Reading for meaning
Learning to decode text accurately is just the start of the reading journey. Reading is all about establishing meaning and appreciating the purpose and intentions of the writer. In order to achieve this, our approach to reading is based on a set of principles. We aim to encourage not only a love of reading, but a high level of competence in the subject. Our key principles are:
1. Independent reading
As teachers, we must set children up to be independent readers – for future schooling and for their own pleasure. The amount of time students spend in independent reading is the best predictor of reading achievement. However, we also believe children shouldn’t spend endless amounts of time reading without purpose. As a result, reading in the classroom is purposeful and leads to one of the following activities.
2. Independent written work
In order to display their understanding of a text, a child’s ability to write a written response is crucial; written answers to comprehension questions are embedded in our education system. We prepare children to answer these well, so that they can show their levels of understanding.
3. Reading aloud
Reading aloud allows children to access high level texts, enables them to hear how unfamiliar language and sentence structures should sound and is proven to aid comprehension of a text. As a result, teachers regularly read aloud to children. The Teachers as Readers project found that hearing books read aloud gave children a model for their own independent reading. We encourage children to find opportunities to read aloud themselves, both at home (with a family member) and at school.
4. Teacher-led discussion and modelling
‘Book talk’ – where an adult models a reader’s thoughts and encourages children to do the same – is often the most enjoyable part of a reading lesson. Throughout the school, skilful teachers use discussion to encourage initial responses to text and modelling to coax deeper meaning from children.
Effective questioning has a very important role to play in reading lessons, not only as part of whole-class or group discussions, but on a one-to-one basis. If a child asks a question, our skilful teachers will ask a question in return and refer the child back to the text, rather than instantly providing a model answer.
6. Focus on vocabulary
Having a good vocabulary is the gateway to understanding – if we don’t understand the words we read, then we can’t understand a text. We provide children with opportunities to hone skills such as morphemic and contextual analysis. We often teach unfamiliar words before children encounter them in the text. We also use independent reading in KS2 and reading journals to help children become confident in selecting and finding the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary when they read.
7. A range of texts
This is crucial. We ensure that children read widely. Within lessons, children are exposed to printed or spoken words, films and pictures. Including both fiction and non-fiction texts increases understanding of the fiction text and gives more contexts for the non-fiction text. It’s also a great way to provide opportunities for discussion of other issues, from world affairs to grammar and punctuation use.
8. Reading strategies
9. A teacher who loves reading
We believe that teachers must be readers too and when children see this, it motivates them to read. Projects such as the Spark! Book Award, where Barnes was announced as School of the Year in 2021, showed that when children see their teachers as readers, they want to do the same. The impact this has on attainment – ‘the will that leads the skill’ – is proven.
To help children develop these skills, adults should pose questions for them when they are reading. The links below are to a range of generic question prompts that adults can use to formulate questions to pose when their child is reading. These can also be found in the Support for Parents section.