Showing posts sorted by relevance for query inference. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query inference. Sort by date Show all posts

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

Monday, 12 March 2018

Should We Teach Reading Strategies In Isolation Or In Combination?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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, 6 February 2017

Book Review: 'The Goldfish Boy' by Lisa Thompson

Lisa Thompson cleverly intertwines a truly intriguing mystery story with an entertaining study of how people respond differently to loss. Whilst older primary-aged children will be gripped by the plot, they'll also be receiving a masterclass in empathy.

As with any good crime novel there are a plethora of characters, each very different, and each with their own emotional issues. There's Matthew, the main protagonist, with OCD; Jake the bully with chronic exzema and allergies; and Melody who seems to be obsessed by graveyards and death. The story takes place almost exclusively in one street during one summer so as well as the aforementioned children, there are a whole host of adult characters too, again, all very different. Someone is responsible for the disappearance of a toddler - but who? As Matthew investigates, hampered by his worsening OCD, the reader discovers more about each of the street's residents.

This would be a 5 star addition to any classroom - the work that could be done on inference and empathy through this book could be invaluable to how a child views the different people they meet in life. The concept that everyone has potentially hidden reasons for how they behave is an important one for children to grasp - it's the basis for being non-judgmental and kind to others. By studying the varying characters as more information is revealed, children will begin to infer the reasons as to why the characters behave as they do. In doing this, important lessons could be learned about how to treat others who might appear to be different.

The fact that carrying out such studies would further involve the children in the plot is testament to the author's skill; the more the reader engages in the emotional side of the book, the more they will enter into detective mode as they attempt to solve this exciting whodunit.

Using 'The Goldfish Boy' as a class novel would also provide perfect opportunities for children to discuss and explore their own emotions and feelings - the book providing a safe and neutral foundation for children to consider their own response to the information and events in the story.

Now excuse me whilst I go and beg budget holders for a class set of these... I'll ask the English leader AND our PSHCE coordinator as this book falls solidly into both of their remits.

Lisa Thompson cleverly intertwines a truly intriguing mystery story with an entertaining study of how people respond differently to loss. Whilst older primary-aged children will be gripped by the plot, they'll also be receiving a masterclass in empathy.

As with any good crime novel there are a plethora of characters, each very different, and each with their own emotional issues. There's Matthew, the main protagonist, with OCD; Jake the bully with chronic exzema and allergies; and Melody who seems to be obsessed by graveyards and death. The story takes place almost exclusively in one street during one summer so as well as the aforementioned children, there are a whole host of adult characters too, again, all very different. Someone is responsible for the disappearance of a toddler - but who? As Matthew investigates, hampered by his worsening OCD, the reader discovers more about each of the street's residents.

This would be a 5 star addition to any classroom - the work that could be done on inference and empathy through this book could be invaluable to how a child views the different people they meet in life. The concept that everyone has potentially hidden reasons for how they behave is an important one for children to grasp - it's the basis for being non-judgmental and kind to others. By studying the varying characters as more information is revealed, children will begin to infer the reasons as to why the characters behave as they do. In doing this, important lessons could be learned about how to treat others who might appear to be different.

The fact that carrying out such studies would further involve the children in the plot is testament to the author's skill; the more the reader engages in the emotional side of the book, the more they will enter into detective mode as they attempt to solve this exciting whodunit.

Using 'The Goldfish Boy' as a class novel would also provide perfect opportunities for children to discuss and explore their own emotions and feelings - the book providing a safe and neutral foundation for children to consider their own response to the information and events in the story.

Now excuse me whilst I go and beg budget holders for a class set of these... I'll ask the English leader AND our PSHCE coordinator as this book falls solidly into both of their remits.

Friday, 2 August 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Cross-Curricular Links in 'The Longest Night Of Charlie Noon' (Blog Post by Christopher Edge)

One of the joys of writing for children is seeing the inspiration that young readers take from a story you have written. I’m often contacted by teachers via Twitter showing me the amazing creations their classes have produced after reading one of my novels and when I visit schools I get to see this inspirational work first-hand, from Möbius strip sculptures inspired by 'The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day' to playground rocket launches straight out of 'The Jamie Drake Equation' and fabulous creative writing where young authors have taken Albie Bright into many more exciting new worlds.

The 'Longest Night of Charlie Noon' is a story about three children who get lost in the woods, and at its heart it’s a mystery story. As Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny make their way through the woods they find strange dangers and impossible puzzles lurking in the shadows, and I hope the excitement and intrigue readers will find in the story will get them reading closely to find the clues they need to solve the mystery. As readers, they can make inference and predictions as they follow Charlie’s path through the woods, with the twists and turns of the story also maybe challenging assumptions they might make and showing them the rewards of close reading.

The puzzles in the story can also be used to help develop children’s problem solving skills. From decoding ciphers to building circuits to create their own Morse code keys, 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' shows how stories can be used to connect subjects across the school curriculum. As Charlie tries to use the stars to find a way out of the woods, links can be made to the topic of ‘Earth and Space’ in the science curriculum and the movement of stars across the night sky, whilst other science topics such as the life cycles of trees, plants and flowers and how fossils are formed are also touched on in the story. Connections could be made to Geography too, with children learning about changing environments and carrying out nature audits in their own local area, whilst there are also links to History too.

As someone who’s never been much of an outdoor type, writing 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' has helped me to connect to the natural world in a way that has fed my imagination. From mentions of 'The Wind in the Willows' to echoes of 'Brendon Chase' by ‘B B’, there are opportunities to make connections with classic works of children’s fiction and nature writing. A vocabulary of the natural world is woven through the story and I hope that young readers take these words and make them their own, enriching their vocabularies and using this wild inspiration to create their own art and stories.

Teaching resources for 'The Longest Night of Charlie Noon' are available from my website (https://www.christopheredge.co.uk/resources) and if you read the book with your class, I’d love to hear about the inspiration they find in the story. And please tell them to keep reading and change the world.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Reading Roles PLUS Generic Activity Exemplified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary:

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

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

Monday, 30 April 2018

Reading Roles PLUS: Teaching Metacognitive Reading Comprehension Strategies

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

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

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

Student – clarifying/monitoring

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

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

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

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

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

Of this he writes:

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

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

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

Quiz Master – questioning

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

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

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

Director – visualising

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

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

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

Philosopher – thinking

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

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

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

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

Click here to see Philosopher exemplified.

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

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

For more on teaching reading:

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

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

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

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