by Katie Myles
My favourite way to start the teaching day was always to begin with group reading. Sitting with a small group of children discussing a high quality text allowed me to gain a deeper understanding, not only of the children’s reading skills, but of their individual personalities, their interests, worries, friendships and life outside of school. It eased us gently into the school day, was enjoyable and strengthened our relationships with one another.
I was surprised that this became such an enjoyable experience. Prior to having my own class, I had struggled to see past the challenges that group reading presented. How could I keep the other pupils successfully engaged while I was reading with a group? Which books should I choose for the multiple groups I had in the class? How would I manage the planning for all these different groups? How would we ‘read’ the book together?
But in fact, once I had a high quality text in front of me and a range of teaching approaches with which to explore that text, the planning pretty much wrote itself. This made the process of organising group reading much less daunting. Choosing the right books for guiding reading with a group was therefore the starting point for planning successful reading sessions.
The White Fox by Jackie Morris (Barrington Stoke) is exactly the type of text I would use for group reading sessions with my class and that is why it is the central text on our key stage two Group Reading course at CLPE.
This beautifully illustrated novel tells the story of a young boy named Sol, whose father tells him he has seen a white Arctic fox down at the Seattle dockside. Sol seeks out the animal for himself and from then on the lives of boy and fox become intertwined. As so often in Jackie Morris’ books, the relationship between humans and the natural world is central to the story, played out in both the words and the illustrations.
The book is supportive to those still developing reading fluency but, as the text is multi-layered, the children’s life experience and levels of emotional literacy at upper key stage two will allow them to engage with the text at a deeper level. Their emotional maturity enables them to empathise with the main character and his situation and to reflect more deeply on the wider issues raised in the text.
The teaching approaches used to explore high quality texts such as this one are crucial to ensuring that group reading sessions encourage reading for pleasure in pupils and support the development of skilled readers. Providing activities that are open-ended, multi-levelled and that involve pupil choice means that the children are engaged, motivated to read and enjoy group reading as much as the enabling adult. Having clear and consistent procedures in place which allow children to support one another in being able to embed skills in meaningful contexts eases the burden of organisation and facilitates positive learning behaviours. Some of the most effective approaches to support children’s development towards fluency and independence help children to explore and reflect on texts in ways that make them meaningful, personal and enjoyable.
Successful reading sessions encourage regular and sustained opportunities for the children to think and talk confidently about their responses to books; using prediction, asking questions and making connections with their own experiences. I always find that talking together about books, using Aidan Chambers’ ‘book talk’ approach and the ‘Tell me’ questions (outlined in Tell Me, Children Reading and Talk with The Reading Environment (Thimble Press 2011)), are very powerful ways to explore and reflect on the children’s emotional response to a story and what it meant for them as individuals. This is supported through the development of approaches that deepen reader response such as Role on the Wall.
The children always enjoy listening to an enabling adult reading the text aloud to them or finding creative ways to lift the words off the page themselves. Therefore, rather than having oral reading occur in reading groups in a ‘round robin’ approach, try to use other opportunities for students to engage in performance reading. Activities such as readers’ theatre, poetry sharing, choral reading, play reading and other authentic purposes for reading aloud and re-reading are all highly effective. The quality of the language in The White Fox particularly lends itself to being lifted off the page and therefore allows children to explore these more performative aspects of reading.
Time spent focusing on illustration in group reading contributes to the children’s ability to read for meaning, express their ideas and respond more deeply to the texts they encounter. The quality of the illustrations in The White Fox and the ways in which the illustrations work with the text to create meaning for the reader also mean that children exploring the book will naturally be drawn to the imagery. They will therefore need time and opportunities to enjoy and respond to the pictures and to talk together about what the illustrations contribute to their understanding of the text.
Allowing the children to use language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences in the group session is also particularly beneficial, as taking on the role of a particular character allows the children to ‘step into the shoes’ of the characters they are reading about and enables them to see events from a different viewpoint. In role, children often access feelings and language that are not available to them when they speak or write as themselves. Once children have had the opportunity to explore high quality texts in depth, they often want to respond to the themes and issues discussed through their writing, such as composing poetry, writing in role as the central protagonist, or writing to the characters in the book.
Sessions that engage the children in deepening their understanding of the world beyond home and school, that support the children to make connections to the world around them and that enable cross-curricular learning opportunities are also the ones that make the most impact on pupils. They are able to make links in learning and to find the purpose and pleasure in reading widely. Exploring stories such as The White Fox,that raise wider issues and explore concepts that may be new to some children, enriches their reading experiences and deepens their emotional involvement in texts. The White Fox is a book that simultaneously relates to the children’s interests and concerns and reflects their own realities back to them, a critical factor in engaging children in the reading process.
Motivation, independence and emotional involvement serve to create readers who will want to continue reading beyond the acquisition of basic proficiency.
Tennent, Reedy, Hobsbaum and Gamble: Guiding Readers – Layers of Meaning, UCL IOE Press 2016
The content of this blog post is derived from CLPE’s Group and Guiding Reading course. We no longer run this training, discover all CLPE training here.
To find out more about Jackie Morris and her inspiration for the book please see her own blog.
For more advice on choosing quality texts for the classroom, download CLPE’s What We Know Works: Choosing and Using Quality Children’s Texts booklet and explore our Corebooks selection.