Creating students who can read (and who want to read)

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Authored by Dee Reid, founder of Catch Up

Reading offers a rich, immersive experience that feeds our brains and widens our experiences. You could argue that the prime purpose of a literacy education is to teach students to read, but as teachers, we set ourselves a higher goal as we want students not only to be able to read but also to enjoy reading. 

Students find reading difficult and struggle for different reasons, for example: 

  • Difficulties with blending and segmenting phonemes  
  • Poor short-term memory, so words taught in a coaching session are quickly forgotten 
  • Slow decoding of the text means comprehension slips through the long pauses
  • Unable to pick up the clues which are key to inferential comprehension

There is, however, one thing struggling readers all have in common - they rarely find any pleasure in reading – they do not see themselves as readers.

Consequently, they do as little reading as they can get away with, so their opportunity to develop as readers is severely limited. They do not (in the words of the DfE The Reading Framework 2023) put in ‘the reading miles’. 

So, what can be done to engage students in an activity they see as pretty much irrelevant to their lives? The Reading Framework places a heavy emphasis on struggling readers with a Reading Age of below 8 reading ‘decodable’ texts i.e. texts exclusively with words at the stage of phonic development which matches the student’s phonic knowledge. 

The trouble is, those texts use very stilted language and generally they don’t appeal to the older struggling reader, so they are not motivated to read them. The Reading Framework does acknowledge that schools will need to find ‘alternative ways of teaching’ phonics with these older students, and I would argue that getting them interested in reading has to be the priority. 

Developing reading for pleasure

The guiding principle behind all Rapid Plus texts is that the texts are both accessible and appealing. But how have we done this?

By using a range of subtle features that reduce many of the barriers to reading usually experienced by struggling readers e.g.

  • Meticulous choice of familiar vocabulary
  • The layout of the text avoids any confusing line-breaks
  • Use of a dyslexia-friendly font
  • The text is printed on a pale cream background to avoid visual stress
  • Enough small illustrations to break up any longer chunks of text but not too many to make the texts look babyish
  • The trademark Rapid Plus Before Reading page tunes the student into the text and boosts their confidence in their own ability before they actually start reading  
  • All Rapid Plus texts end with a Quiz page where students’ comprehension of the text is explored through literal and inferential comprehension questions as well as questions requiring students to make a personal response. These questions remind students that the purpose of reading is to extract meaning from a text. 

Rapid Plus does everything possible to enable struggling readers to access the text, but if they are not rewarded with a positive reading experience, they are not going to persevere. 

The Reading Framework has a whole section on the links between fluency, comprehension and reading enjoyment. We are all familiar with the student who has made progress at word reading but their slow pace of decoding inhibits understanding.

If students in Secondary Schools are not enjoying reading and only read under duress their progress will be limited. If teachers are of the opinion that students can only experience pleasure in reading once they have acquired more sophisticated reading skills, then too many students will have given up the struggle before they get there. Enjoying reading shouldn’t just be a reward for skilled readers. It should be our goal to make reading enjoyable for all students. 

How does Rapid Plus support different reading levels

Reading Age 6.6-8.5

The lower levels of Rapid Plus Stages 3-6 (Reading Age 6.6-8.5) have short, high interest texts with both fiction and non-fiction in the one book which give struggling readers a really enticing read. 

The fiction texts have characters they can relate to; the plots are dramatic or funny (or both); the language is familiar and predictable; the non-fiction is on topics that appeal to 10 – 13-year-olds e.g. embarrassing situations; surviving a tornado; computer hacking.

The artwork is also stunning. We have to remember that older struggling readers rely more on illustrations for text engagement than those of us who create pictures in our minds when we read fluently. 

Reading Age 8.6-9.6

Students reading at Reading Age 8.6-9.6, (Rapid Plus Stages 7-9) can manage longer texts with a wider range of vocabulary and greater plot complexity, but their enjoyment of reading is very limited as they are still at a stage where reading is an effort. Support for these pupils moves from a focus on word reading to a focus on fluency and from solo reading to an adult to social reading in a group.

To support them to speed up without losing accuracy, our 7-9 stage books have:

  • Longer fiction text to help build up reading stamina

  • A play based on the fiction text which gives students the opportunity to practise their reading aloud skills, concentrating on pace, prosody and expression

  • A non-fiction text which familiarises students with the text characteristics of non-fiction texts such as headings and subheadings and a variety of different ways of presenting information e.g. bar charts, flowcharts, maps, diagrams

  • A play to give students a real purpose for reading aloud with expression. Plays also provide an ideal opportunity for students to re-read (another focus of The Reading Framework) as students can take on a different role at a subsequent reading.

On the Quiz pages of Rapid Plus Stages 7-9 there is an emphasis on developing vocabulary and discussing answers to the comprehension questions and additionally there are questions on the author’s style so that readers become familiar with the language of talking about texts. 

Social interaction around a text is a very successful way to increase reading enjoyment. We only need to think about the popularity of Book Groups to realise the rewards of making reading a communal activity. As The Reading Framework reminds us, we should be looking at what skilled readers do and ensuring that we offer the same reading experiences and opportunities to struggling readers. 

Reading Ages 10-12

What about older students (13 – 16 years) who have reasonable decoding skills but are hindered by having a limited book vocabulary and are still finding it difficult to get immersed in reading? Rapid Plus Stages 10-12 (Reading Ages 10-12) addresses the needs of these students.

The Reading Framework sets out the criteria for texts that older struggling readers need:

  • Page-turners that hook them into reading

  • Texts which contain a big idea – e.g making the right moral decision

  • Full of characters and scenarios that reflect the diversity of our culture

  • Different genre – fiction, non-fiction, diaries, plays

All these criteria feature in the 24 fast-paced, action-packed Rapid Plus Stages 10-12 texts. The texts speak to young people about issues that matter to them, and which reflect the world in which they live. Importantly, the appearance of the books do not shout out that they are for readers who find reading difficult and the likelihood is they will have an appeal wider than their target readership.

About Rapid Plus

We developed Rapid Plus alongside Dee Reid, founder of Catch Up, to support KS3 struggling, EAL, and SEND readers. It's independently proven to more than double progress in just a few months. Students see themselves as 'real readers' for the first time, and teachers report seeing them grow more confident across all of their subjects.

With new Rapid Plus stages 10-12, you can now help your older KS3 struggling readers to build their confidence and motivation to read. 

Find out more about how Rapid Plus could help your students here.

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