Research School Network: The Teaching of Reading: Where to start? Evidence Lead, Megan Scullion shares the power of modelling and talk in unlocking the magic of reading comprehension.

The Teaching of Reading: Where to start?

Evidence Lead, Megan Scullion shares the power of modelling and talk in unlocking the magic of reading comprehension.

by Staffordshire Research School
on the

Reading is dreaming with open eyes’– Unknown
At least that is what we would hope our pupil’s perception of reading is.
The teaching of reading is so important to give those children in our care, not only the skills to be able to read words on a page, but to comprehend said words so that they can fully appreciate the beauty of the story laid before them. For how sad would it be if a child reads a fairy tale and doesn’t get to experience the happy ending purely through lack of comprehension?

For us, our teaching of reading begins with ensuring that children develop the skills to become confident readers. Throughout their time in Key Stage 1, understandably, phonics is a priority as without this solid foundation, reading is unable to develop.

Once secure in their reading of words on a page, the instruction of teaching children to interpret said words through comprehension strategies then begins. We have encouraged our staff to utilise the recommendations laid out in the EEF Improving Literacy at KS1 and KS2 guidance reports. Our reading lessons are filled with strategies taken from these reports. To embed them within their practice, staff have attended CPD sessions and through our Lessons in Action’ initiative, staff have been invited to witness modelled lessons by experienced practitioners to see some of the teaching strategies in action. It is through sessions like this, that staff are then able to tailor their own practice, so that they are able to deliver lessons in which the children are taught not only how to read, but how to become readers. For us, our premise is simple: we want to create readers who are immersed in the magical art of stories; who are able to pick up a book and have the confidence to read it from cover to cover regardless of its difficulty; readers who are taught skills so that they are able to appreciate and analyse the personalities of their favourite characters, second guess the plot because they are constantly reading for meaning and who become invested in fictional worlds and enjoy the endless possibilities presented to them through fiction.

Children are taught not only how to read, but how to become readers. For us, our premise is simple: we want to create readers who are immersed in the magical art of stories.

In order to make said reading vision a reality, staff need to be aware of the part they have to play in each pupil’s reading journey. Scarborough’s reading rope is useful as a visual tool to assist staff in understanding the essential elements required when developing pupils as skilled readers at all key stages. It also helps evidence that phonics is simply not just the Key Stage 1 teacher’s job, and likewise, that the teaching of comprehension is not just for the Upper Key Stage Two teacher to work on. As Caroline Bilton says in her recent EEF Blog: Tending carefully to each thread in the rope matters if we are to weave a strong reading rope in every classroom’ and this is something we were keen to instil in each one of our staff members.’

Reading rope

Therefore, the teaching of reading must be carefully structured around Caroline’s call to tend to each thread in the rope. High quality phonics teaching at Key Stage 1 must be in place to support children’s development in this area, and then further developed for those children in Key Stage 2 who are identified as still in need of support. As recommended by the EEF in their Improving Literacy at KS1 Guidance Report, we like many others, have a clear approach to teaching systematic phonics which is monitored and reviewed regularly to maximise children’s attainment and progress within the subject. Those who are not secure at the end of Key Stage 1 receive targeted phonic support throughout their time in Key Stage 2, as without decoding strategies or the ability to read words on sight, children may never be able to access a text independently thus impacting on their ability to comprehend without support.

In order to read effectively, children must be able to read fluently. Knowing this, a strong emphasis is placed on developing fluent readers as recommended in the EEF Improving Literacy at KS2 Guidance Report. Teachers are heard reading in every reading lesson, so that children can witness how texts are not only to be read but performed. Teachers model strategies that evidence fluency, such as intonation and reading with adequate pace to keep the story alive. In using such an approach, children are then able to use this model to adapt their own practice as a reader. (Read more about modelling strategies here)

Modelling reading2

But as Shanahan states in his blog article, research has shown repeatedly that expert models aren’t as powerful as the opportunity to contrast expert and flawed models. Constantly listening to the teacher modelling reading fluently will not develop the child as a reader. It is just as important to provide children with opportunities to become a critical thinker, and provide feedback when the demonstration given is less than perfect. Shanahan gives the following example: When I demonstrate oral reading fluency, I sometimes give flawed examples myself, reading too fast or too slow, skipping words, mispronouncing, droning on in a monotone and the like. The kids will tell me what’s wrong with my demonstration… It’s too bumpy,” they point out when I pause too long between words.’ And these are the types of examples that really allow teachers to assess whether a child has grasped fluency. If pupils can identify areas of development and then given the chance, are able to correct them when re-reading the same piece of text, they are then able to evidence their understanding of fluency and how to put this into practice.

Talk is also a powerful tool during reading lessons. If indeed reading and writing float on a sea of talk,” then the time students spend engaged in academic conversations with their classmates is time well spent in developing not only oracy but precisely the high level of literacy that is our goal. If a child is able to become involved in a discussion around a text, and through this discussion is able to refer back to key events to support their points and make connections between characters, we are then given greater insight into the understanding that child has of that text. Therefore, during reading lessons it is vital that staff are able to prompt these discussions. This may be done through questioning which develops comprehension strategies, or staff may also demonstrate thinking aloud’ whilst reading. This allows them to model the active mind of a reader and the reading strategies needed in order to be able to fully comprehend the text in hand. During this time children are also able to offer their insights into the text, assisting the teacher with their queries and questions. It also provides staff with the opportunities to include purposeful speaking and listening activities, which in turn support the development of pupils’ language capability and provide a foundation for thinking and communication. (EEF Improving Literacy at KS2).

Overall, teaching reading is a complex process – the challenges teachers face to improve their practice in the subject is never-ending! All that we can ask of our staff is that they implement the strategies with the needs of their pupils in mind and whilst doing so, expose the children to a wide variety of texts that are presented with such passion that children want to be taught to become a reader, rather than feel forced to become a reader. After all, wouldn’t it be remarkable for all of our children to leave our primary education system secure enough in their comprehension strategies to fully experience reading as dreaming with open eyes?

Megan Scullion is the Strategic Lead for School Improvement at The Romero Catholic Academy in Coventry (@Romero_MAC_) and an Evidence Lead in Education for the Staffordshire Research School. She also works as an English and Assessment SLE and supports the Local Authority Moderation Team in her role as a KS2 writing moderator. To explore possibilities of working with Megan and the Staffordshire Research School feel free to contact us here.


[1] EEF Blog: Getting to grips with reading comprehension – Caroline Bilton

[2] Improving Literacy KS1 Guidance Report‑1/

[3] Improving Literacy KS2 Guidance Report‑2/

[4] Does modelling have a place in High Quality Literacy Teaching? Timothy Shanahan

[5] Content-area conversations: how to plan discussion-based lessons for diverse language learners
Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Carol Rothenberg

[6] Literacy Teaching Toolkit ‘ Modelled Reading’

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