This issue discusses some of the strategies SENCos and classroom teachers can share with colleagues to enable them to support the development of reading across the curriculum

Reading is such an important skill. Being able to read impacts on learning and achievement in every area of the curriculum and children who struggle will encounter barriers to learning throughout each day in school. Weak reading skills also prevent pupils from reading for pleasure and enjoying the whole wonderful world of fiction, not to mention reducing their ability to cope and be independent in the real world.

Support for SENCOs
Whether you work in a primary or secondary setting, you will have a number of intervention strategies in place for pupils who need extra support with developing reading skills – from extra practice with an adult reading buddy, through various catch-up programmes, to one-to-one tuition from a highly skilled Reading Recovery teacher or dyslexia expert (encourage colleagues to observe one of these sessions when possible – they will learn a lot).

Any and all of these methods will be more effective, however, if they are backed up by good support throughout the school. Helping colleagues to understand the development of reading and enabling them to contribute to the process will be time well spent. The training of TAs is especially important in this respect as they are often the people who provide extra practice and encouragement for individuals or small groups of pupils. Make sure they know about:

  • appropriate books, plays, poems for different ages, levels of ability and different interests (eg non-fiction as well as fiction titles) and different versions of ‘talking books’
  • the importance of reading to children and young people – whatever their age; taking turns with reading aloud can speed up the process, provide a good model of reading aloud and make the whole thing more interesting
  • the value of encouraging pupils to read familiar books and stories – they will do well with these, boosting confidence and allowing them to focus more on expression and enjoyment
  • the various ‘cues’ to reading unfamiliar words – over and above phonics, eg the sense of the passage (can you guess/predict what the word might be?), the grammatical structure of the sentence, picture cues if there are any. Knowing how to read on and come back…
  • paired reading.

Support for teachers
Many teachers, especially those in secondary settings, feel that it is someone else’s job to teach pupils to read. In fact, it is a shared responsibility and the DCSF stance is that every teacher should know enough about phonics and other reading cues to be able to support pupils’ reading development. At the very least, you need to be confident in how to prompt a reader effectively when he is stuck on a word. If teachers feel insecure in this, they should ask their SENCO or literacy coordinator for some help. The points below offer some generic advice on how to support pupils’ reading across all areas of the curriculum:

  • Try to maintain a balance between providing regular reading practice (without it they won’t improve) and avoiding reading altogether. In issue 134, we described a range of ‘DARTs’ which can be used to get learners interacting with text.
  • Provide support for reading by placing pupils in pairs (a good reader with a less good reader) and groups.
  • Avoid asking a weak reader to read aloud to the class, unless he has time to prepare.
  • Use an IWB to display text and read out together. (‘Here’s a tricky word –who can suggest how we can work it out?’)
  • Use appropriate texts (your SENCO can point you to easy-to-use ‘readability’ measures – you’ll be surprised how high the level is for many text books).
  • Make activity sheets accessible – short sentences, avoiding extraneous text; using the first person where possible.
  • For primary phase children, make a game of word recognition using flash cards of newly-learned words – two or three minutes each day can make a big difference to improving sight vocabulary.
  • Introduce and explain technical vocabulary: look at the word together as a group or whole class, using phonics (if appropriate) to decode. Talk about the meaning and any related words; photosynthesis, photosynthesise; photo (prefix) synthesis. Remember that there is also a whole bank of vocabulary that is not deemed ‘technical’ but the understanding of which is crucial to students’ understanding of exam questions. Words like discuss, analyse, justify, review can confuse students who may actually be able to respond if only they understood the question.
  • Be a good role model – talk about personal reading, recommend books and articles to children in your classes. When we used to sit with pupils around the dinner table, there was opportunity to have this sort of conversation – not always so easy nowadays. But you can still take time after registration or in tutor sessions to comment on what you read over the weekend, or to tell pupils about a really good story you read to your children, or a title your son/daughter/nephew/niece has recommended.
  • Make time in registration/tutor sessions for actual reading as well – it isn’t the prerogative of literacy/English teachers. Collect a good variety of books, comics, magazines and newspapers in a box and allow ten minutes’ reading every day – or whatever is appropriate. Organise a book swap day each week/month.
  • Use the news. Bring in newspaper cuttings of relevance to your subject area or current topic and ask a pair of pupils to read it and report back to the class… it might be a new discovery (science), someone finding a relic (history) or a report of floods (geography). This can also be a homework activity – with articles of different length and complexity given to readers of different abilities: they can prepare a short summary to deliver to the class. For older pupils, use articles from professional journals.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 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.