'Why whole-class reading beats a carousel – and seven ways to ensure it is successful'

From the archive: a primary teacher's article on why whole-class reading is the way forward in primary and how to get it right

DM Crosby

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Each time we open a book with children it is an opportunity to walk into a new world together, to explore the inner workings of great literary minds and, as their guide, to point out to the children the sights and sounds that could so easily be missed by the untrained eye. These reading journeys are by far the most enjoyable aspect of my day as a primary teacher. 

Like many of you, I have made the decision to move away from carousel guided reading in favour of more whole-class reading sessions.

This is firstly because it seemed so wrong to be going on one of these reading journeys and to only invite a fifth of the class.

Carousel reading also made no sense in terms of my time management. Organising the teaching of reading in carousel guided reading terms usually means that each child receives about 45 minutes of reading instruction per week. If one makes each of these sessions a whole-class reading session then each child receives about three hours 45 minutes.

Whole-class reading sessions also mean that children of all attainment bands are immersed in the same high-quality literature and the discussions that these texts promote.

But what are the essential elements of whole-class reading? Just doing it is not a guarantee of success. Here are seven points I believe are crucial:

1. All children should be in mixed-attainment pairs, so as to allow for frequent, paired discussion

It is essential that less confident readers are exposed to the high-quality reasoning of more confident readers and become part of these discussions.

2. The text chosen should provide a clear challenge for all members of the class

A good rule of thumb is that the text chosen should be between 12 and 18 months beyond the reach of your higher attaining readers; that is to say, beyond the reach of their independent reading of it and comprehending of it.

3. When reading, the teacher should model good use of intonation, movement, volume and expression

Children will pick up good reading styles from teachers’ performances. Eventually, they will start to emulate you in their own performances.

4. Teachers should be actively monitoring pace, so as to ensure high levels of engagement throughout the lesson

Reading and listening to reading for long periods of time can be mentally taxing for some children. Interspersing longer stints of reading with paired discussions/independent follow-up tasks can help with this.

5. Teachers should use targeted and open-ended questioning

Targeted questioning is not only good for Asessment for Learning but also a good way to ensure all children engage with the lesson – if they don’t know who will be asked to provide a response then they are more likely to consider your question and make good use of their talking partner.

6. When discussing literature, the teacher should model, and expect from children, high-quality responses with evidence and explanations provided to support

Children need to be able to say a response before they can write one; developing this skill at primary is vital for success at secondary. Teachers should model and encourage children to make good use of sentence stems (eg," The author has used the word ___________ to suggest ____________ , as the word ________ has connotations of __________" )

7. All follow-up tasks should be carefully thought out so as to provide challenge for all children and support for those who need it

A follow-up task is a good way for children to reflect on what they have read and an opportunity for the teacher to observe/assess the individual understanding of a piece. Differentiating these tasks should not be onerous; simple tweaks are often enough.

DM Crosby is Year 3 class teacher and English coordinator at Middleton Primary and Nursery School in Nottingham. He is on twitter @DM_Crosby

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DM Crosby

DM Crosby is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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