: Bridging the Gap – from Decoding to Comprehension in KS2 Jess Hutchison addresses how to bridge the KS2 gap between decoding to fluency and comprehension


Bridging the Gap – from Decoding to Comprehension in KS2

Jess Hutchison addresses how to bridge the KS2 gap between decoding to fluency and comprehension

by Gloucestershire Research School at the Gloucestershire Learning Alliance
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Jess Hutchinson

Jess Hutchison

GLA Trust Reading Lead

Read more aboutJess Hutchison

Like many schools, we knew we had a gap we needed to bridge. We had a robust systematic phonic programme, but secure decoding wasn’t always leading to strong outcomes for our KS2 readers.

Reading is immensely complex and involves so many aspects. We got children off to a strong start but that seemed to stall in KS2, especially for children in Years 3, 4 and 5 and then we faced a huge leap to get children to meet age related expectations by the end Year 6. We thought we were doing lots of reading’ in KS2, so why weren’t we seeing the results? Clearly something was missing, and we needed to find the bridge to close the gap.

Through thorough exploration, it became evident that although there were dedicated daily reading sessions in the KS2 timetable, the irony was that children were not spending much time actually reading in these lessons – they were answering questions about a text rather than improving their reading skills. The carousel approach meant that children were engaged in activities relating to reading rather than actual reading. Silent reading and round robin’ reading were both prevalent. This gave readers the opportunity to opt out of reading or appear to be reading whilst not actually reading at all. Especially for our most vulnerable readers, reading mileage was low.

Through research and engagement with the EEF’s Improving Literacy in KS2 guidance report and the Evidence into Action Podcast (Episode 10: Teaching Reading: Developing Fluency), I was struck by the work of Timothy Rasinski who describes fluency as the bridge between word recognition and reading comprehension. Perhaps fluency was the gap we had not yet bridged?

GLA Teacher Toolkit Fluency
GLA Teacher Toolkit 2023

We created this diagram to support teachers’ understanding of the centrality of fluency. It is in our Teacher Toolkit and used in all our reading CPD to help reinforce the idea of fluency as the bridge between decoding and comprehension.

We decided to explore this further by using Rasinski’s fluency rubric alongside a words correct per minute’ count (WCPM). It became evident that our struggling readers often had low fluency rates. They either read slowly, or they read without expression and intonation. A good number struggled with both.

Building the Bridge – Laying the Foundations

It was clear that, if fluency is the bridge between decoding and comprehending, we needed to focus our work on supporting teachers to bridge this gap. Through revisiting the Reading Comprehension House, we identified that we hadn’t focused enough on the fluency brick’ when building our Reading House.

Reading Comprehension House

To help teachers’ understanding of the importance of fluency, we linked it to cognitive load theory. A fluent reader has more cognitive space to comprehend a text whereas a less fluent reader has to focus cognitive energy on the mechanics of reading rather than understanding meaning.

Fluent decoding allows us to understand what we read. Because the reader has gained accuracy and automaticity in word reading, the brain’s resources are available to focus on lifting meaning from the page.

DFE Reading Framework 2023

Building the Bridge – Accuracy, Automaticity and Prosody

However, it wasn’t enough to develop teachers’ understanding of the importance of fluency, they also needed strategies to develop fluency with their readers. We repeatedly came back to reading mileage as vital to developing children’s fluency.

Like many aspects of learning, children benefit from a strong model and plenty of opportunity to practice. Implementing the guidance from the EEF, we adjusted the design of our reading lessons. We built in more opportunities for Guided Oral Reading, where children hear their teacher as a strong reading role model. Children also were given plenty of opportunity for Repeated Reading (reading and re-reading a short text aloud, alone or with a partner). This twin approach ensured that children were able to both decode and fluently read a text before focusing their cognitive energy on comprehension.

Building the bridge – brick by brick

Children were hearing more and reading more. Next, CPD focused on Readers’ Theatre and The Megabook of Fluency as further strategies in our teachers’ reading toolkits. Teachers were given tools through the Megabook of Fluency to make fluency practice relevant, fun and engaging – fluency was no longer marginalised but placed front and centre in our approach to reading.

Readers’ Theatre is now an integral part of our English Strategy and pupil and teacher voice is resoundingly positive. Teachers talk and think about fluency in a way they didn’t previously. They know the importance of fluency in bridging that gap.

A words correct per minute count’ and the fluency rubrics are used regularly to help identify and quickly tackle any gaps in fluency to help children build the bridge to comprehension. We now routinely assess for fluency barriers, as well as decoding and comprehension barriers, so we can precisely target the correct support.

There is still a way to go, but early indicators show that fluency outcomes for children in KS2 are improving rapidly. Reading Leaders within school report increased WCPM scores for pupils and teachers have reported that fewer children are struggling to read age-appropriate extracts in an allocated time. Our children are getting more reading practice and now they can read more – it is a cycle of improvement showing real benefits for our KS2 pupils.

Reading is a complex activity and there are many bricks in the reading comprehension house, each of which need attention and focus if the house is to be secure. We are bridging that gap and laying better foundations for reading comprehension.

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