Research School Network: Blog: Pulling out ‘The Bricks’: Deconstructing the House of Reading Alex Reynolds explains how the Reading House can be deconstructed to support successful reading
Blog: Pulling out ‘The Bricks’: Deconstructing the House of Reading
Alex Reynolds explains how the Reading House can be deconstructed to support successful reading
by Research Schools Network
Alex Reynolds is the EEF’s Literacy Content Specialist. She also provides consultancy around literacy, curriculum and coaching.
Billy’s reading attainment is falling. His comprehension activities are half-finished and his responses lack depth and accuracy.
Billy is a daily reader and receives thrice-weekly interventions to support his progress.
His teacher, an experienced Year 6 teacher and phase leader, doesn’t know what to try next, so brings his stalling progress up for discussion in the staffroom.
I ask, “What do you think the problem is?”
The teacher replies, in a flash: “Inference.”
We all pause, reflecting. What do we do, then?
His teacher goes on, thinking out loud. “Well, I think Billy gets overloaded. He can’t follow meanings across sentences. I think a barrier for him is inferencing based on coherence within the text. His grammar isn’t strong.”
There’s nodding around the table. It’s a familiar story. Now we’re on to something, I think.
The house of reading – the sum of many parts
Teaching reading is overwhelmingly complex. When Billy’s teacher thought harder about her assessment of his needs, she began to open this complexity: successful reading requires coordination of several cognitive processes.
To access a text, Billy needs the ‘mechanics’: decoding, fluency, and more. When his teacher noticed how easily overloaded he was, she prompted us firstly to evaluate Billy’s word recognition.
Moreover, to fully grasp a text, Billy also needs to know most of the vocabulary. He needs to understand the grammar and syntax. He must learn how to connect ideas as he reads. His teacher sees barriers here around language comprehension, too.
The reading house model, adapted from Hogan, Bridges, Justice and Cain’s 2011 publication, offers a concrete way we can think and speak about these multiple cognitive processes.
It shows word reading and language comprehension as the two dimensions of reading that come together for successful comprehension.
Breaking down the ‘bricks’
No illustration can perfectly capture how reading works. And yet, the brilliance of the reading house is that it enables us to make sense of the complexity by breaking down the key building-blocks. But once we’ve identified these bigger blocks, what do we do with this information? How can our teaching and intervention be more responsive?
To unpick Billy’s learning gaps, we next need to know the granular skills and concepts that make up the building blocks of the house.
In other words, now that we have the rooms that make up the reading house, we need to identify the smaller ‘bricks’ that make up these rooms.
Let’s take the ‘inferencing room’ as an example.
The ability to make inferences is, in simple terms, the ability to use two or more pieces of information from a text to arrive at a third piece of information that is implicit. Whilst there isn’t necessarily a ‘correct’ set of concepts from research, if we were to start breaking down the ‘bricks’ for inferencing, we might arrive something like this:
Of course, this is just a snapshot of a very big wall of bricks that construct the skill of inferencing.
Nonetheless, as a thinking exercise, identifying the bricks in this room allows me to ask better questions – and make stronger links to other rooms in the house. Instead of accepting that ‘inference’ is Billy’s gap, we can unpick key concepts that his teacher can assess and teach.
A thinking exercise, not a magic bullet.
There are no magic bullets in teaching – the next time we meet to discuss Billy’s progress, there is still work to do to help him achieve his very best.
But this time, I don’t ask “What do you think the problem is?’
Instead, we use the bricks of the inferencing room that we’ve identified as a team to ‘get granular’:
Talk to me about Billy’s local inferences.
Where and why does he struggle to explain causal links across sentences?
Can we look at that last passage you were studying. Where did he struggle to make connections here? Is it tracking pronouns? How is he with multi-clause sentences?
What opportunities do you have to revisit cohesive devices with the class? What will Billy find hard?
For leaders then, the house offers us room (no pun intended!) to demystify the different building blocks of reading. We might use the idea of the bricks in the house as a starting point to build teachers’ expertise on the specific knowledge and skills children need to become successful readers.
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