SENCO Week discusses the important educational base provided by reading skills, and considers strategies to help older children who are struggling with reading, in order to improve their general literacy

One of the main roles of the SENCO is designing and implementing support for pupils who have weak literacy skills. Reading, in particular, is such an important part of learning and achieving that struggling in this area often means struggling in all areas of the curriculum; this can lead to low self-esteem and sometimes adverse behaviour, so literacy support is always a priority. This week we consider strategies for older pupils.

Support for SENCOs
By the time pupils reach the top end of KS2 or are into KS3 they can have experienced a lot of failure with reading and have no confidence in their abilities where text is concerned. Sitting down to read out loud to someone (often the main activity in withdrawal support) can be a painful experience, so care should be taken to make this practice as positive and enjoyable as you can.

Nominating a mentor for an individual child can be helpful – perhaps a volunteer from the community, a governor or a local business employee. (Remember to provide some training.) This person will need to be patient and understanding but also able to enthuse the pupil about books and reading. Consider ‘paired reading’ where the adult and pupil read together until the pupil feels confident enough to have a go by himself/herself. Taking turns to read alternate pages can also work well. Reading silently and then talking about the story, characters, interesting words/facts etc, is another strategy.

This type of intervention is valuable but you will also be considering a taught programme, to be delivered by a skilled teacher who can assess an individual’s needs and plan accordingly. There is a range of intervention programmes available: Academy of Reading; ARROW (Aural – Read – Respond – Oral – Write), a technique developed from the use of the self-voice; Corrective Reading; ENABLE PLUS, Toe by Toe and THRASS are suitable. AcceleRead AcceleWrite from Iansyst makes good use of motivating technology and the Hodder Reading project is worth a look.

It’s important to have good quality, age-appropriate books to work with, as well as newspapers and magazines. Make sure that the library has a good ‘quick reads’ section and if there are classroom/form room reading boxes, these should also be checked for appropriate titles; try to include audio books as well. Poems and plays are popular for reading aloud; the ‘Take Part’ series by Jo Browning-Wroe is an excellent resource in this respect. Each book of 10 plays is themed (sport, music), has plot summaries to help readers to ‘get into’ the play, and large, well-spaced text that is easy to follow – with no part being too wordy. Look at the Download series from Rising Stars and the Rex Jones stories from Badger Publishing. Barrington Stoke publish a good range of ‘easy reads’ (and there is no indication on the cover that they are ‘different’ in any way). Evans Publishing has a wide range of fiction and non-fiction ‘quick reads’.

Support for teachers
At the top end of primary school and in secondary schools, staff are usually less familiar with strategies for developing reading skills than colleagues teaching younger children. Any support you can give them will be helpful in developing classroom strategies to run alongside intervention work being delivered by support staff. The points below may be useful as starting points for CPD or to give as a handout:

  • As with any skill, reading improves with practice. Provide regular opportunities for non-threatening reading practice, such as with a partner, or following text while the teacher reads. Point out any tricky words and explain what they mean. Remember to build in preparation time before asking strugglers to read aloud in class; if they have practised and the passage is short, their successful reading aloud can do wonders for self-confidence.
  • Find out about synthetic phonics and how pupils can be encouraged to work out a word using their knowledge of phonemes and phonic rules. Help them to use a
  • problem-solving approach to the reading of an unfamiliar word by thinking about context and grammar as well (remember there are many words which look the same but sound different, eg rough, plough, dough, cough; and some that sound the same but look different).
  • Check for understanding; older pupils can sometimes read aloud quite competently but gain only a partial understanding of what has been read.
  • Provide accessible texts: short sentences, pictorial support and clear signposting all help. Pay particular attention to worksheets and train your TA to amend these when necessary.
  • Highlight and explain subject-specific key words; display them around the room and provide a list for pupils to stick into their books/folders as a reference so that they become part of the pupils’ sight vocabulary.
  • Write clearly on the board, in large script; using different colours for alternate lines of writing can make it easier for students to follow.

Support for pupils and parents
As children move up though school it can be more difficult to engage parents in supporting their reading. This is no reason not to try!

As teachers, we can assume parents have knowledge that they just don’t have. Invite them in as a group (safety in numbers), giving them a choice of time if possible, to allow them to fit around work, childcare, etc. Suggest some clear ideas on how they can help (eg playing word games, sharing books) and ensure that they understand the importance of showing interest in their children and continue to support their learning. Give out lists of appropriate books, audio books or software to buy or get from the library. Suggest that parents occasionally read the same book as their offspring and then talk with them about their favourite bits. Recipes, TV listings, DIY instructions or travel brochures can all provide opportunities for reading in the home as well as books and comics.

Older children who are struggling with reading may have low self-esteem, so an important part of talking to parents is to suggest ways of addressing this, such as finding something the child is good at and helping her/him to experience success whenever possible; praising effort as well as achievement; avoiding comparing them with other children/siblings; and never talking about their ‘problems’ to another person while they can hear – unless it’s a conversation that involves them and is conducted in a positive way.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.