The Classroom Series #1: The Importance of Literacy

Literacy is arguably THE essential building block in learning, no matter what subject is being taught. If a student can’t understand a word problem or how the steps of photosynthesis work, they aren’t going to learn anything. That’s why the common core standards call for improving literacy across all disciplines.

Guided reading is an important strategy in improving literacy skills. Students gain confidence reading texts that are accessible to them at their level, but still present some challenges. Readers work through these challenges with guidance from their teacher or even peers, improving fluency and comprehension as they go.

Set students a reading challenge: We run a “16 classics before you’re 16” challenge, where the upper school students attempt to read 16 classic set texts before they finish year 11. It’s proved popular. We’ve also run a reading challenge where students aim to have read a certain number of books by different points during the year. The books students read are signed off by a teacher, who briefly questions them to check they’ve been read. Students gain bronze, silver and gold status and lower-ability students can access all of these levels, as the size of the book doesn’t matter.

Take advantage of short stories: Reading short stories has proved popular with our students. We have always taught a short story unit, but this term I decided to find the more unusual and challenging texts for my class. The short story is brilliant because it ensures students can be engaged without investing too much time or energy, but the depth of stories, such as Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt, Gabriel García Márquez’s short stories and Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter, enable children of all abilities to be engaged with the book.

Engage reluctant readers: Choice of text is obviously part of the answer, but what we’ve found to work for us is the shared experience of everyone studying the same text regardless of their reading level – we find ways to make it accessible to all.

Make reading a habit for students: Celebratory events such as World Book Day are nice, but they are a sideshow to the day-to-day graft we need to put in to provide students with the time, space and tight structure they need to sit down and read. No amount of talking about reading amounts to the act of reading itself. Every Wednesday morning my form group will engage in DEAR – drop everything and read – for 20 minutes, as does every form group in the school. I have heard some outside the school criticise this method, the reason being that it does not solve the literacy issues of the very weak. There may always be one or two children pretending to read, but to deny this opportunity in school to those who do not have the encouragement at home would be wrong in my opinion.

Give students the time to properly invest in what they’re writing: Often in class we can rush students from one piece of writing to another and in doing so inadvertently embed poor literacy. When children start to take pride in their writing, they are willing to work on their errors. We tend to remember the things we take pride in as well. Redrafting and slowing down the writing process are key. You can read about some of the strategies I use to do this on my blog, Reflecting English.

Use improvisation and role play: Get students to read a text aloud in different ways to demonstrate expression and intonation. You can then take this a step further by getting them to improvise a scenario to explore how a character may feel about a certain event or situation. Role play is a good way to develop students’ awareness of how dialogue is spoken when they are reading silently and I’ve found it good for word decoding. Also, both techniques can be useful and fun ways of developing oral skills.

Additional Resources:

In the classroom, Guided Reading with Jenna demonstrates how teachers can efficiently assess students’ learning by meeting with students in small groups and asking questions about a text. Try and find time to inject some of the principles here on activities you’ll do with your kids over the weekend.

ReadWriteThink and Dr. Jan Richardson website lays out a great step-by-step strategy for implementing guided reading in the classroom that includes lesson plans, suggestions, and tons of resources on how to conduct the reading sessions.

After school activities:

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