Somehow, I had ended up doing most of the work. Having switched from the traditional carousel guided reading model to whole-class reading, I’d found myself designing lessons in such a way that I was doing the lion’s share of the reading.
At the time, this made sense to me. I was the most experienced reader in the room and I felt that my command of prosody meant we were able to tackle more challenging texts than we would be able to if the children were doing the reading. But after undertaking some research, including the excellent Reading Reconsidered (Lemov et al), I came to believe this was a flawed approach. Although my pupils were indeed exposed to challenging literature beyond their independent reading attainment, it also meant that they were not developing their own independent reading stamina as effectively as they could have.
Reading stamina is not only essential for future academic success but it also opens up the world of literature to children. So, I have adapted my approach to ensure that my pupils are not only given the opportunity to read independently in my class, but also that they develop their prosody through reading aloud to an attentive audience.
The organisation of reading in my classroom now includes the teacher read-aloud (where I do the reading), the read-along (where children take it in turns to read aloud to the class) and independent reading (where they read the text silently to themselves).
Each approach has its pros and cons, which I will outline here, along with practical advice on how to overcome any limitations.
The teacher read-aloud
The teacher read-aloud is an essential part of a child’s education. It turns reading into an event, where the most experienced reader in the room can expertly guide the learners through the text.
* Children can be exposed to texts significantly beyond their independent reading ability. As the children do not have to decode the challenging text, their short-term memory can focus on comprehension. This is particularly important when tackling archaic texts using unfamiliar syntax.
* The teacher can provide an example of effective prosody. This explicit modelling of expression, emphasis, intonation, volume, speed and movement is essential for less experienced readers and, if done regularly, pupils do start to imitate their teachers in their own reading.
* The teacher can aid comprehension through their use of prosody. Some of the subtleties of challenging literature can be lost on less experienced students when reading independently. If the teacher is reading aloud, they can consciously emphasise key words or control pace in order to draw the children’s attention to key points.
* As the teacher reads aloud, they can model the key strategies they are deploying to make sense of the text. This metacognitive external monologue is vital for children to hear as it exposes the internal processes involved in comprehension.
* It develops listening stamina. There is a lot of competition for children’s attention, and the stamina required to sit and listen attentively is something that needs to be nurtured in school. The teacher read-aloud is a wonderful opportunity to achieve this.
* The most obvious limitation to this approach is that it does not build reading stamina in children. They develop their ability to sit and listen attentively and comprehend, but not to decode and comprehend. This approach alone, then, will not develop the reading stamina required of children when they progress through to secondary school or, indeed, further education.
* Another issue is that the teacher read-aloud could be used as an opportunity for some children to disengage. While the teacher’s focus is on effective prosody and the modelling of strategies, it can be difficult for them to ascertain whether the whole class is truly listening.
With the read-along (often referred to as the round robin), children take it in turns to read part of the text being studied while the rest of the class follows along.
I would rarely (if ever) attempt to get around the whole class in one session – this wouldn’t be an effective use of time. But asking a sample of children to tackle particular parts of the text is a great way to assess learning. As with the teacher read-aloud method, this approach has clear advantages and limitations.
The read-along provides an opportunity for children to read aloud to an audience, which is essential for the development of confidence in reading and also promotes the joy of performance.
* It provides vital data for the teacher. One of the key advantages that the traditional carousel guided model has over the whole-class model is that the teacher hears each child read aloud at least once a week. This is not always possible if the teacher uses only the read-aloud. Using the read-along overcomes this drawback and allows the teacher to hear readers even if is only for a short extract.
* It provides opportunity for immediate correction. If a child struggles with a word or phrase, the teacher can intervene. This helps to prevent children from developing poor reading habits, such as skipping difficult words or not noticing mistakes at all, which will compromise the development of their comprehension.
* It develops a culture of listening and respect. It provides a regular and structured opportunity for children to practise listening to their peers.
* As with the read-aloud, only one person is doing the reading – this provides an opportunity for some children to disengage. Solve this issue by making your choice of who reads next appear random. If children do not know whether it is them that will be reading next, they are more likely to listen and follow attentively.
* It can place a limitation on your choice of text. In a class where reading confidence is likely to vary considerably, consideration must be given to what you are asking them to read. You can differentiate by asking the more confident readers to tackle longer passages, or extracts where you know there are particular challenges, reserving the more manageable sections for less confident readers. This takes planning but the benefits are enormous. Even in challenging, archaic texts or complex non-fiction, there will be sentences that the less confident readers can attempt.
Children read the text independently. Ultimately, this is the end goal – for children to develop in confidence so that they are able to independently decode and comprehend texts appropriate for their age group.
* Develops the independent reading stamina essential for future academic success.
* Developing the skill of independent reading through explicit practice opens the door to the world of literature.
* Pupils need to be able to read independently in order to tackle standardised tests.
* It is likely to have a pronounced negative impact on the weakest readers. However, this approach also provides an opportunity for guided group work for children who may need additional support while the rest of the class tackles the text independently. Consideration would have to be given about when these less confident readers would read independently themselves but this can be overcome with relative ease.
* Confident readers are likely to complete the passage more swiftly than less confident readers. However, having a carefully considered follow-up activity that assesses understanding, which has a high-ceiling and low-threshold, can resolve this issue.
* It is difficult to tell whether children are actually reading. Therefore, careful consideration must be given in order to make this type of reading accountable.
When using the independent reading approach in class, it is vital that children are made accountable for their reading. Carefully planned follow-up tasks should be used to check for understanding and to ensure your learners have actually read what you have asked – and that they have understood it.
This does not always have to be a list of comprehension questions, although giving children a few carefully considered puzzlers is an excellent way to check for understanding, especially in older children. Consider the myriad creative ways in which children can respond to texts that would evidence their understanding. Below are a few examples:
* Children can sketch key scenes (with annotations and quotes for older children), create maps of journeys that are taken by characters or sketch predictions based on content from the story.
* Get your learners to create story maps or flow charts to sequence key events. Older children can plot such events on an emotions graph, with time along the x axis and emotional intensity along the y axis (happiness to despair, for example).
* Ask them to use comparison alleys or other graphic organisers to compare and contrast key characters or settings.
* Pupils can annotate images of key characters with quotations from the text that show developing characterisation. Older children can comment on what it is that these quotes show about the character.
* There is always a risk that giving children follow-up activities can reduce the joy in the reading for its own sake. However, a certain level of accountability is essential if we are to monitor pupils’ understanding and help them to develop as readers. It is therefore important to ensure that we vary these activities.
Over the course of a reading unit, it is likely that using all three approaches will result in the greatest benefits. However, it is important that teachers take into consideration the needs of their individual students and the text they are studying, and adapt appropriately, if we are to maximise the impact of our classroom practice.
DM Crosby is a deputy head at a primary school in the East Midlands. He tweets @DM_Crosby