Tag Archives: reading

READ THE QUESTION by @Mroberts90Matt

A tweet this week (and every practice paper we attempt in Year 6) remind me of a well-known, frustrating and exasperating conundrum all Year 6 teachers face often.

READ THE QUESTION!!

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I seem to spout the same sentence individually, in a group and in whole class discussion every week. I have even said it and heard it said in a couple of staff meetings. I have also muttered it to myself when I have made the same mistake. It seems this pandemic is a global problem, no matter the ability, progress, cultural background or age of the person. But why does this happen.

The Documented Problem of Reading the Question

‘Underline key words’

It is a researched fact that in exams and tests one of the biggest issues that occurs is that students, from primary all the way up to university level, often trip with reading the actual question.

When revising, students often rehearse answers in their head. says Roy Jackson, course leader in religion, philosophy and ethics at the University of Gloucestershire. “Although we don’t deliberately intend to catch them out in exams, we do set questions that requires them to think and reflect under timed conditions. But instead students will often pick up key words in the question and write out a rehearsed response.”

In education we are obsessed with key vocabulary, and rightly so. Learning, understanding and categorising key language can underpin a lot of key concepts and skills in many, if not all, subject areas. Angle, adjective, hypothesis, artery, evidence, source, hemisphere, continent, analyse, evaluate, strokes, pivot, endurance…we throw all sorts of weird and frankly wonderful words at out learners to assist them in becoming more proficient in each of these subject areas. The grasp of key words is important in this endeavour. However, this fascination over key language seems to permeate into exam ‘practice’. This may help…but is it also a hindrance?

Many primary and Maths teachers will be aware of the acronym ‘RUCSAC’. I’m calling it out. I know many others have cast this aside for many reason, however I’m accusing this seemingly helpful skill of causing more problems in actually understanding the question.

I’ve seen the ‘U’ stand for one of two things – Understand or Underline. Understand: if I could get children to understand questions by just telling them to ‘Understand’ I would make a fortune. ‘Underline’ seems a bit more helpful but even this can cause problems…

Take this question for example: ‘I am going to share 3 boxes of chocolates between 5 friends. There are 30 chocolates in each box. How many chocolates are there to share?’ On the surface a very straightforward question.

However, as we know in Year 2, 6 and other high-stakes exam years, a lot of time is spent practising tests. If a child is trained to ‘underline’ key vocabulary and use THAT to identify the next stage (C – Choose operation) then they may misread the question. The higher attainers and rapid graspers (whatever phrase you’re using these days) will contextualise the problem and realise they need to multiply 3 by 30. However, the lower attainers and some middle attainers who are clinging on, will follow the strategy as they have been taught and identify one word – ‘share’. Now, all the followers of the RUCSAC strategy will know ‘share’ means one thing – divide. If children are taught to look for key words and phrases and to follow a strict guideline of how to solve, they will become stuck. They haven’t read the question properly and make the mistake.

Short-term Reliance

The ‘cramming before examming’ culture in academic exam years is also geared toward short-term memory. Scientific American says:

“Memories like what you had for dinner are stored in visual short-term memory—particularly, in a kind of short-term memory often called “visual working memory.” Visual working memory is where visual images are temporarily stored while your mind works away at other tasks—like a whiteboard on which things are briefly written and then wiped away.”

We teach children mnemonics, quick tricks and rehearsed answers to help them gain procedural understanding. However, in teaching this way, whilst we may gain lots of marks on some papers, that understanding is extremely limited. Conceptual understanding, the kind of understanding that enables children to see the bigger picture of a question, is lacking. This means they will read a question and struggle to contextualise it. No wonder they don’t ‘read the question properly’! They can read it but their short-term memory is trained to look for the procedure to answer the question.

Take 1/3 x 5/7. Every child in my Year 6 class would tell you the answer is 5/21. What does that ACUTALLY mean?

However, give them this question: “3/4 of a pan of brownies was sitting on the counter. You decided to eat 1/3 of the brownies in the pan. How much of the whole pan of brownies did you eat?” and see the confusion settle in…

And we wonder after a solid couple of terms on this method at least why there are drops in progress or attainment in Year 3 and 7…

The Solution?

A solution is worth searching for. Children may lose marks and not attain their potential not through a lack of understanding but just simply not having processed the question, or even their own working carefully. I have seen a child not achieve a Level 5 and then in later years miss out on Expected by one mark, both because they added decimals perfectly in their working but then forgot to include the decimal in their answer!!

Unfortunately I have no better solution to this problem of reading the question properly other than quality first teaching (or whatever phrase you use for that). I am also a hypocrite wilst saying this. Whilst I am now trying to help children understand the concept properly first more so now before showing them the ‘trick’ – I am still reverting back to little tips and tricks as we get ever closer to the SATs.

One thing I have done though which does open the children’s eyes a little bit to tackling this issue is this document which I found a few years ago which I share with you. Try it yourself…just read the question carefully 😉 (Answer at the bottom of the page so…spoilers down there if you want to try it yourself)!

It’s best if you get all children to promise to only say what they have to from the sheet, no helping or speaking to each other…

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If you haven’t gathered, the children who read the sheet correctly will end up watching their classmates with smugness complete the ridiculous list of 19 or so challenges on this sheet until they realise they mistake at the end. Everyone else will look daft and you will have to control your desire to chuckle as one by one they say their name and eventually stand up and declare proudly ‘I HAVE FINISHED’…and then look in shock at the final sentences. Hopefully the ones who are fooled will look slyly at you at the end and keep quiet and enjoy watching the rest of their classmates fall into the same trap.

In three years of teaching Year 6…no one has completed it properly…let me know how it goes with you. DM me @Mroberts90Matt if you want this sheet on a Word document.

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Verdict on Whole Class Guided Reading by @Mroberts90Matt

So, just over 4 months ago, I set on a new journey in Guided Reading – Whole Class Guided Reading. I shared my initial thoughts back then on what I considered the pros and cons of this, and other approaches I had experiences that can be seen here. As I have gone along with this approach, I have noticed a few things which have really added to this method:

1. Keep the Groups but Keep them Mixed

At the start, I reflected a lot on what would be best. Should I completely disband Guided Reading groups? If not, do I keep them differentiated to be able to focus certain levels of questions or mix them up? As I continued I decided to keep the previous groups we had for Guided Reading which were differentiated – mainly so that the groups didn’t feel a complete change. In hindsight however I think that was the wrong choice. I think it is important to keep GR groups so that you can focus discussion and questioning in a smaller group setting but making them mixed ability is the way forward. This enables support for the lower attainers by accessing higher levels of questioning and discussion with their peers. Also, those with a greater depth of understanding can develop this through explanation and discussion of their thoughts with their peers as they coach them.

2. Vary the Activities

So when we were presented with the idea of Whole Class Guided Reading, I was given the idea that a lot of the Whole Class model could focus on discussing questions focusing on different strands in Reading (such as prediction, summary and comparison) and children should be able to model answers. As such, this was pretty much all I did. It was great to start with and it definitely had an impact – however, it did become stale after a couple of weeks. So I began to realise that Whole Class Guided Reading should be seen as engaging as any other session (duh – I know right) and whilst a lot of the engagement should come from a stellar text (we used Wonder – the kids LOVED it) you do need to put in some variety of activities. I probably won’t make it every other session – but maybe once a week or so throw in something to make the text come even more alive. Some examples can be found in this document (which I didn’t create) List of Possible Whole Class GR Activities

Some others are below:

In the back of your books, write three open questions you would like to ask any of August’s guides (Charlotte, Julian and Jack) about their first impressions of August.1

3. Go with the Flow

I think Whole Class Guided Reading has such a potential to unlock thoughts and imagination across the class. However, as we have gone through discussion and drawn ideas from all the class, a number of answers have been given that have taken things in a different direction. We have gone into in-depth comparisons between August/Summer and Beauty and the Beast, we have also delved into the genetics behind colour-blindness (one of my party tricks) as a result of the discussions going in their flow. One thing that I would take away for Whole Class Guided Reading is be ready for the discussion to take a different direction – I find it exhilarating and the children find it engaging when the discussion is at a high-level but has evolved over questions and thoughts from the children…and because it is ‘Whole-Class’, these ideas can come from anyone about the same text.

Back in February I said I would not change my effective, well-planned carousel – Guided Reading, I had it cracked. However, I am of the opinion that I will not be changing my Whole Class Guided Reading – unless something else comes along that looks better/is forced upon me but hey – that’s teaching!

 

Initial Thoughts on Whole Class Guided Reading @Mroberts90Matt

So, a few days into a new journey for me. Guided reading at my school setting has been quite transient over the past few years I’ve been teaching there. I will list the various ways it has been implemented and consider the pros and cons of each. Over the 2 1/2 years I have tried three different styles of delivering Guided Reading and to hear anyone’s thoughts on the various styles would be much appreciated!

1 hour focus session a week

This was a style of Guided Reading I had never seen before and I doubt I will ever see again. Simply put, this style entails splitting the whole class into 4/5 groups once a week for an hour. Within that hour, all the TAs available in that Phase Group were pooled together so that each group would have a focus for a whole hour. So let’s have a look at this…unique style:

+Far more time to explore a text with a supporting adult

+More time to try and integrate more drama-based activities to enhance understanding of text

– Not every child is read with by the class teacher, only one group

– Only one GR session a week per child

– Highly reliant on all additional adults being available

– Requires a lot of different learning spaces to make most of benefits

Carousel Guided Reading

This is the regular version of Guided Reading. The Dairy Milk, the Ready Salted, the Kit Kat classic if you will. Wherever you’ve seen Guided Reading, this is probably the style you’ve seen implemented. Put simply, the class are split once again into around 5 groups and each day for 20-30 mins (depending on how long it takes your kids to actually figure out where they’re sitting and which daily activity they’re on) each group is undertaking a different activity and complete all of them in a week. Once again, benefits and negatives include:

+ An opportunity for a variety of challenges

+ Chn (in theory) become more independent

+ Teacher gets to work with everyone at some point in focused reading once a week

– Differentiation is a nightmare

– Chn from other groups will interrupt you when in discussion with focus group

– Due to different texts in each group, some do not access higher level texts

– Depending on the age and independence of your age group, setting up and settling can be tedious

Whole Class Guided Reading

This is the new craze that seems to be sweeping the Twitterverse. Quite a few Literacy leads (including my own) are raving about whole class guided reading. This is the reason why I am going to be trying it out this half term. The premise as far as I understand it is the class are introduced to the text/chapter/section all together (perhaps with a hook) to engage. Then they all read independently and the teacher moves to work with a focus group during the next section whilst the rest answer a variety of questions on the section they are working on and this lasts over 2-4 days depending on the Year Group. Once again, benefits and negatives are:

+All engage with higher level vocab from a higher level text

+Opportunity for all chn to access deeper thinking through peer discussion

+Less workload in terms of differentiation

+All chn receive some level of input from class teacher every day

+Less need for ‘set-up’ time

-Perhaps less of a chance for a variety of activities (but depends on how it’s implemented)

-Harder to integrate speaking and listening activities which the teacher can monitor and assess with it being a whole class task

By by non-exhaustive thinking, Whole Class Guided Reading should be the more effective method but many will have their opinions and other benefits and negatives to add (or maybe take away). Half our staff are trialling Carousel with One Text for All and half are trialling Whole Class with One Text for All. I had set up my carousel really effectively so I was a little reluctant but we were meant to trial as a Year Group and my Year 6 partner is the English Lead so I had little choice! However the class seem to be enjoying it so far!

The Case for Reading to the Class by @Mroberts90Matt

14/01/15
As I filed into the classroom of the teacher who’d volunteered to share their space for our first staff meeting of 2015, I couldn’t help feel a little robbed of the time I was about to spend in there and how that time could have possibly been used to mark my children’s books, plan effective but exciting lessons or prepare top notch resources. Instead, as with every Tuesday, I am to sit and listen for an hour. Fortunately, as most staff meetings have done to be fair, this one was going to make me question my practice.

Our first staff meeting of the New Year was focused on the children’s reading journey throughout our school. There was a big focus on how the guided reading system was going to change. A discussion of our personal favourite books and books that have wowed the class of course ensued. But then, and quite as a byword, the topic of reading to the class was brought up. Now, in a Year 6 class with a million and one things to get through I could probably count the number of time I had read to the class on one hand (maybe two if I’m being generous).

With this new push, however, I am determined to give it a go – wish me luck…

29/01/15
Well, I’ve been successful thus far in making sure my class have 10 minutes a day where I read to them – and so far it’s proving to be an excellent time in the day.

The vast majority of the children look forward to our Class Read and when I pick the worst place possible to stop when we’re about to discovery something in the story (aren’t I mean?) there’s a collective call of exasperation as if I had almost opened an ancient treasure chest then slammed it shut! It really is a satisfying moment actually. The one period of time in the week where we have Quiet Reading time is a lot quieter and ‘readier’ than before the commencement of the Class Reading so that’s some instant feedback I suppose.

What was interesting was the process of choosing the book in question. I had contested inside myself as to whether I would chose the book, give the children options to chose from or completely open it up to them. In the end I decided to get each child to write one book down they would like to read as a class and committed that i would go along with what they chose as this was not a Reading Ability Booster exercise; it was to instill more joy in reading. The results were mainly three books:
1st Place – Tom Gates
2nd Place – Harry Potter
3rd Place – Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Secretly cursing that they had not chosen Harry Potter (one of my fondest moments in primary school was my Year 6 Teacher reading us Harry Potter as a class) I went with it. Out of the three, it’s the only one I hadn’t read, but I am enjoying it. Sure, it’s not a literary breakthrough in my opinion, but I am enjoying it. And that’s the whole purpose – JOY!

It’ll be difficult to tell if this new practice in my classroom will generate better reading results in the future (although we did have quite a few pleasant surprises in last week’s Assessment Week) but what is noticeable is the children’s desire to read – whether it’s just a novelty or not remains to be seen…
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photo credit: CasualCapture via photopin cc

Teacher Voice Weekly Poll w/b 12th January 2015

Two weeks in a row!! Good start!!!

Last week’s results were not very conclusive as only two educators voted. The poll for writing LO’s is still open so please follow the link here to be forwarded there when you’re done here…

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This week is focused on a blog post I want to publish this week and will hopefully find the time. Simply, it is about the teacher reading to the class, is it worth it, is there time and the best practice in which to do it. Therefore, as I feel this has been one of the biggest barriers for me, the question is focused on whether you have time to read to your class. Of course, there is the generic response “we should MAKE time” but as a reflex response, do you really have time? I suppose this is more focused to Primary teachers but if any Secondary colleagues wish to add their vote then by all means do so!

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