The Reading Stretch Zone


Ofsted have focussed a lot on reading recently. So much so that it seems an inspection team can be guarenteed to ask to listen to the weakest readers read. Being able to say this with confidence comes from experience.

Ofsted are looking, and say this in their guidance, for the ways in which a school teaches its weakest to read.
Although maybe not specialists the inspectors want to listen to whether the students have been equipped with the correct strategies that help them to access the text on the page.

The questions they are likely to ask the students are whether they are involved in any sort of intervention that helps them, how often they read and if they choose to read for pleasure outside of school time.

I will no doubt talk in more detail about my experience of an inspection and what was covered in regards to reading and literacy in other posts as this post aims to look at the specific phrase in the inspection guidance ‘pupils should be reading books at the correct level’.

I’ve already written a couple of comments about this and specifically how I feel towards it. Reading for pleasure, to me, is about reading whatever book/item you want when you want. It doesn’t have to be at the right level for you to enjoy it.

However in yesterday’s post on reading flow found here you can see my argument as to how challenge is needed for reading improvement.

This for me is where the line is blurred and maybe where a specialist might offer Ofsted some degree of help. Reading for pleasure and reading for gain are simply two different things. Yes they intertwine in many ways but they are still two different entities.

We already do a large amount in both areas with our students. We can successfully track and prove impact with regards to reading for pleasure and reading for gain and have numerous whole school and specific strategies to help all types of readers. But one thing we are beginning to introduce is making this distinction explicit to our students.

We already talk a lot to them about reading for pleasure about attitudes to reading and growth mindsets concerning reading. We also make it abundantly clear that we want them to want to read. That is our goal.

However we also want to instil in them the knowledge of what is needed to be a successful reader of pleasure and one of gain. What these traits are and how they can take advantage of this knowledge depends on what they require. This is about ownership, independence, self organised learning. Give them the tools and step back. Allow them to utilise this knowledge.

To aid in this development we have adapted stretch zones, recently common in learning, and placed them in the context of reading.

It is a perfectly simple idea but it tied nicely into the work we are already doing. In year seven students work through a reading charter. This requires them to think critically about their reading personality, who they are as a reader and importantly how they go about the process of reading.

They are challenged to try different types of books, to read widely (as Ofsted would say) and to reflect on this within the charters. They are also asked to think about how their choosing of books changes over time and to continue this self assessment of their reading.

Our addition then for next year is to have them also think about the books they are choosing in terms of their comfort zones. Which books are they reading that stretch then? Which ones are easily in their comfort zone and which ones are too challenging.

Students will use the above picture to mark the books they have read. In doing so they will become aware of which types of books set in that reading flow area and which books push them too far. They can see that pleasure reading books can fit in any zone but importantly which zone they need to be in to improve. They can also be aware and take ownership of their reading edpecisllly if they look at their zone chart and see they are only picking books well within their comfort zone and not stepping out of this into the stretch ‘flow’ zone.

Armed with this knowledge they can make informed decisions about their reading and about how they can succeed at the type of reading they choose.

Already, early indications show this to be a massive success and on top of this it shows explicitly that students are reading books at the right level but also that they are able to make informed decisions and to feel that it’s ok not to read a book that’s stretching them because this time it’s for pleasure!



  1. Hi there
    I’m a Secondary School librarian in the West Midlands and have been following your blog for a few months now. This piece has given me some great ideas about how to help our students become more reflective readers- thank you. I’m also really interested in the Year 7 reading charter you use. Would yoube able to give me any more information about how this works?
    Many thanks
    Tim Waltho
    LRC Manager
    RSA Academy

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