For those people who think cognitive load theory is useful, and I certainly do, think about the intrinsic load placed on a child whenever they read. Over the past couple of years I have really wanted to improve the reading, reading fluency and the vocabulary sizes of the children at my school. I have wanted to make it so that when children read they can enjoy the things that are reading. Like all other teachers we have not wanted the reading to so difficult that it puts the children off. The teachers at the school where I work are fully dedicated to improving the life chances of children. We have successfully turned some children’s lives. I have seen children who can’t read turn into children who can read and then turn into children who want to read.
We decided on attacking reading over 3 main fronts. Increasing the volume children read; improving the fluency in which children are capable of reading and finally by trying to increase the understanding of vocabulary.
Nagy and Herman 1987, a child who reads at 200 words per minute and reads for 25 minutes a day over the course of 200 days would encounter 1 million words. This means that children would encounter between 15,000 and 30,000 unfamiliar words. If 1 in 10 of these were to be learned, the yearly gain would be about 750 to 1,500 words per year.
- This is what we have done to try and increase reading volume. All geography, history, science and RE lessons start off with a text. This text is then used to teach the children new knowledge and information. The teacher reads the text to the children, providing explanations as they go. The children are given the opportunity to read aloud to the class. They are allowed to read the text in silence. By doing it this way we develop children’s confidence, reading and understanding. Each text is around 100-300 words. We don’t shy away from year 1 children being exposed to difficult texts either. Nor do we consider them too young to engage in this sort of reading.
- We have an army of volunteers who listen to children read. This is especially prevalent in Key Stage 1. We have parents listen to children; we have people from the local church come in and listen to the children read; and we have governors listening to the children.The opportunity for these children to read to an adult is fantastic and if it weren’t for these selfless people, some of our children would go without the pleasure of reading to an adult. They have adults smiling to them whilst they’re reading.
- On a daily basis children will recite poetry. I may be sad but I really like to listen to the whole class reciting a poem. First they have the poem in front of them. They learn the words. We break down difficult words and we explain difficult words. All of that language is then stored in the long term memory for use in other lessons.
I have set a target that the children should be exposed to at least 1,000 words per day. I’d say that we have exposed our children to far more.
‘Fast and accurate word reading is hypothesised to facilitate reading comprehension becuase it releases a readers cognitive resources to focus on meaning’ (La Berge and Samuels 1974, Wolf and Katzir-Cohen, 2001).
- I’ve already blogged about reading fluency here
I don’t think I ever really thought about reading fluency until very recently. I kind of just thought that they develop their reading organically. I overlooked the importance of spelling. Chang and Rossi (2017) found that spelling accuracy and reading fluency were strongly correlated. Reading fluency, like reading in general, is a huge jigsaw puzzle that needs carefully piecing together. There isn’t a silver bullet. There isn’t a magic pill. It is just lots and lots of hard work.
Having looked at our Key Stage 2 results last year I found that those children whom had a reading fluency score of 154 and above achieved greater depth. To achieve an expected score the children needed to read at a rate of around 110 WPM. Like always there were outliers.
E D Hirsch has said that vocabulary size is the single most reliable correlate to reading ability. OK so we get our children to read lots and lots. They come across words, lots of unfamiliar words, especially in non-fiction. Do we just let the children read without understanding what they’re reading? The answer has to be no. Children may be able to mechanically read the words but unless we explicitly teach the children what words mean then it would be like giving children an o
- Stahl and Fairbanks (1986) said that when vocabulary is pre-taught new language has more chance of being learned. By pre-teaching you also improve the chances of children understanding the text that they are reading. I try to follow these simple steps for pre-teaching words.
- Write the new word on the board and give a brief explanation.
- Present this new word with a picture. Having an interactive whiteboard makes this fairly easy.
- Give further examples of this word. I often give examples of what it isn’t.
- Pupils generate their own explanations.
- Children draw their own pictures.
I certainly do numbers 1-3 every lesson. Doing 4 and 5 would certainly help the children even more. The research clearly shows that images with new words works best. Powell (1980) found that it showed the strongest gains.
- Morphology/etymology has had a huge impact on my teaching recently. I’m going to give the example of shape. By teaching the children what ‘oct’ means in my phonics (phase 6) lessons, I noticed how easily the children could solve shape problems in maths. It didn’t matter whether the shape was irregular the children could explain confidently why the shape was an octagon. In the recent key stage 1 test not one child got the shape question wrong. They weren’t confused because the etymology was taught and now they could apply. I also teach many other prefixes explicitly and the difference is incredible. Whenever we come to these words in texts the children are beginning to organise in their heads what these words mean. I’ve mentioned in the other blogs that Lyster (2016) found morphological awareness had a positive effect on comprehension abilities. If this training is started early on then by the time they reach grade 6 they have more word knowledge about word meaning and they can apply this when reading more demanding texts.
The mathematical language I teach outside of maths and before I teach them the topic include: uni, bi, tri, quad, pent, hex, hept, oct, non, dec, cent etc. In year 2 a few weeks ago we had a great conversation about October and December. This was initiated mainly by the children. I also teach a wide range of prefixes that I feel will be important to them moving forwards.
Reading is difficult. The brain already has phonology and semantics hardwired into the brain and is ready to be filled. These two components of the brain have already evolved over many thousands of years. What hasn’t had time to evolve in the brain the third component to reading is the graphemes that represent the sounds. I guess I just believe that children should be reading reading reading. They shouldn’t just be reading stories, I believe they should be exposed to loads of non-fiction and enjoy finding out stuff.
I’m going to leave with a quote from our excellent year 6 teacher about the year 6 SATS tests. The reading paper was over 2,000 words long plus questions. She said,”The children weren’t at all phased by the sheer number of words because it is what they are used to.” When I stood in the room watching the children perform, it was incredible. They just motored through the paper with the minimum of fuss.
I’m not suggesting that we do what we do for a SATS test, we don’t. We have just helped to reduce the stress for the test but more importantly we have inadvertently taught our children to not be scared of lots of words.