What Every Teacher Should Do – Test Reading

As a teacher and a mum the article in the Telegraph this week stating that “one boy in ten starts secondary school with a reading age of seven or younger” should worry me, but it doesn’t.  That’s because I have the knowledge and experience to help my son if he does start to fall behind with reading.

The business I am in, involves testing children’s reading, writing, spellings and maths.  One of the most fundamental tests that I do is the reading test and I base all of the children’s work according to their reading age because there’s no point in teaching a child using books, worksheets or computer programmes that they cannot read.

Yet in schools, children’s reading doesn’t determine the level or work they do and it doesn’t get tested either?  It seems to me that teachers either don’t have the time to help these struggling readers or don’t know how to help them.

Michael Gove plans to ensure that all children have a basic check done on their reading by the age of 6 “to ensure that they are reading properly, both that they are decoding the English language, in other words, they understand the individual letters, how they go together and how a word is made up.”

What is needed is a comprehensive reading scheme and suitable training of teachers to deliver this scheme correctly in schools.  But why re-invent the wheel when I know of a reading scheme that does just that.  In fact I’ll go one step further and say that the reading programme I use at my centre is one of the best out there, and who better to teach it than me (or my colleagues).

Comprehension – Do You Get It?

I Don’t Get What This Book Is About….

As a teacher, I have heard this many times.  Children who cannot comprehend what they are reading, will say this and give up reading the book after a few pages.

Many children can read fluently for their age and understand what they are reading.  But some will struggle with comprehension.  These children will struggle to grasp the finer details of a story.  For example, they may be able to recall the names of the characters but may not be able to:

“Compare two characters in the book. Tell which one you think is better and why.”

Children with weak comprehension may not be able to summarise a passage in a book or even re-phrase a sentence into their own words.  They will copy out the answer from the passage word for word.  They might be able to tell you what happened in a story, but can’t explain why events went the way they did.  They also find it difficult to explain character’s thoughts and feelings, and put themselves in the character’s shoes.

Weak comprehension skills are common amongst children with a low reading age, and children who do not read enough. This is because they are using all of their “brain power” to work out what words they are reading and are just going through the motions of reading.  They fail to see the bigger picture.  So how can you help your child reading comprehension?  Here are some useful tips on how to help your child with comprehension:

Read Every Day

  • Start with a minimum of 10 minutes per day.  Little and often is better than 1 hour on a Sunday.

  • Don’t just read books given by the class teacher.  Have books available around the house, get them from the library or if budget is tight, then buy them from charity shops.

  • Read a variety of genres and also read non-fiction.  Children with vivid imaginations tend to cope better with fiction because they can visualise whats happening in the books.  Getting children to read more factual information can help them learn new words, to think about layout features like sub-headings and fonts, and to slow down and think about what they are reading.

  •  Let your child choose the book.  Don’t force your child to read something they don’t want to. Let him/her choose the books and at the most, make a few subtle suggestions.

  • Read the same book, many times.

  • Don’t make the reading into a punishment.

You will find that children reading every day will improve their reading fluency and they will become more expressive in their reading.  As they get more exposure to words, their sight word recognition will improve.  Sight words are the most commonly used words in the english langauge and a child is expected to read without decoding or thinking about the word.  Examples of sight words are “the”, “after”, “through” and “world”.

Talk About What They Read

  • Read the books your child is reading so that you can talk about it together. Either read the book to your child, listen to your child read or read the book separately. Then talk about the characters and story just like you would be talking about a film after the movies.

  • Ask questions will help your child to think about the book:

    • What part of the reading was funniest?

    • What part was the most exciting?

    • What part was the saddest?

    • Was the main character in this reading good or bad? Why?

    • Which is better…?

    • Would you agree that…?

    • What is your opinion of…?

    • Were they right to do…? Why? Or why not?

    • Who would you choose…?

    • What would happen if…?

    • How would you…?

    • Do you know someone like…?

    • Would you do the same thing in the same situation…?

    • If you had to…what would you do?

  • Point out technical terms like:

    • the author

    • the illustrator

    • contents

    • index

    • genre

    • chapter

    • title

  • Never stop your child when they are reading mid sentence to ask a question.  This will take all the enjoyment out of the reading.

  • If your child comes across an unfamiliar word, discuss the meaning of this word without using a dictionary.

Thinking about characters, settings, the plot, the descriptions, the writer’s voice in a book also helps with writing.  Children become more aware of the ingredients for a good story.  Reading will also improve vocabulary and language skills.

If your child is struggling with comprehension Kip McGrath can help.  Our qualified, experienced teachers can guide your child through comprehension techniques, improve reading skills and help with exams.

Visit our website for more details.

Why We Make Children Answer Comprehension Questions in Full Sentences

Last weekend, I observed one of my teachers talking to a student.  This is how the conversation went:

Teacher: So Adam, why didn’t you write the answers to these comprehension questions in full sentences?

Adam: I didn’t know how to spell all the words.

Teacher: But the words were in the question.  They were right there in front of you.

Adam: My mum said that I couldn’t look at the words.

Teacher: So that’s why you only answered yes or no to each question.

Adam: Yes miss and she didn’t check it so I got away with it.

In fact Adam’s mum made the task more difficult by doing this and didn’t really understand the object and point of this particular homework.

We are trying to encourage Adam to get into the habit of answering comprehension questions in full sentences to improve his spellings and sentence structure. Because he finds reading challenging, he also finds it hard to copy words correctly.  That’s why at my centre, we encourage the students to copy the words from the question, because that way, they are at least seeing the words, writing down the words and making sure the words are correct.  By the time the student has answered all the question he will have seen the words at least 3 times.

Getting into the habit of answering comprehension questions in full sentences gets children ready to answer more complex probing questions when they get older.  At key stage 3 and GCSE level, children are expected to quote from the text and explain their answer.  They need to show that they have understood the text.