Helping disadvantaged children learn to read consistently – A guide for teachers

Many socioeconomically disadvantaged children have low levels of literacy, according to research from the National Foundation for Educational Research.

We can define socioeconomic disadvantage as “living in less favourable social and economic circumstances than others in the same society. Features of socio-economic disadvantage can include low income and living in a deprived area.”

Research conducted at the end of 2021 UK summer term found that disadvantaged children in Year 1 (age 5-6) had reading levels that were, on average, three months behind those of their peers. Closing the reading gap continues to be a real challenge across the UK.

Some of the biggest hurdles to language acquisition and breadth of vocabulary for disadvantaged pupils include:

  • Access to reading materials
  • Time to reflect and talk about things they’ve read with parents or carers
  • Parents’ own educational backgrounds

So what can we do to help disadvantaged children to clear these hurdles and accelerate the development of their literacy skills?

  1. Understand the problem

To successfully solve a problem, we first need to understand exactly what the problem is.

As a teacher, your job is to help identify what specific issues your pupils may be struggling with. Do they find comprehension difficult? What about fluency? Do they stumble when faced with an unfamiliar word?

Observation is of course one method by which you can identify your pupils’ learning challenges. There are also some really great diagnostic tools available to schools which work in a variety of ways; some focus on identifying gaps in decoding, while others help to identify issues with comprehension or fluency.

The data you collect either from observing students reading, or from employing a diagnostic tool, can be invaluable when it comes to lesson planning and can help to steer the way you teach going forward.2

2. Get to grips with phonics

The biggest challenge for many pupils is learning how sounds are represented by written letters and how those sounds are then blended together into words.

Effective teaching of phonics - and getting to grips with the myriad exceptions to established rules - is a key first step in helping any child learn to read.

Pickatale’s narration feature can be a really great tool to familiarise children with phonics, from the most common spelling patterns, to the occasional break from convention.

3. Improve access to books

Research points to one very simple way to get your pupils to read more: improve the availability of books. Many socioeconomically disadvantaged pupils have limited access to books and materials in their own homes so it is important to improve things at school.

The funding can be used to enable children to access devices so they can read or listen to books online.

Thankfully, technology makes it easier than ever for every child in every school to be able to access a whole host and variety of books. With access to a tablet or even just a phone, a child can access a whole world of books - from fiction to nonfiction, poetry to plays - and with Pickatale your pupils will have over 1500 books at their fingertips just crying out to be enjoyed.

4. Know when to intervene

It’s generally a good idea to intervene as soon as possible when you notice a child falling behind.

The sooner you address the issue, the sooner the learning gap can be closed between a socioeconomically disadvantaged child and their peers. Pickatale’s teacher dashboard allows you to easily track and manage your pupils’ reading journey by providing you with insights into the number of books they’ve read, the speed at which they read, and whether or not they understood the content. Our quiz results and book levels are there to help you recognise who is struggling, or who is ahead, and allow you to easily identify who needs more support.

Furthermore, our weekly progress reports are delivered straight into your inbox and are full of insights into your class’s reading progress and suggestions as to who may need support, and in which areas.

5. Continue with your own professional development

High-quality teaching is fundamental to ensuring all pupils make the progress needed to succeed at school and in life.

A focus on teachers’ professional development is one of the most effective routes to improving literacy levels and instilling in children a love of reading. Continuing to learn and grow as a professional will not only help you to feel more confident at work, it will ensure that you have the knowledge and skills you need to ensure all your pupils are progressing at a rate that’s in line with - or above - the national average.

More information about the research into effective teaching can be found in this EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit. We’d also recommend taking a look at their guidance for effective professional development.

If improving literacy levels and giving all children - regardless of background or socioeconomic status - the tools they need to learn to read for pleasure is a priority for your school, Pickatale can help you to achieve your goals. Find out more about Pickatale for Schools - Book a Demo.

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