The Secondary School Reading Plateau.

Many pupils perform well at primary level, showing themselves to be bright and well motivated, and yet a few years later the same pupils begin to experience problems in school. This blip in their academic performance occurs during the transition period between late primary and early secondary school, when pupils are progressing from the accurate decoding of texts to deeper comprehension of texts.

At primary school a child learns to read, at secondary school the pupil reads to learn, and good readers cannot be identified by their decoding ability alone. Reading is a complex activity requiring a combination of skills: decoding, general knowledge, vocabulary, concentration, memory and motivation. In the light of this complexity, it is not surprising that individuals’ reading develops at different rates and to different levels.

Not everyone will be a confident reader when they start secondary school, although this might not be obvious to mainstream teachers. There would be valid reasons for such an oversight: –

  • There is a perception that reading is taught in primary schools. Secondary teachers would imagine the skill to be established by the time a pupil enters secondary education and, even if they realise that a pupil’s reading is weak, few would feel skilled enough to offer support.
  • When a pupil can decode written text, it is assumed that they understand what they are reading.
  • Senior school staff teach large numbers of pupils for short periods of time, observe pupils in limited settings, focus on subject related material rather than literacy skills and so will not have the opportunity to observe pupils’ reading deficiencies.
  • The individual reading activities, in which a pupil’s problems might be observed, are unlikely to occur regularly in subject lessons.
  • The skills that underpin reading such as language, memory and attention, are assumed to be developed to an appropriate level by the time a child is eleven.
  • Secondary pupils needing more opportunities for reading practice than their peers will be the most accomplished at hiding their difficulties.
  • Reading difficulties occur across a wide spectrum and there will be pupils who experience mild reading problems in certain circumstances, perhaps when they feel under pressure, when excessively tired, reading about unfamiliar topics or working within time limits.

Adult Well-being: ten top tips.

  1. Take steps to solve minor problems before they become bigger issues.
  2. Share worries with friends or family that you trust. They may be able to offer solutions, provide reassurance or offer a different perspective to the problem.
  3. Experiment with alternative self-calming approaches: yoga, breathing techniques, mindfulness or meditation.
  4. Get some exercise every day. Walk or cycle to work, walk up and down stairs rather than use the lift, go for a swim, get out into the country side at weekends.
  5. Acknowledge any personal triggers that will move you from a healthy level of stimulation to a potentially harmful level of stress. Deal with the triggers: ask for help from friends, family or work colleagues. Don’t be afraid to say: ‘No, I’m too busy.’ / ‘Sorry, I simply don’t have time.’ / ‘I’m afraid that’s not something I have any interest in.’/ ‘That’s more Nick’s area than mine.’ Compile a list of credible excuses to use as and when required.
  6. Eat a balanced, healthy diet and limit your alcohol intake.
  7. Develop hobbies and pursue personal interests outside work: join a sports club or a choir, volunteer at church, go to concerts, the cinema or the theatre, decorate or work in the garden. Go for a ramble in the countryside: it is recognised that being out and about in the natural world can have a positive impact on mood.
  8. Allow yourself some quiet time each day: to have a bath, listen to the radio, read the paper or sit in a coffee shop.
  9. Read articles in papers, magazines or on the internet that relate to mental health. There will be advice from others that relates to your own situation.
  10. Find something new in your work that you would like to try. Experimenting with new approaches and involvement in projects can give new insights into your professional practice and be a strong motivator.

Reading material for the reluctant reader.

  • Science fiction and fantasy adventures from series such as: the Minecraft Series, the Warrior Chronicles or the Sorcery Code.
  • Traditional stories that have stood the test of time are certain to hold appeal for some children: The Iron Man, Black Beauty, Treasure Island, Wind in the Willows, Five Children and It, The Railway Children, The Secret Garden, The Silver Sword or Tom’s Midnight Garden.
  • Focus on the child’s favourite authors: Roald Dahl, Antony Horowitz, David Walliams, Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson, J. K. Rowling, Enid Blyton or Michael Morpurgo, and suggest reading more of their work.
  • Books that link to TV series or films can be popular: Top Gear, Dr Who, Doctor Dolittle, Toy Story, The Hunger Games, Paddington, Dragon’s Den, The Call of the Wild, Bake Off or Strictly.
  • Abridged versions of classics can be useful to provide an overview of the original texts being read by the children in school: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Brontes or Charles Dickens    
  • Non-fiction books around the children’s areas of interest: martial arts, golf, nursing, cookery, music, craft and art, Arsenal FC, rap music, caring for a pet, stock cars, art and design, computers, fashion.
  • Biographies and autobiographies may engage a child’s interest: political, musical, TV and sports personalities or famous people from History: Nelson Mandela, Lionel Messi, Anne Frank, Mother Teresa, Raheem Sterling, Winston Churchill, the Romans or Queen Victoria.
  • Animal books, perhaps fiction such as the Animal Ark Series, Holly Webb Animal stories, or information books about unusual animals, (sharks, dinosaurs, reptiles), books about careers with animals or how to care for pets.
  • After reading one book from, for example, the Horrible History Geography and Science series, pupils may be motivated to read more from the set.
  • Books that provide the opportunity to read around school topics: Carrie’s War, Goodnight Mr Tom, The Machine Gunners, The Silver Sword or I am David for World War Two. Such books will provide a human perspective to the WW2 period.
  • Newspapers, comics and magazines: Marvel comics, Match, NME, Easy Cook, Classic and Sports Car, Beano, Aquila, Angling Times, the junior sections of newspapers or Kerrang. There will be a comic or magazine to match a child’s every possible interest.
  • Encyclopaedias, atlases, brochures, annuals, instruction manuals, the internet or books from the I-Spy series.
  • Collections of poetry, verse and plays.
  • Comic strip books: Manga, Japanese comics and graphic novels. There are graphic adaptations for most classic works of English Literature that students will be studying in school.
  • Puzzle and quiz books: The ‘Where’s Wally’ series, crosswords puzzles, the Brainbox series, the Usborne series of puzzle adventures, and general knowledge quiz books.
  • Short stories, perhaps the series written by Paul Jennings, Hans Christian Anderson, Brothers Grimm, Roald Dahl, Greek myths or the short stories of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Joke, riddle and quiz books.

Hearing your child read.

When children read aloud to adults they need to succeed. They should feel that they are reading for pleasure, rather than to demonstrate their decoding skills.

Talk about the book before they start to read.

‘This looks interesting. What do you think it’s going to be about?’ ‘I like books about: France / music / gardening / films / tennis.  Do you like those sorts of book?’ ‘Do you like stories about cooking / history / animals / football?’

Support reading for meaning.

  • When the child comes across an unfamiliar word, try to help them guess the word. Ask questions: ‘What word might make sense there?’ ‘Can you think of what word it might be?’
  • Encouraged the child to use their phonic knowledge: ‘What letter does the word begin with?’ ‘What sound does the word end with?’ ‘What do you think the beginning of the word will sound like?’
  • Encourage them to look at word parts. ‘Can you see any smaller words inside the word?’, (wind/mill, stop/watch, dish/wash/er, car/pen/ter) ‘The word looks a bit like night or fight, I think it might be right’
  • Suggest missing the unknown word out and reading on. ‘Let’s see if we can work it out at the end of this next bit.’ Then read the sentence to show how to use context. ‘I’ll read it from the beginning and see if we can work out what it might be.’ It will help to read the sentence with exaggerated expression.
  • Point out any pictorial clues. ‘Can you see what is the girl jumping over in the picture?’

Responding

  • Praise them when they work a word out correctly. If they say: ‘Is it ……….?’ and the word is correct, say, ‘Let’s see if that would make sense. Yes, well done, you got it!’, or ‘Does that sound right? Yes, well done, that was tricky.’
  • If they are wrong, acknowledge their effort and make light of the error. ‘That would be a good word and make sense too, but this word is …’
  • If a child can’t attempt a word after prompting, simply supply the word and move on.
  • It is important to respond to content. If there’s a joke in a story, laugh. If there is new information, discuss it, preferably giving the child the chance to share their own knowledge. Express an interest in what might happen next.

When finishing reading.

  • Always end reading on a positive note. ‘I liked that book. The bit about …… was interesting. I didn’t know that until now.’ ‘I liked the joke about ….., you’ll have to remember that one to tell Uncle Paul.’