Improving literacy through Active Plus Reading

One question that I’ve been thinking about for a while is whether all reading is good reading?

Now by good reading there can be so many definitions and of course any type of reading is going to be positive in terms of things such as attitude etc.

I’m not even thinking about the types of things that might be read, as again anything really counts as reading.

What I’m thinking about is in terms of actual reading improvement. The type of reading that you would hope to see readers undertake through a dedicated intervention. Do we require something extra of the reader to be able to make as much reading gain as possible?

Having run many many intervention programmes for reading, either through bought packages or interventions of my own design the one thing I’ve learnt from all of them is that young people need to be engaged in the reading.

Passivity is not an option in the process of reading for improvement. In fact it can have the complete opposite effect. When you’re trying to improve reading the reader needs to be fully engaged. In fact they need to be more than engaged they need to be active in their reading.

Active reading is perhaps an idea that some people are already familiar with. A quick search and you can find a definition highlighting certain techniques that equate to active reading. None of them however go into enough detail for my liking on what is needed exactly to garner improvement. For me they all miss out on one of the most Important factors involved in reading for improvement, the metacognitive role.

Before we move into looking at what I’m calling Active Plus Reading I want to talk a little about moving away from a transmission model of teaching reading into more of a constructivist model of reading teachings. Many schools approach teaching to read, and I’m focussing mainly on secondary here, with the knowledge that they know best. The student is poor because they know nothing and the tutor is there to ‘full’ the empty vessel. In libraries and guided reading we see this a lot. Instead of the student engaging and creating a sense of agency and affiliation with reading we instead tell them how we’re going to help them improve and then make them read and read and read until we feel we’ve done enough.

Now, in terms of improvement this probably works, when it does, simply due to frequency but is it really the best way to go about things? How about taking a more constructivist approach where instead we think about the student leading their improvement in learning. If you’ve ever come across Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) then this is exactly what we should be using as a basis to formulate improvement ( if you haven’t I strongly suggest you look it up!).

In making this cognitive shift between
transmission and construcivist we recognise that students bring their own personal learning strategies to whatever they are attempting. These strategies have been honed by the student to fit in with their own understanding of the world which would differ from that of the educator.

By allowing the student to be the agent of their own learning when it comes to reading is vitaly important and so Active Plus Reading becomes a vehicle to grow this.

Active reading usually describes the process of being engaged in the text you are reading. Therefore utilising things such as underlining keywords, making notes to aid comprehension etc. But Advice Plus is more intense than this. Activating the constructivist view already discussed in reading we should allow students autonomy in their book selection to begin with giving them a sense of affiliation. This should be coupled with small group collaboration again aiding affiliation and combating alienation or any other barrier that highlights weakness. New reading should be linked to previous knowledge or reading and metacognitive skills should be introduced from the outset.

Metacognition is the process of thinking about learning and so in terms of reading improvement we need to be thinking about how students engage in thinking about their reading. How are they actively engaging in the text? Are they asking questions about content even about how to go about accessing the text in the first place? Are they being encouraged to engage in higher order thinking tasks such as analysing evaluating and synthesising? And are the directing their own reading?

These Active Plus Learning strategies make the process of reading more enjoyable, accessible and so goes way to motivating and improving students agency in terms reading improvement. It not only moves teaching reading from a transmission to a constructivist model putting the student in control of their improvements but it also promotes a sense of autonomy, affiliation and agency within a student, and has applications inside the classroom as well as through intervention to aid development.

This is why through this year we have introduced with our year 7 students an Active Plus strategy whenever it comes to reading improvement. This is not only in our intervention programmes but also through our library reading lessons.

One thing I’ve always refused to do is have reading occur during the school day in lessons or during form times etc. Reading for pleasure is part of making a conscious decision and forcing someone to read in whatever format negates this. I do however prefer discussions and dialogue around reading and this has usually formed many ‘reading’ lessons.

This year however I have introduced Active Plus Reading into this format and have added the conscious and explicit discussions around the process of reading and the metacognitive strategies outlined above. One particular introduction is a reading charter that now has three versions (KS3, KS4 and Transition completed over the summer holidays). These charters require students to analyse their own reading process, engage in thinking about the texts they are about to read and have already read.

Even in the first term this promotion of SOLE (a Self Organised Learning Environment) had a positive impact. Improving engagement, enjoyment and higher order thinking skills within reading. These skills have since started to be explicitly shared across the curriculum in other subjects thus compounding the impact and teaching of reading skills.

We have now introduced this model into all our intervention programs concerning reading and look to add this to other interventions across the school.

Empowering students and acknowledging their own individual, personalised learning strategies and explicitly focussing on thinking about thinking and learning we can develop a sustained progress concerning reading. Or as I like to see it promoting Active Plus Reading strategies.


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