A spotlight on: Early Reading Q & A with Anjali Patel
This monthly Spotlight is focussed on our Lead Advisory Teacher Anjali Patel who discusses the importance of early reading and the impact she has seen on both teachers and children from our specialised reading courses.
Why do you think instilling a love of reading is important in children of all ages?
I strongly believe that access to quality books and the joy reading brings is an entitlement for all our children. Reading for pleasure increases well-being, raises self-esteem, provides cultural capital, gives voice, builds vocabulary like nothing else and helps children develop a sense of self. In a time of division and falsities, it enables children not only to make sense of the wider world but to question and be critical, demonstrate empathy and understanding for others. My own childhood was steeped in books of all kinds; poetry, information, picturebooks, chapter books and so many fairy tales that I now pass on to my own children and those in every class I’ve taught. Reading for pleasure is associated with children’s overall achievement and on their life chances but it also impacts on wellbeing and on a child’s ability to be deeply involved in the curriculum and in society as a whole. When children grow up with books and a love of reading, they bring something special to everything else they do.
You have a wealth of experience in the Early Years and have led on our Power of Reading Early Years course, Closing the Vocabulary Gap. What would you say is most important for developing communication, language and literacy across the early years?
I have been fortunate to have been involved in developing these projects and worked alongside some truly dedicated teachers and Early Years practitioners. The training and teaching materials are based on robust research and school-based evidence and I have absolute belief in the messages we share. We introduce practitioners to a set of high quality texts carefully chosen to read aloud and revisit with children; texts that interest and inspire young children in their play and storymaking. The rich models of language, and illustrations that add meaning, are fundamental in developing children’s language as the book is unfolded slowly through a carefully planned sequence of learning. What makes the difference is the range of meaningful opportunities children are offered to engage with and respond deeply to the texts, through talk, re-enactment, art and writing. Teachers are shown how to layer contextualised language opportunities and facilitate talk until children come to use it naturally. The children are completely immersed in the world of the book and connections are made with all areas of learning by well-trained knowledgeable and engaged adults.
What impact have you seen on the teachers who have been involved?
One of the recurring themes of the feedback we receive is that of renewed pleasure in teaching and how increased subject knowledge and expertise enables them to use the teaching sequences to suit the needs of their own children. It is the professionalism and drive of the participating teachers that is the most crucial to ensuring success for their children. These teachers have been fundamental in shaping rich experiences for their children by taking on board a wealth of subject knowledge, implementing practical ideas from our training sessions and using CLPE recommended books and teaching sequences in ways that truly inspire their own children. They have understood how the sequences are written to support active engagement throughout the whole school community, leading colleagues in modelling language and authentic reading and writing processes across all areas of learning, indoor and outdoors. So many teachers say that the course has brought back a love of teaching and that enthusiasm is picked up on by their children. This is what makes the difference to children in the Early Years in providing them the best possible foundation from which to thrive and succeed.
What impact have you seen on children whose teachers have been involved?
Teachers consistently report that the inclusive approaches that we advocate, impact on children’s raised academic perception driving them to achieve beyond expectations. Children’s engagement is always high as the books are inspiring and the teaching approaches are well-researched. Invariably, children’s vocabulary increases and ability to use spoken language to communicate improves. The teaching sequences are so carefully written to scaffold learning that teachers say that children find writing effortless, a natural part of their repertoire for communication and expression. They already have the ideas and have been bathed in the language and the themes that motivate them. All children are given the chance to be transformed by the very best books whatever their starting point. It’s an amazing course. We really believe that our teachers have a huge influence on these children and it could be life changing for some.
What do you think teachers need to understand about the teaching of early reading?
Firstly, I think that we should acknowledge that teaching reading is not to be reduced to a single approach and that it does require subject knowledge to do it well; knowledge of reading development, knowledge of texts, and crucially, knowledge of each child you want to teach. Children each come with their own reading experiences, identity, knowledge and skills that we can build on to teach reading. All teachers need to be prepared to learn how to teach reading well. It is a fundamental part of being a Primary School teacher. Teaching reading needs a sound understanding of phonological development and where phonics fits in enabling children to print read alongside other effective decoding strategies as well as the confidence to know how to choose and use rich texts that motivate, build vocabulary and provide meaning. The act of learning to read is hard work and requires much perseverance so we need to ensure children find pleasure in it and reap the rewards engaging with a quality text can bring them.
Early readers can be in every primary year group, not just the Early Years. Our two day Developing Early Readers in KS2 course helps teachers to focus on how to effectively teach older children who are learning to read. Why do you think this is needed?
Firstly, older children identified as early readers need to be really closely observed and monitored. There will not be a one-size-fits-all and many teachers and teaching assistants feel ill-equipped to support early readers in Key Stage 2 as well as they would like. If synthetic phonics didn’t work the first time around, a different approach needs to be taken and this course provides much needed subject knowledge. It is designed specifically to develop teachers’ expertise in identifying and finding the right approach for each child and in using quality texts appropriate to their intellectual stage of development. It addresses common gaps in learning or experience, such as keys aspects of phonological awareness or vocabulary development, and demonstrates how to teach using the books. Teachers get to take away two book packs with detailed planning so that they can implement the ideas immediately back in class and reflect on the impact on Day 2. I’d say it’s a must-have for any teacher who is responsible for teaching early readers in Key Stage 2.
Keep up to date with our social media channels to hear more from our teaching team, teachers who have completed our training and our research around early reading all this month:
We run a range of courses for teaching Early Reading across the country, here's what's coming up: