As schools across the UK celebrate Libraries Week (8-13 October), NACE Associate Judith Mason outlines seven approaches to ensuring more able readers are effectively challenged and supported. For more ideas and in-depth exploration of this topic, join Judith’s upcoming workshop, “Challenging more able learners in English” and follow the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign on Twitter (details below).

Reading provides a wide range of opportunities to challenge more able learners and there’s certainly an abundance of wonderful books to share and explore. In my visits to schools I’ve been able to see some great teaching that has really inspired children to read and challenged their thinking. Here are my thoughts on some of the strategies that seem to work well in providing challenge in reading…

1. Cultivate independent reading for pleasure

For all children, it’s important to foster a love for reading. Children who enjoy reading are more likely to read well. And developing reading for pleasure and positive attitudes to reading is part of the English National Curriculum. There are lots of ways to encourage readers – and some ways that can put them off! Even our more able readers might sometimes enjoy re-reading an old favourite that seems rather easy for them. Of course, there can be enjoyment in tackling something harder and we need to encourage that too. Give them some choice – but also give them recommendations to extend the range of reading and try something new. 

2. Select quality texts to teach reading

Choosing the right texts is really important. Again, we need to consider texts that will appeal to the children and provide motivation for reading, especially if they have to dig deeper into the meaning. Select texts with multiple challenge opportunities – through the theme or subject matter (which may be outside the children’s direct experience), the complexity of the sentence construction, unfamiliar vocabulary, narrative style, the organisation of the text or the visual features. By recognising the potential to explore these different opportunities, we can provide challenge for our more able readers – and also ensure that we give the right support for all readers to make sense of more challenging texts. Think about the different opportunities for learning, not only what must be learned.

3. Ask authentic questions

In discussion about a text, there is an opportunity to explore different ideas and views and to ask children to give their reasons for them. It can help to start the discussion with a really good, genuine question. Value and encourage different responses – though you can challenge them too.

4. Develop dialogue about reading

Encourage children to think about the ideas and views of others. Act as a “conductor” to build exchanges between them that develops thinking. Ask one child to respond to another, to add a comment or to ask another question. As teachers, we can add information into the discussion to develop knowledge and understanding, as well as asking our own questions in response to children’s comments. Deeper comprehension is more likely to be developed in this way than through written answers to a list of questions with little discussion.

5. Develop independent reading strategies

To read more challenging texts independently, children need to use a range of strategies and even more able readers may need to be taught how to use them. For example, it may help them to visualise what is happening where there is a lot of different information, to summarise to make sense of longer passages or to use prediction to develop the skill of inference.

6. Provide different ways to explore and respond to reading

Drama is often a great way to explore texts in depth, for example a character’s feelings or motivation at different points in the narrative. It can also be a great way to try using unfamiliar language. It can also be helpful to give children some choice in the way they respond to a text, through their own art, creative writing, film or on-screen presentation. 

7. Provide guidance for parents/carers

We often provide guidance for parents/carers to help their children when they are first developing as readers. Older and more able readers are then sometimes left to read on their own. This of course can be fine and it’s a joy to see children engrossed in a book, laughing to themselves at the humour or turning the pages as quickly as they can to find out what happens next. But just as dialogue about reading is good in the classroom, it can also be helpful at home. Providing some discussion points for parents – or for the children to use with their parents – is another helpful strategy.

Finally, be ambitious for all children. Present challenge opportunities that they can all access. They may surprise you!

To explore these ideas in more depth, and for a range of practical strategies to challenge and support more able learners in English, join NACE’s upcoming workshops:

Challenging more able learners in English (KS1-2)
27 November 2018
View the full programme and book your place.
Challenging more able learners in English (KS3-4)
6 December 2018
View the full programme and book your place.

Education consultant Judith Mason has over 30 years’ experience working with a wide range of schools, and holds national accreditation as a School Improvement Partner and a Local Consultant for Improvement. Specialising in English, she has served as an English consultant for the National Literacy Strategy, created teaching materials for the Scholastic publication Literacy Time, and delivered training to support the teaching and leadership of English. As a NACE associate, Judith provides consultancy and CPD for schools working to improve provision for the more able in this key curriculum area.

NACE is proud to be supporting the School Library Association (SLA)'s Great School Libraries campaign 
– a three-year campaign dedicated to raising the profile of school libraries. For ideas and inspiration to improve your school library, check out these six signs your school library is meeting the needs of all learners, shared by the SLA's Alison Tarrant.

Header image: ID 8728846 © Sergeitelegin |

Monday, October 8, 2018