The GL Assessment report: ‘Read All About It’ (26/2/20) found that 20% of all 15-year-olds have a reading age of 11 and below, and 10% have a reading age of 9 and below.
Of course, these averages mask the real differences between schools and when entitlement to Free School Meals is factored in, some schools may have over 20% of students with reading ages in excess of 7 years behind their chronological age. These students are going to need considerable support if they are to achieve a Grade 4 in GCSE English Language.
What reading difficulties do these students have?
- Unreliable decoding skills
- Significant language deficit among first language English speakers
- Slow reading pace resulting in poor comprehension
- Inability to ‘read between the lines’ for inferential comprehension
- Lack of confidence in their abilities
They may also find the exam daunting due to the raised standard of marks needed to achieve each grade at GCSE and the fact that students of all abilities sit the same paper. Outlining the challenge is easy enough. Doing something about it requires a coherent and consistent policy for supporting these students from the moment they arrive in Year 7.
And that’s where Rapid Plus can help you
Rapid Plus is a collection of resources - texts, in-built text support, comprehensive teaching notes, photocopiables and a digital subscription that enable you to support students across the whole range of GCSE English Language requirements that will give them the best possible chance to achieve that coveted Grade 4 at GCSE.
The first priority in any support materials for Key Stage 3 or 4 is that they appeal to the students. We all know that if students are not engaged, then they are not going to be motivated to improve. Rapid Plus has high-interest, visually appealing, age-appropriate texts that have been finely levelled to match the needs of underperforming students. The lowest level Rapid Plus texts are for students with a Reading Age of 6.6 and the highest level texts are for students with a Reading Age of 9.6. The texts are short and because of the careful progression in difficulty, students quickly experience real success in reading which boosts their confidence. Although short, the Rapid Plus texts are full of content for discussion about characterisation, plot devices and themes.
But Rapid Plus isn’t just about reading books – it’s about all the other reading skills – revisiting, reflecting and responding both orally and in writing.
Each of the GCSE assessment focuses has a corresponding match within Rapid Plus:
|GCSE English Language
||44 stories from Level 3 (Reading Age 6.6) to Level 9 (Reading Age 9.6)
||Text comprehension questions – literal, inferential and personal response on each Fiction and Non-fiction Quiz pages
44 texts from Level 3 (Reading Age 6.6 to Level 9 (Reading Age 9.6)
Non-fiction features explored on each Quiz page
||Follow-up photocopiables for each text covering word-level skills and extended writing
||Vocabulary questions on the Quiz pages of each Plays (Rapid Plus 7-9)
||Follow-up photocopiables focusing on grammar
|Responding to questions
Detailed guided reading notes for each text
Guidance for using evidence from the text to answer questions
||Plays to read in each Rapid 7-9 book which provide the opportunity for students to practise fluency and build self-confidence in reading aloud
With Rapid Plus, students get to practise all these skills reading texts they enjoy and where they know themselves to be successful.
Small group work
Rapid Plus is designed to be used in small groups, so students have the opportunity to improve their oral communication as they discuss the books. They benefit from peer-learning and hearing different opinions which prepares them for evaluating texts critically in their GCSE.
The structure of each Rapid Plus book
Each Rapid Plus text has a Before Reading page which tunes the students in to the text and a Quiz page which directs them to reflect upon their reading. These features build the habit of pre-reading and reading reflection which underpin techniques such as SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review). Regular practice in answering inferential comprehension means students are familiar with these questions when faced with them at GCSE.
Many students who find reading difficult have a limited vocabulary, particularly the vocabulary of the printed word. It is estimated that comprehension depends on understanding 95% of the words in the text. Some students may only understand 10%. Failure to understand the word – even if you have decoded it – means these students are unable to unlock the meaning of a text. Rapid Plus extends students’ vocabulary in a variety of ways:
- The vocabulary used in the Rapid Plus texts is carefully controlled. That is, the number of different words introduced in each text is restricted so that the student is not faced with lots of words they do not understand.
- Each Before Reading page has a list of ‘New Vocabulary’ that the supporting adult can introduce to the students before the text is read. This technique familiarises students using the Glossary in GCSE Paper 1.
- The Quiz page after each play specifically targets vocabulary extension.
A note from the author
I know from experience that working with students who find reading difficult is one of the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of teaching. Creating Rapid Plus was a really exciting project. There was so much I wanted to pack in! I knew we had to have books that students wouldn’t be embarrassed to pick up. The books needed to look ‘cool’ (or as cool as anything in school can ever be!). They needed to be on topics that appeal to the age-group – fame, crime, horror and the supernatural. But at the same time, they needed to be at the right reading levels so that students wouldn’t feel defeated.
I also wanted to make the ‘teaching’ of reading skills integral to the books themselves, so that the supporting adult could get the most out of each group or individual reading session. That’s why most of the question, respond and reflect elements in Rapid Plus are actually in the books in the form of the Before Reading pages and the end of reading Quiz pages.
Many of the teaching techniques embedded in Rapid Plus are ones I first used when creating the Catch Up Literacy (www.catchup.org). My experience in devising that very successful intervention convinced me of the importance of making each structured 15-minute reading session include: tuning students into reading tasks, assessing their oral reading, assessing their comprehension and completing a linked writing activity based on the focused teaching of the session.
Too often, students who find reading difficult are offered a menu of reading tasks that, to the students at least, seem disjointed. For example, I have seen situations where students have a phonics session in the morning; time in the library later in the day reading an online text and answering questions; and then being ‘heard to read’ by a reading volunteer. Whilst all of these activities have benefits, the student experience is fragmented and requires the student to make the links between isolated bits of reading practice. With Catch Up (and Rapid Plus), I wanted something more holistic. My reward is when I get feedback from students along the lines of – ‘Have you any more books like those?’ ‘Can we just get started?'
Dee taught in Secondary Schools before re-training for Primary. She later taught on the B.Ed course at Oxford Brookes University and has run teaching literacy courses for teachers all over the world. In 1978 with colleagues Diana Bentley and Suzi Clipson-Boyles, Dee created Catch Up Literacy, an intervention programme used in over 6,000 schools.
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