: Reading Between the Lines: The Crucial Role of Literacy in Teaching History Working towards 5 key strategies that good readers use

Reading Between the Lines: The Crucial Role of Literacy in Teaching History

Working towards 5 key strategies that good readers use

Recommendation 3 of the EEF Improving Secondary Literacy guidance report tells us Reading strategies aim to support the active engagement with texts that improve comprehension. Given the complexity of academic reading, students need to be able to deploy an array of reading strategies, which can be modelled and practised in the classroom to develop students as strategic readers.” But what does it really mean to read like a geographer or read like a scientist’? 

Haffsah Nasir, Assistant Principal and teacher at Hathershaw College, exemplifies this through her teaching of History.

“Reading with fluency is the gateway to almost all learning. Without reading, there is little science, no history, no geography. So we should champion reading as a vital life skill; reading to learn; reading for advancement; reading to expand horizons; reading for pleasure.”

The EEF report is a fantastic resource and it has helped me to really understand the importance of disciplinary literacy and the role all teachers play in promoting high standards of reading, writing, vocab and oracy. The recommendations are very useful and provide realistic strategies to implement into classroom practice. For example, the report recommends using reading strategies, such as activating prior knowledge, prediction and questioning, to improve students’ comprehension, each of which our History department has collectively incorporated into curriculum materials.

Why are good reading skills important in history?

If we consider the old hamburger analogy, reading is essentially the bun that holds a history curriculum together. Students need to read a wide range of academic texts and primary sources as part of the discipline. Without reading they can’t make sense of the bedrock ingredients of a history curriculum, knowledge, sources and interpretations. Incorporating reading into every history lesson means that students can compare and contrast across texts, evaluate the usefulness of sources and create evidence based interpretations of History. Additionally, students need to regularly make inferences that go beyond the literal words in the sentence and therefore it’s important that students are taught to read like a historian’. This may include teaching students how to reduce and paraphrase, infer, skim and scan, select evidence, understand tone and intonation from the written word. Without reading skills, students are just learning about events of the past, rather than developing the skills of a historian.

How do I explicitly teach reading in my subject?

There are lots of ways we teach reading within History. As a school, all dense text is read aloud by the teacher. I find this particularly important when reading primary sources. It’s important to get into character’ and read the source aloud from the point of view of its author. This helps students to infer and emphasis is placed on understanding the purpose of the source.

When introducing a piece of dense text, I tend to follow a sequence that is based around the recommendations in the EEF Improving Secondary Literacy guidance report. When students are introduced to a reading task I follow the sequence below:

Step one:
Clarifying new vocab or phrases. I’ll ask students to circle words they are unsure of following this with any strategies appropriate to support students in breaking down complex vocabulary.

Step 2:
Prediction. As I read to the class, I pause at certain points and ask students to predict what will happen next. Similarly through a guided reading comprehension task, I ask students to predict the answer to a question before it is read.

Step 3:
Summarising. Students are asked to reduce paragraphs to a few bullet points and add a summary title about each section of the text. It is crucial to explicitly model how to do this effectively.

Step 4:
Make meaning. Finally students make meaning of their text but answering deeper thinking questions.

For some learners this sequence will be chunked and sections will be highlighted to help reduce the cognitive load.

I also place a lot of emphasis on how I read outside of the classroom. I make a point of saying, I read…and it told me…”. This may be a news article, an online blog, both fiction and non-fictional history. It’s important that students know reading isn’t just something we do at school to pass GCSEs, but that it’s something that we do every day of our lives and that it increases our worldly knowledge.

5 key strategies that good readers use

1. decode words fluently, quickly mapping out their meaning, connecting them to their prior background knowledge.

2. actively draw upon their broad background knowledge to make sense of the text.

3. develop a sound knowledge of text structures, seeking out conventions like headings to organise their knowledge into memorable patterns.

4. automatically deploy comprehension strategies, like predicting or summarising.

5. constantly monitor their comprehension, asking questions like does this make sense’?

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