Developing Lifelong Readers at Dulwich College Suzhou

Reading at Dulwich College Suzhou

Over the last two years the DUCKS and Junior School teams have devoted an incredible amount of dedicated effort to discussing, researching and planning out an effective model for Reading. Our goal was to develop a systematic approach to Reading that would get our students from “‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’”. 

In DUCKS, we identified six key words that serve as the foundation for our goal: motivated, engaged, inspired, skilled, fluent and independent. Immediately, we started by developing our DUCKS library. We knew that in order to engage children and motivate them to be independent readers our book collection had to be made up of a variety of high-quality texts such as leveled readers, literature books, poetry books, information texts, etc. Exposing children to a range of high-quality texts will develop their interest in and enjoyment of reading, which will lead to increased exposure to words, sentence structures, rhymes, rhythms, etc. Then, we researched the components of an effective Reading programme and found that the effective teaching of Reading includes developing a child’s phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension skills, with special consideration to the explicit teaching of handwriting. With all this knowledge under our belt, we were ready to plan and implement a holistic approach to Reading in DUCKS.

In Foundation Stage (FS), interest in Reading is developed by modeling good reading behaviours. Teachers set up books throughout the environment related to different areas of learning and interests. Opportunities for one-to-one and small group reading are seized upon by teachers and used as opportunities to develop students’ phonemic awareness and vocabulary, deepen knowledge and promote questioning. Carpet times are used for planned Reading sessions in which a particular story might be developed over time and scaffolded through the use of role-playing, games, sequencing activities, etc. In FS2, texts are also used to scaffold learning in Maths or Inquiry. Additionally, in FS2, teachers help pave the path toward early reading by supporting children with developing their phonics skills, i.e. grapheme-phoneme correlations, letter formation, sounding out and blending for reading and segmenting for spelling. 

In KS1, Reading is taught discreetly after morning break. Students in Year 1 and 2 are grouped into small reading groups according to their level, which is assessed using our ‘Assess and Progress’ assessment tool. When assessing reading levels we focus on decoding, fluency and comprehension of a text. Grouping students into small reading groups allows them to receive the support and attention that they need to move along their learning journey. Reading lessons might look different in KS1, depending on students’ previous learning. For beginner and emerging readers, teachers will focus on developing students’ word recognition, which includes phonic skills, letter formation, sight word recognition, vocabulary and literacy knowledge. Once students are more proficient readers, teachers will help expand their skills by developing their language comprehension skills, which includes active listening, reasoning, questioning, connecting, vocabulary development, knowledge of sentence structures, etc. Thus, It is through this process that students transition from beginner to independent readers and begin perceiving reading as a tool for learning. 

However, the path toward becoming an independent reader paved in DUCKS does not actually end in DUCKS, it continues on into Junior School. At Dulwich College Suzhou Junior School we have a skills-based approach to reading, guided by the principles of Destination Reader. Destination reader is an approach to reading, developed in the UK and has two central foci; the developing of reading skills and the fostering of learning behaviours to enhance understanding. The texts are very carefully chosen, are age-appropriate and are linked to the topic. Children will be immersed in a range of text types, such as stories, poems, non-fiction texts, and playscripts.

Reading is taught first thing every morning. We focus on a set of seven discrete reading skills – predicting, clarifying, making links, evaluating, inferring, questioning and summarising – immersing the children in different skill every two weeks. These skills are also applied during other lessons, for example we encourage children to ask open and meaningful questions in and expect children to try to independently clarify unfamiliar terms in every lesson. The children are provided with sentence stems and starters, in order to guide meaningful discussion about the text. The children are expected to ask each other deep and probing questions and then to build on, or challenge each other’s views respectfully. The learning behaviours that we expect the children to be able to demonstrate are actively listening to others, discussing and explaining the text and to take responsibility for their own and each other’s learning. We, of course, expect to see these learning behaviours being demonstrated by every child in every lesson and the reading time is an excellent time to explicitly teach those learning skills.

Children in the older year groups spend a few days recapping a skill and then begin to combine the strategies to reading. Children who are not yet at a certain reading level are in smaller more intensive reading groups, called Daily Supported Reading, in order to make accelerated progress. Daily Supported Reading groups provide a small group reading environment for less confident readers and users of English. In these groups, children learn the key skills that will be required of them in mainstream classes. The sentence stems used in mainstream Destination Reader are used alongside levelled books, chosen to fit the reading ability of our children. This allows children to practise reading aloud, using models for answering questions about the text, and sharing ideas amongst a small number of peers. The reading can be set to the pace of the children and each child gets more opportunity to read aloud and be heard reading by the adult leader, thanks to the small group size. Children move groups after assessments are completed several times throughout the year, working towards eventually joining mainstream Destination Reader sessions with greater confidence.

By: Carolina Carpanzano, Head of Communication and Language DUCKS

& Neve Mealey, 4S Class Teacher and English Lead