Reading in Class: Questions for Heads of Department

We all know that reading is a good thing and schools that prioritise reading across subjects are probably on the right track. While the EEF ‘Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools’ report provides a good overview of what we should be doing in all subjects, here are some questions that Heads of Department could use to evaluate how reading is approached in their subject.

  1. Wherever possible, is information delivered via well organised, extended reading?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Overreliance on videos
  • Overreliance on bullet points
  • Overreliance on powerpoint (constant slide change can be a problem)
  • Overreliance on discussion
  • Unnecessary/distracting visual imagery
  • Information split across different pages/different text boxes

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Booklets/Printed Text/Textbooks
  • Reading materials with line numbers for efficiency
  • Diagrams that act as important supports for complex texts

2. Are your texts challenging?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Texts lack sophisticated vocabulary
  • Texts lack varied/complex sentence forms

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Texts contain lots of tier 2 (formal/academic) vocabulary
  • Texts contain a good range of sentence forms
  • Texts contain sentence forms that students are expected to use in writing
  • Texts contain core (essential) and hinterland (interesting and less essential) information

3. Do lessons regularly involve a high volume of reading?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Reading is not a regular part of lessons

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Reading happens in many/most lessons
  • Reading is the usual method of presenting information

4. Is reading accompanied by text dependent questions (TDQ) These are only answerable by a close reading of the text

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Questions can be answered using students’ existing background knowledge//opinions without having to read closely

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Student understanding of reading material is assessed through TDQ
  • TDQs can only be answered properly by a close reading of the text
  • All students are expected to answer TDQs
  • Where possible, teachers give instant corrective feedback: students can compare theirs to a model answer and amend

5. Do you scaffold or model answers to TDQs where necessary?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students don’t know how to answer TDQs properly
  • Student success rate is low for TDQs
  • Students do not engage in guided practice where teachers check accuracy of content and approach

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teachers use I-We-You model to demonstrate: demonstrating annotation or finding information/demonstrate answer writing/give success criteria/demonstrate proof reading answers
  • Teachers help students select information by giving hints/prompts or narrowing focus: answer is in lines 2-23/draw a box around the first two paragraphs
  • Scaffolding and support should be the minimal amount required for success
  • Scaffolding and support should be removed as quickly as possible
  • Students should attempt questions independently after guided practice has ensured accuracy.

6. Are TDQs procedurally simple and high utility?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students receive an unnecessarily large range of different question types
  • KS4: students do not practice a sufficiently wide range of question wordings

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Students practice similar question types across texts so that they can maximally think about content not how to approach the task
  • KS4: questions match exam question style, covering all possible wordings/foci

7. Do you unlock challenging texts for students?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students read text without teacher support and struggle: too many new words/complex ideas
  • Teacher reads text then asks students to attempt questions, giving no explanation
  • Students are not expected to annotate their text/make notes

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teacher annotates, defining new vocabulary
  • Teacher asks questions about new words
  • Teacher gives examples and non-examples for new words/concepts
  • Teacher makes links to previous content
  • Teacher makes links between different ideas within the text
  • Teacher focusses questioning on content needed for success in TDQs
  • Students are explicitly taught everything they will need for success in TDQs
  • Students are expected to make the same annotations and notes as the teacher

8. Does the teacher model good reading?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students are always expected to read in silence
  • Teacher never reads aloud
  • Students take turns to read out loud but teacher never reads out loud

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teacher reads aloud regularly
  • Teacher reads fluently with helpful intonation, emphasising parts to aid understanding.

9. Does the teacher model reading strategies?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Teacher doesn’t make the process of sense making explicit and doesn’t narrate thought process when reading

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teacher focusses on synonyms/pronouns to track concepts across a text: who is ‘he’ here. What does ‘this’ refer to?
  • Teacher narrates though process when reading:  this bit is a bit confusing, I think I will reread it. Hold on, this contradicts the bit I read before. What does this mean? I know this is linked to XXX so does this mean…
  • Teacher asks students to predict, generate questions, clarify and summarise what they are reading

10. Do you teach pronunciation of new words? Do you correct errors?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Teacher doesn’t correct poor pronunciation/reading errors
  • Students don’t practice tricky words
  • Teacher doesn’t insist on accurate reading.

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • If complacency error when reading: teacher repeats error in surprised tone so student can self-correct it: TEACHER: it is ANTITHETIC? STUDENT: Oh yeah, antithetical
  • Teacher uses I say, you say, choral response to practice pronunciation: The word is ‘paean’, you say it…
  • Teacher segments longer words: the word is HO-ME-O-STA-TIC before asking students to practice

11. Do you vary the approach to reading according to student proficiency, text complexity and the aim of reading the text?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Approach never varies
  • Person reading out loud changes too quickly, resulting in disjointed experience
  • Teacher does not consider student proficiency, text complexity or aim of reading when choosing approach

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teacher reads sections out loud
  • Transitions between different readers are slick and efficient
  • Students read out loud if appropriate
  • Class reads individually in silence if appropriate
  • Class stops reading after a section to check understanding
  • Class reads whole thing to get a gist before returning to close read or focus on sections.

All of the questions above can also be found here in a word doc:

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