UKS2 Whole Class Reading Unit – All Planning and Resources Included

This year, the work I have done as an SLE has involved supporting schools to develop their teaching of reading. For many reasons, including lots set out in a previous blog post here, I have seen more and more schools making the move to whole-class reading.

When working with schools, I’ve found myself in need of having a comprehensive example of planning to share with schools as a starting point. Because of this, I decided to put together a unit of planning and resources that teachers could pick up, and then adapt to suit the needs of the readers in their class. Although this unit is an Upper Key Stage 2 unit, it is my intention to add to these units over the coming months, including some units for Lower Key Stage 2. The complete unit for Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen, including all planning and resources is available to download free of charge at the bottom of this blog.

BoyintheTowerimage

I am now in my fourth year of teaching whole class reading and through trying out different approaches and making changes along the way, I am gradually developing a system that works well for me. There are some rules that I, and the teachers at my school, try and follow when planning whole class units:

Use whole texts supported by non-fiction when necessary

We always try and use whole texts in reading lessons and we have spent a lot of time and money in investing in developing teacher’s knowledge of these. The children’s knowledge and understanding of these fiction texts greatly benefits from them having a sound knowledge base of what they are reading about. Because of this, we help to develop this knowledge base by studying linked non-fiction texts too. For example, in The Boy in the Tower, the reader learns that the Blucher plants are deadly because of their spores. This makes a lot more sense to the children if they know what spores are!

We read our class text in story time for approximately ten minutes a day. In our reading lessons, we are then able to cover a key chapter that we have previously listened to. This means we don’t focus on every single chapter; just the crucial ones. We get through one text a half term and this rate of coverage means we maintain the pace and interest in the story.

Vary the Format

To be successful in the end of Key Stage tests, the children are expected to be able to tackle questions with varied formats. Instead of straightforward retrieval, children may be expected to retrieve information from the text to fill in a table, or use it to order sections of a story.

retrieval 1  retrieval 2

We make sure that in our reading lessons, children are expected to manipulate the information they have gathered from the text and use it to answer a variety of questions types. I have put together a resource called Moving Beyond Comprehension sheets which has lots of practical ideas for how to do this in lessons.

We link our lessons to our DERIC skills

Across our school, we talk about our DERIC skills and these are constantly referred to in the lesson. As the children move through Key Stage 2, we expect them to articulate which reading skill they are using when answering a question.

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We mostly chunk the lessons

There will obviously be exceptions to this rule, but we generally chunk the lesson to allow us to focus on different DERIC skills, not just one. There are lots of example of how this works in practice in the example planning on this blog.

Finally, some things we don’t do…

This is in response to some questions I’m asked a lot…

We don’t link our reading and our writing. Our writing often links into our topic. We found that also trying to link our class reader to our topic limited the selection of books that teachers could choose to study so we don’t make this a rule.

We also don’t let children choose their class reader. (We do, however, have an extremely well-stocked library where they can choose their reading material to their heart’s content). The one time I let my class choose the book we were going to study, we ended up stuck with Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. It was so hard to do good inference work using that text. Teachers are the experts in knowing the reading curriculum and which texts are best suited to deliver it. I also think they have a responsibility to open children’s eyes up to texts they wouldn’t necessarily have considered reading.

Below is a link to download a unit of twenty whole class reading lessons based on Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen suitable for Upper Key Stage 2. The materials include a planning and resources booklet and a PowerPoint which links to each lesson.

Happy reading!

BoyintheTowerimage
Resources for 20 free Reading lessons

Boy in the Tower Planning and Resource Booklet

Sample: Lesson 1 Planning

Sample: Lesson 1 PowerPoint

Full Download of All Planning and Resources

 

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My Journey with Mastery Writing and the 4 Purposes

I genuinely feel that this model has revolutionised both my teaching of writing and the learning of the pupils in my class. Quite a claim, especially from a cynical sort such as me, but after a year and a term of following this approach, I would find it very hard indeed to return to my old ways.

Michael Tidd has previously blogged about his approach and the rationale behind it here. My blog discusses how my colleagues and I have got this model up and running in our school, and some observations on why it’s working so well.

Below is our long term plan for writing in our school:

mastery-writing-long-term-planning

KS1 only focus on the purposes of Entertain and Inform.

Year 3 and 4 look at Inform, Entertain and Persuade.

Year 5 and 6 look at all four purposes.

Staff are welcome to move the order of purposes around as they see fit as long as the weightings remain the same. They are also able to choose which text types they wish to cover within the purpose. However, they must focus on the same purpose for writing within a half term in order for the children to master the skills which are being taught. To support newer teachers and those less confident with their English subject knowledge, I suggested some possible text types they may wish to cover and linked English National Curriculum objectives to them. (Michael has some purpose guidance sheets on his blog which are really useful if you would like a helping hand with this task).

I teach a Year 5 class and so far this year we have covered the following purposes and text types:

mastery-examples-from-y5

This has worked well for different reasons:

  • When planning the units of work, we spent lots of time thinking about which grammar and punctuation objectives from the National Curriculum would work well with each purpose. We then chose five or six key objectives to really embed within the unit.
  • We chose to focus on two main outcomes each half term. This meant that in lessons leading up to writing a final piece, we were able to really embed their grammar and punctuation skills; spend time investigating vocabulary appropriate to the piece; unpicking high quality examples; creating plans and writing collaboratively with peers.
  • When creating writing success criteria, we made sure that we gave children opportunities to embed their skills by using the grammar and punctuation in a different context. As you can see below, the success criteria for our two persuasive outcomes were very similar:

mastery-success-criteria

This meant that children were able to secure their skills and experience success. It meant that previously set targets in work  were still applicable in the next task. It also meant that children began to develop a deep understanding of a particular purpose for writing. Less jumping around between different genres and talking time to secure key objectives has certainly lead to better outcomes for my class.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my children are also retaining this knowledge remarkably well. Previously, when asking classes if they knew the features of an informative report, they might have responded with some generic answers such as “vocabulary” and “capital letters and full stops”. Our writing curriculum had jumped around so much that they were unable to pinpoint this genre so resorted to stock, generic responses.

When beginning our persuasive writing unit after Christmas, during an initial discussion on the features persuasive writing, my class could confidently remember everything that was on their Y4 success criteria. This learning was embedded: they had a very clear understanding of what makes a piece of writing persuasive. I was pretty amazed that lesson. Undoubtedly, we were building on these skills in Year 5, but this time we had a solid foundation on which to build instead of feeling like we were beginning from scratch at every unit.

So, “revolutionised”. It’s a pretty strong word but I stand by it. We are building on our learning week by week instead of wiping the slate clean at the end of each unit and starting again. I strongly believe that it is always the most simple ideas in teaching that are the most effective, and this is one I won’t be letting go of any time soon.

PEE Off!

A present there seems to be a sea-change occurring within KS2 Reading. The difficulty of last year’s Reading test means that this year many schools are reconsidering their approach to teaching Reading, making adjustments to their curriculum to enable as many pupils as possible reach ARE by the end of Y6.

When preparing for the KS2 tests of old, many a Year 6 teacher would teach their class to use the P.E.E.technique so that their pupils, especially those sitting the old Level 6 paper, would be able to form extended written responses. These types of questions were rife in the Level 6 paper.

For the uninitiated, P.E.E stands for Point, Evidence, Explanation.

pee-technique

I have used the P.E.E technique for many years but over the last couple of years I have moved away from it, favouring other approaches within the classroom.

Firstly, I often find extended reading answers long-winded and lacking in detail when using the P.E.E technique. I think this is because it is very rare that in KS2 that we ask reading questions that require that this type of response.  For example, take the question:

“In the book Matilda, what sort of character is Miss Trunchbull?
Use evidence to support your viewpoint.”

Using the P.E.E technique children may come up with this sort of response:

p-e-e-amanda-thripp-answer

Using the P.E.E technique in this case has meant that a child has forced their response to fit the framework. I would argue that much better responses can be achieved by getting the children to make a point then justify it. Dividing the justification step up into “Evidence” and “Explain” often produces answers which are repetitive and stilted. They also miss out lots of high quality evidence.

Children find it very hard to differentiate between the steps of Evidence and Explain and lots of questions at KS2 just don’t require this type of response.

I would have been much happier if a child in my class had formed an extended answer such as this:

p-e-e-amanda-thripp-answer-model

Here the child has used a range of different evidence to support their viewpoint. They have justified their points with suitable evidence but they haven’t been constricted by fitting their answer on to a framework: making a point and justifying it was enough. The reality in Key Stage 2 is that the P.E.E. technique risks over-complicating the written response and over-simplifying the use of evidence.

With my SATs hat on, I also can’t see any value to teaching children P.E.E. paragraphs as a test technique for an extended written response. When looking at the 2016 mark scheme for extended responses, children are awarded the maximum 3 marks for making three acceptable points or making two acceptable points with at least one supported by evidence. Teaching them to form a P.E.E. response for these types of questions would have meant that they were wasting valuable time writing a long response which lacked the necessary details to secure the marks.

example-of-3-mark-answer

It is also easy to get into the mindset of thinking that a harder Reading test paper must have meant more questions which required longer, complex answers. However, this just wasn’t the case. In the 2016 Reading paper, there were only two extended answer questions but this didn’t stop the paper from being challenging. The step up in difficulty came from for other areas:

A) The complexity of the language within the texts:

example-of-high-level-vocabulary

Taken from the 2016 Key Stage 2 Reading Paper

B) The high level of reading stamina and skimming techniques required to answer one- and two-mark questions:

example-of-reading-stamina

In this time of change for Primary Reading, I remain unconvinced that getting children to focus on the P.E.E.technique is worthwhile. As an English Co-ordinator, Reading is most certainly on my radar this year but I will be encouraging teachers in my school to focus on other areas such as:

Building Reading Stamina: Children must be reading widely across Key Stage 2. Having a well stocked library which allows children to select engaging reading material pitched to their reading ability is vital. Children should also be exposed to texts which challenge them within reading lessons which is why we’ll be continuing to develop our Whole Class Reading approach.

Developing Vocabulary: We need to make sure we are making use of every opportunity to develop vocabulary. This needs to run throughout our curriculum, not just in Reading lessons. Again, children need to be encouraged to read as widely as possible. As a school, we will also be investigating the new vocabulary quizzes available on Accelerated Reader.

And finally…

Getting Children to Justify their Viewpoint:  Of course we want children to use evidence from the text when making inferences. Of course we want them to justify their views. Of course, as a teacher, I’ll be discussing how particular quotes give us insights into the text we’re reading.

What we won’t be doing, though, is spending lots of lesson time teaching children a set framework and getting them to force their responses to fit this framework. I’ve had enough stilted, repetitive extended responses to last me a lifetime!

Tackling Reluctant Writers – Boys AND Girls

It is quite often the way with me that a tweet is the beginning of a blog idea. About a month or so ago @MisterMarci tweeted me a question:

In response to this tweet, lots of ideas were suggested including using ICT to publish work; matching writing to their own interests…and being a male teacher (although I think that last suggestion was somewhat tongue in cheek). This blog will set out some techniques and tweaks to my teaching that I have found effective. However, at the crux this blog are two main ideas:

“Girls experience reluctance too.”

Yes, boys writing is often a focus for many a English coordinator , but girls experience reluctance too. Improving outcomes for boys should always be about improving the quality of writing teaching to impact on both boys and girls.

“Quick wins don’t work.”

Suggestions such as making their own books, using ICT or matching writing to their interests may briefly raise engagement. However  increased levels of engagement are often short lived and limited to that unit of work.

During my time in the classroom, I have found that children experience reluctance to write in different ways. I have found that thinking about these ‘areas of reluctance’ and making tweaks to my teaching has often improved outcomes.

Reluctance through Over-Complication

For a long time I have used success criteria when teaching writing. Over the last couple of years, I have tried to really slim down these success criteria.I have found that overly complicated success criteria often overwhelm children, producing children who are reluctant to write. I would much rather children concentrate on doing a few things really well in their writing, rather than lots of things superficially. Essentially, doing less but better.

beforeafter.jpg
Success Criteria for narrative writing based on Shaun Tan’s The Arrival

 

 

I don’t think this ‘reduction’ is me lowering my expectations of the children. If we’re writing letters, of course we’ll have a recap on layout. If the letter is from one of the characters in the story we’re studying, of course we’ll discuss their emotional state and whether that will have an impact on the tone of the writing – this stuff is important. I’m just not convinced that all these many discussion points you have with a class need to be on a list of success criteria.

I have also taken on this less but better mantra when thinking about our writing curriculum design across the school. We have adopted Michael Tidd‘s Four Purpose for Writing model. This means we look at fewer text types but for longer, jumping around less between different genres of writing.

Reluctance through Handwriting

I believe that many children in the primary classroom experience reluctance to write because they do not have speed and fluency when it comes to handwriting. If children have to consciously concentrate on their handwriting, they become less effective at giving other parts of the curriculum (e.g. language selection, sentence formation) their full attention.

In my classroom I have found that investing time in improving automaticity of writing of those children that struggle has really helped to increase both their willingness to write and also the quality of their writing.

I would highly recommend reading Sarah Barker’s excellent blog on how she has improved automaticity in handwriting.

Reluctance through Poor Imagination

Children are sometimes reluctant to write because they just aren’t sure what to write about. Scaffolding the writing process for these children is often beneficial and results in higher quality outcomes.

Picture books are an excellent stimulus for scaffolding narrative writing. Recently, we have been writing stories with a flashback based on Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. As each key picture provided a paragraph focus, children had a clear idea about the content for their writing.This meant that they were free to focus on the sentence construction, language and punctuation.

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When writing non-fiction, we often discuss key ideas for paragraphs. We remember these key ideas through pictures, actions and mnemonics. For example, when writing Informative Reports about sedimentary rock formation, first of all, we created a list of the main processes, then we came up with an action for each step.

Reluctance through Poverty of Success

Success is a great motivator. When children experience success in their writing it motivates them to want to try again. However, with some children (often those reluctant writers in the class) it’s sometimes hard to identify where that success is. Maybe Jimmy’s failing handwriting is still driving you to despair. Maybe Anna has still only written half a half a paragraph when the rest of the class have finished.

It is even more important with reluctant writers to correctly identify where that child has been successful and tell them you’ve noticed.  I often sit down with these children when marking and ask which bit they’re really proud of. Alternatively, at the bottom of their writing I get them to write, “I have tried really hard with…” This often directs my feedback and allows me to focus on what that child is proud of and where they have been successful.

I don’t think that overcoming reluctance to write can be tackled by something as simple as “Let them make books” or “Let them use ICT”, nor is it as simple as “Find a topic that engages them.” Often a child’s reluctance to write has been built up over time due to struggle and lack of success. These techniques in this blog are by no means a complete answer and I’m sure I’ll add to them or change my mind about them in the coming years. If anyone has any comments or suggestions, as always, I would love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read with ERICs for the John Lewis Christmas Ads

buster-2

The new John Lewis Christmas advert was released today and oh my, what a beauty! One of the many reasons I love the John Lewis adverts is that they are brilliant to use as stimulus for Read with ERIC comprehension activities.

I have blogged before here about how I use ERIC activities in my reading lessons and have shared examples of ones that I have used successfully. But, since it’s (nearly) the festive season – the season of goodwill to all men – I have now complied a collection of Read with ERIC activities which link to the John Lewis festive Christmas adverts for teachers to use in their classrooms.

So, enjoy and spread a little festivity in the classroom. After all, they really are excellent for discussing inference and director choice. And, yes, Buster the Boxer may be fantastic…but the Long Wait will always be my favourite.

John Lewis Read with ERIC

School Book Club: Broadening Teacher Knowledge of Excellent Texts

As an English Coordinator who loves books, I feel very excited by the amount of excellent new titles I have the opportunity to use in the classroom. I love picking up recommendations on Twitter, with @GalwayMr, @smithsmm and @marygtroche being my go-to people. If you don’t follow these people already, you should. They are a font of book knowledge.

However, with my coordinator hat off, and my busy class teacher one on, I can easily see how keeping up to date with children’s fiction can sometimes creep to the end of our never ending to-do lists. Somebody on Twitter commented that they couldn’t see why this was. Surely reading a children’s book doesn’t take that long? But what if you have to sift your way through, 3…5…10 titles before you find the one that really suits your class and also you as a teacher? Suddenly something enjoyable becomes time pressured…with your large stack of marking eyeing you judgmentally from the corner of the room.

This year one of my main missions was to try and increase our staff’s knowledge of excellent texts. Through this aim, our Staff Book Club was born. Here’s how it works…

The Twitter Gathering Stage

Before I select any texts,  I head to Twitter. If you follow the right people, gathering information about excellent texts is relatively easy. Unsurprisingly, my go to book tweeters need no encouragement to start enthusiastically recommending books. All it needs is a tweet or DM to these wonderful people and the recommendations start to flow in.

The Reading

Then I read what has been recommended. I like to have read the titles before I recommend things to my staff as I know my school. I can predict which issues might need careful discussion and which books might suit which year groups. I think this especially important in UKS2 when the reading matter might contain sensitive material.

The Shortlist

Each half term I then select my book club titles. I try to chose titles that I think staff won’t have read.

Each half term I choose:

1 book for Upper Key Stage 2 staff

1 book for Lower Key Stage 2 staff

5 books for Key Stage 1 staff

Each class teacher is given a copy of their book club read/reads. Staff have half a term to read the book which includes a holiday. Although all staff are given a book/books, Staff book club is completely optional. After the titles have been read, they go into our school library. We also have a library display with teacher reviews of the books (if they wish to do one). The books below are some example choices for book club:

Upper Key Stage 2 Choice – The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie

Lower Key Stage 2 Choice – A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton

Key Stage 1 Choices – The Storm Whale in Winter by Benji Davies, We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen, The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield, The All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel, Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett

Huge thanks must go to Martin Galway and the Herts Primary English Team whose book recommendations have been a huge help to me when selecting titles. Below is a list containing year group specific texts which may be of use to teachers selecting titles.

Age Appropriate Texts

The Bookclub

After the holidays, we have 15 minutes at the end of the first week’s staff meeting to discuss the books. We talk about whether we liked it; how we’d tackle any issues the book raises; which year group we’d use it in and what teaching opportunities the book has.

And most importantly, we have cake!

Cake aside, I can see lot of other benefits of our staff book club. It means that staff are directed to high quality texts without having to do the time consuming “sifting” process themselves. Staff knowledge of high quality texts increases meaning that the children get the benefit of these wonderful books in their English lessons. Also, the discussion time in our staff meetings provides us with valuable time for talking about teaching opportunities and sharing good practice. There is so much good children’s literature out there, waiting to be used. Our challenge, as time-pressured teachers, is finding it. Hopefully Book Club makes this huge task a little bit easier.

 

 

 

 

Free ERIC Starters to support Reading Lessons

I have written before about my move away from guided reading and the introduction of our DERIC reading skills. These DERIC reading skills are embedded in all of our reading lessons – they appear on all of our lesson resources and both teachers and children refer to them constantly during the lesson.

DERIC stands for:

D: Decoding words

E: Explaining new vocabulary

R: Retrieving infomation

I: Interpreting infomation

C: Choice (thinking about the choices made by the author/director/artist)

A key element of this approach is our Read with ERIC starters. As part of these starters, the children are presented with a stimulus (this could be a short film clip, a picture or a poem) and have to answer questions about it. We have found these to be really useful for developing children’s awareness of our DERIC skills: they are practising their comprehension skills without having the barrier of decoding to content with.

ERIC blog 2.png.

These reading starters can be a  10 minute discussion at the beginning of the lesson or they can form a whole lesson involving written responses.

After my blog about whole class reading, lots of people asked if I had a bank of these ERIC starters that I would be happy to share. I have complied a collection of some starters that I have used. I plan to add to these over the coming months. I have also divided the starters into images, films and poetry.

Click on the links below to download yourselves a copy.

Hope they are useful.

Read with ERIC Film

Read with ERIC Poetry

Read with ERIC Pictures

Moving Beyond Reading Comprehension Sheets

moving-beyond-comprehension-sheets

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to present my ideas about Whole Class Reading to a lovely, enthusiastic bunch of teachers and leaders at Reading Rocks. I have blogged before here about my move to Whole Class Reading and why I am such an advocate of this approach over the traditional carousel model.

When I discuss this approach, quite often, I get asked these two questions:

  • How do you support lower ability readers?
  • What sorts of activities do you do in your whole class sessions without it just being comprehension sheets?

I set out my thoughts on the first question here.

In response to the second question, I always ensure I try to have a range of activities which really embed our DERIC skills, sometimes comprehension questions but quite often a range of other activities.

When we give children comprehension questions, we group them into categories of questions to help the children to become aware of what a retrieval question looks like for example.

comp-ques

But, the last thing we want is death by comprehension questions so…I have experimented with and created lots of other activities which embed these DERIC skills just as well as comprehension questions do. I am now sharing a bank of these activities which link to the DERIC skills in order to support teachers in planning whole class lessons.

I hope they are useful!

Please click on the link below to download a copy:

whole-class-reading-activity-bank

 

 

 

 

How to set up your Accelerated Reader Library (by someone who learnt from their mistakes!)

In a few days time, my school will be launching Accelerated Reader. For those of you unfamiliar with Accelerated Reader, it has three main elements to it:

  1. It provides you with a method of banding your library fiction stock (and some non-fiction).
  2. It has an assessment element:children are assessed and given a range in which to read across.
  3. Each book has an online “quiz” linked to it to assess children’s comprehension of the text.

As a school we chose to go for Accelerated Reader because:

  1. Children in KS2 were making poor book choices which didn’t match their reading ability (e.g. Year 3s coming back to class clutching War and Peace)
  2. The library was in a bit of mess and was in need of a system which everyone used and understood
  3. We have a lots of laptops/iPads in our school so the online quiz element wasn’t going to be a logistical nightmare for us.

Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in getting our books onto the AR system, ready for September. It has been a massive headache to be honest and now we’re near the end of the process, I find myself thinking that if I were to do it again, I’d most certainly do it differently.

So…for any schools out there who are yet to sort their Accelerated Reader library, here is how I’d do it next time.

Rhoda Wilson – making all the mistakes with Accelerated Reader so you don’t have to!

Step One

Have a book amnesty. Write and ask parents to look for books at home and encourage staff to root through their stock cupboard. Set a deadline for when you want to books by. We were surprised by just how many books had been hiding away in cupboards in immaculate condition.

Step Two

Have a good clear out of your library stock and get rid of anything you don’t want to keep. (We found a book called Now and Then: now was 1960!)

Step Three

Now you have a slimmed down stock, organise it onto your shelves in alphabetical order by author last name. This seems like a chore but I cannot stress enough how useful this will be in the long term. Knowing how many duplicate copies you have of a book will save you a lot of headaches when you come to print the labels that go inside your books.

Step Four

Enter your stock into your AR Book Guide. I would really recommend buying a book scanner for this part. We didn’t and it took us ages!

ar-book-guide

Step Five

Tell the system about your duplicate titles. This will mean you have the correct number of labels to stick inside your books.

To do this, click on the title:

book-duplicate-1

Then change the number of copies that you have in the copies box:

book-duplicate-2

Step Six

Once all your books are entered on the system, print your labels. To do this, firstly, click on “book labels”.

printing-labels-1

Then, make sure you choose to sort by author last name and that you also choose “match the number of books owned per title”. This will ensure you print the right number of labels for your duplicate copies.

printing-labels-2

Step Seven

As you took the time to arrange the books alphabetically by author and count your duplicates, the order of your stickers should now match the order of the books on your shelf. This will save you lots of time hunting for books when labelling.

Go through your book stock, putting a quiz label on the inside cover and a spine label on the outside for easy identification. This takes ages so rope in whoever you can to help!

book label pic

Step Eight

Once you’ve done this long job, then you can then begin to sort your books however you wish onto the shelves. We have chosen to do this by number and then by author last name within the number.

finished library

Step Nine

Come up with a plan of action for keeping on top of the organisation. We plan to:

  • Make children put returned books back on a returns trolley, not on the shelf
  • Train up some UKS2 librarians to volunteer at break and lunch
  • Use the services of volunteers (we have found a wonderful lady who used to volunteer in a library and is happy to help us out on a weekly basis)

 

Step Ten

Step back and admire your beautifully organised shelves (while secretly stressing about people messing it up). Go home and have a large gin!

 

Organising our library has been a massive job. At times, it has been frustrating but ultimately, I feel the system will be worth all the effort. I am still novice and am yet to get my head around it so if you have any tips for using AR please, please get in touch!

Our Solutions to the Problems with Guided Reading

*When I didn’t have my own blog, I originally posted this on @MrsPTeach‘s blog. It’s now been updated on my own site and brought into line with what I now do in my classroom*

If you’d have asked me 3 years ago about the most effective way to teach reading across the primary phase I would have, without a doubt, talked about Guided Reading. I had always taught reading through this approach, it was just the way we did it. In fact, I was such an advocate that when I Ied English across my previous school I encouraged other colleagues to do the same. I’ve now changed my mind.

It was a conversation with a teacher at a TeachMeet Sussex meeting that got the cogs whirring. I heard him explain how his school had been advised not to do Guided Reading Sessions during OfSTED as it would be difficult to show progress which was above Requires Improvement. If that is the case, why is this still our chosen method of teaching?

These are my main issues with Guided Reading:

1)      The Independent Groups Problem.

The nature of the Guided Reading approach means that although six children in my class receive focused attention for the half hour session, the remainder are left to work independently.  All too often I see children become disengaged with independent tasks as they are not pitched correctly while I become a wasted resource sitting with six children in the class. I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, this has been confirmed by OFSTED in their report Reading for Pleasure and Purpose when they said that reading sessions,

“took too little account of the needs of other groups in the class and the tasks set for them lacked challenge. In some instances, pupils were left to their own devices to read silently or share books. Although some enjoyed the opportunity, others merely flicked through their books with little apparent interest.”

2)      Too much focus on assessment, not on teaching.

I have sat through many meetings listening awestruck to “super teachers” recount their ability to sit with a small group, ask focused and meaningful questions while simultaneously writing children’s responses down on post it notes. This is apparently useful for assessment. I’ve never found this to be the case, just that I am drowning in post it notes while trying to decipher my failing handwriting. I feel that too much of the group session is focused on assessment of reading, not on teaching of it.

3)      Group work is not focused enough.

When observing teacher led groups in guided reading the questioning doesn’t seem to be focused on one reading skill, rather it jumps around and covers a multitude of them superficially. The group is also inevitably dominated by the confident child, whereas those that are less confident get the chance to sit back. Inevitably a good teacher would set high expectations for participation from all members of the group. But it’s hard. And maybe a 25 minute conversation isn’t always the best way to ascertain what they know and what their next steps are.

4)      Written outcomes are required at KS2.

A child’s reading ability at the end of KS2 is assessed through a written outcome which doesn’t marry up with the approach of many primary schools. When I taught Year 6, I found it particularly hard to move my most able children from Level 5 to Level 6: although they were able readers, they just weren’t ready for that step up in expectation of written responses.

5)     The difficult objectives need explicit teaching.

As children move through KS2, they are required to become more analytical as readers. They are expected to develop their inferential skills and also have an awareness of authorial intent. I don’t think we spend enough time actually teaching children how to do this and what to be aware of when reading. Rather, we skim over it with a couple of questions here and there.

I think for too long children in my class have made progress in reading despite my method of teaching and over the past three years I have been on a bit of a “reading journey”. The approach outlined below is how I teach reading to my Year 5 class (but I have used this approach successfully with Year 4 and 6).

1)       We moved to teaching whole class reading instead of Guided Reading.

We have a 40-minute whole class reading session daily. This 40-minute session is separate to our writing session.

We choose one of our Read with DERIC skills for the lesson, we plan activities which allow children to access these reading skills. It also allows me to work with the children that need it the most at that time. I can differentiate in many ways: the difficulty of the text the children are working on; the questions I am asking them; the level of support they are receiving. The outcome of the lesson is mostly written but not always. This removes the problem of independent groups, it allows me to focus on one objective in depth and it better prepares children for the expectation of written responses at the end of KS2.

I have written more about how I support lower ability readers in whole class reading sessions here.

2)       We make our Reading Skills explicit.

We wanted to make our children aware of the reading skills they were using and we hoped this would give them a greater understanding of what makes a well rounded reader. We have created a simple logo for each skill and these are embedded in all our lessons: they appear on notebooks and teaching resources. The teacher and the pupils refer to them constantly during the lesson.

These skills are called Read with DERIC

DERIC stands for:

Decode (word reading)
Explain (explaining unfamiliar words and developing vocabulary)
Retrieve (finding information in the text)
Interpret (inference skills)
Choice (the choices of the author)

KS1 use the DERIC skills. As we move into KS2 we lose the “D” and just have ERIC

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3)       This means we now have an extended focus on Reading Skills.

Teaching whole class sessions has allowed us to spend a greater amount of time on focused skills rather than skimming over them. Recently, in a reading lesson we were studying a chapter of Gangsta Granny by David Walliams where Ben, the main character, is scared of his jewel-stealing antics being discovered by the nosey neighbour. In this lesson, we were focusing on the skills of ‘retrieve’ and ‘interpret’. In the lesson, the children read through their chapters highlighting quotes which told the reader Ben was scared. They then looked at these quotes and sorted them into retrieval and interpretation clues. As a whole class session, I found I could ask challenging questions that the whole class got to hear; I could support the lower ability children because we could read the chapter together and highlight our quotes; we could take time to discuss the tricky vocabulary together. It just seemed to work better and in a less contrived environment, without me worrying that my independent groups have lost the plot with their comprehension cards ten minutes ago.

Gangsta Granny

4)       We ensure weak readers still received phonics support.

The ability to decode texts is vital if children are to become effective readers. If they can’t do this, support must be put in place so that they are able to do this confidently. For our children who are not confident decoders we have phonics support sessions which run alongside our whole class reading sessions.

5)       We introduced reading warm ups.

We have “Read with ERIC” activities twice weekly. This is where the children look at a stimulus: it may be a poem, short video clip or a picture. They have four questions to answer which have Explain, Retrieval, Interpret and Choice focus. These short activities make children aware of the different reading skills. They also allow lower ability children to access the different AF questions while removing the barrier of decoding text. Hopefully as their decoding skills improve, they will be more likely to exhibit skills in inference and recognising author choice when responding to texts.

Legacy Animation Picture

This Read with ERIC was made to go with an animation called “Legacy” which can be found here.

6)       It’s brought enjoyment back – for teachers and children!

Finally, I like teaching reading again. I don’t get sick of asking the same questions but to different groups. I don’t get annoyed with frustrations of the Guided Reading carousel:  someone in Dahl group was away so can’t do the follow up task; Rowling group have already done that comprehension; Jimmy’s forgotten his free choice book again so spends a good ten minutes dawdling at the book corner. The children look forward to reading sessions. We sometimes link our Reading sessions to our Topic lessons and sometimes to our class readers which works well for us. Linking the reading sessions to class readers also means we don’t have to spend all the reading lesson reading the chapter: we often re-look at a section we have already read in story time. This year our class readers have all been Movie Books; we watch the film on the last afternoon of half term. There’s a buzz about reading and as a teacher I feel happy with where it’s going.

I’m not arguing that Guided Reading doesn’t have a place in the primary classroom. I still think it can be a valuable teaching method if planned effectively, especially when children still need to develop their skills in decoding and retrieval. My question is, is this approach still enough for those children moving into UKS2? This year we saw a huge step up in the expectation of the KS2 Reading Paper with a much greater emphasis on a child’s ability to read with stamina, understand inference and form written responses succinctly.

Perhaps, this academic year, we need to think about whether our reading lessons prepare our children sufficiently well for this level of challenge and take steps to arm our children with a greater awareness of the skills required to become a well rounded reader…whatever our chosen methods of delivery!