In this unit you will learn how to teach, support, plan for and assess early reading in your classroom. Reading is perhaps one of the most important and empowering skills your students will acquire. Your role in supporting and encouraging your students’ early reading is key to their future educational and life success.
Learning to read is not an innate developmental process. Rather, it involves regular practice over a period of time. Such practice may occur informally (at home or in the community) and formally (in school). There are many pathways to reading, some of which you will have taken yourself.
The fact that you are a teacher indicates that you are a skilled and confident reader who can read different types of texts for both information and enjoyment. In addition to reading texts in print, you may also read on a computer or a mobile phone screen. How did you learn this complex skill? In this unit you will reflect on the journey you have taken in becoming a reader, and on the journey that you are supporting your students through.
Teaching early reading is much more than enabling children to recognise letters and words. It is about helping your students to make meaning from whole texts. This in turn improves their knowledge of language and their understanding of the world. Children who enjoy reading and become skilled and fluent readers tend to do well in all areas of school.
In order to ensure that all your students engage in and make progress with their reading, it is important that you:
What do you remember about your early reading experiences? How do they compare to those described in the case study below?
In the following extracts, seven Indian teachers recall their early experiences of learning to read. As you read their recollections, make notes on who helped them to read, what they read, where they read and why they read.
Pause for thought
What did your notes on these extracts reveal?
The above accounts show that learning to read is an interactive process that involves a range of people, sources of material and experiences. Do any of the practices and resources described feature in your classroom? Why or why not?
You will now reflect on your own memories of learning to read. Write your name in the centre of the chart in Figure 1 and complete the four other sections with your answers to the following questions:
Share your recollections with a colleague. What are the similarities and differences between your experiences of learning to read?
Do you draw on your early reading experiences in your classroom teaching? Why or why not?
Pause for thought
Now look at the chart from the perspective of the students in your classroom. Instead of your own name in the middle of the chart, think about the students you teach.
Mrs Lata, a Class I teacher in Indore, describes how she engaged her young students with a simple story called ‘Boxes on the Bus’ (see Resource 1).
The story is very simple: it’s about the different people who get on a bus, each of whom is carrying a box. Each box contains something different. Gradually the bus gets fuller and fuller until there is no room for anyone else.
Before telling the story, I thought of some items that the boxes could contain. I began by showing my students a big cardboard box that I had brought in from home. They were quite excited about it. I then recounted the story. Whenever I said the phrase ‘… and in the box was …’, I invited my students to join in. Among the items I included in the boxes were a button and a goat.
In each case, I asked a student to come to the front of the class and illustrate the item with an action. Labani curled her thumb and forefinger together to represent a button and Padmaj ‘walked’ four fingers up his arm to indicate a goat.
After I had told the story once, I retold it, pausing between each section so that my students could repeat it after me. I then told the story again, with my students reciting it while using actions at the same time.
Two days later, I paired up my students, combining the more confident ones with the less confident ones wherever possible, and asked them to retell the ‘Boxes on the Bus’ story to each other from memory.
Two students had missed the earlier lesson, so I selected pairs that could support them and explain what they had learnt, and placed the absent students with them in groups of three.
I then invited the whole class to help me cut out images from some colour magazines to match the content of the story, paste them onto the cardboard box that I had brought in and write words alongside to label them.
The following week, I found a picture book about a boat journey, which prompted me to think up an alternative version of the story – this time called ‘Boxes on the Boat’. For this version, I would ask my students to suggest what was in each box rather than telling them this myself.
Pause for thought
Consider the following questions and discuss them with a colleague if possible:
Compare your ideas with ours.
Students need to play an active part in early reading activities. The young students in Mrs Lata’s class were actively engaged in the ‘Boxes on the Bus’ story, because:
Students get great satisfaction from listening to an enjoyable story several times. It enables them to get to know the characters, anticipate what will happen next and retell the story themselves.
For this activity you will plan some early reading activities based on the ‘Boxes on the Bus’ story in Case Study 2, or an alternative story of your choice. Begin by looking around your classroom, school, home and community. What resources are available to enhance the telling of the story? Consider the following:
Note down as many ideas as possible for enhancing the story using the resources you have identified. Here are some suggestions:
Make a plan to try out your ideas and resources in your classroom. Bear in mind that several short activities over the course of a few days are more effective in reinforcing young students’ learning than one or two longer ones. Discuss your ideas with your colleagues and then implement your lesson plan.
Pause for thought
Storytelling – recounting stories from memory – is one way of introducing your students to reading. It familiarises them with the flow of stories and stimulates their interest in what happens next. You can assess what they learn by their responses to your questions about the story, and whether they can retell the story on their own, or with your support. Be sure to check the understanding of all your students and retell the story in different ways if you think they haven’t been able to follow it.
Another way to support your students’ in developing early reading skills is through reading books aloud to them.
By reading books aloud and following the words on the page with your finger as you do so, you will help your students to understand that print carries meaning. They will learn how to hold a book and turn the pages, and how texts are sequenced from beginning to end, left to right and top to bottom.
As you model good reading practices, your students will copy you. They will try to ‘read’ books independently, sometimes recalling the words of a story from memory, using the pictures as prompts and sometimes making up the story themselves, drawing on their experience and imagination. These are all encouraging signs that they are developing reading practices, so be sure to notice and encourage them as they do so.
Ms Saroj is an elementary teacher in Bihar. Here she describes how she tries to be a reading role model for her young students.
Whether it’s a poem or short story, I read aloud to my students every day. I open the book very deliberately, turn the pages carefully, select a poem or story, and read it with expression, following the text with my finger and showing my students the accompanying illustrations. I often read the same poem or story more than once on different occasions.
Since I have been doing this, I notice that my young students have started to handle books more carefully, holding them the right way up, turning the pages one by one, looking at the pictures attentively and, sometimes, moving their fingers under the words. By observing them in turn – noting which of them is looking at the pictures, pretending to read, attempting to read or reading most or all of the words – I can monitor their individual progress in developing this skill.
Using Case Study 3 and Resource 2 for reference, plan, implement and evaluate your own reading aloud session with your students. Discuss your ideas and reflections with a colleague if possible.
The next section describes some of the strategies that young students use in their early reading.
Young students learn to read in different ways:
Most students in fact employ a mixture all of these strategies.
Ms Daima, a Class I teacher in Madhya Pradesh, describes some of her young students’ reading strategies.
Nabhi was an enthusiastic and dramatic storyteller. She regularly told stories to her classmates. Some of them were recounted from memory, while others were invented then and there. She listened very carefully when I told a story to the class, repeating the key words and phrases as I did so. When Nabhi read aloud on her own, she made some mistakes, such as saying ‘horse’ instead of ‘donkey’, but her word substitutions always made sense. I decided to encourage Nabhi to read some simple reading books to improve her word recognition. I gave her a book about colours. Nabhi looked at the cover of the book, turned the pages quickly, and said excitedly ‘This is a book about the colours! It’s all about where you can see red things, yellow things, blue things – on the car, in the street, in the house, in the flowers. I can read this!’. Gently I encouraged Nabhi to read each word.
Bachan was keen to be accurate in his reading. He would sound out the letters of each word slowly and correctly. When he came to a word he did not know, Bachan would stop reading. As he struggled, he would lose the meaning of the text and become discouraged. I decided to encourage him to listen to my stories and retell them in his own words. I also invited him to read aloud along with me and other students, and urged him not to worry if he made small mistakes.
Pramila enjoyed listening to the stories that I read aloud in class. I often noticed her reading the same storybooks aloud afterwards. One day, when she was absorbed in a book containing pictures and simple sentences, I asked her if she could read a page to me. She recounted the story accurately but did not look at the text or point to any of the words on the page. I praised her, covered up the pictures and asked her to tell me the story again. With no pictures to guide her, this time she struggled. When I uncovered the pictures, however, she was able to continue. She had memorised the story but was still learning to read. I read along with her, pointing to each word at the same time so that she would begin to associate the text with the story that she knew so well.
In the case study, Ms Daima noticed that her students used distinct strategies to learn to read and took steps to support each of them further.
Pause for thought
There is no single pathway to reading. Teachers should therefore encourage their students to try different ways of mastering and practising this complex skill.
Resource 3 provides more ideas on how to monitor and give feedback to your students effectively. Giving encouraging feedback to your students can support them in developing their early reading.
In order to be able to offer your students appropriate support, it is important to establish what kinds of reading strategies they use. A table can be a useful way of noting this information. This information will then enable you to plan how best to support their reading development. A sample is provided below in Table 1.
As you observe your students in turn, insert their name under the reading strategies that apply to them. You might find it helpful to practise first by assessing Nabhi, Bachan and Pramila’s reading strategies as described in Case Study 4 above. Be sure that you complete the table for all those in your class over time.
|Guesses||Memorises||Uses pictures to predict||Predicts using first letter of a word||Reads each individual word||Reads chunks of text||Points to each word||Moves finger under sentences|
Do some of your students use a mix of strategies?
Have you observed any other strategies that your students use? If so, add these to your table.
Identify those students who use similar strategies and group them accordingly. Plan your lessons so that you can respond to their different needs over time. Some students may need individual support from you.
With others you may be able to work in small groups. Consider pairing readers who use different strategies to see if they can learn from each other.
Use copies of the table to develop records of the reading progress of your young students over the school year.
You may also find it helpful to read the key resource ‘Assessing progress and performance’.
Video: Assessing progress and performance
Teaching early reading should be an interactive, engaging and enjoyable process. Whether it involves storytelling or reading aloud, it should provide children with opportunities to repeat phrases, use actions, guess what is going to happen next, recall the story later, and do related drama or art activities.
With young students, a short reading session each day is more effective than longer, more infrequent sessions. When students see models of reading and regularly handle books, they will attempt to read themselves.
There are many pathways to becoming a reader. Through enjoyable activities, practice and support over time, your students can become fluent, confident readers, thereby gaining a sound foundation for their future learning.
The bus stopped at the station. An old man got on the bus. He was carrying a brown box, and in the box was … [a hat]. Then a mother and her baby got on the bus. She was carrying a tiny white box, and in the box was … [a bracelet]. Next, a woodcutter got on the bus. He was carrying a very long wooden box and in the box was ... [an axe]. Then a cook got on the bus. She was carrying a flat, round box, and in the box was … [a roti].
Continue the story for as long as you like. When the bus gets too crowded, the driver says, ‘I can’t take any more people or boxes! Doors closing! Beep beep!’
You can add to the complexity of the story by describing the shape, colour and material that the boxes are made of, as above, and make their contents more challenging by adding descriptive words or referring to plural or non-countable items (for example, ‘He was carrying a heavy metal box and in the box was a pair of old leather shoes/some flour/three fat chickens’), or to noises coming from the boxes (such as ‘She was carrying a very small box and in the box was a squeaking sound’). The story can also introduce students to different occupations and the tools people use in their jobs.
As the list of boxes and their contents gets longer, the story thus becomes a memory game.
Talk about the story. Ask your students questions such as:
With young students, do not expect detailed answers. Let the discussion be enjoyable as you model the process and pleasure of reading. Don’t forget to express your own opinions too!
Improving students’ performance involves constantly monitoring and responding to them, so that they know what is expected of them and they get feedback after completing tasks. They can improve their performance through your constructive feedback.
Effective teachers monitor their students most of the time. Generally, most teachers monitor their students’ work by listening and observing what they do in class. Monitoring students’ progress is critical because it helps them to:
It will also help you as a teacher to decide:
Students improve most when they are given clear and prompt feedback on their progress. Using monitoring will enable you to give regular feedback, letting your students know how they are doing and what else they need to do to advance their learning.
One of the challenges you will face is helping students to set their own learning targets, also known as self-monitoring. Students, especially struggling ones, are not used to having ownership of their own learning. But you can help any student to set their own targets or goals for a project, plan out their work and set deadlines, and self- monitor their progress. Practising the process and mastering the skill of self-monitoring will serve them well in school and throughout their lives.
Most of the time, listening to and observing students is done naturally by teachers; it is a simple monitoring tool. For example, you may:
Make sure that the observations you collect are true evidence of student learning or progress. Only document what you can see, hear, justify or count.
As students work, move around the classroom in order to make brief observation notes. You can use a class list to record which students need more help, and also to note any emerging misunderstandings. You can use these observations and notes to give feedback to the whole class or prompt and encourage groups or individuals.
Feedback is information that you give to a student about how they have performed in relation to a stated goal or expected outcome. Effective feedback provides the student with:
When you give feedback to each student, it should help them to know:
It is important to remember that effective feedback helps students. You do not want to inhibit learning because your feedback is unclear or unfair. Effective feedback is:
Whether feedback is spoken or written in the students’ workbooks, it becomes more effective if it follows the guidelines given below.
Using praise and positive language
When we are praised and encouraged, we generally feel a great deal better than when we are criticised or corrected. Reinforcement and positive language is motivating for the whole class and for individuals of all ages. Remember that praise must be specific and targeted on the work done rather than about the student themselves, otherwise it will not help the student progress. ‘Well done’ is non-specific, so it is better to say one of the following:
Using prompting as well as correction
The dialogue that you have with your students helps their learning. If you tell them that an answer is incorrect and finish the dialogue there, you miss the opportunity to help them to keep thinking and trying for themselves. If you give students a hint or ask them a further question, you prompt them to think more deeply and encourage them to find answers and take responsibility for their own learning. For example, you can encourage a better answer or prompt a different angle on a problem by saying such things as:
It may be appropriate to encourage other students to help each other. You can do this by opening your questions to the rest of the class with such comments as:
Correcting students with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ might be appropriate to tasks such as spelling or number practice, but even here you can prompt students to look for emerging patterns in their answers, make connections with similar answers or open a discussion about why a certain answer is incorrect.
Self-correction and peer correction is effective and you can encourage this by asking students to check their own and each other’s work while doing tasks or assignments in pairs. It is best to focus on one aspect to correct at a time so that there is not too much confusing information.
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