Blog Archive

Thursday 14 October 2021

How can we teach children to be active, in the moment readers?

Teaching students how to dissect text through this terms focus of 'Predict and Ask Questions' has been an eye-opening experience in my honest opinion. From a non-English teacher perspective, it has been interesting to observe what our students know and what they don't - often challenging my own preconceived ideas that they have sufficient background knowledge to be able to decode a key piece of text. Our students need multiple layers of knowledge in order to better understand the text; subject specific language; disciplinary knowledge and an awareness of the world around them (just to name a few). On top of this some of our students find reading complex and unnatural as 'learning to read demands that we use brain areas that have evolved for other purposes such as language, vision and attention' (Reading Fluency, Norton and Wolf).

However, as Johnny and Kat have expertly supported us through this term, it is an area we can develop our students understanding in. Johnny is our guest blogger for this week so over to him:

As adults teaching in secondary schools we take our ability to be active readers who comprehend what we are reading for granted. Even if you are someone who wouldn’t class yourself as a natural reader you would not have got to the point you are at today without the ability to be a highly skilled reader. The problem is you have probably never been taught the skills which you use on a daily basis when you read. You will instead have picked them up over a lifetime of reading and you now activate them so automatically when you read that they have become hidden from you. So how do we teach skills we don’t know we have in the first place?

Have you ever tried reading late at night when you’re really tired, or worse (and I’m sure no teacher at Mangotsfield will be able to empathise with this) have you ever tried reading when you’ve had a glass of wine too many? If you’ve ever been in either of these situations you may have found you have reached the end of the page and you’ve realised you have no idea what you have just been reading about, you’ve taken nothing in. In this scenario you have been decoding the words but none of the key strategies of ‘in the moment reading’ that you automatically use for comprehension have been activated.

Now put yourself in the place of the students in our classrooms. It’s period 5, you’ve just come in from break and you are tired as you spent most of the last night staying up playing video games or messaging your friends on snap chat. You are also not as skilled a reader as reading has never been a big priority at home and as such the key strategies to aid your ‘in the moment reading’ are not very secure at the best of times. So you sit there whilst your teacher and peers read through a page of writing, or you read a page yourself and the words wash over you, you take nothing in. To quote Shakespeare the ‘words fly up but your thoughts remain below’...and as I’m sure we can now all appreciate ‘words without thoughts, never to comprehension go’...sorry one for the English teachers there.

So, it is our job as teachers to ensure that when we are reading with our students we are teaching, modelling and unlocking their ability to comprehend texts in the moment of reading. So, what are the strategies effective readers use in the moment of reading? Effective readers:

1. Predict or ask questions and then read on to ‘find out’.
2. Visualise and use inference..
3. Use their background knowledge and make links with the text.
4. Notice meaning breakdown and use repair strategies to understand.
5. Notice very important words, phrases and ideas and put these together to build basic meaning.

Over the course of this year we will be focusing on one of these strategies each term until we are all confident in teaching these explicitly to our students. If students are not applying all these strategies then it is highly likely that they will miss meaning, it will also mean that they are unable to read and comprehend independently. We are probably all very strong at using questioning after reading a text to explore more complex meanings, but if we ignore the teaching of these strategies then our weaker students will not have even the basic understanding to build this deeper meaning on top of. To put it simply, just reading a text and then asking questions is like trying to build a skyscraper in a swap, there is not solid foundation to start building deeper understanding.

This term our main strategy has been the ‘predict and ask questions’ strategy. As discussed in the teaching and learning briefing all around the school I have seen excellent examples of us as practitioners modelling this through a ‘read aloud, think aloud’ approach. This is excellent at showing our students the strategy in action. Now we have to get them practicing it! It is not enough to simply show them we now need to turn this around and put the onus of the strategy onto them. The need to be asking the questions and making the predictions themselves. This turns them into ‘active readers’ who are employing an ‘in the moment of reading strategy’. Please see the tips for how to get students making and asking their own predictions and questions attached to this blog.

So to sum up. We use in the moment of reading strategies all the time as we read. We can explicitly teach these to students to ensure they are better comprehenders and as a result capable independent readers. Simply modelling these strategies is not enough. Students are never going to be active readers unless they employ these strategies themselves. So here's the challenge - get your students asking their own questions, get them writing these down, make the students do the work!