The Importance of Reading
Little else matters more in a child’s education than learning to read. If a child leaves primary school having learnt to read independently and for pleasure, then their life chances, and their life expectancy, will have been increased significantly.
However, learning to read is a complex and difficult journey, and it is easy for children to be put off along the way. If a child is not given positive early experiences of reading, or if they fall behind their peers in the development of certain skills, then their attitudes towards reading, and their motivation to persist, will often decline, making things even harder in the years to come. As the focus shifts from ‘learning to read’ at primary school, to ‘reading to learn’ at secondary school, these children are often left behind, not just in their literacy, but in many other areas of the school curriculum as well.
That is why, at Coleridge, we consider reading a crucial life skill and strive to ensure that all children can read confidently, for both pleasure and purpose, by the time they leave school. We do so by adopting a rigorous approach to the teaching of reading, including an effective catch up and keep up programme of intervention, and by providing a rich reading environment in which children learn to appreciate the true value and enjoyment of reading.
How Children Learn to Read
For children to become fluent, independent readers, they must have certain knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences in place, such as those outlined below (this list is not exhaustive):
Understanding of text/story
An appreciation of why reading is worthwhile/important
Understanding of grammar and the structures of language
An ability to derive meaning
An ability to concentrate for long periods
Scanning and skimming
Willingness to try new books and authors
Positive reading role models
Bedtime routine that includes stories
Being read to
Being told stories
Linking books to lived experiences
All of these things are equally important, and each one facilitates the development of another: it is impossible, for example, for a child to make predictions about what may happen next in a book, if they do not already have an understanding of how stories are generally structured. Similarly, a child will not be able to self-correct words they have misread, if they do not have these words in their vocabulary already.
How We Teach Reading at Coleridge
Based on the above, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) discerns between the ‘Big Shapes of Reading’ (the experiences and knowledge that contribute to the development of children’s language and comprehension) and the ‘Little Shapes of Reading’ (the technical skills associated with word recognition and decoding).
At Coleridge, we have adopted these terms in order to help draw our own distinction between the things we do to promote positive experiences and attitudes around reading, and the things we do to teach decoding and word recognition.
How we develop the Big Shapes of Reading
- Regular class story time, where the teacher reads to the children.
- Termly author visits, to help excite and enthuse the children about particular books.
- Writing units centred around a key text, so that children become fully immersed in it.
- Visits to the library, both in and out of school.
- Easy access to high quality texts (of all text types – fiction, non-fiction, and poetry) in all classrooms, and libraries.
- Inviting book corners and reading nooks.
- Story telling clubs at lunch and play times.
- Book clubs, which have sometimes included a guest appearance from the author!
- Literary Festival.
- Book surgeries.
How we teach the Little Shapes of Reading
- The foundations of phonics developed and nurtured in Nursery.
- A systematic synthetic phonics programme used in Reception and Year 1 (see below for more information).
- 1:1 reading sessions for all children in Reception and Year 1, and for any who need it in other year groups.
- Two whole class reading sessions each week in all year groups.
- Regular small group guided reading sessions (weekly in KS1, and every other week in KS2).
- Weekly singing sessions across the school.
- Volunteer Reader Programme.
- Reading buddies.
At Coleridge, we believe that all of our children can become fluent readers and writers. This why we have always taught phonics using the Letters and Sounds progression, and why, from January 2022, we began following Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised, a systematic synthetic phonics programme. We start teaching phonics in Nursery and will follow the Little Wandle progression in Reception and Year 1 to ensure children build on their growing knowledge of the alphabetic code, mastering phonics to read and spell as they move through the school. As a result, all of our children are able to tackle any unfamiliar words as they read.
We also model the application of the alphabetic code through phonics in shared reading and writing, both inside and outside of the phonics lesson and across the curriculum. We have a strong focus on language development for all children because we know that speaking and listening are crucial skills for reading and writing in all subjects.
Foundations for Phonics in Nursery
We provide a balance of child-led and adult-led experiences for all children that meet the curriculum expectations for ‘Communication and Language’ and ‘Literacy’. Through continuous provision, children are given the opportunities to practice the essential early reading and writing skills that are needed to become confident readers and writers. Experiences include:
- Daily sharing of high-quality stories and poems.
- Learning a range of nursery rhymes, action rhymes, and familiar songs.
- Attention to high quality language in a language rich environment.
- Activities that develop focused listening and attention, such as listening to environmental sounds and other familiar sounds around them.
- Adult story scribing, allowing children to develop their own stories and ideas and act them out.
- Exposure to rhyme, encouraging children to identify and think of rhyming words.
- Using body percussion and musical instruments to identify rhythm, and to count out the different sounds and syllables heard in words.
- Activities that involve oral blending, and identifying and hearing the initial sounds in words.
- Alliteration activities, using familiar names, texts and objects.
- A focus on key texts, with story sacks, props, and puppets available for children to retell stories and understand the key features of a text.
It is important that children have a solid understanding of all of the above and that they can hear and distinguish differences between sounds, before they move on to letter recognition. Absolute priority is given to ensuring that Nursery children are well prepared to begin their phonics journey by the time they start in Reception.
Phonics in Reception and Year 1
Phonics is taught daily in Reception and Year 1, following the progression outlined in Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised. This progression has been organised so that children are taught from the simple to more complex GPCs (Grapheme-Phoneme-Correspondence), but also takes into account the frequency of their occurrence in the most commonly encountered words. All the graphemes taught are practised in words, sentences, and fully decodable books. Children review and revise GPCs and words, daily, weekly and across terms and years, in order to move this knowledge into their long term memory.
A typical phonics lesson will follow this format:
- Previously taught sounds and tricky words are revisited and reviewed.
- Children practise reading previously taught words.
- A new sound is introduced.
- Children practise orally blending words that contain this new sound.
- Next, a new tricky word is introduced. The decodable parts of the word are identified and the ‘tricky part’ highlighted.
- Children apply their new knowledge, either by reading or writing a sentence, containing the new sound and/or tricky word.
Below are some other documents that you might find useful:
Pronunciation Guide – Reception Autumn 1
Pronunciation Guide – Reception Autumn 2
Pronunciation Guide – Reception Spring 1
How to write capital letters
Catch Up and Keep Up
Any child who needs additional support with their phonics is given daily ‘keep up’ intervention. These sessions match the structure of class teaching, and use the same procedures, resources and mantras, but in smaller steps with more repetition, so that every child secures their learning.
Daily phonics lessons are timetabled for any child in Year 2 or 3 who is not yet fully fluent at reading, or who has not passed the Phonics Screening Check. These children urgently need to catch up, so the gap between themselves and their peers does not widen. We use the Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised assessments to identify the gaps in their phonic knowledge and teach to these using the Keep-up resources.
Regular phonics ‘catch-up’ sessions are also scheduled for any child falling behind in Years 4 to 6.
Reading at Home
Although it is our job, as teachers, to teach your child to read, this is one area of the curriculum where we cannot do so alone. It is vital that parents and carers are involved in this process and that they read with and to their child on a very regular basis.
Every child will bring home at least one book each week to read or share with you at home. Early readers (those children who are still developing the skills to read independently and fluently) will bring home a reading practice book. This is a text that has been specifically selected by the teacher to match the child’s current phonic stage so that it is fully decodable. This means that they will be able to read 95% of the words, without any significant help, and may only pause to sound out one in ten of the words. Your role is to listen with interest and, most importantly, to encourage and praise, enthusiastically acknowledging your child’s achievement. These books can be read again and again, to help build up your child’s confidence and fluency. After they have read the book, it may be helpful to talk about it, but only so far as your child is interested. The experience should be kept positive; it should not be turned into a test!
In order to help foster a love of reading, all children will also bring home a sharing book. This book will have been chosen by the child themselves, either from the library or the class book corner, and they may not be able to read it independently. You should enjoy this book together by reading it to or with your child.
Reading at home should be an enjoyable experience for both you and your child, and should not feel like a chore. It should be something you do every day too – little and often is more beneficial than one long session a week. Choose an appropriate time to do it as well – it’s best not to embark on a reading session when your child is tired. Please also note that the length of a reading session may vary from child to child, and from day to day, depending on your child’s mood and attention span.
Don’t forget that older children should still be read with as well! No matter how fluent they are as independent readers, children in KS2 still benefit hugely from hearing a book read aloud.
In UK schools, Book Bands are used across different reading schemes to indicate the reading level of each book. You will notice that some schemes adopt a progression of colours, whilst others use a number system. This enables parents and teachers to select appropriate level texts from a variety of schemes that their child can read ‘comfortably’ – i.e. ones that they are able to read independently, with an element of stretch.
The purpose of the table below is to provide you with a basic guide of how book band colours and numbers sit in relation to age-related expectations. Please note, however, that this progression relates to an ‘average’ child and ‘end of year expectations’ – not all children will follow this smooth line of development. Many others will progress in fits and starts and are likely to make varying degrees of progression at different points during their time at primary school. If a teacher is in any way concerned about a child’s progress in reading, they will speak to the parent or carer.
A good indication that your child is on the appropriate book band level is to check that they can read 95% of the text fluently and independently; that is, they only need to pause to sound out one in twenty of the words on a page. At this level, the child can be successful enough to get some enjoyment from the text, but they don’t find it so difficult that they are put off.
If your child is able to read all of the words on the page, you might feel that a book is too easy for them. Please remember that it is also really important for children to develop their fluency and comprehension skills, so your child’s class teacher may decide to keep them on the same book band level for a while longer for this purpose. It can be tempting for both children, and parents, to race through the bands as quickly as possible, but this may put your child off reading altogether. If they can’t fully engage with a text, either because they can’t read it, or because they don’t understand what is happening, then they may no longer find the process enjoyable. It is also worth noting that the books within each band will vary in a number of ways, including layout, size, vocabulary and length, so children will continue to have access to a rich diet of literature, regardless of which band they are on. The difference between each colour band, or number, is very gradual too, so children will not experience great difficulty moving up through the scheme.