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Research School Network: Literacy after Lockdown – Reciprocal Reading: a potential solution? Stephanie Keenan follows up on Chloe Woodhouse’s excellent Reciprocal Reading webinar, the third in our series


Literacy after Lockdown – Reciprocal Reading: a potential solution?

Stephanie Keenan follows up on Chloe Woodhouse’s excellent Reciprocal Reading webinar, the third in our series

Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, there were concerns about literacy barriers to the secondary curriculum, with a quarter of students at 15 still having a reading age of 12 or below and a correlation between student reading ability and GCSE performance which is just as strong in maths and sciences as it is in arts subjects.

Now, despite the availability of guidance on Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools, lockdown has disrupted many schools’ well-planned literacy programmes. While teachers may have had to focus on the pedagogical how’ of delivering remote learning, however, the literacy gap has not gone away.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), commissioned by the EEF, has just published an interim report on the impact of covid on attainment in reading and maths in KS1, suggesting that for students already facing literacy barriers, remote learning has exacerbated the issue and widened the disadvantage gap. There is every reason to expect that the picture would be mirrored in secondary phase, with 92% of teachers thinking school closures and remote learning will contribute to a widening of the word gap.

Reciprocal Reading: a potential solution?

Woodhouse shared in her webinar the ways in which The Bemrose School in Derby uses Reciprocal Reading to develop confidence & improve independence for students when dealing with a variety of texts, sharing findings that student reading ages increased by up to 3 years.

Background research

Based on the research of Palinscar & Brown (1984), Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension: Fostering and Comprehension Monitoring Activities’ which reported on two instructional studies directed at the comprehension-fostering and comprehension-monitoring activities of seventh grade poor comprehenders, the Fischer Family Trust developed a pilot intervention programme which found evidence of improving children’s reading accuracy by 13 months and their comprehension age by 16 months. The FFT pitches Reciprocal Reading as an intervention programme which is particularly effective with children who can decode but do not fully understand what they read and as a useful approach to shared and guided reading.

Reading comprehension strategies, which focus on the learners’ understanding of written text, are rated as high impact on the EEF Toolkit. When the EEF reviewed the evidence in a trial involving 98 schools and 5222 students (years 4, 5 and 6) the independent evaluation of Reciprocal Reading found that children in the targeted intervention made an average of 2+ months more progress in terms of reading comprehension and overall reading, the measure of attainment chosen for the trial, rating these results as moderate-to-high security: 3 out of 5 on the EEF padlock scale.

Reciprocal Reading: what is it?

Reciprocal reading is a structured approach to teaching strategies (questioning, clarifying, summarising and predicting) that students can use to improve their reading comprehension.

Woodhouse explained how by introducing reciprocal reading across all subjects and key stages, students not only encounter an increased quantity of texts but can transfer these strategies between subjects and phases.

There are four stages: predict, clarify, question, summarise – Woodhouse was at pains to emphasise that all four stages are needed to embed a complete process. In class, teachers would use a visualiser to explicitly demonstrate and model the technique, using metacognitive strategies, rated by EEF evidence summaries as having consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of seven months’ additional progress.

Reciprocal Reading and Metacognition

Reciprocal Reading allows metacognitive strategies to be activated as the class works in a group, with learners supporting each other and making their thinking explicit through discussion, ultimately leading to students being able to access texts independently using the same strategies. Woodhouse argued that Reciprocal Reading was a powerful tool across the curriculum, also drawing upon David Perkins Four levels of metacognitive learner’ (Tacit, Aware, Strategic, Reflective) which @MrCranePE wrote about for Durrington Research School.

For this reason, Woodhouse encouraged teachers to spend plenty of time modelling the process to make the implicit skills of the expert reader, the teacher, explicit to the novice readers, focusing on depth and quality in order to embed the skills. This is modelled here as she works through the four stages with an example text.

  • Predict – what are we going to read about in the next section of text? Explicitly demonstrate how expert readers use cues in the text.
  • Clarify – which words & phrases do we need to establish the meaning of?
  • Question – cuse questions to develop understanding and inference?
  • Summarise – what are the main ideas? Reviewing, consolidating the content of the text and ensuring comprehension.

To enable students to transition from novice to more independent learners, the EEF Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning found that effective modelling and metacognitive instruction are intrinsically linked, although can be over-relied upon (Haston, 2007). There are further examples from Reading Rockets here with bookmarks used to guide discussion.

Reciprocal Reading: the questions

Woodhouse and the team have clearly found Reciprocal Reading to be a highly effective strategy at Bemrose, a school with high pupil premium, SEND, EAL and student mobility. Some of the questions raised in the discussion afterwards could see the benefits for lower key stages, but put forward concerns about how a one size fits all’ approach to reading would work across different disciplines in Key Stage 4, when disciplinary literacy becomes more specialised. The EEF summary of recommendations for improving secondary literacy places disciplinary literacy first. Phil Stock writes more about this here. How would a GCSE Maths or Science teacher feel about replacing their own metacognitive strategies for how to approach a question with a standard four step process?

Woodhouse acknowledged the need to respect subject disciplines and specialisms and to have buy-in across the curriculum along with the ability to adapt the processes to work in different subject areas, for example the Maths department used solve’ instead of question’ when using reciprocal reading strategies.

Another question raised the relationship between explicit vocabulary instruction and a knowledge-based approach with this more skills-based approach to literacy. Woodhouse pointed out the need to activate prior knowledge when making predictions or asking questions of the text (Predict, Question), to explicitly teach vocabulary when clarifying key words (Clarify), and to use metacognitive strategies and procedural knowledge when applying the Reciprocal Reading strategies.

Arguably, Reciprocal Reading is a way of combining existing metacognitive strategies and procedural knowledge some teachers are already familiar with and using effectively in their classroom. Nevertheless, it has been formulated into a winning formula for Woodhouse and the team at The Bemrose School, no doubt largely due to the effectiveness of how it has been embedded over time in all phases and subject areas to increase student familiarity and practice with the key strategies.

Thanks to Chloe Woodhouse for her enthusiasm and passion for Reciprocal Reading and for explaining how it has worked so well at The Bemrose School.

Stephanie Keenan, Evidence Lead in Education

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