Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Perhaps the biggest worry for teachers when considering the switch from the guided reading carousel to whole class reading is how children of different 'abilities' will manage in the lessons. There are, however, various strategies a teacher can employ to support learners with different needs.
You'll have noticed that above I enclosed the word abilities with inverted commas. The first strategy is for a teacher to alter their way of thinking about ability. One possible problem with the guided reading carousel is that children aren't challenged and are only given books and reading activities which are aimed at their perceived ability. This is probably particularly true on the days when that 'low ability' group doesn't have an adult to work with. As many before me have pointed out (including Bart Simpson: "Let me get this straight. We're behind the rest of our class and we're going to catch up to them by going slower than they are?") by taking this approach we run the risk of children never reaching whatever might be considered to be age related expectations - there just won't be time! These children will need to make accelerated progress in order to reach, or become closer to, the expected level. In order to make this progress in reading they will need to be supported as they attempt to access the text that has been selected for the whole class. It might be better to refer to these children in terms of their current levels of attainment or achievement, rather than in terms of a more fixed ability. With high expectations, plenty of targeted support and a whole load of positive encouragement, most children who are currently working below age related expectations will have the chance to make accelerated progress whilst taking part in whole class reading sessions.
By teaching reading whole class we noticed that it was the children who had arrived in year 6 below age related expectations (ARE) who benefited most from the lessons. Whilst these children didn't achieve a score of 100 or over on the KS2 reading test, progress was evident in a number of ways:
Teacher assessment against the national curriculum objectives (and the interim objectives) showed vast improvements in reading achievement for these children.
When comparing both number of marks gained and scaled score achieved between the 2016 test taken in December and the 2017 test in May, children arriving well below ARE had, on the whole, made the most improvements. (I am happy to share some more specific data on this.)
Confidence and enjoyment are immeasurable but it was obvious to the adults working with these children that whole class reading really made an impact in these ways.
There are, however, some children in your class who may be working so far below expectations, perhaps due to a special educational need, who won't be able to access whole class reading even with the suggestions outlined below. Teachers have a responsibility to provide meaningful learning opportunities for all and as such you should use your assessment and discretion when deciding who should and shouldn't take part in whole class reading.
So, how can you support children currently working below ARE during whole class reading sessions?
Although the point of a whole class session is to challenge - and as such you'd expect children to tackle most things independently during some parts of the lesson - children should have all aspects of the lesson modelled to them too. This applies to the actual reading itself.
As I wrote in this TES article: "Reading aloud allows children to access high level texts, enables them to hear how unfamiliar language and sentence structures should sound and is proven to aid comprehension of a text; teachers should regularly read aloud to children. The Teachers as Readers project also found that hearing books read aloud gave children a model for their own independent reading. Children also benefit from opportunities to read aloud themselves." Even if the text is difficult for them to read (decode) independently, by having it read aloud to them they have the opportunity to show that they understand (or comprehend) it, just as they might understand anything that is spoken to them. Repeated exposure to a text will aid with their increasing understanding of what is written. Although this technique supports children who are currently lower attainers, it is worthwhile providing this opportunity to all children.
Group Work Here we are essentially looking at a traditional guided reading session: teacher working with a group whilst the rest of the class are working independently.
What that 'working' looks like might differ. It could be any of the following:
discussion about answers to questions leading to writing a group answer which the children can record.
further shared reading (aloud) and more general discussion, possibly focusing on word meanings and ensuring a general understanding of the text before they then attempt to answer any comprehension questions.
working with children on modified activities and/or with modified versions of the text (see below for more).
allowing the children to work in pairs or as a group to collaboratively answer the questions without an adult present.
This approach means that, if you have an additional adult in class, there is the possibility of having two such groups on the go at any one time. Alternatively, the additional adult could attend to any needs that those working independently have, leaving the teacher to concentrate on the group. If you're lucky, your additional adult might even get on with giving feedback (written or verbal) to those children.
This is the closest thing to traditional differentiation that we get - providing children with a modified activity but one which still helps them to achieve the same objective as the rest of the class. To modify an activity, a few ideas:
provide children with an extra glossary or vocabulary list with meanings - this should be specific to the excerpt and pre-prepared by the teacher. If the focus of the lesson was on finding the meanings of words using contextual or morphemic analysis then you might not do this, instead you could focus on the meanings of easier words.
use a structure such as this one designed to help children for whom English is an additional language. It involves encouraging children to ask questions of the text, to summarise the text and to order main points of the text, answering true or false questions as well as answering questions about the text. It's important that the final outcome of the activity matches the whole class objective.
provide scaffolded structures for answers, for example: I know that the character is _______ because in the text it says _______________.
If the focus of the lesson is inference, create an activity that helps to scaffold children's inferences. This can be done by guiding children to consider vocabulary and information that can be retrieved before making inferences - more about this here in my blog post about Scaffolding Inference. Higher attainers may not need these structures as they will have a similar internal, subconscious approach.
In addition to having a modified activity they might also have a modified text - it could be a shorter excerpt of what has been read as a whole class, or it could be a modified version made easier in some way to help them achieve the whole class objective. Any of above modified activities could be used in conjunction with a modified text. Modelled Answers Even if children have all worked on exactly the same written response activity, with no support from adults or peers, they can be very well supported if answers to the questions they have been working on are modelled. The key here is that once answers have been modelled, either by other children or the teacher, whether verbally or in writing, that children edit their existing answers to include the main points of the modelled answers. With a regular, consistent approach to this children will grow in their ability to give written answers to questions. This modelling may take place whole class or with group time.
Intervention Whole class reading does not replace the need for intervention. Whilst whole class sessions can be focused on the children achieving a whole class objective, interventions can focus on children's individual and specific needs. It might be the case that assessment of achievement in whole class reading sessions decides the content of interventions, or that interventions are a continuation of the work done in whole class sessions. On the other hand the interventions could focus on something as basic as phonics (if this is the case, it will be important that in whole class sessions that they hear the text read aloud and that perhaps they are given a shorter or modified excerpt to work with independently).