New chapter for reciprocal reading

But educational psychologist says the decision to cut the early intervention team is a mistake

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The Scottish council famous for eradicating illiteracy in a decade is introducing a new initiative that it hopes will develop children's higher- level reading skills.

But the educational psychologist behind the West Dunbartonshire Literacy Initiative, which transformed the authority's poor track record on literacy in 2007, has cast doubt over whether the council can continue to boast that all its students are functionally literate upon leaving primary.

Tommy MacKay, now a consultant and visiting professor of autism studies at the University of Strathclyde, criticised the council for cutting the initiative's early intervention team in 2010.

The team, which originally consisted of 10 specialist literacy teachers, provided targeted support to schools and was "essential" to the initiative's success, he said.

"We had everything in place, we knew exactly what needed to be done to make sure the gains were maintained, but I'm not sure how that could be done without the additional targeted support they provided."

The council admitted that the early intervention team had been cut, but said the literacy initiative was a 10-year programme and the aim had always been to embed the strategies used - including synthetic phonics and reading recovery programmes - into primary schools when it ended.

This had happened and the authority continued to perform "very strongly in terms of early literacy", a spokeswoman said.

Early intervention, along with developing children's higher-order reading skills in primary and secondary, were the council's top priorities for developing literacy, Gary McIlree, a senior educational psychologist with West Dunbartonshire Council, told a literacy conference in Edinburgh earlier this month.

Improving comprehension was the focus of their latest research project, after a dip in attainment between P3 and P7 was identified, he said.

However, the children in one school, St Ronan's Primary, in Bonhill, were found to be punching above their weight when it came to reading attainment. Further investigation by the authority revealed the headteacher, Clare Levens, had introduced reciprocal reading, a strategy designed to improve reading comprehension (see panel).

Now reciprocal reading is being piloted in three primaries in three local authorities - West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde - under the Scottish government's literacy hubs initiative, which aims to spread the successful approaches to improving literacy being employed in five local authorities across the country.

The reciprocal reading pilot project started in September and West Dunbartonshire council plans to publish its final report in March next year.

Key strategies

Reciprocal reading is a framework for teaching the skills necessary for good comprehension. Students work in groups, with the teacher initially modelling the use of the four key strategies - predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising. Gradually, students begin to work independently in their groups, with the group leader deciding who will do each job and making sure everyone joins in.

Photo credit: Alamy

Original headline: New chapter for reciprocal reading initiative

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