06 Using a variety of approaches to improve reading at different year levels

ERO’s 2014 report, Raising achievement in primary schools: Accelerating Learning in Mathematics (ALiM) and Accelerating Literacy Learning (ALL) found that ALiM and ALL had positively influenced supplementary support for students in some schools. In these schools close monitoring of learning and a quick and short-term response when progress was ‘flat lining’ were strongly emphasised. Students focused on, and understood, what they needed to learn, how they were progressing, and how they would get there. At the same time, teachers were also focused on improving their practices.

At MILSON SCHOOL teachers involved in the ALL project in Years 4 to 6 and in a programme to accelerate progress in Years 1 to 3 used the above approach. Leaders also made sure other teachers observed and implemented the new strategies so more children would benefit from the new practices.

The school’s reading data showed a positive trajectory where many children achieved well in reading by the time they reached Years 5 and 6. However, leaders knew they needed to manage considerable improvements across some of the year levels to have more children succeed. In 2014, only 45 percent of children reached or exceeded their reading expectations after their second year at school.

Leaders introduced changes to both teaching and assessment. Firstly, leaders and teachers worked with an external provider who led professional learning and development (PLD) focused on building teachers’ content and pedagogical knowledge. They also introduced more collaborative assessment, analysis and moderation practices. Teachers worked in teaching teams or in pairs to look at a class’s reading data and to determine progress, next steps and where additional support was needed. Other assessment developments included:

  • introducing a cyclic review of their assessment tools to see if they were identifying what teachers needed to know about children’s achievement and progress
  • PLD about some of the new assessment tools
  • revisiting some of their current assessment tools such as running records to improve how they were administered
  •  using the Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT), which provided them with a learning progression framework over seven aspects of reading.

Teachers were trialling further interventions to accelerate children’s progress. These included:

  • an accelerated reading programme for Years 1 to 3 children
  • an in-class intervention for groups of Years 4 to 6 children.

An accelerated reading programme for Years 1 to 3 children

A teacher in the school with considerable literacy experience developed this reading programme for children in Years 1 to 3. The teacher selected the programme content after closely analysing more than 50 running records for Years 1 and 2 children. The running records came from children achieving below the expected reading level and those identified as unlikely to reach the expected reading level at their anniversary reporting. The following trends were evident from the analysed running records:

  • a substantial number of children neglected to monitor their own reading or correct errors
  • most children relied on visual cues when making predictions
  • no children read on past a tricky word to gain more meaning
  • there was only some evidence of rereading to confirm meaning.

An analysis of the children’s behaviours when they started the programme showed that children didn’t know what to do to be a good reader. They lacked confidence and were anxious.

The school’s Accelerated Reading Programme consisted of 10 to 12 minute sessions, four times a week. Children selected for the programme were reading between junior readers book levels 6 and 21 (from Yellow on the colour wheel). The aim was to boost their confidence and give them a variety of reading strategies ‘to help them get unstuck’

Accelerated Reading Programme – Years 1 to 3

The programme focused on:

  • using a balance of whole language and visual analysis of words
  • making learning visible and explicit

Lesson format, 10-12 minutes

  1. Reread                    yesterday’s new text
  2. Practise                  sight words or blends
  3. Remember             reading rules focus
  4. Introduce                new text

Children focused on four reading rules that were colour coded. They also had a variety of prompts to remind them what to do if they got stuck when reading.

The four reading rules and related guidelines are shown below.

The Reading Rules

Rule 1: If you want to get good at reading… Read… Read… Read!

Lots of familiar reading. The books from the previous 3 4 days are reread before each lesson.

Rule 2:  When you’re reading, think about these things: Does it make sense? Does it look right? Does it sound right? If yes. Then keep on going. If no, then stop.

Children monitor their own reading. They initially learn to ask themselves “Does it look right, sound right, make sense?” If the answer is yes, then the child knows to keep on reading, confident of what they are reading.

If one of the above questions gets a no answer, then encourage the child to read on then go back to the start of the sentence, and rerun with a better understanding of context. This may need to be repeated.

Rule 3:  If you think something is wrong, stop and fix it up. Have a go! Read on past the word… then go back to the beginning of the sentence and try again. You might need to do this a couple of times.

This strategy is a key one for children to master.

Rule 4: Some tips when you’re stuck on a word: 1. Look at the beginning, middle and end of the word. 2. Look for little bits in the word that you know. 3. Break it up into its sounds or syllables. 4. Try to think of a word that looks right and makes sense.

Teach visual analysis: It is important that this is done in context.

  1. The child needs to be able to read consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) syllables. Teach them to use the ‘reading glasses’.
  2. Multiple word families, e.g. -ight, -and, -ack, -ound are taught in context.
  3. Suffixes, primarily -ly, -y, -er
  4. Prefixes, primarily un-, a-
  5. Syllables, look for bits of the word you know.
  6. Blended vowel sounds taught as necessary.

When children practised words as part of Rule 3, the sounds and parts of words they focused on were recorded in a modelling book that was taken back to the classroom teacher to reinforce and help with their learning in their own class.

The teacher carefully recorded the details of each lesson, along with the progress of each child on the programme, on an electronic spreadsheet. As part of the monitoring and reflection, each child’s focus for the next day was careful considered. The emphasis was on building on and extending what the child already knew. Below is the monitoring and planning format used for each child.

Date Time Text level Reread text Sight words New text Strategies used Next steps Text level tomorrow Where to next from yesterday?

The Accelerated Reading programme made a positive difference for children and teachers. Some children progressed a book level every week once they had mastered a wider range of reading strategies. By the end of 2016, the school saw a small increase in the numbers of children reaching the expected reading level by the end of their first year at school. However, the number of children achieving success by the end of their second year had considerably improved.

Some teachers observed the programme in action so they could introduce some of the practices to their own class reading programme. Leaders were planning to use this new programme further in 2017 and intended to add more of the practice to core reading programmes in classes.

An in-class intervention for Years 4 to 6 children

This in-class intervention began in 2016 when two teachers were part of the Ministry of Education’s ALL project. The two teachers led an intervention for 16 children in Years 4 and 5 who were achieving below expectations. The two leaders choose to have children from four classes participate, so any new practices would be spread more widely across the school. They also wanted the four teachers to share ideas about making reading more “real for children”.

The intervention focused on developing children’s questioning. The aim was to improve their ability to form and test hypotheses about texts. The rationale for the approach is shown in the box. The teachers aimed to:

  • improve children’s comprehension by giving them time to develop their own questions before, during and after engaging with text
  • improve children’s questioning to build their critical thinking skills rather than accept information solely at face value
  • ignite children’s curiosity about the texts they were using to motivate and engage them in reading.

Questioning is effective for improving comprehension because it:

  • actively connects students’ prior knowledge of a text to new learning
  • provides students with a purpose and direction for learning
  • fosters engagement and higher order thinking for students while reading
  • is a transferable skill used to promote understanding and make meaning in a range of learning areas.

Teachers and children used a question chart showing how children could score different points depending on the type of questions they posed. Teachers asked children to pose questions before, during and after reading the text. They could score 5, 10, 15 or 20 points depending on the level of question they set themselves (as shown on the Q Chart below). Carefully selected texts matched to children’s interests helped extend their questioning.

The levelled question chart below identifies the different types of questions that could be formed using the chart.

During the second week of the intervention, teachers classified the majority of the questions children asked as lower-order factual questions. A small number were classified as middle-order analytical questions. When children used the Q Chart they became more confident about asking and sharing their questions. Below are some of the questions and answers one teacher recorded in their modelling book. Some of the questions moved to levels 3 and 4.

Before  During  After

When do baby crocodiles hatch?

How long does it take them to hatch? 90 days

Do crocodiles hibernate?

How many eggs does a mother crocodile lay? (my guess 46) 60!

Where do they lay their eggs?

Do they have a tongue?

How big are the eggs? 5-8cm

I wonder what a pregnant mother crocodile looks like

How big are crocodiles when they come out of the egg? 25cm long

I wonder how fast they grow?

Why do the eggs get covered?

What kind of animals eat crocodile eggs? Crocodiles

It says most baby crocodiles wont grow into adults. Why?

Do crocodiles bite people?

Why do they live near waters?

Do crocodiles eat many sea animals?

Children attempted to answer their ‘before’ questions using their prior knowledge and then by reading the text. Teachers also recorded children’s prior knowledge and ‘I wonder’ questions, so children could see how they could self-direct their learning. They focused on their ‘during’, questions while they re read and looked more deeply into the text. Group discussions and interactions were encouraged to clarify children’s thinking and to learn from each other.

ERO observed some of the small groups of children involved in the ALL intervention. In one of the groups, the children were discussing tornados. Firstly, they individually wrote down their prior knowledge, and their wonderings. They then enthusiastically posed a variety of different level questions that they shared with the group.

How long would it take for cold air and hot air to form into a tornado? Where is this tornado happening?

How long would it take for a tornado to stop spinning?

Can a tornado affect the space time continuum and time travel?

This photo is a circle chart which students use to recording their wonderings

Children recorded their wonderings, prior knowledge and new knowledge on a circle chart.


The children were keen to read the text to find out more. Later, they each recorded, on a circle chart, new knowledge they had gained from the text.

By the 12th and final week of the intervention, the majority of questions were classified as higher-order level 3 and 4 questions. At least six of the 16 children had moved two or more stanines which indicated they had accelerated their progress when comparing Supplementary Tests of Achievement in Reading (STAR) pre-test results. Six other children that had moved one stanine were to be monitored further to see if they continued to make good progress.

  • one child moved three stanines
  • five moved two stanines
  • six moved one stanine.

The other four children were more enthusiastic about reading but had not progressed as much. Their teachers recognised they needed to try different approaches for them.

Teachers surveyed both the children and their parents at the end of the intervention and found children were more enthusiastic about reading. Many were able to share with their parents what they were learning to do.

Leaders planned to incorporate the questioning strategies across the school through sharing the practices in staff and team meetings in 2017.