01 Implementing a variety of research-based strategies and approaches to improve reading

ERO’s 2012 report, The New Zealand Curriculum Principles: Foundations for Curriculum Decision-Making, found coherence was one of the three least implemented principles evident in the schools’ curriculum. In some schools, teachers did not provide students with a coherent approach that allowed them to progressively build on their previous understandings and skills.

Leaders at Woodleigh School had focused on the coherence of their reading programmes by having teachers consider each child’s learning and progress over time as they moved through the school. Leaders introduced consistent reading strategies and transition meetings to support children moving from an intervention or into a new class.

This narrative shares the variety of strategies teachers and leaders used to improve children’s reading achievement, and the resources and processes they used to make sure strategies were consistently applied.

Improvements implemented in this school over recent years aimed to increase the numbers of children successfully reading in Year 6 by increasing the numbers reaching the the expected level of achievement at each year level. They carefully monitored and tracked cohorts to check their changes were having the desired impact. The table below shows the increases in the numbers of children meeting or exceeding the standard from 2011 to 2016.

Percentage of students at or above reading National Standards
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Year 1 47% 68% 52% 61% 68% 43%
Year 2 67% 73% 76% 72% 78% 77%
Year 3 70% 77% 68% 64% 76% 78%
Year 4 75% 86% 79% 82% 80% 91%
Year 5 70% 72% 78% 81% 82% 72%
Year 6 68% 80% 84% 89% 83% 90%

Leaders and the board provided a variety of approaches to support their improvements including:

  • establishing and funding a literacy leader position
  • teachers’ involvement in the Ministry of Education’s Accelerating Learning in Literacy (ALL) project
  • extending the improved practices across the year levels

After leaders and teachers started collating achievement data for reading in 2011, they focused on improving achievement overall. Initially, teachers sought to move children through the reading levels more quickly. While this approach resulted in more children reaching the reading expectations, the leaders recognised teachers needed a more consistent schoolwide approach to raising reading achievement. Their first attempt proved unsuccessful and frustrating as some teachers couldn’t get more children to accelerate their progress or sustain their recent gains. They needed to do something different.

Leaders encouraged teachers to think more about each child’s learning and progress over time as they moved through the school, rather than focus solely on what the child learnt and achieved in the year they were in their class. This was particularly important when focusing on children that were achieving below the expected reading level – their ‘priority students’. They wanted each priority student to have a pathway to success by the time they reached Year 6. They focused on giving children consistent strategies to build on as they moved through the school

The literacy leader

The school established a literacy leader position funded to work half of each day to support the reading improvements. The literacy leader’s role was primarily to help teachers to guide inquiry into improving achievement and progress, and to provide coaching for teachers to further develop the teaching of reading. Some of the literacy leader’s key responsibilities are listed in the box below.

By working with all teachers at all year levels, the literacy leader could identify and focus on achievement trends across the school. It became apparent that the older students who were underachieving in reading required support to improve their vocabulary and reading stamina. They also needed to better understand how to apply their prior knowledge and experiences to what they were reading.

Role of the literacy leader

  • In-class monitoring and support for students involved in learning interventions for the remainder of their time at the school.
  • Testing (observational survey , phonological and phonemic screens) and analysis, feedback and next steps provided for teachers.
  • Assessing trends and reporting to teaching teams, leadership team and the board.
  • Leadership of ALL 2014-2016 including Professional Learning and Development (PLD) for all staff.
  • Tracking of ALL students in conjunction with teams.
  • Leading 10 week in-class pilots, modelling how to adapt literacy programmes for the needs of learners.
  • Helping teachers using Teaching as Inquiry to identify priority learner needs and strategies.
  • Attending team meetings to provide PLD, contribute to reflection time, and share information about the best use of the book room collection.
  • Developing a ‘red flag’ strategy to identify, on entry, students at risk of not meeting expected milestones, and analyse needs and next steps.
  • Developing early literacy interventions and resources to support at risk students in the first 40 weeks of school.
  • Helping with class-to-class-transition meetings for priority students.
  • Leading parent information sessions and liaising with parents of priority students.
  • Overseeing purchasing of literacy resources and coordinating the book room.
  • Developing a ‘Browse Box’ collection.

The literacy leader also took responsibility for other reading resources and worked with library staff to develop Browse Boxes for every child across all year levels to increase their reading stamina. The browsing boxes were stocked with ‘good fit’ books that took into account children’s interests and contained text structures they were familiar with.

This is a photo showing books in the browse box

Developments related to the Accelerating Learning in Literacy project

In 2014, the literacy leader and another teacher were involved in the ALL project. In the first year, a focus group of children were withdrawn for 15 weeks for reading support. The literacy leader supported and mentored the teacher taking the group. Leaders extended the programme more widely in 2015

Their approach with the focus group had the following three tiers that drew on ideas from different research articles teachers had investigated.

  1. Teachers used browse boxes to extend children’s reading stamina. The books in the browse boxes were selected by the children with some guidance from their teachers. The aim was to increase the range and variety of text children read by ensuring the books in the browsing boxes catered for their diverse interests, needs, values and perspectives.
  2. Teachers introduced the Daily 5 framework and used it to engage learners in independent choices within the classroom literacy programme. Daily 5 gave children the choice of five activities to work on independently to achieve their personal literacy goals. The activities included:
      • read to self
      • work on writing
      • read to someone
      • listen to reading
      • word work.

3. Teachers used High 5  to focus on the teaching of reading comprehension through:

      • activating background knowledge
      • for children to construct meaning and develop new understandings
      • questioning to help build a particular aspect of the child’s knowledge such
      • as thinking critically
      • analysing text structure to help children predict unknown words or phrases
      • creating mental images so children would use their imagination to make
      • connections to the ideas from the text with their prior knowledge
      • summarising by teaching children to differentiate between important
      • points and supporting detail

The new approaches allowed teachers and children to explore texts in more depth. Teachers focused on extending children’s knowledge and experience of the content of what they were reading. The key was to slow the process down and allow time for the students to explore more challenging texts over time.

We use higher-level books over a longer period of time. We spend time on the title and the pictures, and connecting with the children’s prior knowledge. We take our time and work on small pieces, maybe just one page. They become fluent by the end of the week. It gave them real confidence. Teacher

By using the higher-level texts and carefully supporting children to read the text in small chunks, the priority students grew in confidence and built their perception of themselves as ‘readers’. Teachers described the confidence children gained when they were able to read the same books as their peers as immense.

Parents of the children in ALL focus groups were also able to learn about, and contribute to, their child’s learning. They were invited to a meeting to explain the new strategies their children were learning. The literacy leader and teachers kept in contact with parents and sought their feedback about how their child was progressing. Below is an example of the letter sent to parents explaining the new strategies in detail.

This image is of the Woodleigh letterhead with their name, address and contact details. THe image is of a flower and their motto is Learning, Achieving and Caring

Dear Parents and Guardian

Your child has been selected to participate in a reading programme called 'Accelerating Learning in Literacy'.

The programme will be part of your child's classroom reading instruction with the class teacher.  It is a fifteen week programme and will begin this term. It focuses on teaching reading comprehension strategies called 'High 5'.

This intervention is an approach that focuses on teaching to your child's potential according to National Standards (see NZ Curriculum documents included).

The programme is an approach that provides structured scaffolding and breaking a text into smaller chunks over a series of lessons;

  • Week 1-5 will focus on fiction texts (step 3 on High 5)
  • Week 6-10 will focus on non-fiction texts

Included in your child's booklet is some support material for you and your child to read. This will be covered in class as part of the programme. 

You can have a huge impact on your child's learning by reading to your child, encouraging your child to read, talking to your child about the story they are currently reading and discussing tricky vocabulary. These steps are a crucial part of the reading process. 

The student questionnaire is included in your pack and has already been completed in class. You may wish to go through this with your child.

Students will be bringing home books to practise skills.  Please be aware that these books are purposely provided at an easier level to provide reading mileage. Reading mileage is the key to practise new skills and strategies to assist their scucess while reading.

Becasue parental support is so important we will give you the opportunity to come to a meeting explaining this intervention in more detail. You'll be given dates for this later in the term.  I will be coordinating this programme with your child's class teacher.  If you have any questions please contact etiher myself or your child's class teacher.

This image is showing the High 5 comprehension strategies.  1 is Activating background knowledge, the accompany picture is of a cloud thinking.  2 is Questioning, the accompanying picture is of three question marks. 3 is Analysing text structure, the accompanying picture is of an open book. 4 is Creating mental images, the accompanying picture is of a brain. 5 is summarising, the accompnaying picture is of two arrows forming a continuing circle.

Extending the new reading strategies

In the next stage in 2016, the literacy leader and the other teachers previously involved in ALL supported teachers from Years 2 to 6 to consistently use the same components of the reading programme in their classrooms. Teachers extended the time allocated for reading in their class timetables so all the necessary components of the reading programme could be included. These components included reading to students, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading. Teachers committed to provide four 15-20 minute reading lessons each week for the priority students in their class

As teachers began to use the text processing and comprehension strategies, the literacy leader gave them a stepped process to use with their priority students. Teaching prompts and strategies displayed in the staffroom reinforced the learning from PLD sessions. The literacy leader’s modelling of the new strategies in classes also helped make sure strategies were consistently implemented across the classes.

This photo shows notes on the wall in the teachers staff room to hep with PLD sessions

Teachers implemented additional decoding strategies for children needing a greater focus on phonological awareness . A technique adapted from the Seven Plus programme was used where children were taught to ‘find the chunks and syllables in words’. An external PLD provider introduced ‘word clues’ activities that focused on spelling and phonological awareness by teaching younger children about word families, base words and their meanings, and rhyming words.

After the strategies were implemented in all Years 2 to 6 classrooms, leaders checked what teachers believed had worked for them. Their findings about what worked for teachers are listed below:

  • Regular timetabling. Working in their teams to release teachers to work with
  • their group, e.g. syndicate assembly times.
  • Daily 5 reading framework provided uninterrupted teaching time.
  • Resources available at each level.
  • Taking more care with selection of text for students.
  • Resources made to support Literacy Learning Progressions – high frequency words, prefix-suffix cards, upper/lower case alphabet cards.
  • Using big books/poems/iPads to build up prior knowledge for students, and to practise/reinforce strategies identified for next steps.
  • ‘Knowing the learner’.
  • Knowing students’ strengths/interests.
  • Providing clear and specific feedback.
  • Teachers were supported – mentoring support as and when required.
  • Don’t assume students know the meaning of words.
  • Weekly focus (see image).
  • Use of High 5 cards.
  • Discussing with students 'what good readers do'.
  • Taking time to discuss/investigate word meaning/strategies.
  • Able to identify next steps through assessment and discussions.
  • Engagement of students through appropriate and engaging text.

A focus on transition within the school

Teachers also used two different types of transition meetings to support children to continue with their learning when they moved to a different teacher.

The first transition meeting supported children moving from a reading intervention where they were withdrawn from the class to reading back in their classroom. When the intervention was completed, the teacher leading the intervention met with the classroom teacher to discuss the child’s progress, the strategies they were successful with and their next learning steps. Ongoing monitoring by the intervention teachers supported the expectation that the child would continue to build on the strategies started in the intervention.

The second transition meeting occurred when children transitioned to a new class at the end of the year. Teachers scheduled these meetings to help with the children’s continuity of learning. The meetings also allowed teachers to discuss each child’s progress, their successful strategies and next learning steps.

Impacts for children

The children enjoyed the security of using the High 5 programme’s reading comprehension strategies. Activating background knowledge was particularly powerful for them. During the questioning phase, children were able to slow down and look in detail at the more complex texts they were presented with over time. One of the biggest impacts came from teachers’ work on analysing text structure. When the children were taught how a narrative worked, they started to think about the big picture of the story, predict more and ask questions independently because they had a better understanding of what questions to ask. Comparing expository texts with narrative texts was also seen as useful, particularly for younger children.

This image shows the learning pathway to the learner becoming an independent reader. It gives two pathways At school and at home. It highlights what they and their family can do to help themselves become better readers.

Children also focused on building their independence through knowing the reading strategies and topics that had worked for them. As part of this learning, they completed the ‘learning pathway’ questionnaire shown here.

When ERO talked with some of the children who had made the most progress, they spoke about the Browse Boxes and some of the High 5 strategies. Some showed us the chart they used to select good fit books for themselves. They also shared many other strategies they learned and were using (see below).  

This image is titled I pick good-fit books. It has a small boy picking a book to read with 5 points. 1, I choose a good book. 2, Purpose - Why do I want to read it? 3, Interest - does it interest me? 4, Comprehend - do I understand what I am reading and 5, Know - I know most of the words. Surrounding the page is a border mad up of repeating words 'I love to read' with a heart picture

The key to the children’s success was the way the leaders and teachers were able to incorporate practices from a variety of different articles and programmes found through their research. The programmes chosen focused on what each child needed and supported teachers to build the child’s confidence with the strategies that would work for them.

I like reading the harder books and I read them all the time now.”

“ALL helped me a lot because I was practising reading all the time.”

“My teacher helped me to sound out words and look for the clue in the hard words.”

“My teacher chooses interesting books for me and my friends help me choose too. I help them choose their books. I like the hard books.”

Year 5 children 

The additional resource allocated for a literacy leader to support teachers and children assisted with the implementation of a wide range of improvement strategies. Leaders acknowledged it was not one thing that worked, but was instead a variety of things. They recognise they may have the odd achievement glitch where results were not as expected, as they did with Year 5 at the end of 2016. However, they have processes in place to identify and analyse any such glitches or accelerated progress. Leaders had already developed plans to sustain and build on the gains made in 2017