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Nurturing Secondary School Students to Reading Independence

Year 8 Pupils | 7 Students | 6 Weeks

Published on
January 1, 2023 at 12:00:00 AM PST January 1, 2023 at 12:00:00 AM PSTst, January 1, 2023 at 12:00:00 AM PST

Prince Albert High School’s Magnificent Seven


A research project with a Birmingham Nurture Group of 7 students in Year 8 who made magnificent progress with C-Pen Reader.

The nurture group is an alternative provision made at Prince Albert High (PAH) for students who are unable to access mainstream learning pathways. All 7 learners in the research group experienced high levels of challenge for learning and low levels of literacy and engagement.

The characteristics of a nurture group are to provide additional focused short-term interventions for students who are experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties. Students may struggle withsocial interaction, self-esteem, anxiety or other challenges that affect their ability to succeed academically and socially.


Nurture Group lead teacher Katie Tonks used the C-Pen Readers, daily to develop learning confidence, increase literacy and boost reading engagement alongside other strategies including:

  • • Barrington Stoke high-low reading books
  • • Guided and paired reading
  • • Additional English lessons with a reading and comprehension focus
  • • Tuition of reading skills

The C-Pen Readers were used to support these activities, and as the study progressed, the pupils began to develop a practical understanding of how to use the pens to support their needs for reading, decoding and learning new vocabulary. Katie Tonks was consistent in her modelling of the ways that the C-Pen could be used for tasks beyond introduction and embedding making demonstration and reference to the pens part of her normal way of teaching. By making sure that the students were able to use the pens for these activities, she was breaking down barriers that enabled all 7 pupils to use the pens as a normal way of working. Once this was established, the pupils confidently used the pens in lessons and explored how they could access other areas of the curriculum and read and understand subject-specific texts.

How did the C-Pen Reader give equity of access to the curriculum?

  • • Breaking down barriers to participation in learning
  • • Pupil’s attitudes changed to see themselves as successful learners
  • • Gained practical strategies for independent learning


Wellbeing and confidence


Key findings:

  • • More willing to read and read aloud
  • • More willing to answer questions orally
  • • Becoming more independent with reading
  • • More willing to go to the library and choose a book


As part of this research project, we provided a set of Barrington Stoke reading books. These are readers that are well-written, and presented in an accessible dyslexia-friendly format. They are short books to help build confidence and stamina for reading that contain un-patronising content matched to the age of the reader, rather than their reading level.

By pairing a C-Pen Reader with these high-interest and low-readability books we hoped that the pupils would start to develop an appetite to engage more independently with reading for pleasure. This is an important way of improving students’ engagement with reading and enables discussion around what is relevant and important to them.

This is what the pupils said:

“We like that it is ‘gritty’ but accessible.”“We didn’t feel like we were forced to read.”“I liked to be seen reading the books.” (This student linked his ability to read to his social status.) “I really like the layout and cream colour paper.” (This student also had a low vision difficulty.) “I haven’t read stories like this before.” (This student enjoyed reading different genres.)


This is what Katie said:

“The policy in school is that students must always have a reading book on the table. The difference was that students were happy to engage with the reading. Before this, I would have seen displacement behaviours and disruption. Both myself and the teaching assistant, would also be needing to support students to read and decode but with the combination of books and C-Pens the students enjoyed this task independently.”




The York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension (YARC) was used at the beginning and end of the project measuring three components, reading accuracy, comprehension and reading rate. YARC is an individually administered reading assessment that allows you to closely observe a pupil’s reading behaviors, strengths, and areas for development.


The comprehension component of the same assessment showed a mean difference between pre and post-testing of 1 year and 4 months. The reading accuracy in read-aloud graded text revealed a mean difference between pre and post-testing of 05.42 months.


The reading rate component of the assessment revealed a mean difference between pre and post-testing of 02.42 months.