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The impact of 'Inference Training' on raising standards in reading- A conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning

posted 17 Nov 2015, 08:48 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 20 Nov 2015, 12:30 by Christine KempHall ]
The dictionary definition of the very word inference implies that to infer meaning requires a child to form an opinion based on their own reasoning skills after already having absorbed the evidence at hand. These are vital skills that are missed in many KS2 comprehension activities which is why the system of inference training has been so successful within our establishment, in particular our Year 5/6 Learning Studio.

The most obvious positive is that the wide choice of texts provided in the programme are presented as extracts - in much shorter chunks than would normally be used in a reading lesson. This in itself suggests to the child that what they are reading is less of a challenge than they would normally encounter, thus immediately becoming more accessible to them and, as a result, beginning a lesson on a positive note. Based on observations and verbal feedback from our students during these sessions we know that they believe that as well as having material that is easier to digest, it is also less difficult for them to navigate when it comes to answering questions. This is because, unlike typical reading sessions where children are presented with an entire book, here there is less text to decode, retrieve and recall information from. Consequently, this increases the potential for focus and accuracy in their answers.

Similar to reciprocal reading in many ways, inference makes use of roles within a small group but instead of assigning roles to individuals, each child takes on all roles as they progress through the session. This allows them to continuously feel useful to the rest of the group rather than having a singular part to play and, therefore, they avoid taking a step back once their role is over. This sense of involvement is pivotal in maintaining interest and attention. It also familiarises children with the concept of always being ready to contribute which can only have positive ramifications throughout the rest of their time in the education system.

Another key ‘hook’ that works for our students is the pre session questioning. During this they delve into their own experiences prior to accessing the material and develop answers based entirely on their own lives and existing knowledge. It is the contrast, or similarity, to their own experience which builds an affinity with the protagonist and enables them to infer feelings and emotions in more detail rather than offering simple one word adjectives.

A particularly transferable skill that is promoted in the training is the focus on effective questioning to reach that deep analysis gained from reading between the lines and continually asking the question: ‘Why?’. This is a skill that can be utilised in all other lessons, particularly as we are putting more and more emphasis on peer marking. This coincides with what members of staff are currently promoting in marking with the TIM challenge tasks where students answer questions to extend their knowledge. The way in which the practitioner leads the session enables students to become more familiar with on-the-spot questioning. This is done in an informal way, and in a secure environment, in order to build confidence rather than making them feel as though they have been singled out of a large group.

In addition to improving comprehension, the training assists with the process of continuously expanding their vocabulary. Students play the part of a human thesaurus for some of the session and this has proven to be particularly enjoyable as they uncover various new ways to describe. The obvious benefits here are apparent in writing as the children have been observed using their newly learnt techniques autonomously in these particular lessons.

In conclusion, as a result of all the positive aspects discussed above, the inference training sessions have significantly enriched reading lessons for our children in KS2, particularly helping to improve their questioning and reasoning skills. Also, they now more readily share the view that the ability to read and infer are vital skills not only in English lessons but in all aspects of their education across the curriculum and, indeed, in life in general.

Lyndsey Frost (Teaching Assistant) - 17th November 2015