Alternative way of group reading shows gains of up to 14 months

18th September 2009 at 01:00
A new approach to the teaching of literacy

A new approach to the teaching of literacy, which has been shown to raise children's levels of comprehension significantly, is to be showcased by East Dunbartonshire Council at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow next week.

Anne McInally, one of the authority's educational psychologists, introduced "reciprocal teaching" to two primary schools in 2004. It is now used in 75 per cent of the council's primary schools.

An evaluation of P7 children before and after its introduction showed they had gained between nine and 14 months in their comprehension scores.

It is an alternative way of doing group reading, which focuses on practical activities to encourage talking and listening.

The children themselves carry out a lot of the practical activities, so when they hear something read by the teacher, on tape or read by another child, they are taught how to interrogate the text," Ms McInally says. "What sets this apart from traditional approaches is that pupils are so involved in it, and they find the debate and ideas very motivating," she adds. "It is also very effective in helping children who are a bit reticent in coming forward".

The pupils are trained to use particular strategies for questioning, summarising, predicting and clarifying - which, in combination, promote understanding. Children are also given specific roles in the group, such as the leader or recorder, which develops their social skills.

The approach is said to be very different from phonological awareness, or "decoding". Mrs McInally comments: "Children can put so much effort into decoding that they forget what they are reading for."

Reciprocal teaching was introduced in the 1980s in New Zealand, Australia and the United States as a technique for teaching multiple comprehension strategies. In 2006, it was recommended by the new primary national strategy in England.

Mrs McInally will tell her SLF audience next week that the technique is a good classroom management tool, allowing teachers to set one group on a reciprocal teaching task while another group gets on with something else. It will be demonstrated by pupils from St Andrew's Primary in Bearsden and chartered teacher Mary Lisk.

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