition and phonological awareness. The model only includes reading skills outlined by the test framework and does not include factors such as the necessity of activating prior background and literacy knowledge when reading.

The model also suggests that there is a hierarchy of reading skills and that children might benefit from having some reading skills taught before others.

It also suggests that when requiring a child to work on a skill which is ‘higher up’ the model that they work through a sequence of skills usage in order to initially scaffold their ability to exercise the ‘higher’ skill. For example, if requiring a child to summarise a passage, they might first answer questions about the vocabulary used, the information contained within (given both literally and inferentially) and what the authors purpose was with regards to structure and language choices.

This model focuses on the following strands of Scarborough’s reading rope: vocabulary, verbal reasoning and language structures:


I hope I have made my thinking clear in this blog post and I would really appreciate any thoughts about what I have proposed. If you can back any of your comments either with research or with case studies from experience then even better!

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."

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.

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.