Right, it’s been a long half term and it’s cold outside, so let’s start with a joke:
After a lovely day out in the countryside, a tourist is driving back to his hotel when he realises he’s lost. There’s no mobile phone signal and his satnav isn’t working either. He drives up and down the same country lanes, growing crosser and crosser. Eventually he spots a man leaning against a gate, so he pulls over to ask for directions. The local man gives the matter some thought before replying, ‘Well if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.’
I said we’d start with a joke, but I didn’t say it was a very funny joke.
I was a Year 6 teacher in London for many years and at this time of year, when the national tests are beginning to loom large, I’d often find myself thinking about the range of different starting points in my class.
For one week in May, Year 6 children across the country are tested on their reading, mathematics, and grammar, punctuation and spelling. They’ll also have their writing assessed. The national tests don’t provide a definitive answer about how good a child is at a particular subject or how good they’ll be at it in the future. They don’t tell us how accomplished they are in other important areas of the curriculum such as art, sport or music. What they do is give a snapshot of where the children are in these core areas of the curriculum on that particular day. Regardless of their starting point, every child sits the same tests.
In an ideal world, every child would approach the national tests from the very best starting point possible. With the reading test, ideally every child would start from a point where they were already a keen and confident reader, having read and discussed a wide range of rich and engaging texts. They’d be able to talk with confidence about the books and poems they’d read, and respond articulately to a text in writing. They would have had seven years of studying the curriculum they were going to be tested on, and all they’d need in Year 6 would be the chance to go out and show what they could do. In the real world, that isn’t the case. Unfortunately circumstances mean that not every child arrives in Year 6 at that perfect starting point. Because of their starting point, some children (and indeed some classes) need a bit of support if they’re going to do the best that they can. What’s important is that the support we give children in Year 6 is focused on improving children’s reading rather than simply on their scores in the tests. Like every Year 6 teacher, I wanted the children I taught to do the best that they could in the tests. I wanted them to succeed and leave primary school feeling confident in their abilities. But what was more important was helping children to develop the skills and knowledge that the tests are supposed to measure.
Thankfully, there are some things we can do as teachers to help the children we teach to become better readers and to show this through their performance in the Key Stage 2 reading test.
To help anyone who’s not starting from the perfect place, I’ve worked with Oxford University Press to create a Key Stage 2 Reading Test Toolkit. The toolkit brings together advice and free resources to help Year 6 teachers to help their class to succeed in the Key Stage 2 reading test. The toolkit outlines five practical strategies for busy teachers to help the children they teach to become keen and confident readers:
- Focus on key comprehension strategies
- Support children’s vocabulary development
- Build children’s fluency and reading stamina
- Teach children to respond to texts in writing
- Draw on and focus parents’ support
For each of the strategies, there are additional resources including documents, films and practical activities to use with children in class.
My time as a Year 6 teacher taught me that reading at primary school is about more than the national tests. That’s why the ideas and resources in the toolkit have been developed to support children to achieve their best in the Key Stage 2 reading test, but more importantly, to become confident lifelong readers, with all of the benefits that brings.
You can access the films and all of the other resources for free on Oxford Owl. If you haven’t already, you’ll simply need to register for free at www.oxfordowl.co.uk to access the resources.
James Clements is a member of the Advisory Board for Oxford Owl, Oxford Primary’s platform, home to online subscriptions and free teaching and learning resources. For ten years, James worked as a teacher and senior leader at a successful primary school in London. For seven of those years he taught Year 6. James is now an education writer and researcher, working with schools and academics trying to find out what makes great English teaching. James is the founder of the education website Shakespeare and More.
You can follow James on Twitter: @James_ShMore