Case study: Are You Really Reading?

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Reading is the gateway to learning, yet only 62% of disadvantaged children aged 6-11 meet the expected standard for reading, compared to 80% of their better-off peers.

Are You Really Reading? is an ambitious project that uses 5 innovative techniques, incorporating hashtags and emojis, to help children truly understand what they are reading.

With support from SHINE, the project is improving the reading skills of thousands of children across the North West.

It is also helping teachers rediscover a love of teaching reading.

Project lead Maddy Barnes, from the Three Saints Academy Trust, says the project is making a significant difference to students’ reading skills and that the children themselves “can recognise they are making progress”.

The confidence it’s given me in teaching reading is fantastic. I can go into a lesson and feel like there are go-to tools that I can use that I know are effective in getting the children to understand the texts.

Kezia Richardson St Mary & St Thomas CE Primary School, St Helens

She added: “We see the children are putting into practice everything that we hoped – that has just been so exciting to observe.”

Kezia Richardson, a teacher at St Mary & St Thomas CE Primary School, St Helens, said: “The confidence it’s given me in teaching reading is fantastic. I can go into a lesson and feel like there are go-to tools that I can use that I know are effective in getting the children to understand the texts.”

She added that Are You Really Reading? “gives teachers the confidence, the structure and the tools that they need to feel like they can deliver a reading lesson with not that much preparation”.

Helen Worrall, a teacher at St Michael with St Thomas CE Primary School, in Halton, said: “It’s reignited that love of the teaching of reading because we’ve got this very clear toolkit which the children enjoy using. We can see the impact on the children, their progress, their confidence and their attitude to reading.”

Katharine Harrigan, from Up Holland High School, Wigan, says her students are “excited to do it; they’re excited to show they’ve really read”.

She added: “I think also, it’s really nice for a disadvantaged learner who might not have books in the home or they might not have access to literature as other students might do, I think it removes an aspect of the fear that they might have.

“They have less experience with reading and therefore when they do it in the classroom, they might have that fear of it. Now that we’ve got this structure where we’re saying, ‘Are You Really Reading?’ and then they can go, ‘Yeah, do you know what, I am’.

“It’s nice to see the development of [the] love of reading for those disadvantaged students.”

According to Helen, Are You Really Reading? lessons create a “buzz within the classroom and the excitement and enthusiasm, which is what you’re always aiming for within your class”.

Teachers taking part in the programme come together at workshops, where they compare notes on how they are using Are You Really Reading? in their classrooms, discuss any problems they have encountered, and analyse students’ work.

“It’s nice to see what other schools are doing,” said Huw Folkes from St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School in St Helens.

“It’s really beneficial, that ability to talk and meet with other professionals.”

Katharine added: “It’s also really rewarding to see just a room full of teachers who are actually excited about teaching reading.”

As the project moves into its third year, Maddy says her vision is to “reach as many schools as possible”.

In the coming terms, she hopes many more secondary schools “who’ve seen the impact in their feeder primaries” will join the programme.

“We want it to be a toolkit that lots of schools can tap into,” said Maddy. “And not just schools in the North West, where we’re predominately working now.”

The 5 strands

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.