Improving standards of reading and writing in primaries gives pupils a solid foundation for the rest of their school days and beyond. But what are the best ways to achieve this? DM Crosby offers three tips that will get results
Why a new reading scheme may be the best way forward next year
My aims for next year are, quite simply, to raise standards in reading across the whole school and to develop a cross-curricular approach to writing and grammar. Further cuts to teaching budgets make these aims more of a challenge, so I have devised several cost-effective ways to achieve them. Here are the three main approaches that
I will be using.
Switch to whole-class reading in Years 1-6
The debate between whole-class and guided reading is keenly fought by both sides, as Sinéad Gaffney highlights on pages 38-41. In my previous school, moving to whole-class reading was the best decision we ever made. It dramatically increased the amount of time each child was taught reading every week, created an air of excitement in each class around their chosen text and ensured that children of all attainment bands were subject to the same challenging literature and the rich discussions that these promote.
I am going to do the same in my new school, which I joined this summer. This pedagogical shift will require lots of staff CPD and I will ensure that I am on hand to support staff in planning and resourcing. Inset days will be used to outline the approach this summer so that we can hit the ground running in the autumn term.
As a school we will adopt the approach that whole-class reading is an opportunity for the teacher to effectively model the eight key comprehension strategies (connect, monitor and clarify, summarise, visualise, ask questions, predict, infer, and read as a writer) focusing on a few each session, whichever the particular part of the text being read lends itself to. We are aware of the current debate regarding strategy-based approaches to comprehension instruction so will ensure that a key focus of these sessions is for children to read, and be read to, from a wide and rich store of non-fiction and fiction, developing their knowledge of the world and their cultural capital.
Get pupils reading independently more often
No amount of pedagogical tinkering will replace the need for children to be reading independently as often as possible. Our first challenge here is getting children to want to pick books up. A well-resourced library is an absolute essential, especially in an area where children may not have access to books at home.
Books and book displays need to be omnipresent in schools: in corridors, in classrooms, in the foyer, outside the assembly room doors – wherever children look, they should be faced with a wall of well-kept, well-chosen, new and exciting books.
However, in this time of budget-cuts and uncertainty this can be very difficult financially; every English coordinator in the country will know the overwhelming feeling of disappointment when faced with just how few books are delivered on the order that ate their entire budget.
Fortunately, I work for a local authority with an excellent library service that, for a reasonable annual subscription, will deliver
a wagon-full of brand new books as regularly as we like. This year, I will be using our book budget on increasing our subscription to this service rather than buying books ourselves. Although this means that as a school we will not develop our own library, it does have the added benefit of our book stocks being regularly refreshed with brand new books, ensuring that our book shelves and displays remain fresh and appealing to our young ‘customers’.
To increase the amount of time children are reading independently, we will also introduce the Reading Buddies scheme and Drop Everything And Read (Dear) across the whole school.
During Dear time, which takes up the last 15 minutes of every day, the whole school will stop, pick up a book and read. Office staff, the headteacher and I will be doing the same.
This will ensure that older children are getting their daily reading quota and give staff time to get acquainted with a wide collection of children’s literature. The long-term impact of this initiative for younger children is invaluable; they will grow up in a school where the importance placed upon reading is unquestionable and that 15 minutes of independent reading a day is as regular and predictable as a fire-drill on PE day.
The Reading Buddies scheme will pair children across the school and these buddies will meet once a week for 15 minutes at the end of the day, while the rest of the school are cracking on with Dear time.
The pairs will visit the library and the older child will help the younger child pick a book to read together. At the end of the session the younger child will take the book home and practise reading it with an adult so that in the next session they can try reading it to their buddy.
The benefits for the younger child are obvious here but consider the impact on the elder child, too – children love to be the adult and this has the possibility to give a much needed boost to our older (and perhaps less engaged) readers and give them an opportunity to practise their reading with expression to an audience in a safe environment.
It is notoriously difficult to encourage children to read at home; there is simply too much competing for their attention. But, using the approaches outlined above, we can ensure that our children are focused on reading for a minimum of five hours a week.
Establish a cross-curricular approach to writing and grammar
With the increased demands of the writing and grammar curriculum, it can be difficult for teachers to ensure that they are covering the objectives in a meaningful way, where the objectives being taught are rooted in a real text, rather than as stand-alone lessons. Also, owing to time restrictions, it can be difficult for teachers to ensure that the objectives of the foundation subjects are being covered comprehensively.
Next year, to tackle both issues simultaneously, we are aiming to teach our topics through our writing and reading sessions. This allows us to provide a more cross-curricular approach, promoting engagement and complete immersion within a topic. It also ensures that the less tangible writing and grammar objectives are taught within a context.
The passive voice, for example, can be taught in the context of a science report; conjunctions that help one add to or explain a viewpoint can be taught be in the context of a non-fiction report in history or geography.
This moving away from a discrete teaching of the grammar objectives will allow for more purposeful learning but it will also have the added benefit of increasing the amount of time that the children are focused on the study of the foundation subjects, ensuring a rich, broad and balanced curriculum.
DM Crosby is the deputy headteacher at Edale Rise Primary and Nursery
School, Nottingham, which is part of the Transform Trust. He tweets @Dm_crosby