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Boosting post-pandemic skills: how to get reading back on track

13 May 2021

Boosting post-pandemic skills: how to get reading back on track

As part of our reading comprehension blog series, Complete Comprehension authors Laura Lodge and Jo Gray share their advice on identifying pupil literacy gaps, as well as some of the strategies that children need to become good readers.

Reading is the key to learning. Research from the OECD shows that one of the biggest indicators of a child’s future success is having a love of reading. However, if you are a child who finds reading tricky, loving reading can be a real challenge.

This is even more important now that schools have reopened. A report for the Department for Education has shown that, on average, pupils are two months behind in their reading learning as a result of the pandemic. For individual children, learning loss may be even greater, so how can we reverse this trend and ensure every child becomes a good reader?

Snapshots will help to pinpoint the gaps

The first step in improving children’s reading comprehension is to identify the exact level at which they’re reading. A diagnostic assessment and gap analysis will give you the information you need. Try to get a snapshot of each child’s reading attainment, including decoding, fluency and comprehension, by using key reading skills. Once your assessments are completed, look for patterns in your gap analysis and plan to address the specific gaps you identify in learning, through teaching and intervention.

Choosing the right texts

When teaching reading, your choice of text is very important. We need to think about the complexity of decoding, vocabulary and content, and of course, engagement. Think about the complexity of decoding, vocabulary and content, and of course, engagement. Try not to just use familiar books, but instead focus on widening children’s reading repertoire by exposing them to different texts. This is where your knowledge of children’s literature comes in! You could even explore paired texts, for example, you could pair Beetle Boy with The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by M.G.Leonard, so children can make links between their reading.

Building children’s background knowledge and vocabulary

Children who struggle to read sometimes need to build their background knowledge and vocabulary. A child with good cultural capital will often have more of the pre-requisite knowledge and skills needed to understand what they are reading, than a disadvantaged child.

Try exploring key concepts and vocabulary before reading. For example, with Beetle Boy, you might explore mystery stories, beetles, insects and museums first. Then, you could teach children key vocabulary such as ‘specimen’ and ‘archaeologist’, giving them strategies to unpick unknown vocabulary. With ‘archaeologist’, for instance, you could discuss that -ist means ‘somebody who does or makes’ and gather as many examples as you can which share this pattern, discussing their shared meaning.

Teaching specific reading skills and strategies

Every good reader has a range of skills and strategies they use to make meaning. By explicitly teaching these rather than only asking questions, we can give children the knowledge needed to comprehend any text. But which skills and strategies need to be taught?

The most important skills of a reader are to retrieve information, define vocabulary in context and make inferences. A good reader will also sequence events, summarise content and predict what comes next. They will consider the effect of language, make comparisons and explore relationships.

These aspects of reading need to be taught progressively and regularly. Skills need to be explicitly taught and modelled, including the metacognitive processes we use when reading. For example, when teaching inference, you could introduce the idea of ‘What I read’ + ‘What I know’ + ‘What I think’ = My inference.

By breaking down the cognitive processes behind reading, we can show children what a good reader does and give them the strategies they need to make meaning, before they practise and apply them using a range of texts, questions and activities. This way, we can support all children to become resilient readers who are able to comprehend any text they choose to read.

Teaching reading skills and strategies is a complex process and can be daunting. Reflecting on your subject knowledge is really important and getting to grips with research such as the EEF Literacy Guidance Reports is a great start.

Resources such as our Complete Comprehension book series can also help to build your subject knowledge and transform your reading sequence to focus on teaching the knowledge, skills and strategies your children need to become good readers.

Becoming a Lifelong Reader

We know that reading for pleasure has a profound effect on children’s ability to understand what they read. We need to encourage a love of reading whenever we can: children need daily time to read books they want to read; they need to be immersed in reading opportunities and see reading role models. By encouraging children to read for pleasure, we help them read more, and the more you read, the better a reader you become. For all children to achieve their full potential, schools must consider their whole-school reading curriculum and whether it teaches the skills needed to decode, understand, and enjoy books.

Supporting a child on their reading journey is about so much more than just academic success. The benefits of reading go far beyond this. When we support every child to be a good reader, the benefits will stretch throughout their lives.

Jo Gray and Laura Lodge are authors of Complete Comprehension for Schofield & Sims and Education Consultants for One Education. A version of this blog post appeared as an article on the Teach Primary website and printed magazine.

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