There seems to be a lot of interest around reading comprehension at the moment -hardly surprising given that KS2 children have recently sat one of the most controversial reading SATs papers since SATs were introduced in 1991.
But the @BeyondLevels #LearningFirst session that I attended on guided comprehension and dialogic teaching, delivered by Shahina Burnett, wasn’t about SATs. It was about the pedagogy and practice underpinning a new service from Pearson called Bug Club Comprehension: a talk-based approach to comprehension, written in collaboration with Dr Wayne Tennent.
Although Bug Club Comprehension was referred to from time to time, this wasn’t a sales pitch. It was clear to see how the key principles of this resource could be taken and applied to any text and used in any classroom setting, assuming that a teacher had the time and energy!
So what are the key principles of this approach and why is it so different to what is currently taking place in classrooms?
The first thing to note is that this is a carousel-based approach in which the groups are of mixed ability and the same text is used for all children. Shahina made a point of reminding us of the benefits of collaborative learning in mixed-ability groupings and provided the following quote:
Children have a spoken language comprehension far in excess of their ability to decode. It doesn’t make sense to stall, or stagnate the comprehension component until decoding has been mastered.
Wayne Tennent, 'Understanding Comprehension'
Apart from the obvious advantages of using one text for all children (no more planning for 5 books for 5 different ability groups), I also liked the idea that all the Bug Club Comprehension texts have an accompanying audio eBook ensuring inclusion for all.
I’m guessing the majority of us in that session hadn’t really ever given much thought to what comprehension actually is – I know I certainly hadn’t. We were told, and shown, that comprehension is a complex process which can’t be taught. That’s correct - you can’t teach comprehension because it’s an outcome. What we can do, however, is explicitly teach comprehension strategies.
Shahina explained that there are 8 comprehension strategies which we apparently consciously or unconsciously use to make sense of what we read (you’ve probably just used several of them reading that last sentence!). Research and the work done by Wayne in a number of east London schools has shown that learning just one or two of these strategies can have a positive impact on reading performance.
Central to Wayne’s approach to developing children’s core comprehension skills is the belief that it’s only by talking to the children, to understand what is going on in their head, that we can know for certain that they’ve understood a text. It’s for this reason that, once a child has read or listened to the text, the Bug Club Comprehension programme has a session devoted entirely to talk.
Based around 3 key questions relating to the text - a looking, a clue and a thinking question - the teacher is able to guide and look for evidence of deep comprehension, in particular inference, taking place as the children discuss, challenge and reflect on what has been read or listened to.
As I’m sure was the case with all the sessions, 45 minutes flew by and made some in that room question the effectiveness of what is being currently delivered under the guise of Guided Comprehension.
The @Beyond Levels #LearningFirst workshop on ‘An approach to guided comprehension and dialogic teaching as advocated by Dr Wayne Tennant’ was delivered by Shahina Burnett (Education Consultant, Pearson).