If students are starting secondary school with a reading age of 6 years, can we please start focusing on the solutions?

young boy focusing on literacy school work

As a teacher and director of a literacy company, I read with interest the article by Sian Griffiths in the Sunday Times, entitled Pupils starting secondary with a reading age of six and the comments made by Sir Michael Wilshaw.

It’s an incredibly well-written piece, which portrays the truth of the experiences and existence of students, teachers, and schools across the land, but I’m so tired of the doom and gloom. Every time I open a newspaper, or turn on the TV, I’m given a repeated rhetoric of how horrendous the situation is with student reading developments, and the national ‘crisis’ we’re in but never offered a solution. Yes, a percentage of students are entering secondary school, aged 11, with a reading age as low as 6, but what’s the solution? If this is our reality, how do we get out of it?

Reading for Pleasure

This is utopia. People choosing to read and hiding away with a good book. But, if you’re dealing with the mechanics of reading, you’ll never develop a love of reading. A love of reading comes from automaticity and fluency and if you don’t have this, then how are you going to get pleasure from reading? Robotic, stilted reading is painstakingly slow, so for students who still read in this manner, it’s a real chore rather than a pleasure. Students need to learn their sounds at speed, repeating the process to aid automaticity, whilst also learning how to unpick meaning and comprehension from vocabulary.

When we’re in the early stages of learning to drive, I don’t think any of us would find it pleasurable, but with purposeful, focused instruction and practise, we’re soon on our way and enjoying it. So, if a student isn’t finding pleasure from reading, then time needs to be spent on the mechanics first.

Speed is the key

For secondary aged students the key is speed. We need to get them reading and beginning to comprehend in a short a period as possible because the curriculum doesn’t wait. The students in question also know far too well that they’re not up to speed with their peers, so don’t want to be hanging around and falling behind any longer. The whole point of an intervention programme should be that they ‘get off the programme’. Lexonik Advance is a programme delivered once per week for 6 weeks, with average reading age gains of 27 months, which means students develop reading automaticity and comprehension at speed.

Teenagers do not want to be patronised!

Secondary aged students, rightly so, want to feel like teenagers. If they’re presented with material that they associate with primary school, or younger children, they feel patronised and less than their peers. This not only has a detrimental effect on their wellbeing but can lead to frustration and refusal behaviours. Reading interventions will have recognisable features from their previous learning but need to be delivered in a manner appropriate for them, with challenging academic vocabulary from the off, so they are learning how to decode and comprehend the vocabulary of their classrooms and their peers.

Challenge without threat

Challenge and pace of delivery shouldn’t be underestimated when leading reading intervention with secondary aged students. Build in structured competition as well and you’re onto a winner. Secondary aged students need to feel challenged so pace of activity and delivery is crucial in closing these essential gaps.

Teachers need to feel confident

Teachers and facilitators need to feel comfortable teaching reading. Many secondary teachers are never taught how to explicitly do this, which is a flaw in our system. When teachers go through Lexonik training, it’s as much of a revelation for them as it is for the students they then begin working with. Once teachers and facilitators for secondary aged students know how to teach reading, vocabulary and comprehension, then everyone can fly. Teachers need to feel skilled and confident to allow students to develop skill and confidence.

Whole-school approach

Most schools across the land have a whole-school behaviour policy, a non-negotiable set of rules for all staff and students to follow. So, let’s apply this same approach to the teaching of vocabulary and reading. If everyone is taught the same methodology, then it doesn’t matter where the student goes, they are confident that the expectations for teaching reading and vocabulary will be the same. They will also benefit from practising the methodology multiple times a day, giving them the all-important confidence to apply it when they need to work independently.

There are plenty more ways we could find solutions to the reading ‘crisis’. The important thing is that once we find them, we put them into action. We can stop the constant demoralising rhetoric of the reading ‘crisis’ if we’re solution-focused.

If you feel like you want to learn more about our intervention programmes check them out here or if you’re looking for advice, get in touch.

Sarah Ledger
Lexonik • CEO

[email protected]