Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

12.08.22Gabby Woolf’s Dr. Jekyll Lesson and the Power of Reading Fluency

My colleagues Erica Woolway, Sadie McCleary, Hannah Solomon and I have been working on the TLAC 3.0 Field Guide to support the new 3.0 Teach Like a Champion this fall. It’ll be out in a few months, but it’s a bit different from previous Field Guides in that it focuses on “keystone” videos–longer clips of 8 or 10 minutes that show the broader arc of a teacher’s methods in his or her classroom.

One such clip is from Gabby Woolf’s Year Ten classroom as London’s King Solomon Academy a few years back. Having recently read Christopher Such’s The Art and Science of Teaching Primary Reading and other books on the importance of fluent reading at all grade levels, we saw this clip anew.


The clip starts with Gabby reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde aloud to students. We love that Gabby is developing students’ ability and persistence with challenging text and reading with them is a critical part of how she makes it work.

“In the spirit of being sensationalist,” Gabby says, “we want to read it as we would imagine Stevenson would want his readers to imagine it.” Right from the outset she is helping them to think about the connection between reading and meaning. How one expresses a book is part of understanding it. An author might have had a particular voice in mind.

She uses several statements that signal to students that she is looking for expressive reading: “We’re going to focus on the gory details of this murder… I’d like  few of you to volunteer with your highly expressive reading.”

Notice that as she reads she is 1) emphasizing expression–she’s modeling how the text should sound so they can copy and adapt 2) more interested in precision than speed. As Christopher Such advises, she reads slightly slower than she might on her own. She wants students to hear the words and how they are expressed clearly. “Startled,” “singular,” “ferocity”… all of these words stand out clearly in their expression and enunciation. They are imbued with meaning via her expression. She is tacitly socializing precision as one reads.

At 1:24 having modeled reading Stevenson’s prose herself, she begins to ask students to read, using the technique FASE reading from TLAC 3.0.  Imran “takes over” and though the volume is low, if you listen carefully you can hear him reading with expression and prosody, just like Gabby, in fact, attending carefully to words and syntax and taking a bit of pleasure in bringing the book to life.He has internalized her model.

Joan is next and her reading is similarly expressive and imbued with something like if not pleasure at least appreciation.

These are both “cold calls”… that is the message is that students will be chosen to read at random. So everyone should be ready. and everyone should be reading actively on their own. The “leverage” (rate of students reading along when its not their turn is likely to be high). And the message among peers is clear. We like reading. We take pleasure in it.

The culture is set: The class knows how Stevenson’s text should sound. They’ve heard several models. They know their peers think expressive reading is valuable. And so Gabby sends them, at 3:22, into pairs, to give everyone a bit more practice at fluent reading of challenging text.  While the leverage–portion of students actively reading at their desks–is probably high while she’s FASE reading, this move allows her to provide even more fluent reading practice to even more students.

But please recognize that the FASE reading is critical to the partner reading. There’s more synergy than choice. ase reading sets the norms and culture and habits they will rely on in reading in pairs.

She caps this exercise off with praise for individual students whose reading was especially effective and then a quick set of questions for students to answer to make sure they understood what they read.  Tips for making independent reading more accountable can be found in TLAC 3.0 (Technique 23: Accountable Independent Reading)

Some notes on the importance of developing fluency:

Fluency consists of accuracy, automaticity & prosody. Developing these requires both hearing and practicing reading aloud.

Older students should continue to get lots of fluency practice. In 2017 Bigozzi et al found that “Reading fluency predicted all school marks in all literacy-based subjects, with reading rapidity being the most important predictor. School level did not moderate the relationship between reading fluency and school outcomes, confirming the importance of effortless and automatized reading even in higher school levels.”

“This might seem obvious,” Christopher Such writes, “but many schools seem to pay little attention to this quantitative aspect of reading instruction in their classrooms.”  He also notes that “While children’s reading is still dysfluent, classroom time dedicated to silent reading is time that could be better spent.”

It’s also worth noting how the culture of shared reading brings the pleasure of reading to life. As you are probably aware, reading as a student past time has all but ceased. The numbers of students who read outside of school is dropping steeply as the book loses its death struggle against the phone. If we want students to still read, connecting them to the social pleasure of it in the classroom–as Gabby has done here–is a critical step.




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