Learning to Read, Reading to Learn

After a few Twitter exchanges on the subject of Guided Reading earlier today, these are my thoughts on one possible model of teaching reading in primary schools.

In many of the schools that I have worked in, children have improved as readers despite the teaching they have received and not because of it; unlike the teaching of writing, the teaching of reading has frequently lacked direction and purpose.

Clearly, it is not good enough to just expect children to get better with age, we must carefully design and provide the opportunities that will help them to do so.

As detailed below, I believe that all children should receive the opportunity to read in three different contexts during a normal school week:

1. Guided Reading which is objective
led. It is vital that this does not become a session where a teacher or TA merely listens to a group of children reading. From decoding strategies to higher-order inference, Guided Reading can be used to develop skills that children do not yet possess.

2. Shared Reading. Just as writing needs to he modelled to children, so does reading. Shared Reading presents the opportunity for teachers to demonstrate the skills they want children to develop themselves. Further, it gives us the chance to introduce children to books and authors that they might not necessarily encounter themselves.

3. Independent Reading. Free of intervention, free of assessment, free of feedback, children need time to read for the fun of it; give them time to share books, talk about books, to explore and discover them for and by themselves.

In addition to their in-school reading, I also make sure that children have two reading books at home: one matched to their current level and another, for challenge, pitched slightly higher.

And so, the briefest collection of thoughts on what reading provision in a primary classroom might look like: teach reading; model reading; and allow children to read independently. We teach children to read so that they can then read to learn; perhaps no part of our job is of greater importance than this- let’s not leave it to chance that it will just happen.

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9 thoughts on “Learning to Read, Reading to Learn

    1. Hi Michael. I think reading needs to be done in a range of situations, some of which should be guided and with a specific objective. Whether ‘traditional’ GR has a place still I am unsure- you?

      1. I agree entirely the use of specific objectives. You describe that as guided; I’d tend to say “taught”. I don’t understand the use of the carousel at all – it seems wholly inefficient. We don’t use it for any other subject.
        I can see the benefits for younger children still grappling with decoding, etc., but otherwise it seems a poor approach to me.

  1. We are about to be trained in ‘reciprocal reading’ which apparently has good data to show its effectiveness.

    1. I have used a mixture of guided reading and reciprocal reading in sessions for the past three years and have received good feedback from the children involved.

      Here’s how it works with a group of 5 or 6 children of similar reading ability: in the initial part of the session the teacher acts as the guide introducing the text etc, children then read in silence up to a given page, teacher (guide) tunes into each child as they read a page or two of text aloud. Teacher and child discuss what has just been read: focusing on the objective for the session and discuss how the child can continue to meet or work towards meeting that objective next time. Once all children have read aloud with teacher, the session is handed over to the children to scan through the text again and devise a question or two that they can ask the other members of that reading group to initiate discussions about the text (the reciprocal bit). At the start of the year the teacher will need to guide children so that they develop their inference question creation skills, but can then gradually take a back seat, acting as a facilitator for this part of the guided reading session.

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