Our Year 6 pupils are expected to achieve ever deeper knowledge in their reading every year, but in 2019 the pace required to read and understand the three texts was thrust up a gear again. The total word count across the three texts was 2168 words – an increase of 680 words from 2018. In many schools, a common focal point this academic year has been to push on children’s pace of reading (and responding) to endeavour to address the seemingly relentless challenge.
Following conversations after the tests in May, after the results in July, and over the Christmas break, three different schools’ Year 6 teachers/ leaders pooled their ‘top tips’ to help encourage children to push-on their reading speed – as well as improve overall reading confidence. The following strategies and ideas being undertaken at these schools now. Several of these ideas address building-up retrieval skills - when retrieval-based questions continue to be a huge element of SATs reading papers (42% of the marks in 2019).
Who can tell which strategies will improve results for which child/ children/ cohort – but if you’re looking for new ideas and inspiration for reading activities in your Year 6 classes this term (while there is time for some impact), read on…
Brickhouse Primary School (Jonathan Smith, AHT)
Paired, peer comprehension tasks
Children are paired (mixed ability) and work together regularly on comprehension tasks to identify the correct answers together. Children learn from their peers, for example trying out different ways to word a 2- or 3-mark response. They are often more likely to remember what a mate has told them about a question than you, the teacher. (The teacher models the answers afterwards, including reflecting the precision/ accuracy and evidence needed to gain full marks.) When children are given a set time to work through a set amount of questions, a sense of urgency is developed. This technique has improved the children’s all-round comprehension skills and the speed in which they answer.
Quick retrieval practice across the curriculum
As well as using R (retrieval) from VIPERS within reading focused lessons, we are also embedding retrieval into the start of our topic lessons in afternoons. This again gives the children a set time to answer questions based on prior learning or a paragraph of new information for the coming lesson. We have found increasing the amount of ‘question reading’ has improved the children’s ability to focus their skills, and across a wider range of subjects and text types – including more demanding non-fiction.
An inner city, Birmingham Primary School (Joshua Sanghera, Assistant Principal)
Highlight and/ or text mark
Children use a highlighter or underline/ circle key information in the text for retrieval questions - to ensure they then copy the appropriate word/ phrase. We remind children also, to always double check if ‘find and copy’ questions are asking for ONE word or words (a phrase). Children need to learn that ‘Too many words’ = no marks (and to remember to carefully double check their responses to this type of question).
Circle the question prompt word
We encourage children to circle the what/where/when prompt in the question, so they remember what they’re looking for. When in stressful test situations and when answering at pace, silly mistakes can be made even on basic retrieval questions.
Improve scanning in other contexts
During reading sessions, we try to widen the range of text types and contexts we use as much as possible – using a world map is a great favourite! We ask children to highlight as many countries beginning with a particular letter, and within a time frame, to further develop their scanning technique.
Christ Church CE Primary School (Ruth Duckworth, AHT)
Two hands are busy
This technique develops children’s ability to track and follow the text they are reading quickly - using their non-writing hand. Whilst skimming and scanning for a specific word or person/ place/ figure (spot the capitals for proper nouns), they can then ‘hover’ on or around the word or phrase they are looking for; the child’s writing hand is free to write straight away or circle/ mark the place where the answer could be in the text. This technique is useful especially for ‘find and copy’ questions which require copying accuracy. Using both hands and sitting with better posture (and less slouching, less leaning on elbows etc) can improve children’s overall focus and attitude toward a task – especially in test situations.
Short speed tasks
Short speed tasks or timed challenges are popular in my class. We use one page of text, with a list of focus words at the top (or listed on the board). When the timer begins, children scan through the text to find each word – highlighting or circling them. It’s made competitive and fun, but can focus on children improving their own pace and accuracy, e.g. how many words can they find in 3 minutes? To extend the task, we ask a longer question about one of the focus words/ phrases, e.g. what would be a 2 or 3 mark question, where they then need to read ‘around’ the text a little more to then explain the language in context.
Further reading strategies from across these 3 schools – for building overall reading confidence in Year 6 include:
What is the question?
In pairs, using any piece of text, one child uses retrieval skills to write an answer – a name, place, phrase etc. The other child then writes what they think the question could have been. The children enjoy setting challenges for each other and they especially enjoy sharing as a whole class to see if the other children agree with their ideas.
Deconstructing test papers
Help children build up their knowledge of how marks are given/ lost by deconstructing test papers together. By copying sections of the mark scheme, especially for ‘big box’ 3-mark answers, children can see and understand the precise detail and referencing (‘evidence’) needed to gain full marks. It takes time and patience, but children can become critical friends in supporting peers with improving their responses. They love being able to give an answer similar to the 3-mark exemplars.
Use of challenging texts – using Lexile scores
Developing children’s confidence and resilience in reading more difficult, complex texts is a consideration when looking at the Lexile framework for reading. Popular, high quality texts can still have only a rating of between 500-700L – something that we have really found surprising! Texts chosen because they are older, more historical, traditional stories still may not have the level of challenge needed to prepare children fully for National Curriculum testing. In 2019, the ‘About Bumblebees’ (2nd text) had a Lexile rating of 1000-1100L; however, in 2018, none of the three texts had a Lexile rating of more than 1000. Across key stage 2, schools our schools are now reviewing the range of reading material presented in ‘guided’ reading, whole class sessions and in topic-related lessons - to ensure that there is enough challenging language presented, both before and during Year 6.
In conclusion, in order for children to meet the end of key stage 2 standards, practising Year 6 teachers know that we must keep adapting and improving our reading provision. Ensuring children are prepared for SATs is one thing, but they also need to be prepared for secondary school and beyond... a lifelong love of reading being the ultimate goal.