#FocusOnReading No4. – So you think you know about comprehension?

It’s been a busy few days here at Primary English HQ. Just a few days ago we hosted the headline event in our #FocusOnReading: our Reading Conference, featuring the fabulous James Clements. Unfortunately for us, our associate Andrea Sherratt was unable to join us due to a prior commitment in London. This is not to say that she was not maintaining the Primary English #FocusOnReading, as she was at the Institute of Education learning more about comprehension. In this latest installment in our #FocusOnReading series, Andrea shares a few snippets of sage advice garnered on her trip to London.


So I thought I knew about comprehension!

For me, there is always something quite exciting about the journey to a training course; the expectations, anticipation and the wondering about unknown. My journey down to training in London yesterday was no different.

The event was a two day ‘Inference Training’ trainer course, delivered by Tony Whatmuff, from Leicester LA. The purpose: to become equipped to support whole school improvements in comprehension, and I must admit to assuming there probably wouldn’t be many new insights that I hadn’t already covered in my MA studies of ‘Literacy Learning and Literacy Difficulties’. But how wrong I was. A personal lesson that there are always new things to be learnt. Every day’s a school day!

From the very first moments of the training, it became clear that this was going to be a turning point in my understanding of how to efficiently and effectively support children’s development of comprehension. So let me share with you just three of the many insightful points I have gleamed over the last two days.

  • Active listeners make active readers!

Training children to actively listen to texts that are read aloud to them is vital in order for the development of proficient readers. From the day they walk through our doors, you can support your children to grow as active listeners through modelling your thought processes as you read, with opportunities for predicting, discussing and visualising stories. Activities such as ‘turn to your partner’ to discuss or drawing a visual image of the story in four parts.

  • Inference requires the listener and reader to ‘Think like a detective’.

This process begins early and requires the child to go beyond the literal. Like pieces of a jigsaw, successful readers bring together pieces of information, making links from the information in order to get the ‘gist’ of the text. For many children this needs to be modelled with the necessary strategies being explicitly taught. Tony encourages both adult and child to ‘think aloud’ as they go through the process of piecing together the information.

  • Give children a ‘toolkit’ of strategies

Good readers have a range of, what Tony calls, ‘breakdown strategies’. A toolkit of things to try if they detect their reading does not make sense. In my recent experience, when a child begins to struggle on particular words within text, their default strategy is to ‘sound it out’. This may not always be the most efficient or effective way of dealing with the obstacle and if we can equip children to have a ‘toolkit’ of strategies, they will have the flexibility to choose from a number of ways to repair the breakdown. E.g. re-read sentence/phrase to clarify, look back and identify key words to get meaning, think aloud and verbalise thoughts, make a rich picture in their mind.

Give these three points some thought for when you are next reading with your children. I’d love to hear from you in terms of what difference a few tweaks in your practice have made.

Andrea Sherratt: Reading Recovery/ECaR Teacher Leader

Our thanks to Andrea for an interesting insight in to improving comprehension. We will continue to explore the ideas introduced by Andrea in this article over the next few week, so do continue to keep up with our #FocusOnReading 

Rachel Clarke- Director, Primary English

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