Recently, colleagues and I have been working hard with schools to develop whole-class reading practice which is both challenging and inclusive. This is a particularly current issue in primary schools, but is – of course – also pertinent to secondary English.
Many teachers and schools are moving towards quite a formalised approach, with a similar agenda for every session or series of sessions. Pupils might move through a fairly fixed set of activities; texts might be subjected to quite repetitive kinds of interrogation, with pupils asking and answering similar questions each time. (Such an approach can develop out of a focus on preparation for assessment, often defaulting to ‘content domains’ in primary, or to GCSE ‘AOs’ in secondary.) Such repetition, while reassuring, can also be limiting, denying the potential of individual texts to teach particular aspects of reading, to demand particular kinds of thinking, to invite different kinds of response, to suggest a variety of engaging, classroom activities, and to offer new pleasures and experiences to pupils as real readers.
The contrasting approach is to have no set formula for whole-class reading sessions, but to let planning be flexible, led by the the text’s ‘potential’, by the shifting needs of the pupils, by the class’s developing relationship with the text as readers and – of course – by the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the teacher.
Such a flexible approach can make it easier for teachers to follow the following principles, which we believe underlie the best whole-class reading practice.
- Enjoy reading challenging texts with children
- Let the text lead
- Have rich conversations about texts
- Pitch high & scaffold for all
- Build talk around personal response
- Keep it varied
- Integrate the teaching of reading, writing & grammar
The planning tool
Our session planning tool is simple, but helps teachers to design lessons in a flexible, text-led and responsive way – maintaining variety while being reassured that pupils are building the knowledge and skills they need. It can be used to design a short session of half an hour, a longer session of an hour or more, or even a series of connected sessions around one text.
As well as templates to use when scribbling plans, the tool contains example lessons, lists of activities and a full explanation of the approach, which is also set out below.
The tool is (and, like all the best things in teaching, probably always will be) work-in-progress, so any feedback is very welcome!
Prepare, read and react (The minimum)
In any session, pupils should be prepared for reading. This might be just a few moments, or it might be an extended piece of teaching. They should have an engaging encounter with the text itself, either listening to it or reading it for themselves. And they should have some sort of opportunity to react to it personally, as readers. Again, this might be just a few moments, or it might be a more extended activity.
A simple session like this might just be to read for reading’s sake, to build enjoyment, to bring pupils into contact with an interesting text, or to cover ground in a novel, for example. Or it might be to practise expressing personal responses and recording impressions.
What will prepare the ground for pupils? What will help to scaffold their encounter with the text? What will provide them with necessary hand-holds when they are reading?
What could make pupils’ reading of the text as engaged as possible? How should it be ‘released’ to them? What could help pupils to keep track while reading?
How might pupils be able to react to the text while reading? How might pupils be able to react to the text immediately after reading?
Prepare, read, react & process
Pupils might also process their responses and understandings (on their own or in a pair or group) through writing, talk, drama, drawing or some other creative work. This might be brief or extended.
How might pupils be able to process and record their responses and understandings after discussion – in writing, talk or another creative mode?
Prepare, read, react & explore
Or, the focus of the session might be on exploring the text through discussion, reading closely for comprehension or to analyse language, meanings and effects. (This might, of course, double as test preparation, either directly or indirectly.)
How might pupils practise reading closely or analytically – making inferences, picking out words, phrases or details, making connections and finding evidence for ideas?
Prepare, read, react, explore & process
In a ‘full’ session, pupils might do this sort of exploration as well as some sort of summative or creative activity to process their reading further. Often, the two will be closely linked.
There will, of course, often be quite an overlap between these three elements.
The tool contains lists of suggested approaches, like a menu of activities and teaching techniques to use in each of the five elements – prepare, read, react, explore and process.
The tool also offers suggested templates to use when scribbling plans – or even when typing them up beautifully…
…and it includes example planned lessons.