Managing reading development at Secondary level

The ability to read is central to a child’s ability to do well academically at school. Claires Court is a broad ability secondary independent school in Maidenhead Berks. We aim to recruit some 100 boys and girls per year group level from Year 7 and above, and on entry we assess each child’s reading age, as well as carry out a more general audit on their learning skills via CEM centre’s MidYIS assessment.  As parents choosing to find their child’s education with us, it’s quite clear their parents have taken a keen interest in their development through their primary years, but many talk of their child’s reluctance to read and of their concerns that there might be some underlying learning difficulty holding them back.  In short, we have our work cut out to ensure that the vast majority of our pupils have reached a reading age of 14 by the start of their GCSE courses in Year 10, when they are 14+ years of age!

To this end, we have developed a range of strategies to assist children (and parents) develop age appropriate reading skills. To start with in Year 7, every child has a library lesson a week as part of their English curriculum, and the libraries are well stocked with contemporary novels and modern factual reference books. This work is supported by author visits and book vents through the year. In addition, every child has a digital reading account providing them with a very wide range of digital books provide courtesy of Renaissance Accelerated Reader, which gives teachers the information they need to monitor their pupils’ reading practice and make appropriate decisions and choice to guide future reading and reinforcement. This internet based software gives each child regular feedback on their progress, supported by the librarians and teachers eager to give praise where due. However and he is a really big caution, silent reading on its own won’t improve the reading age of a reluctant reader.  They specifically need to read out loud to an ‘interested’ reader – we call this RADIO READING.

How might a parent listen to an older child at top primary/lower secondary child read?

Specific focus is given to listening to your child read without seeing the text.  The text can be from fiction, from a school book, from a catalogue or magazine or from that daily paper no house should be without.  Make sure your child has their reading to hand and then…

…sit back and imagine you are listening to the radio

Listen to the unfolding story and if words cannot be read, then leave it for your ‘radio’ reader to work out what word might do instead.  This might require them to read on a bit, but do be patient.

From fiction, capture unfamiliar words and discuss their meaning and usage – not too many, but enough to keep you concentrating on your job as listener.

Magazines tend to use technical language dependent upon the article – perhaps not necessarily useful in the wider context – but words, themes and issues will emerge which are worth an ‘any questions’ on afterwards – this helps check comprehension as well as keeping you involved.

The textbooks have a reading age at least age appropriate if not two years or more ahead.  They contain a technical vocabulary your child may need to become familiar with, so as they read jot down any words which seem technical and unfamiliar to them and you.  At natural points, for a break or to clarify, raise these words and discuss them.  

Papers raise issues of personal, social, cultural and moral development leading anywhere you might wish – often you don’t may feel you don’t need to hear the ‘reading’, but just discuss the emerging issues.  The lovely thing about newsprint is that this is where new words, usage and grammar first come into written use.  Spot the new words and see if they have value for your child.

Many of our families with boys in year 7 to 9 report the value of this personal time they find together.  In a world full of things to do and not enough time, with wall to wall TV and PC, internet and games machine, finding some quiet time to follow this work builds bigger and wider bridges than all might think at first hand.

The departments at Claires Court all produce secondary lists of technical vocabulary for their subject and in each year of key stage 3 (ages 11 to 14).  These are issued at the start of the year, are often reissued with revision guides and can be worked through at home to ensure each child is literate in their reading and their meaning.  It is amazing just how few words exist in the technical lexicon of each subject, so a bit of diligent attention here provides really useful support for the child, whatever their wider reading ability.

And finally – some 8 years ago I remember listening to Gary Chevin, former prison inmate turned Dyslexia researcher, working with Professors Rod Nicolson, and Prof Angela Fawcett. They had just completed his book (2009 – AuthorHouse), Dyslexia: Visually Deaf? Auditory Blind? In short, Gary’s unusual story is that he has no ‘inner voice’, and so unless he reads out loud, he can’t hear the story! This reinforced in my mind that whatever the many root causes of word blindness, even the most challenged adults could discover a love of reading and that there remains significant importance that all to be heard to read out loud and often!  LAMDA exams for this purpose provide significant extended opportunities for boys and girls at secondary level to raise their standards of public speaking up to Grade 8.

This blog was commissioned by the Independent Schools Council to inform and advise. 

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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