Modelling Reading: A Whole-School Approach

In last week’s Class Teaching blog we explained about the changes we have made to the start of the day here at Durrington High School. In essence, students now begin learning as soon as the first school bell rings. This is because the tutor times of yesteryear have been replaced with Period 1. Period 1 is a structured programme that covers a range of teaching and learning foci that are central to our approach:

  • Developing students’ background knowledge.
  • Developing students’ cultural capital.
  • Increasing students’ range of tier 2 vocabulary.
  • Teaching students the most effective evidence-informed strategies for learning to use during revision.

KS3 and KS4 students diverge in the programme for two of the five days in the week. Last week’s blog explored how KS4 students have DEAR: Drop Everything and Revise. In these lessons, Year 10 and Year 11 students are making use of Bjork and Bjork’s desirable difficulties as part of cycle of revision. KS3 students, on the other hand, also have DEAR time, but this is Drop Everything and Read. In these lessons, Years 7, 8 and 9 enjoy and prosper from the benefits of reading a range of fiction texts.

The evidence-informed rationale behind KS3 DEAR is explicated in the EEF’s guidance report for ‘Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools’. As this report suggests, it is imperative that all secondary teachers ‘should be supported to understand the fundamental ways in which students learn to read, and the most common barriers to their doing so’. Achieving this understanding, through an effective approach, across a whole school, for every teacher, is no mean feat but one that we consider imperative to students’ success.

Coupled with the requirement for this widespread understanding from teachers is also our desire to maintain and further develop the reading culture that is already woven into the fabric of school life at Durrington. Ideally, we would like all students to see themselves as ‘readers’, that is individuals who independently choose to read and feel confident in identifying themselves as someone who reads. In his book The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads (2017) Willingham pinpoints four attributes of successful readers:

  1. Reading attitudes – having a positive emotional attitude to reading.
  2. Motivation to read – having a belief that reading is worthy and a belief that you will succeed at reading.
  3. Choosing to read – being in an environment that facilitates reading.
  4. Reading self-image – seeing yourself as a reader.

Above all, Willingham emphasises that being motivated to read is closely related to reading ability and therefore verbal persuasion is unlikely to be effective. Consequently, KS3 DEAR is based on two principles:

  • Modelling effective reading practices so that all students can participate in reading, irrespective of their starting points.
  • Making reading something that all students can access, both physically (i.e. given a time and place to read) and emotionally (i.e. made to feel like a valued member of a reading community).

The first KS3 DEAR session of the week is based on reading aloud. It is understandable that many people may be surprised that we have adopted reading aloud in the secondary school setting as this is often viewed as a primary school practice. However, as Doug Lemov advocates, reading aloud can be a powerful way of modelling fluent reading of texts (which is a key reading skill), especially texts that are more challenging. Accordingly, during the first DEAR session the tutor reads aloud from a selected fiction text that has purposefully been chosen because it incorporates more complex issues and includes a range of tier 2 vocabulary.

This is not all. Crucially, during the reading aloud session, the tutor models other key reading strategies as well. The EEF’s guidance report identifies five reading strategies that ‘support the active engagement with texts that improve comprehension’ – comprehension being the end goal of all reading. Students who are proficient readers in secondary school will have these skills in place and be using them tacitly every time that they read. However, students who are struggling with reading need these skills explicitly modelled time and time again until they can use them independently.

The five reading strategies are:

  1. Activating prior knowledge — students think about what they already know about a topic from reading or other experiences […] and try to make meaningful links. This helps students to infer and elaborate, fill in missing information and to build a fuller ‘mental model’ of the text.
  2. Prediction — students predict what might happen as a text is read. This causes them to pay close attention to the text, which means they can closely monitor their own comprehension.
  3. Questioning — students generate their own questions about a text to check their comprehension and monitor their subject knowledge.
  4. Clarifying — students identify areas of uncertainty, which may be individual words or phrases, and seek information to clarify meaning.
  5. Summarising — students summarise the meaning of sections of the text to consolidate and elaborate upon their understanding. This causes students to focus on the key content, which in turn supports comprehension monitoring. This can be supported using graphic organisers that illustrate concepts and the relationships between them.

In order to explicitly model these reading strategies, as they read aloud the tutors purposefully stop and ask one or several of these questions as appropriate:

At the start of a new book:

  • Look at the front and back covers. What do you think the story might be about? What makes you think this?
  • Consider the title. What do you think the story might be about? What makes you think this?

 During reading:

  • What would you like to ask the characters or author at this point?
  • Are you finding anything difficult to understand? If you go back and re-read, what can you look out for?
  • Have you read, watched or seen anything else that is similar to this? In what ways?


 After finishing a book:

  • Tell me what happened in the story.
  • What is the most important message or idea in the story?
  • What was the turning point of the story?
  • What one message or idea do you think the author wants you to remember from the story?


 In the second DEAR session of the week, the students read their own books, and these can be fiction or non-fiction. It is critical that in these private reading sessions, the tutors circulate and have one-to-one conversations with their tutees using the reading questions (above) as a basis for their discussion. In particular, tutors specifically target those that seem to be stuck with their reading as these are the students who are likely to be in most need of the explicit modelling of the reading strategies – thus these students have the opportunity of learning from the modelling twice in a week.

As with KS4 DEAR, it is too early to confirm any clear successes from the implementation of KS3 DEAR. However, our school librarians have reported that the issues figures for books from our Learning Resource Centre have increased from just over 1600 books in September 2018 to just over 2000 books in September 2019.

Ideally, we would like to adopt a disciplinary approach to teaching reading across the school, which you can find out about on our Research School blog here. However, as a step in our journey for embedding effective whole-school reading, our KS3 DEAR programme has made a promising start.

Fran Haynes

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