Teaching students to read is one thing. Teaching students to read for understanding is another. If you can do both of these AND have your students enjoy it, you’ve got yourself a recipe for success.
Recently I caught up with the wonderful Jemma to find out more about her Reading programme for Year 7/8s (11-13 year olds). Having seen a snapshot of her Reading programme when I covered her class, I was super keen to find out how she had set it up and nurtured it to get to the point where her students were so engaged, focused and confident.
After speaking to Jemma, I could see how her deliberate actions combined with insight into her learners and where she wanted to get them to, set her whole class up for success in Reading.
So, without further ado, let’s jump right in, starting at the very beginning!
How do you set up your Reading programme at the start of the school year?
Jemma shared that there are three essential things that she needs to achieve through her Reading programme by the end of Term 1. All students must:
Understand and complete a range of vocabulary activities
Understand and complete a range of comprehension activities
Demonstrate competence in Reciprocal Reading
The first school term is all about getting to know her students and equipping them with the skills they need to understand texts. Using reading age information provided by previous teachers as the starting point, Jemma uses initial reading testing (e.g. PROBE, PATs, e-asTTle) combined with observations to figure out where students are at.
She selects a novel and uses modelling, guided practice and feedback to ensure all her students have the opportunity to experience success in completing a range of vocabulary and comprehension activities. At this stage, exemplars are displayed on the wall for students to refer back to as well as each student having a completed copy in their own Reading book.
Jemma also introduces students to Reciprocal Reading and teaches them how to perform each of the roles on the cards. These roles include: Leader, Predictor, Clarifier, Summariser and Questioner. Once students have demonstrated competence in using the first set of Reciprocal Reading cards (image 1), students move onto using the next set of cards which are more comprehensive (image 2).
Now it’s time to hit the ground running with a Reading Rotation in Term 2!
How do you set up your Reading Rotation?
There are five parts that make up Jemma’s Reading Rotation:
Read with teacher (Guided Reading)
Read Theory (or similar)
With four Reading groups, this five-part rotation allows Jemma to work with each group for a solid Guided Reading session (40-45 mins) and have one spare session to support students who need additional help. Every group will be at a different stage of the rotation each Reading session. The sessions do not correspond with the days of the week as the number of Reading lessons per week may fluctuate in the case of interruptions or missed lessons.
The groups are determined by reading age (RA) from Term 1 assessments. For example, this year Jemma’s groups were: RA 7-8, RA 9-10, RA 11-13 and RA 14+. Obviously this is a factor that will vary from year to year depending on the spread of abilities within the class. If Jemma notices that students are making good progress, she ensures that those students are moved up a group to keep them challenged.
Let’s delve a little deeper.
What happens at each stage of your Reading rotation?
Students get given a text with a reading age (RA) one year above their current RA. This means that there is going to be challenging vocabulary and re-reading and unpacking will be required to fully understand it. Students read this text independently and identify any unfamiliar vocabulary.
When students have had the opportunity to read a text prior to reading with their teacher, they feel more competent. They feel smart. They are much more likely to contribute and engage with their teacher when questioned further. This pre-reading stage helps to decrease feelings of anxiety that some students have about reading in a group because they’ve had the chance to prepare.
When using CSI short stories, students also complete the text deconstruction panel which is included with the text. This usually involves identifying key characters, setting and events from the story. The great thing about completing this before the Guided Reading session is that Jemma can use this as a quick formative assessment to see which students had a firmer handle on the text and which students require further support.
Here is a sample which is currently available to download for free on www.sharpreading.com
Variations: To keep students engaged, every couple of weeks, Jemma will switch out this independent pre-read for Reciprocal Reading in a group.
Read with the teacher (Guided Reading)
The focus here is on quality time to really unpack the texts with students. This involves questioning e.g. “What do you think this means?” “What do you think the author wants the reader to visualise/feel/understand?”. With support, students will go through a full text deconstruction, clarifying any unknown vocabulary along the way.
The focus of the Guided Reading session will be linked to a specific Lesson Aim or Learning Progression e.g. for inferencing "I infer meaning by combining my prior knowledge with the ideas and information from the text." or summarising "I can pull out the most important points to write a compact summary of the text."
Since there is a whole Reading lesson available to work with this group, there is time to extend students’ understandings through further activities. This might involve a Drama-based activity where students are hot-seated or interviewed in role, or perhaps further research about a topic or process that they came across in the text. This has the dual benefit of taking students’ understanding beyond a surface-level understanding while also increasing engagement by making the learning practical and meaningful.
Following on from their teacher session, students will have a series of comprehension activities to complete. This is where the time invested at the start of the year really pays off. Students are already familiar with a range of comprehension activities so they are able to work independently to complete these for their current text.
Some examples of comprehension activities are: Character Web, Story Map, Story Web and Story Graph.
When using comprehension questions that accompany texts (see examples below), Jemma will select particular questions/tasks that align with the groups’ current learning focus, rather than requiring students to complete every single task.
Here is a sample which is currently available to download for free on www.sharpreading.com
Similar to the comprehension activities, students are already familiar with how to complete a range of vocabulary activities and can complete these independently with their new text.
Some examples of the vocabulary activities Jemma uses are Mr Stick Cartoons, Personified Vocabulary, Related Word Lists, Sausage Sentences and Vocab Haikus.
Here’s a free example of a Mr Stick activity.
Read Theory (or similar)
If students are up-to-date on their previous tasks, they move onto independent reading and follow-up tasks on Read Theory. Read Theory has a huge selection of texts with corresponding comprehension questions all ready-to-go. Being interactive and adaptive, it is great for keeping students engaged and reading appropriately-levelled texts. PLUS it is self-marking so it doesn’t soak up teachers’ precious time.
This stage of the Reading Rotation could easily be substituted for a similar kind of activity that reinforces students’ learning, whilst remaining a largely independent task.
Ideally students will go through 8-10 cycles of this Reading Rotation throughout Term 2.
How do you keep your students engaged in Reading?
Jemma discussed the importance of keeping Reading lessons ‘fresh’ so that students don’t get bored and disengaged from repetitive work. Around mid-Term 3, she introduces her ‘Reading Challenge’.
Sound exciting? Even just listening to Jemma talk about this, I could tell that the secret ingredient to making this Reading Challenge so appealing was all in the way it was sold.
Essentially it is a series of novel studies in which students work their way through a set of prescribed novels (reading age appropriate), providing evidence of understanding before moving onto the next. Students each have a Google Doc set up where they attach tasks and track their completed novels.
Jemma creates a class display with name tags for each of the students. Whenever a student completes a novel and the assigned activities, the whole class celebrates and the individual also receives points as part of the class reward system (similar to ClassDojo).
Capitalising on students’ competitiveness and love of games, this Reading Challenge is designed so that students want to try their best to read lots of books. Achievements are celebrated so students feel proud and motivated to continue reading. A whole culture of reading is fostered.
Here’s an example of what the Reading Challenge tracking sheet might look like:
In order to be signed off by Jemma, students need to provide specific evidence that they have read and understood the novel. For example, by providing a detailed summary. This summary would be hyperlinked to the students’ personal tracking sheet.
Initially, all of the novels are prescribed, however after completing five novels, students are allowed to choose their own books from a selection (or present a text which they believe fits the criteria for approval). Jemma specifies text genres so that students are exposed to a wider range of texts than simply those that they might have gravitated towards on their own.
She also sets the task of reading a series of books. The reason this is so brilliant is that once students get hooked on a series, their reading mileage increases exponentially. Eager to find out what happens next, she often observes how students are so engaged and invested in the stories that they want to continue reading outside of class time.
Another trick Jemma uses to motivate students is doing mini book promotions where she introduces a new book and gives students a sneak peek at what the story is about. Because the book is presented as being exciting and desirable, students try even harder to finish their current book so that they can move onto the new one.
During this Reading Challenge, Jemma continues to see her groups for reading sessions like in her original Reading Rotation, however, she keeps the Reading programme more flexible, with the option to allocate more time for silent reading. (Students aren’t allowed to take their novels home, so they are often excited about having extra class time to read in). Being more flexible allows Jemma to 'read the room' and allow time for the activities that she believes will motivate her students at that point in time.
How do you integrate Reading with other subjects?
Variety is the spice of life so in Term 4, Jemma looks to link her Reading programme to the school-wide Inquiry topic for the term. This topic will be linked to either Science or Social Sciences for example Extreme Weather or Changemakers.
During the initial phase of the inquiry, students need to gather information on the subject matter. This is where the skills they’ve built up over the year really come in handy. Understanding text features, being able to clarify unknown vocabulary and using skills such as skimming and scanning for information are essential for researching effectively.
Initially students need support with transferring the skills they’ve learnt when working with fiction texts to non-fiction texts, so stepping them through this is a must.
After sourcing a range of articles and information texts, Jemma sets up digital workbooks in which students read texts or watch assigned videos and complete vocabulary, comprehension and summarising tasks.
Here’s a snippet:
Being the last term of the year, this is of course also the time of year for testing, making OTJs and reflecting on progress from the year.
The biggest take-aways I got from speaking to Jemma are that a good Reading programme:
Involves explicit teaching of skills AND plenty of opportunities for students to practise these
Has a clear routine, whilst offering variety within that structure
Is pitched at the right level for students to offer them the challenge and support that they need
Builds a culture of reading for enjoyment
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning from Jemma and am definitely inspired by the great teaching and learning that is taking place in her classroom!
Thanks so much to Jemma for taking the time to share your knowledge! Ngā mihi nui!
Let’s kōrero! Why end the discussion there? What have you found works well for teaching Reading in your class? Let us know in the comments below! 📣