Engagement with Project X: Comprehension Express has armed struggling readers with the language and skills to address comprehension challenges.

Case study by Sophie Rasic using feedback from Literacy Coordinator Amy Sneddon and teachers Casey Seymour & Emma de Klerk, Lalor Gardens Primary School, Melbourne

Age group Foundation–Year 6

Students on roll 403

School context

Lalor is a lower socioeconomic area in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne. The school has a high primary school-leavers rate, with an average of ten new enrolments and fifteen students transferring out of Lalor Gardens Primary School annually. This turnover rate makes it challenging to teach and manage students’ comprehension skills for extended periods of time.

Student demographic

At Lalor Gardens Primary School, 311 of the 403 students currently enrolled speak English as a Second Language or Dialect (EAL/D). A number of the students’ parents do not speak English at home, so a lot of the students’ English literacy work is completed within the classroom.

When did you start teaching with Project X: Comprehension Express?

[Amy] I have been supporting and overseeing Emma use Stage One of the program within her Year 3 and 4 class since Term 2, 2018.

[Casey] I began teaching Stage Two of the program at the same time, however, I’ve been implementing Comprehension Express within Intervention groups.

What is the need in your school for an intervention comprehension program?

[Emma] Reading comprehension has been slowing our students’ progress down. Previous NAPLAN results were quite low compared to similar schools within the area. At Lalor Gardens we have been targeting literacy results across the whole school in order to improve overall scores and, most importantly, create independence in student’s use of comprehension strategies.

[Amy] An emphasis has been placed on catering to targeted groups, starting in the classroom through to Intervention programs, so that teachers can group and address struggling readers based on their specific needs. Our school improvement plan is based around extending middle range students’ results in NAPLAN tests, and not solely focusing on the lower end.

How have you set about implementing Project X: Comprehension Express?

[Casey] Through lots of teacher modelling in classrooms! Emma began teaching her whole class on Stage One texts for three days a week alongside NAPLAN test preparation, and I began teaching some of her students within Intervention groups on Stage Two texts. The students understand the progression of texts as we work our way through them and are always excited to begin the next text at each stage.

We introduced the Comprehension Express Expert Tip flashcards to students slowly to ensure that they were using them correctly and could articulate their comprehension thought processes using the program term ‘think aloud’.

[Amy] Asking students to articulate how and where they have used this strategy has been important in supporting authentic use of the cards. The Expert Tip flashcards are consistently revisited to embed the comprehension strategy and for students to understand that they can be used at any time during reading.

The Expert Tip flashcards provide a summary of the thought process carried out by expert readers to support and develop understanding of a text. 

[Casey] Our students love reading about the fictional characters and universes from Comprehension Express, so I suggest starting a session with a fiction text to get ahold of students’ attention and imagination from the beginning.

[Amy] The program requires a teacher to monitor students’ progress based on verbal communication at a whole class level. Since the texts have generated a whole lot of discussion within the classroom, it’s best to allow more than thirty minutes for a session. Some students are not used to concentrating on one task for longer than half an hour and can become disengaged, but this became less of an issue at later stages of the program.

‘Students’ use of oral language has improved greatly and they are able to explain the connections they have with a text and what questions that text possesses for them.’

Have students’ attitudes to reading changed since implementing the program?

[Amy] Engagement with the content of the books in Comprehension Express has improved our students’ approach to reading. The students love the texts! Each short story generates a lot of conversation in the classroom at times when most students are able to relate to the texts and generate text-to-text, self and world connections. They get excited when they realise a relationship between different texts.

[Emma] Notably, students’ use of oral language has improved greatly and they are able to explain the connections they have with a text and what questions that text possesses for them.

[Casey] Students look forward to the next stage and expect each book to bring a new challenge, either through vocabulary or to test their inferring skills. For example, they love ‘cliffhanger’ endings and this allows for those amazing prediction skills!

The texts are a good length and this has given students a big boost in confidence to work through a whole book within a few weeks.

Have you seen any improvement in academic results or progress?

[Emma] We assessed students using the state-based curriculum progression standards and the assessment tool, reading record, from Oxford Literacy Assess.  Students’ results showed a great amount of growth in their comprehension results.

We identified that the reading results of many students within our school become stagnant in Years 3 and 4 due to their comprehension challenge with texts. All students within my class who were involved in the Comprehension Express program have made progress this year. Most notably, four students who we identified as ‘at risk’ – being up to a year and a half below the state-expected level – made a year and a half’s growth within one year.

Our school has also seen gaps between student’s comprehension of fiction and non-fiction texts. Throughout the year with the help of the Expert Tip flashcards, this gap has lessened for all students.

‘Students’ comprehension strategies are continuing to improve and they are using the strategies beyond the ten-week program.’

Are there any individual students who’ve really benefited?

[Casey] A student within an Intervention group was able to use the poem ‘I Know a Secret’ from one of the Stage Two books, Secrets, to visualise himself as the character sharing the story. His description of feeling like everyone was crowding him to find out the secret, and wanting to burst open to let the secret out was an amazing way for him to articulate his thoughts. The other students responded well to this and felt that they could understand the text from another point of view.

[Emma] During our third Comprehension Express text, one student asked, “Can I use two Expert Tips at once? Because I think I just used Visualise and Making Connections at the same time”. Since then the students don’t feel limited and have been confident in using a range of Expert Tips.

[Amy] Comprehension Express has enabled Casey to teach Intervention groups with new vocabulary to articulate her thinking too. For example, the term ‘Showcase’ – also known as modelling – was learnt during a session and used frequently enough by Emma and Casey that other teachers at Lalor Gardens questioned it and applied its use.

What’s the biggest outcome you’ve seen since adopting Project X: Comprehension Express?

[Amy] Our students have developed a toolbox of reading strategies that they can select and use to build their understanding of any text.

[Emma] After recent assessments, I found that struggling readers within my class who were previously six months behind their expected reading level have now advanced to the appropriate reading level since using Comprehension Express.

[Casey] Articulating their thinking and making connections between fiction and non-fiction texts is boosting confidence in the students – they feel really good about it!

Do you have any practical tips for other schools to help them be successful?

[Casey] To assist students in using the Expert Tips correctly, have them record their responses in a ‘reader’s notebook’ as a ‘think aloud’. This will help them to remember the strategy, why they used it and how it helped them to understand the text. Students can then share their work with their group. The notebook can also help teachers to document the growth students have made and for students to reflect on their own learning.

What would you say to other schools considering adopting Project X: Comprehension Express?

[Amy] Students’ strategies are continuing to improve and they are using the strategies beyond the ten-week program, specifically when it comes to articulating their thinking and enjoying what they are reading.

[Casey] Comprehension Express is a fantastic program! It has given our students the ability and confidence to talk about what they are reading. The students see the program as a challenge and are stepping up to that challenge.

Oxford University Press Australia wishes to thank Amy, Casey and Emma from Lalor Gardens Primary School for their assistance in developing this case study.

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