Children taking part in SHINE project make record-breaking progress in reading

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The approach has supported our pupils in catching up following the pandemic... We have not seen rates of accelerated progress like this before.

Laura Rynn Headteacher, St Ann’s CofE Primary School in Rainhill, St Helen’s

Teachers using the new “Are You Really Reading?” approach in their classrooms have reported that children are making record-breaking progress in their reading.

The innovative toolkit, which comprises five teaching strategies1 – including the use of hashtags and emojis – is designed to engage children in the texts they are reading and ensure they fully understand them.

SHINE is supporting a three-year project, led by the Three Saints Trust in Merseyside, to test and scale the innovation, which was created by Maddy Barnes and Lisa Bradshaw from the trust.

SHINE’s funding has enabled Are You Really Reading? to be rolled out across 50 North West schools, reaching thousands of children. And the programme was recently honoured at the 2023 Pearson Teaching Awards, receiving a Certificate of Excellence for Impact Through Partnership.

The second year of the project has just come to an end and teachers say its impact has been significant.

For instance, at St Ann’s CofE Primary School in Rainhill, St Helen’s, 50% of Year 6 children last year achieved “greater depth”2 in reading – the highest on record at the school.

Meanwhile, children have made better progress in reading than ever before, with the school recording an average “progress score”3 of +1.5 – again, the highest on record. By contrast, in the past 5 years the progress score has twice been negative.

Headteacher Laura Rynn added: “The approach has supported our pupils in catching up following the pandemic. 42% of our current Year 5 children have made accelerated progress in their reading since leaving Key Stage 1, and currently, 24% of our Year 6 cohort have. We have not seen rates of accelerated progress like this before.”

“It is especially pleasing that there is no difference in how our disadvantaged pupils feel about their reading comprehension ability compared to all other pupils. One disadvantaged pupil recently said that the strand understanding (impression/ evidence) had made a big difference to his confidence in SATs.”

It is a similar picture at another of the primary schools piloting the project.

Project lead Maddy Barnes with children in an Are You Really Reading? lesson.

Lyndsey Lewis, headteacher at St Mary’s and St Thomas CofE Primary School, St Helen’s, said: “Since implementing the SHINE project, ‘Are You Really Reading?’, across our school, we have seen a really positive impact on reading progress, attainment and attitudes for our pupils.”

At the school, pupils’ scaled scores from their final Key Stage 2 reading tests were above the national and local average by “a considerable amount”.

Lyndsey added: “Children at St Mary and St Thomas are highly engaged in the strands from the project. They speak confidently about each of them and can effectively apply them to their learning.

“This tool has been an excellent way to develop their technique in writing extended answers to multi-mark questions. We believe this is excellent preparation for their transition through to Key Stage 3 as the discipline requires higher-order thinking skills and ensures that children are working analytically with texts.

“We have worked hard this academic year to roll out the project across the whole school, right through to our early years provision. The feedback from staff and pupils alike has been wholly positive.”

Half of pupils at St Mary and St Thomas are disadvantaged, and the school has tracked the impact of the programme on these pupils, with the data showing an improvement in reading for both progress and attainment.

Lyndsey said: “Children have made huge steps of progress from their starting points using the strands and to further this impact, we have even invited families into school for learning sessions to share some of the resources so that they can be utilised in the home too.

“For example, many parents and carers have been provided with emojis, timelines and prompts for each strand so they can use these strategies when discussing reading books with their children at home.

“It has been a useful tool to engage hard-to-reach parents or those who may find it difficult to know how best to support their children in their reading journey. An abundance of positive feedback has been received regarding this and this is something we plan on including in our transition resources for new starters too.”

She added: “Thanks to the high-quality professional development opportunities provided by the project, our school staff are all very confident in delivering the strands. The project is highly accessible and can be used in whole-class teaching, guided reading carousels and even reading interventions.

“Learning assistants have commented that the strands are excellent practical tools that enhance the support they provide children in reading sessions.”

Year 5 teacher Chris Jones said: “In my opinion, pupils’ confidence, attainment and attitude have all improved within reading through accessing the SHINE project through a consistent approach of prioritising the key reading skills and embedding the necessary teaching skills in order to develop as a reader.

Year 6 teacher Keiza Richardson added: “The children who are currently in Year 6 have been using the strands regularly in their reading lessons for several years now and the impact on their engagement, confidence and progress with reading is clear to see.”

And Year 6 teacher Lizzie Dean said: “Since embedding all the strands into our reading comprehensions, children have made brilliant progress. This, we have found, is particularly the case in relation to generating inferences from a text and finding evidence to support their reasoning. The children enjoy using the SHINE strands to support their learning, and they provide a range of opportunities for children to be creative, especially when summarising the text using hashtags.”

I truly believe in the power of this project and having the opportunity to share the work with fellow teachers beyond my school has been an absolute privilege. I am so excited for the next steps in this journey for Are You Really Reading?, as I have already been able to witness first-hand the impact it can have on young learners.

Natalie Perry SHINE advocate, St Mary and St Thomas Primary, St Helen's

Laura Rynn added: “When asked about the SHINE strategies, children say they particularly enjoy the hashtag strand, talking about how they like to play with language to create hashtags that effectively summarise the text. The emoji strand is also spoken about enthusiastically with children commenting that they search for evidence in the text to match the emoji/emotion displayed. One pupil added that it makes her really think about how a character is feeling because she has to find the evidence to support the emoji given.”

Are You Really Reading? is also being introduced into secondary schools, although it is too early to assess its impact on attainment.

One Year 8 secondary school English teacher said: “The project has allowed me to see a clear pathway in supporting students in the transition between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3. I have always understood the significance of transition but until this project, I struggled to see a way to support students in this process.

“This project has allowed me to work on the transition of our students in a way that is supportive and beneficial to them throughout their educational journey.”

Secondary students participating in the project say it has made a difference in their understanding of texts.

“I wish I had done these strands in primary school as then I would have found analysing a text much easier,” said one student.

Another commented: “I used to have a lack of confidence reading unseen texts. Now I feel more confident as I am switched on to what I am reading and make impressions with evidence whilst I read. This means I have more time to structure my written answers.”

As the toolkit is expanded into new schools, teachers are selected to become advocates, promoting best practice, and encouraging the use of the five strands.

One advocate, Natalie Perry from St Mary and St Thomas Primary, said: “I truly believe in the power of this project and having the opportunity to share the work with fellow teachers beyond my school has been an absolute privilege. I am so excited for the next steps in this journey for Are You Really Reading?, as I have already been able to witness first-hand the impact it can have on young learners.”


1 Are You Really Reading? consists of 5 ‘strands’ which can be used with fiction; non-fiction; poetry and song lyrics:
TIMELINES: Using timelines as a visual tool for students to record 5 key events from the text, helping them develop a chronological understanding.
HASHTAGS: Summarising what’s been read using hashtags. This approach encourages students to create short, 6-word or less summaries with a focus on creativity, wordplay, and references to popular sayings or song lyrics.
EMOJIS: Inferring characters’ emotions using emojis and providing evidence from the text to justify their inferences. This strategy promotes emotional intelligence and self-expression while honing the skill of identifying feelings in the text.
MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS: Identifying the top 5 significant events or themes from the text. This method sparks engaging discussions among students, as they compare similarities and differences in their choices, leading to a shared reading experience.
SCAFFOLDING: Summarising impressions of chunks of text. Students support their answers with evidence from the reading material.

2 Greater depth means a child has mastered the learning expected for their age and is, therefore, able to delve into it in more detail

3 A progress score is the difference between the actual scaled score achieved by a child and the national average score achieved by children in the same prior attainment group.