What can we learn from this year’s Year 6 reading test?

Published by The Literacy Company on

Another year of national testing is over. Whatever your thoughts on the test itself - its readability, the appropriateness of the texts, the expectations on pupil’s vocabulary, or whether our 10- and 11-year olds should even be subjected to it - there’s lots we can learn to inform next year’s teaching and not just in year 6.

The first aspect to consider is our own questioning. Are we exposing pupils to a wide variety of questioning language? The current STA favourite, ‘What impressions do you get of…’, appeared twice in both this year’s and last year’s papers. Children are rarely asked for their ‘impressions’ in everyday life and so struggle to answer such questions. With a little training, it’s not a difficult concept for them to explore, but it does require direct teaching and should not lie at the doorstep of the year 6 teacher to introduce. Reaching the expected standard is a team effort and right across key stage 2 teachers should be considering different ways to phrase the questions they ask. Whatever questioning language the test developers have dreamt up for us next year our pupils need to be prepared.

The next point to consider is our expectations of pupils’ answers. As teachers, we need to behave more like a mark scheme in our approach to pupils’ responses, requiring detail and precision. Do we press for a variety of different answers or do we stop at one? Can pupils pull from the text all the possible answers? This year’s Qu25 was a great example of where lack of precision and an inability to draw a selection of answers may have let pupils down.

First, consider the fact that the pupil has been asked to ‘Look at the whole text’ – all 638 words of it. You will have had pupils who didn’t read the headings carefully enough and so answered incorrectly. This is test technique and we need to find ways of ensuring our pupils have this, without subjecting them to hours of needless testing. There are fun ways to address this that I will come onto shortly.

What about those who read and understood the question and found suitable responses? Generally, mark scheme convention is that the acceptable points are listed in the order of likelihood that pupils will use them and so ‘1. plant bee-friendly flowers’ is expected to be the response that most children will write. They are only going to be allowed to make this point once and so pupils who write ‘1. Only have bee-friendly flowers’ followed by ‘2. Plant foxgloves and lavender’ are repeating themselves even though they have said different things. By asking pupils to group their responses to a question as a class, they can begin to understand when they have repeated themselves in a test situation.

Furthermore, the first part of the question had seven possible acceptable points. Challenging pupils to find them all is one way of ensuring they are adept at identifying a range of correct responses so as to avoid repetition. Adapting gameshows such as ‘Tenable’ or ‘Who Dares Wins’ are great ways of making this kind of learning enjoyable. Play a game of ‘Nineable’ with your class – pit two teams against each other; can they find all nine acceptable points in the text? No need to show them a test paper or mark scheme, just the reading booklet.

Let’s now explore the ‘Do not accept’ part of the mark scheme for this question: ‘Do not accept reference to bee-friendly flowers with no reference to human action.’ This means that the pupil who identifies what they need to help bumblebees from the text, but only writes ‘bee-friendly flowers’ is not going to be credited for this response. In an oral shared or guided reading session with our classes, are we asking for this kind of precision? If we are not, how can we ensure the level of clarity required to meet the expectations of the test. Be just as ruthless when playing your game show. Only precise answers will do.

The danger of ensuring our pupils are prepared for the reading test is that we turn them off reading altogether with mind-numbing comprehension exercises and hours of practice papers. The only way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to make sure we use a wide range of engaging texts which span a variety of topics and genres alongside meaningful activities to deliver our reading curriculum.  And not just in year 6. If across school we are delivering high-quality reading sessions which are given the same level of importance as our writing sessions, if we integrate reading skill development not only into our literacy lessons but across the curriculum then we are in with a chance of meeting the demands of the test.

If you would like to find out more about how to prepare your pupils for end of key stage assessment in reading, develop a range of strategies for shared reading and explore a wide range of engaging resources then consider attending our ‘Shared reading development: Upper KS2’ course for Y5 and Y6 class teachers as well as subject leaders or our ‘Year 6 reading revision course’ both running in the autumn term and available to book now on our website: http://www.theliteracycompany.co.uk/events/.

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