The curriculum assumes a considerable change in the approach to reading. Firstly, it envisages that the early stages of reading will be grounded firmly on the child's general language experience. This presupposes that oral language activities will provide the basis for the child's preparation for reading. This will, progressively, involve the child in the creation and reading of oral-based texts and in the collaborative reading of large format books. Building on this foundation of language activity the child will learn to use a number of cueing strategies that will enable him/her to read and understand an increasingly complex range of text.
It is a fundamental principle of the curriculum that the child's language competence, attention span, concentration and perceptual abilities should be well developed before being introduced to a formal reading scheme. Consequently, much of the English programme in the child's first year at school will be devoted to oral language and informal reading activities.
A print-rich environment
It is important that, from the first day at school, the child is encouraged to see books and reading materials as exciting, pleasurable and interesting. The infant classroom should be organised in a way that facilitates interaction between children and books and develops their curiosity about print.
Creating a print-rich environment involves more than a simple labelling of objects in the classroom. The regular use of job charts, weather charts and posters, for example, in which words, phrases or even sentences change very regularly will help to focus the child's attention on the written word and he/she can be encouraged to respond appropriately.
Environmental print in the neighbourhood can also be explored and the addition of directories, newspapers and magazines to a play corner will encourage children to engage in play activities that resemble real-life reading activities.
An important element of the print environment is the regular display of the children's writing, whether on the classroom walls or as items in the classroom library. As such it can become part of the children's reading material and provide stimulation to the reader and encouragement for the writer.
The library corner in the junior classes
Ideally every infant and junior classroom should have a library corner, a focal point and space where groups of children meet together to talk, listen and read. This area might be furnished with carpet or rugs and cushions or bean-bags. Posters and display books that are changed on a regular basis, along with examples of children's art work, will help to lend atmosphere to the library corner.
|Browsing in the class library|
Books should be displayed face out where possible so that cover illustration, title and author are clearly visible. The child should be encouraged to browse in the library corner and to share books in pairs or in small groups. These will be picture books mainly, ranging from picture-only books to books with pictures and captions to books with an increasing amount of text. Flap books, pop-up books, alphabet and counting books, along with collections of nursery rhymes, verse and illustrated folk and fairy tales, will be popular with this age group.
A check-list for selecting books for the school library
The collection should include
- stories that the children enjoy
- simple collections of poems, rhymes, and narrative, humorous and lyrical verse
- books which feature both males and females in leading roles
- books which reflect the background and culture of all the children in the class
- books which reflect a variety of domestic and environmental backgrounds
- simple information books, clearly illustrated and presented
- books with information presented in photographic and simple diagrammatic form
- books that cater for children's individual interests
- large-format books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Books should have
- a coherent story structure
- clear characterisation
- richness and variety of language
- repetitive sentence structures, sequences and refrains
- illustrations that complement and extend the text.
Books for school libraries
For younger children:
- picture books
- short books that can be read at one sitting
- poetry anthologies
- collections of short stories
- a wide range of information books
- periodicals suited to the interests and age levels of the children
For older readers:
- a wide range of fiction
- non-fiction books that will cater for a wide variety of interests
- reference books
- newspapers, magazines and periodicals
The classroom library for older children
As the child matures and progresses, the classroom library will evolve naturally from the library corner and the range of reading material will be extended to include a wider variety of genres. The importance of the classroom library in enriching the child's reading experience cannot be over-emphasised. It is generally accepted that it should contain a minimum of twelve books per pupil.
The child should take an active part in the organisation of the classroom library, and whenever possible he/she should visit a local public library and become familiar with its layout and organisation.
Ideally, the organisation of the classroom library should be loosely based on that of the public library, in classifying fiction alphabetically by author and information books by subject.
|Uninterrupted, sustained, silent reading in the local library can complement classroom approaches|
The ability to locate and self-select books for independent reading or in pursuing an individual interest lays the foundation for a successful engagement with books during USSR periods (uninterrupted, sustained, silent reading). The classroom library should also cater for all levels of interest and ability so that every child will experience success and enjoyment in reading independently.
Every opportunity should be taken to excite pupils' interest in reading. Inviting authors of children's books, poets and storytellers to the classroom and organising book-related events helps stimulate a child's interest in books and reading.
The child should be encouraged to express preferences for genres, authors or books on particular topics. Children should be encouraged to become members of the public library, thus giving themselves access to an even wider range of reading material and a valuable resource for independent reading experience.
Learning to read
The curriculum envisages that the approach to reading will be grounded firmly in the child's general language experience. Oral language activity will have a crucial role to play in preparing the child to read. Building on a base of general language competence, phonological and phonemic awareness will be fostered and he/she will be encouraged to use a range of word identification strategies in learning to extract meaning from the text. This will also entail extensive oral language work. In essence, this means that the child will not be expected to engage with a structured reading scheme until his/her general language competence is strong enough to support reading development.
In his/her first year in school the child should have a rich experience of oral language activity, including rhymes, riddles and games designed to develop his/her phonological and phonemic awareness. The child should become thoroughly familiar with print in the environment and engage in plenty of collaborative reading with the teacher using both language experience material and large-format books.
If the child has such a language experience during his/her initial period in school the curriculum envisages that, by and large, he/she can begin a structured reading programme some time during senior infant class.
Using language experience materials and large format books
These can provide a springboard for a variety of language activities that help to develop language skills and to provide the language base the child needs before embarking on a structured programme of reading.
- Large-format books, or 'big books' as they are more familiarly called, are, as their name suggests, books which are produced in format large enough to use for collaborative reading with groups.
- Language experience charts are created collaboratively by the teacher and the children. The teacher records what the children have to say on a large sheet of chart paper.
EXEMPLAR 4 - Using experience charts as a basis for children's early contact with reading
EXEMPLAR 5 - Using large-format books as a basis for structured reading
Knowledge of the conventions of print
The child needs to understand that there are certain directional and positional conventions in print:
- A line of text is read from left to right.
- The letters in a word are read from left to right.
- Text is read from top to bottom.
- Words are separated by spaces.
- Punctuation marks play a role in text.
Basic sight vocabulary
Basic sight vocabulary is an important element of the language base the child needs before beginning a structured reading programme. It will be acquired from a number of sources, such as
- language experience material
- large-format books
- environmental print
- flash cards.
It is important to stress that even when children have begun to use a reading scheme they need a richer reading experience than a reading scheme alone will give. There is a wide range of reading material available that can be used to supplement a reading scheme. The child should not only read independently at his/her own level but also have the opportunity to read and reread easy material and also attempt more challenging text with the help of the teacher.
Word identification strategies
Reading is a complex activity and in order to become a competent reader the child has to become proficient in recognising and identifying words. In order to acquire the ability to identify words speedily and fluently he/she needs to use information from different sources.
These sources of information, or cueing strategies, are based on the child's
- knowledge of letter-sound relationships (grapho/phonic cues)
- experiences and understanding of the world (meaning or semantic cues)
- knowledge of the forms of language (syntactic cues)
- knowledge of the directional and positional conventions of print
- awareness of the function of punctuation marks.
When the child is reading independently he/she uses these cues to
Sound-letter relationships (grapho/phonic cues)
The child uses a knowledge of the sounds of letters and groups of letters and his/her skill at combining these sounds to interpret print.
Phonological and phonemic awareness
In acquiring the ability to use soundletter relationships (grapho/phonic cues) the child needs to develop phonological and phonemic awareness, that is, an ability to manipulate the sound segments in words.
Activities such as the following can contribute to the development of this ability:
- saying and hearing nursery rhymes and rhymed stories
- reproducing rhymes
- clapping and dancing to syllabic rhythms
- playing 'I spy' games involving onsets and rimes
- segmenting of sentences into individual words
- segmenting of words into syllables
- matching the length of a word to its utterance.
Onset and rime
Young children find it relatively easy to segment words into syllables. For example, at an early stage most children can segment the word 'cartoon' into its constituent syllables. The child should have plenty of practice in identifying syllables and in developing the facility of analysing the constituent sounds of words. What he/she finds much more difficult to understand is that the word 'car', for example, can be segmented into three phonemes (the smallest units of sound that can change the meaning of a word). He/she finds it easier to segment a syllable into parts greater than a phoneme. This can be done by isolating the two elements onset and rime. The onset is the part of the syllable that precedes the vowel; the rime is the remainder of the syllable. All syllables must have a rime but not all need have an onset. Some examples are:
Word Onset Rime
Onset-rime knowledge can also help in developing awareness of spelling patterns by introducing analogy through word families which share the same spelling and rime. For example, a very young child can deduce the pronunciation of one word by comparing it with another with the same rime (a child can read 'sand' if he/she knows 'hand'). Children should be encouraged to explain how they recognise the new word with reference to the old.
Using onsets and rimes has several advantages:
- Vowel sounds are very stable within rimes. In other words, most rimes sound the same in every word in which they are found.
- Rimes are easily learned, regardless of the vowel they contain: for example, rimes containing long vowel sounds are learned as easily as those containing short vowel sounds.
- About 500 primary-level words can be derived from the following set of only 37 rimes:
| ||-ump||-unk|| || || || || |
- Any familiar words can be used for an introduction to shared rimes. For instance, if the words 'ball' and 'take' occur in large-format book reading, the class can think of words that rhyme with them. The teacher can then demonstrate that these words are written with the same spelling pattern for the rime (for example, call, h-all, t-all and b-ake, c-ake, lake). Plastic letters can be used to make up any rime that has arisen in reading, or even non-reading, activity. The teacher can then demonstrate that different onsets can be grafted onto the same rime and that shared rime has consistent spelling.
The child uses semantic or meaning cues to predict the text. For example, knowledge and experience would enable him/her to predict the last word in the sentence,
'The boy was tired, so he went to ...'
The child's oral language gives him/her some understanding of the grammar and usage of language. In the sentence, 'John threw the ...', he/she would expect the last word to be a noun.
Predicting and checking
The child uses sight vocabulary and significant details of print to sample text and to make predictions. Young readers, because their word identification skills are not yet developed, rely heavily on semantic and syntactic cues to predict but they will use all the cues to check the accuracy of their predictions.
- semantic cues to check if their predictions make sense
- syntactic cues to check if it 'sounds right'
- a knowledge of the conventions of print to check if there is word-by-word fit
- letter-sound relationships to check if their predictions are right.
As the child gets older the relative importance of the different cueing strategies in helping him/her to read will shift. He/she will still use syntactic and semantic cues but increasingly grapho/phonic skills assume the predominant role in the process of word identification.
Confirming and self-correcting
Children need to develop all of the strategies just outlined if they are to read successfully. They should be encouraged to take risks when predicting in order to develop the technique of confirming and self-correcting and should be allowed to work out things for themselves.
Children can best develop the ability to predict, check, confirm and self-correct by having their attention drawn to the appropriate cues. If inaccurate reading is corrected too quickly by the teacher or by another pupil the child will be denied the opportunity to learn for him/herself.
On the other hand, the child can accept responsibility for his/her own learning if the teacher asks questions such as:
- Does that seem right?
- How can you be sure?
- What word would make sense here?
- What word would look right here?
- What does the picture tell you?
- What do you think the story is going to be about?
Written and oral cloze procedures can also be used to develop prediction strategies:
The girl sat on a . . .
The girl sat on ch . . .
Similarly, the teacher can encourage the child to confirm/self-correct by making suggestions such as:
- Read from the beginning and think what would fit
- Leave out the word, read on, and think what would make sense
- Does that make sense?
- Are you sure?
- How do you know for certain?
- What does your word begin with?
- Does the word on the page begin like that?
If a child is having difficulty with a sentence it can be very useful to encourage him/her to read it silently. This allows the child to work out the meaning of the text quietly in his/her own time and without pressure. It also gives the opportunity to practise using the different cueing strategies to solve a difficulty. Furthermore, when the child experiences success in interpreting the text it can greatly increase his/her confidence as a reader.
These essential strategies and attitudes are best developed through the child's engagement with texts that have a special meaning for him/her, that use natural language and that he/she enjoys reading.
It is important, of course, that unrecognised words are in the children's speaking or listening vocabulary before he/she is expected to apply these strategies in order to recognise them.
In learning to extract meaning from the text it is important that children's higher comprehension skills are developed. Traditionally, particularly in middle and senior classes, there has been a strong reliance on written exercises (especially those in class readers and workbooks) in developing comprehension skills. They can, however, be developed much more effectively through discussion of the text under the guidance and prompting of the teacher. This is not to say that written response to texts of various kinds does not have its place, particularly in senior classes. However, children's comprehension skills should be developed mainly through oral language activity.
The ultimate objective of reading is comprehension or the reconstruction of meaning. The meaning, or at least the full meaning, may not emerge immediately. It grows gradually and in the process is redefined, revised and reformulated by the reader when he/she engages in reading the text and in reflecting on it. This entails much more than mere word recognition. From the beginning of reading children will recall and retell details of what they read, and predict possible future outcomes. However, as they mature and deal with texts of increasing complexity they need to develop skills such as analysis, synthesis, inference, deduction, summarisation, evaluation and correlation if they are to divine the full meaning of the text. The curriculum envisages the development of these higher comprehension skills from the middle classes onwards. To acquire them children will need a consistent and structured experience of questioning, discussing and probing the text in order to arrive at its full meaning.
Comprehending a range of texts
Texts fall into three categories:
- diagrammatic or representational.
Narrative and expository texts have different purposes and structures. Narrative texts are mainly concerned with telling a story while the principal function of expository texts is to inform and explain. Diagrammatic or representational text (sometimes referred to as documents) includes lists, graphs, diagrams, tables, maps, pictorial representation, and many other forms of text designed to present or illustrate information.
All three involve both the cognitive and affective responses of the children. Whereas a range of comprehension skills will be used with any of the three, affective response is associated mainly with narrative text and poetry. This is dealt with in the sections Response to text and Approaches to poetry.
|Information retrieval skills are central to learning in every curriculum area|
No comprehension skill is used in isolation from the others. They all interconnect in assisting the reader to reconstruct meaning in the text. They will not be developed effectively through exercises or assignments based on the individual skills such as are found in many workbooks and class readers. It is through reading the text, reflecting on it, discussing it and writing about it that the comprehension skills are best developed.
Comprehension tasks, therefore, should be purposeful and authentic. There should be a direct connection between the tasks undertaken by the pupils and the purposes for which the texts have been devised.
The teacher's role
The teacher's role in comprehension will involve planning appropriate contexts that will encourage children to reflect while reading. It will involve enabling and stimulating the children, and developing and improving the quality of reflection through modelling, instruction and application.
Children will, consequently, undertake a range of activities including:
- understanding the word, phrase and sentence meaning of the text
- using contextual clues for word meaning
- using dictionaries to check meaning
- recognising, recalling and inferring specific details
- recognising, recalling and inferring comparisons
- recognising, recalling and inferring cause-and-effect relationships
- reorganising, classifying and summarising details
- interpreting figurative language and imagery
- reacting to the author's use of language
- identifying with characters, events and issues.
Because children read for different purposes they will need to learn to use a number of different reading strategies:
- scanning the text—to examine its structure and layout
- skimming the text—to gain the overall gist of what it is about
- search-reading—to locate information
- reflective reading—involving critical reading and re-reading.
It is important that the teacher varies the organisational groupings in the class to suit the particular activity.
These will include
- whole-class activity—in prediction, for example
- large or small groups—in sequencing activities, for example
- paired work—in the location and organisation of information, for example
- individualised study—in reflective reading, for example
- conferencing between pupil and teacher—in understanding problems, for example.
In approaching text and in learning to use comprehension skills, children should experience a balance of appropriate activities including listening tasks, oral response, purposeful reading and written response. Of these, the first three should be a part of nearly all activities designed to develop comprehension skills. This will be particularly true in junior and middle classes. The use of written response will be greater in senior classes but, in almost all cases, it should be used as a follow-up to discussion and other forms of oral response.
Comprehension and oral language
Oral language activity will be at the core of the programme for developing children's comprehension skills and will involve teacher and pupil questions and plenty of discussion and debate on the text. The teacher should also model comprehension skills through thinking aloud and teaching the children how to use questions to gain the maximum amount of information from the text. This will be supplemented by activities that will involve the other modes of response and include
- sequencing tasks
- prediction assignments
- cloze procedures
- interpretation through mime, drama, painting, etc.
- personal writing response
- study reading
- survey, question, read, recall, review (SQ3R)
- location and organisation of information
- finding word meanings from context.
Comprehension and text
In developing their comprehension skills children will be encouraged to engage with the text in three phases:
- surveying prior knowledge before reading the text
- reflecting while reading the text
- responding to the text after reading it.
Before reading the text
Children should be given the opportunity to recall and review what they already know of the subject matter of the text and this can lead to their surveying and predicting what knowledge might be gained from it.
Reflecting while reading
This involves the habit of engaging actively with the text, which is a facility children don't necessarily have but can develop. Children should, of course, be allowed to read both short and longer texts silently without interruption so that they can develop the skill of reflecting actively on what they are reading as they read it.
They should be encouraged to
- identify details and relate them to their own experience
- identify the order of events as presented
- look for cause-and-effect relationships
- examine solutions to problems
- look for comparisons and contrasts
- identify facts in tables and charts
- look for the explanation of technical terms and unfamiliar words in the context, glossary or dictionary.
Some of these activities will take place in breaks during the reading of the text. Others may be merely brought to the children's attention and used for discussion later because this phase will often spill over into the third phase. In either case it helps to cultivate in children the habit of continuous, conscious reflection on the text as they read it.
Responding to the text after reading it
This phase follows naturally from Reflecting while reading and will also involve the activities listed above. A variety of strategies for stimulating response can be used: discussion, open and closed questions, retelling, summarising. Activities that could be added to those listed already (not all of which might be appropriate to every text) would include
- identifying words, phrases or sentences that signal an idea, an opinion, a deduction, the solution to a problem, new information, etc. For example, 'Read the sentence which proves ...'
- justifying opinions and arguments from the text
- identifying, questioning, reflecting and discussing main ideas and issues
- discussing the characteristics and uses of different genres—biography, information books, anthologies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.
- undertaking organisational tasks involving sequencing, categorising and outlining
- undertaking information retrieval tasks using a range of reference and information books as sources. This will involve the use of book titles, summaries, tables of contents, indexes, etc. and will include activities such as listing, tabulation, webbing, diagrams, notes, graphs, lines of development, etc.
- following written instructions in undertaking a task, for example making a kite
- undertaking tasks in recording information from diagrams, tables, maps, guides, etc.
Comprehension in other curricular areas
There are extensive possibilities for integration with other areas of the curriculum in developing children's comprehension skills. This is particularly true of middle and senior classes when children are engaging with a widening range of texts of increasing complexity in areas such as
- history—as has been indicated elsewhere
- geography—exploring and interpreting maps, tables, graphs, etc.
- science—solving problems, analysing cause and effect, predicting, deducing
- SPHE—exploring attitudes, ethical issues, moral decisions
- project work—locating and organising information, taking notes, listing, summarising, correlating
- maths—reading, prediction and deduction
- PE—interpreting instructions.
Responding to text
Experiencing and responding to a wide range of text
The curriculum also gives particular consideration to children's reading needs after they have achieved some mastery of reading skills. The reading scheme needs to be supplemented with other material. The class reader on its own will not cater adequately for the child's reading needs. These will be fulfilled through the experience of engaging with a wide and varied range of text. The consistent use of well stocked and regularly supplemented school and class libraries will be crucial in providing this experience.
Sharing a response to books and other text
As children begin to read and as their reading develops they will be able to experience a greater variety of text and this will be reflected in a widening of their responses. At this stage they should be encouraged to share their individual choices of books and other reading materials with others. This may be done informally as they browse in the book corner or more formally when a child is called upon to sit in the 'reader's chair' or 'book chair' and speak for two or three minutes about a book he/she has read. Other children or the teacher might like to question him/her about characters, events, favourite moments, likes and dislikes. In this way children are recommending and 'reviewing' books and poems orally, the form of response that is most immediate and accessible to them.
As their skill in writing develops they will be able to complete sentences such as 'My favourite character is ...' or 'I liked the part when ...' and give reasons for such choices. Simple records of reading can be kept by recording such details as author, title, comment and 'star rating'. Writing can also be integrated with visual arts when children write a blurb for a book jacket or a motto for a book-mark. As they mature children will continue to respond to their reading through discussion, writing, visual arts and drama.
The importance of giving children ample opportunities to respond orally to what they read cannot be overemphasised. Talk and discussion about plot, character and motive should form a significant part of children's response to reading throughout the primary school years.
Using a class novel
Serial reading of a class novel provides a particularly important means by which children can experience a shared response to fiction. This may be approached in various ways. For example:
- children might have individual copies of the novel and share the text in class through a combination of oral and silent reading
- the teacher or different pupils could read the entire text aloud in instalments from a single copy.
A combination of these two approaches can also be adopted but it is important that, if individual copies are used, they are kept in the school so that all the children discover simultaneously how the story unfolds. Children read at different rates, however, and less fluent readers might perhaps be given the opportunity to prepare a particular passage in advance of reading it aloud in class. The reading should be surrounded by discussion but not interrupted too frequently as this would inhibit the flow of the story and frustrate the readers who are anxious to discover what happens next.
Further ways to share a response to text
Pupils' responses to a shared text such as the class novel may be developed in a variety of ways:
- A reading log might be used as a means of keeping track of characters or events by jotting down thoughts or 'snap reactions' as a book is being read.
- Children might like to 'adopt' a particular character and build up a character profile under headings such as appearance, personality and habits.
- They can be encouraged to write an epilogue.
- They can be encouraged to compose 'meanwhile' episodes.
- They can be encouraged to write reviews.
- They can be encouraged to write or tell further adventures of a particular character.
- Making 'spider plans' and webs can be useful in predicting the possible directions a plot might take, particularly in a case where a central character is faced with a dilemma; for example in Under the Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon-McKenna, Eily's options when her little sister Peggy falls ill with famine fever, could be explored in diagrammatic form.
- A technique such as 'readers' theatre' is a valuable way of developing reading aloud with expression. An extract involving a number of characters and a lot of dialogue can be approached like an actor's script in which children take the parts of the various characters. This would be akin to a dramatic reading of a set script.
- Improvisation, mime and movement allow children greater freedom in the interpretation of characters and events.
- Imaginative activities involving visual arts can stimulate children to record their responses to books they read in challenging and exciting ways.
- Poetry as a form of response should not be overlooked. Children may like to experiment with different verse forms to try to capture the essence of a character or a particular event in a story.
- A text can be adapted to another medium—a musical, a drama.
- Class presentations of thematic programmes of poetry can be compiled.
Children should have the opportunity, occasionally, to select their own forms of response to what they read. The emphasis is not so much on developing new abilities in relation to text but on applying their abilities to an increasing variety of more complex texts and in developing and refining the responses which they make.
Discussing the response to text
|Children's response to text can extend to other curriculum areas, for example visual arts|
Children who talk about their reading and see themselves as readers can go on to develop reading as a lifelong habit and interest. Favourite authors and books the children have read independently should be discussed in class. This requires a knowledge of and a familiarity with children's books on the part of the teacher, who should be seen by children to be one of the community of readers, sharing his/her responses with them.
The modelling of response by the teacher involves a willingness to think out loud in relation to the text and to share these thoughts and opinions with the children. However, this should not be done with the intention of moulding their opinions or interpretations in any way. It is important, also, to remember that book discussion need not necessarily take place in a whole-class setting. Children also need opportunities to exchange and share responses in small groups and in pairs.