Reading comprehension is about knowledge. It is about vocabulary and ideas. Primary schools, including ours, invest considerable curriculum time on topics. Topics are about knowledge.
“Since the current language arts curriculum is fragmented, with little coherence across the grades, the elementary school teacher in later grades cannot know what topics are already familiar to students from prior grades.” Hirsch (2016).
Hirsch is not 100% correct here. At primary schools, topics are planned carefully. Year 6 teachers know what has been taught in previous years. Topics generate rich, deep knowledge. Typically, pupils read, write and experience key knowledge for half a term. It is a wonderful immersive experience. Then they never visit it again.
How often is the knowledge left to wither?
Our solution in year 6 at Norwich Primary Academy is to build our reading and writing curriculum around the topics the pupils covered in previous years. We are using Reading Reconsidered to guide how we approach reading and writing, and using the highest level texts we can find. We use a lot of nonfiction (both inside and outside the target) embedded within a fiction text. The children love it because they love reading texts they already have knowledge about. Their writing is deeper because they bring their own knowledge and experiences to the writing.
I am worried about the SATs reading tests, because I always worry about the SATs reading tests. The examiners choose texts they hope all children know nothing about – to make it fair! It is a shame that they don’t choose texts based on what they know all children have learnt, that rely on background knowledge. This would assess the reading skills we actually need and use. Until then, we intend to build and nourish knowledge as the key element of our literacy teaching. This makes our children better readers.