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The 'simple view of reading', in the Independent review of the teaching of early reading (the Rose Report), identifies two dimensions to reading: word recognition and language comprehension. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading but this goal cannot be achieved unless children can recognise the words on the page.

There are a range of language skills and cognitive resources that play a part in developing reading comprehension, including the important roles of inference and deduction (reasoning), imagining and predicting. The explicit teaching of certain strategies such as summarising and recognising degrees of importance can support the reader's comprehension.

Reading comprehension is a highly interactive process that takes place between a reader and a text. Individual readers will bring variable levels of skills and experiences to these interactions. These include language skills, cognitive resources and world knowledge. Any act of reading occurs within a particular sociocultural and emotional context. This consists of elements such as the child's home culture, their previous experiences of reading and being read to, their expectations that reading should carry meaning, their motivation, their view of themselves as a reader, the purpose for reading the text, the cultural value placed on reading and the reading environments the reader experiences. While the purpose of this document is to concentrate on looking closely at the development of comprehension skills, this broader context and its influences should be borne in mind.

(From DCSF, 2006, Primary National Strategy)

When do we teach reading comprehension?

We want to encourage children to become enthusiastic, autonomous and thoughtful readers who not only decode the text but understand and engage with what they are reading. Teaching is central to this. Literacy lessons provide the context for direct teaching and application of reading comprehension strategies across the primary age range. The strategies can be applied to picture books as well as more complex texts. The wider reading environment in the classroom and school provides further opportunities for extensive reading.

Shared reading

Demonstrate how to use a range of comprehension strategies:

  • model active engagement with the text, for example rehearsing prior knowledge, generating mental images,
  • making connections with other texts;
  • plan opportunities for children to interact and collaborate, for example ask ‘why’ questions, make comparisons between texts;
  • demonstrate how fluent readers monitor and clarify their understanding, for example encourage reciprocal teaching;
  • plan opportunities to interpret and respond to the text, for example teach strategies for using inference and deduction.

Plan direct instruction so that children can:

  • develop a wider vocabulary;
  • understand why words are spelt in a particular way;
  • learn to read and spell an increasing number of words by sight.

Guided Reading

Support children as they:

  • apply word level learning to decode words;
  • actively engage with the text;
  • monitor their own understanding and prompt them to utilise different strategies when solving reading problems.

Scaffold opportunities for children to use different reading comprehension strategies, for example using the strategy modelled in the shared reading session and applying it to a new text. Encourage children to explain how they solved a word problem. Encourage personal response and reflection.

Independent Reading

Expect children to:

  • use word level learning independently;
  • monitor their own understanding and choose an appropriate strategy when necessary;
  • engage with and respond to texts, for example in a reading journal.

The Wider Reading Environment

Encourage extensive reading:

  • ensure regular opportunities for independent, extended reading;
  • provide access to a wide range of quality reading materials;
  • provide opportunities and resources to read for a range of purposes across the curriculum;
  • plan a read aloud programme for all ages;
  • provide story props, puppets and artefacts for retelling stories;
  • plan opportunities for children to use the class collections and the school library;
  • promote reading at home;
  • organise a regular author focus in each class;
  • organise special events, for example book weeks, author visits, storytellers, book sales, book awards, etc.
  • celebrate personal reading achievements, e.g. book awards, reading heroes and advocates, displays, etc.

(From DfES, 2005, Understanding Reading Comprehension 1)