Introducing peer-to-peer reading

Written by: HTU | Published:

A peer-to-peer reading programme at Barry Island Primary School has proved a great success. Headteacher Ty Golding explains how they went about implementing the scheme and offers his advice to others wanting to do the same.

Improving pupils’ reading has long been a touchstone of education policy, in both England and Wales. 

At our school, Barry Island Primary in South Wales, the drive to improve reading levels permeates throughout the entire school. That’s because we know and understand that improving reading has benefits that extend across education. 

The main challenges we have faced have been engaging all children in reading and finding enough time for teachers to give individuals and small groups of children enough dedicated time.

We also had two specific year groups who were not scoring any higher order results in their national reading test scores. There were no high or low scores; every child was across the mid-range, which is inconsistent with the demographics you’d expect across a class. The data demonstrated that previous interventions were not developing those higher order skills – so, we decided to try something different.

The three national priorities in Wales are addressing literacy, numeracy and poverty. We decided to adopt a new reading scheme that would support our work with both improving literacy standards and closing the gap between children on free schools meals (FSM) and non-FSM children in one fell swoop.

Our school has 225 pupils, drawn from the local community of Barry Island in the Vale of Glamorgan. The town of Barry has a higher level of unemployment than the Welsh average, and we also have a slightly higher proportion of children that qualify for FSM than the national average. 

Against this backdrop, we were very interested in the potential of peer-to-peer reading. Advocated by the Education Endowment Foundation, it has been ranked as one of the most effective and economical ways to improve achievement, both with FSM and low-achieving pupils making significant gains. 

We started by running a small pilot with our year 5 class and we reviewed both teacher and pupil feedback. We then rolled it out across all of key stage 2 and, as it had such a good impact, we then put it in years 1 and 2. It was a staggered approach.

We had regular updates with staff from the start and did a lot of hand-holding with the staff involved, with drop-in zones that were a free-for-all for those involved. This ensured we had an open dialogue with everyone taking part and could trouble-shoot any issues together.

Each class spends 15 minutes every day on peer reading. Three sessions are run by the children themselves, with the others led by a teacher or teaching assistants. The children prepare for the session with the teacher during their peer-to-peer sessions.

The books we use are designed specifically for peer reading sessions. Each book follows a set pattern for every page. It starts with getting the children to predict what the page will be about and proceeds with set elements that encourage the children to talk about what they have read. This ensures everyone has either understood all elements or can ask the other children for clarification.

We were mindful that introducing any new reading system means the pupils have to make adjustments – especially as we were expecting them to take more responsibility. It is something that can be daunting for those more accustomed to taking a back seat.

To ensure all of the pupils were on board, we introduced a “buddy system”, where year 6 children went into year 4, and year 5 children went into year 3. This had a big impact in relation to pupils’ confidence and motivation. For those who were struggling, the social element helped them to prepare for when they got back to their own group. It was like a pre-emptive strike.

The beauty of peer reading is that all of the class can get involved. As well as increasing guided reading time and encouraging children to work in independent units, it improves co-operation and trust, moderates behaviour and develops confidence and leadership ability. 

One of the pupils told me that at first he didn’t like taking the leader role, but as his reading developed, his confidence improved. Another pupil told his teacher that reading in front of others was scary at first, but he came to realise that his classmates would help him, which had given him confidence.

We also wanted to ensure the parents were supportive – especially the fathers, who are generally less likely to come into school or be at the school gates. We hold regular “Men Behaving Dadly” sessions, where we put on afternoon coffee and bacon rolls. One session was given to explain the new reading scheme, how it works and how they could support their children at home. The greater the level of parental ownership, the greater the level of success.

We knew that pupils’ reading ability was improving as a result of the scheme, but we needed to quantify it.

We introduced our own interim teacher assessments as well as a standardised reading test at the beginning, middle and end of year. This provided us with a national benchmark to measure our progress, as well as robust evidence for our school inspectorate, Estyn. 

The data also helped us identify how certain groups of children – such as those on FSM or the children who have English as an additional language – were progressing with their reading.

Of all of the outcomes of the programme, the most noticeable impact has been on narrowing of the gap between FSM and non-FSM children. One child’s reading age was initially assessed as being lower than that of a five-year-old. After three months, his reading age had shot up to be that of a seven-year-old.

All our FSM children have achieved en masse what was expected of them – or they have beaten their target. 

Our recent Estyn inspection report confirmed that: “Pupils eligible for FSM perform nearly as well as their peers.”

We also saw some other outcomes that are harder to quantify. For example, our teachers have told us that they have seen improvements in behaviour as pupils have become used to treating each other with greater respect.

The data has really helped us evaluate progress – and we are really pleased with the improvements we’ve seen. Indeed, as a result of our work, our inspection report said: “Pupils throughout the school have good reading skills. Pupils in the Foundation Phase enjoy reading and all know what they need to do to improve their reading further. Pupils in year 6 read accurately, confidently, fluently and with good expression.”

The next step is for us to use the data to organise the groups for the coming academic year, based on stage not age, so that pupils can work at their own pace and their own ability. 

Closing the gap is a big jigsaw puzzle but this programme is a key part of it in our school. There’s still work to be done but the programme has given us a great start. 

Peer-to-peer reading: Top tips

  • Run a pilot group. Listen to feedback and when you are happy with the results, roll it out gradually.
  • Identify programme champions. Having pupils that are enthusiastic about the system goes a long way to getting others to buy in.
  • Take it outside the classroom. A “buddy” system can help to forge friendships and build confidence. While the teacher plugs a big gap in the classroom, buddies do it on a social level.
  • Consider your source material. Because every pupil has a role to play in the session, you need to find material that they will engage with.
  • Engage the parents. Parents can be worried about the idea of pupils “teaching” each other, but can be incredibly supportive if they understand what is involved and why peer sessions have been introduced.
  • Evaluate progress. Unless you have a firm grasp on your pupils’ starting points and assess them at key points in the year, you can’t properly evaluate the success of the programme. 
  • Promote your successes. Once parents, pupils and staff see improvements, they will be even more supportive.

 

  • Ty Golding is headteacher of Barry Island Primary School in South Wales. Barry Island uses the Connectors peer-to-peer reading scheme from Scholastic Education and the New Group Reading Test from GL Assessment.


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