EEF Blog: Reading aloud with your class – what does the research say?

The EEF's next Teacher Choices trial The Story Time Trial – was chosen because it explores a topic primary school teachers told us is of real interest and relevance to them: different ways of reading aloud to their class. In this blog, our senior associate Megan Dixon looks at the underpinning research and how we hope this trial will contribute to the evidence base...

The EEF’s Teacher Choices trials are a new type of trial testing the everyday choices teachers make when planning their lessons and supporting their students. To do that successfully, we want to test choices that reflect a careful balance between teacher voice and voices from research.

For our second of these trials, The Story Time Trial, we started with the teacher voice, asking primary school teachers what they were interesting in learning about. The most popular suggestion was to explore different ways of reading aloud to the class.

In most primary schools, the teacher will read aloud to their children regularly. When we asked how teachers read aloud, we discovered that, in some classes, teachers read the text aloud, without pausing, aiming to immerse the class in the story. In other classes, teachers will pause regularly and ask questions designed to prompt the children to think about what they are hearing.

Many of the teachers who responded to our survey suggested they believed reading aloud is a communal, social, enjoyable act that serves to unite the class as a community. In addition, many suggested they felt reading aloud and asking questions helped children improve their own reading comprehension skills.

But what do the research voices say?

The ‘Simple View of Reading’, proposed by psychologists Philip Gough and William Tunmer (1986), defines reading comprehension as the outcome of an interaction between word reading (decoding) and spoken language comprehension. The act of reading aloud to the class from a challenging text may support the development of the children’s spoken language comprehension and therefore contribute to their reading comprehension skills.

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Using this ‘Simple View of Reading’ as a starting point, Kate Cain and Jane Oakhill (2012) investigated what predicted both reading comprehension and word reading accuracy in readers between Year 3 (7-8 year-olds) and Year 6 (10-11 year-olds).

They found that vocabulary knowledge and verbal reasoning made significant, unique contributions to the prediction of comprehension ability in both Year 3 and Year 6. Three comprehension components inference, comprehension monitoring, and knowledge and use of story structure emerged as distinct predictors of reading comprehension in Year 6. In contrast, early measures of word reading accuracy and phonemic awareness predicted the children’s performance only in Year 3.

Cain and Oakhill concluded that the development of word reading skills is time-limited and typically secured within the first few years of teaching. Vocabulary knowledge, verbal reasoning, inference, comprehension monitoring, and knowledge and understanding of story structure were important skills to keep developing.

These findings have been echoed by other researchers. Teaching reading comprehension strategies is included in the EEF Toolkit; indeed, it is one of the most-visited pages on our website. We know that the teaching of those reading strategies, in small groups, as a targeted intervention in upper Key Stage 2 helps. Reading aloud, and helping children develop these skills by asking questions, may be a useful approach to developing reading comprehension skills.

Reading acquisition as a social and cultural act

Sociology provides another angle on the teaching of reading. Reading can be perceived as the interaction between the reader, the text and writer, and the social and cultural perspectives they explore: the act of deriving meaning from the communicative acts of others. By being exposed to a wide range of literature, children develop a depth of knowledge that supports them to comprehend and the motivation to read widely themselves.

Developing a reading habit is perceived as helping students to get better at reading. Teresa Cremin et al (2014) suggest that the acquisition of the habit of reading is helped when teachers build communities of readers in their classrooms, developing a love of reading and the motivation to do so – building both the will and the skill. Likewise, Jerrim and Moss (2018) argue that reading fiction is a predictor of long-term academic success..

But these studies are correlational. They point to relationships between activities in the classroom and the children’s attainment, but don’t tell us if the children who are higher attaining chose to read more, or whether reading more leads to higher attainment. Maybe letting children immerse themselves in a story for pleasure, motivation, and enjoyment may lead to improved reading comprehension skills.

It appears there is no consensus over whether one way of reading aloud to a whole class is more effective for ensuring children comprehend the text they are listening to. We hope The Story Time Trial will help us to understand a little more.

Regardless of its results, it is important to remember that sharing a text aloud with a class will always be just one part of the smorgsboard of teaching opportunities there are in the classroom. As our teacher survey showed, the sheer delight in sharing wonderful texts with students must not be undervalued. We are in the business of educating children in the broadest sense and reading together can create a powerful sense of being in the moment surely an active ingredient in the education of every child!

Interested in taking part in The Story Time Trial? 

We have received great interest in taking part in the Story Time Trial and have reached our recruitment target very quickly. If you are interested in being involved in further Teacher Choices trials, please subscribe to receive our email new alerts: eef.li/news-alerts.

References

Gough, P. and Tunmer, W. 1986. Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.

Oakhill, J., & Cain, K. (2012). The precursors of reading ability in young readers: evidence from a four-year longitudinal study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 16(2), 91-121. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888438.2010.529219

Cremin, T., Mottram, M.,Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, Kimberly. (2014). Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure.

Jerrim, J. and Moss, G. (2018). The link between fiction and teenagers’ reading skills: International evidence from the OECD PISA study. British Educational Research Journal. 45. 10.1002/berj.3498.