In 1997, the incoming UK government provided The National Literacy Strategy, a ‘steady and consistent’1 means of raising standards of literacy, in English primary schools. The motive behind raising these standards was for the economy because if the levels of literacy were to low in a significant proportion of the population, then the economy could have shattering consequences. In a report on the impact of literacy, education and training on the UK Economy, the accountants Ernst and Young estimate that;
“60% of all jobs now require reasonable reading skills…”2
and goes on to warn that UK productivity is relatively low compared with its major competitors” Whilst in opposition, the government had set up a ‘Literacy Task force’, which set out a National Literacy Strategy designed to raise these standards in English primary schools across the UK. Targets were set and by 2002, 80% of year six children were expected to reach level four or above in the Key Stage 2 English tests.
The Framework inside the National Literacy Strategy had been derived from means developed by the previous government in the ‘National Literacy Project’, also aimed to raise standards of literacy but only in a specified number of LEA’s.
This Framework sets out teaching objectives from reception through to year six to enable children to become fully literate and it provides a useful structure of class and time management for the daily Literacy hour. It is also expected that extra time may be needed for the allocation of reading to the class, pupils’ own independent reading for interest and pleasure and extended writing as well as Literacy being productively linked to other curriculum areas. The main objectives that the framework focuses on is three broad divisions of literacy, these include word level work, e.g. phonics, vocabulary, spelling, and handwriting, sentence level work, e.g. punctuation and grammar. And finally text level work, e.g. comprehension and composition. The National Literacy Strategy gives examples of what a literate primary pupil should be able to do, for example,
“read and write with confidence, fluency and understanding;
be able to orchestrate a full range of reading cues (phonic, graphic,
syntactic, contextual) to monitor their reading and correct their own
As far as children’s progress in reading is concerned the National Literacy Strategy states that from the outset children must understand that words are made up of letters and these letters correspond with spoken sounds. In Key Stage 1, they should be taught to check their reading for sense, using grammar and the meaning of the text. This should then help them identify errors and correct them, not only whilst in Key Stage 1 but Key Stage 2 and beyond. Methods of teaching reading suggested by the National Literacy Strategy include, shared reading, guided reading and individual reading, each playing an important part in the learning to read process.
Shared reading involves the whole class using a text e.g. a ‘big book’, text extract or poster. Here the teacher leads the reading pointing as she goes, with the children joining in. This method was developed by teachers working with Don Holdaway (1979) in New Zealand and has advantages that can over ride some of the difficulties that teachers experience with regular books, for example the book can be shared by the whole class and every one can see the print, the teacher can direct the children’s reading by pointing to indicate where they start reading and can bring to attention certain words, punctuation, graphology quicker by indicating using a finger or pointing tool.
Holdaway’s idea of shared reading and ‘carpet time’ is to re-invent the ‘bed-time story’ and create a homely routine that can be practised in the classroom, and allow all the children to have intimate access to the book. From my own experience of shared reading I find that the children enjoy this part of literacy hour because of the intimacy and informal set up of the classroom. I found that even years five and six enjoy ‘carpet time’ because it brings the class closer together and the formal classroom atmosphere almost disappears. Research by Lloyd Eldredge, Ray Rentzel and Paul Hollingsworth at Brigham Young University proved that this method was more successful than previous methods i.e. round robin.
“After four months, the shared reading group had significantly higher
scores on tests of reading fluency, vocabulary acquisition and
comprehension. There was evidence that the supported reading
experience of the shared reading group had the greatest impact on
the word recognition abilities of the pupils who initially were the poorest
In this situation I found the children more likely to ask questions about the text or the vocabulary used and children who were not used to reading or seemed distanced when reading individual work were more alert and interactive and able to work from texts beyond their independent reading levels.
From being in a classroom one of the difficulties I have noticed, especially in the reading progress, is coping with differentiated groups. This is where guided reading comes into action. As with shared reading, guided reading helps children to progress by developing a deeper and clearer understanding than might be achieved individually. Talking to the teacher and their peers whilst reading a text can develop skills such as critical perspectives, predicting plot developments and being able to extract key points in a text. As well as being developed for the children’s progress, guided reading was introduced to make more efficient use of the teacher’s time. A report by OFSTED (1996) found teachers spending too much time listening to each child read. Guided reading has been developed so the teacher is in a position to focus on points tat are relevant for the whole ability group rather than individuals. It has also been noted that
“boys respond more positively to active and interactive nature of
such readings…” 5
This sounds all very well but drawing on my own experience I find it does not always work like that. When the teacher is working with one group, the other groups do not work to their standard, either because a discussion has turned into an argument, the children are having difficulties and there is no one to help or they have lost concentration. However, for what ever the reason the children are distracted, this part of the lesson seems to be a difficult section to maintain the standards and expectations as stated in the National Literacy Strategy.
On my first placement I saw a different approach to guided reading, in the form of reading in pairs, a year six child and a year three child were ‘reading partners. I believe that this ‘reading partner’ technique should play a bigger part in the National Literacy Strategy than it already does. At present all it states in the document is;
“to enable other pupils to work independently – individually, in pairs
or in groups – without recourse to the teacher” 6
In the situation I witnessed where an older child choose a book for a younger peer and listened to him reading it, was a valuable experience for both children. The year three enjoyed the attention from the older child and seemed highly motivated in his reading. The year six however, gained experience in choosing books for other people, rather than reading a book he was thinking about suitable content, language and illustrations for the younger child to enjoy. This is an excellent way in which to offer a meaningful context for children to consider these different aspects of the reading process. For the year three child this partnership allowed for development within the zone of proximal development, this is Vygotsky’s description where;
“what a child can do with assistance today she will be able to do by her
Also for the older child the routine is challenging as it enforces a different thinking.
In the same twenty minute period as guided reading the National Literacy Strategy also expects some individual work to take place. The objectives for these are stated in the document and include;
“independent reading and writing…
proof reading and editing…
The National Literacy Strategy also states that;
“pupils should be trained not to interrupt the teacher and there
should be sufficient resources and alterative strategy’s for them
to fall back on if they get stuck” 9
Having taught a literacy lesson I find this last quote ironic. The whole point of having a teacher is to teach the children to read and here it says the children must be ‘trained not to interrupt the teacher’. I am speaking from my own experience when I say that no matter how many resources or alternative strategies you offer children, the child will always come to the teacher first. However, I do agree with the fact that children should be taught and learn, not train, to find information and solve difficulties using alternatives such as a CD-ROM or a dictionary.
Other strategies that are discussed in the National Literacy Strategy that will forward their progression in reading include; Direction, this is to enable the pupils to know what they are doing, to draw attention to key points and to develop key strategies in reading and writing. Another example is modelling; pupils are to discuss features of written texts through the process of shared reading of books and extracts.
From first hand experience I believe that the National Literacy Strategy, along with other documents i.e. National Numeracy Strategy, will benefit children and teachers and make primary pupils more literate. The structured routine is consistent and concise throughout Key Stage one and Key Stage two however, for a teacher to meet these standards and produce high quality work from the children as well as making lessons, discursive, interactive, well-paced, confident and ambitious (as stated in the National Literacy Strategy) is a demanding challenge.
In 1992, Jaap Scheerens meta-analysed research from across the world and provided factors which affect schools and their performance. His research showed structured teaching was important and defined this as;
“making clear what has to be learnt, dividing material into manageable
units, teaching in a well – considered sequence…regular testing,
His research also showed that whole class teaching is often more effective than individualised teaching and the time spent on subjects and how the children are inspired, challenged and praised all increase learning activity.
The National Literacy Strategy incorporates most of Scheerens findings and because of the way it is set out as a ‘uniform’ for the whole country to follow, I believe standards could be raised. However, I also believe that the way children are taught to read and understand texts by using extracts and part of texts could be damaging to the pupil. It makes reading seem un-enjoyable and this is exactly what the National Literacy Strategy is trying to avoid. Most of the children I have worked with have enjoyed the Literacy Hour more when they can work on a text they have read all the way through and they feel they have a better understanding and better liking of the text.
* Eldredge, J.L., Reutzel, D.R., and Hollingsworth, P.M., 1996, Comparing the Effectiveness of Two Oral Reading Practices: Round-Robin and the Shared Book Experience, Journal of Literacy Research.
* Ernst & Young, 1993, Literacy, Education and Training: Their impact on the UK economy
* Graham, J., Kelly, A., Reading Under Control, Teaching Reading in the Primary School, 2000
* Literacy Task Force, 1997b The Implementation of the National Literacy Strategy, DFEE
* National Literacy Strategy, Introduction, 1998,DFEE
* Scheerens, J., 1992, Effective Schooling: Research, Theory and Practice
* Vygotsky, L., 1962, Thought and Language
1 Literacy Task Force, 1997b The Implementation of the National Literacy Strategy, DFEE
2 Ernst & Young, 1993, Literacy, Education and Training: Their impact on the UK economy
3 National Literacy Strategy, Introduction, 1998, DFEE
4 Eldredge, J.L., Reutzel, D.R., and Hollingsworth, P.M., 1996, Comparing the Effectiveness of Two Oral Reading Practices: Round-Robin and the Shared Book Experience, Journal of Literacy Research.
5 Graham, J., Kelly, A., Reading Under Control, Teaching Reading in the Primary School, 2000
6 National Literacy Strategy, Introduction p 12, 1998, DFEE
7 Vygotsky, L., 1962, Thought and Language
8 National Literacy Strategy, Introduction p 13, 1998, DFEE
9 National Literacy Strategy, Introduction p 12, 1998, DFEE
10 Scheerens, J., 1992, Effective Schooling: Research, Theory and Practice