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.
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?’
- 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.’