SharpReading BLOG

Thoughts About Teaching Reading


4 Essentials for a Reading Program

Our discussions with teachers often revolve around what we think are the essentials that need to be in place for an effective school-wide reading program and how do we provide them.

Here is a summary of our thoughts on the topic ... 4 essentials that we think need to be addressed.

By 'Reading Program' we are not referring to a specific, commercially designed silver bullet; a one-stop-shop that will supposedly solve all your problems with a single purchase. In the context of this discussion, a reading program means a consistent school-wide approach to reading instruction ... an overarching framework that provides clear direction to teachers about What to Teach andHow to Teach it so that there is clarity and consistency and SUCCESS for the learners.

So top of the list has to be ...

1. A Clear Understanding of a Developmental Progression

This refers to WHAT we are going to teach in all of our classrooms across the school and WHEN we are going to teach it. Everyone needs to be on the same page about this. 

Of course there is no one universally right way of doing this, but for the purpose of effective delivery, there must be common agreement as this will guide the many instructional decisions that need to be made. 

Having this understanding clearly articulated helps management, teachers, students, and parents communicate a common message about reading instruction.

This developmental progression should be seen as two distinct phases that the reader passes through. This is born out by most research on reading. If you blend these two phases all sorts of conflicting messages start to emerge.

PHASE 1: Developing the ability to fluently read the words on the page
Beginning readers must learn and apply decoding skills to attain fluent, automatic reading of text which frees up the brain to engage in the meaning of the text. 

This should include explicit instruction to develop Phonemic awareness and Phonics skills - letter  sound identification, matching, segmentation, and blending, and authentic context to practice these skills. This provides a pathway to decoding fluency. (SharpPhonics and SharpReading Stages 1&2)

"Word recognition processes that are inefficient and capacity draining make understanding text much more difficult for children. Readers with slow, non-automatic word recognition processes often forget the words they read at the beginning of a sentence by the time they reach the end. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to determine the overall meaning of the sentence for two reasons: first, the earlier recognized words are no longer available, and second, due to the heavy expenditure of cognitive resources on word recognition, the remaining resources are inadequate for successful parsing and text integration processes (Comprehension)." W.E.Tumner

PHASE 2: Constructing Meaning from the text and Thinking Critically about it (Comprehension)
Once this decoding fluency has been achieved the focus can shift to training the reader to be actively processing the text as they are reading it, drawing on their working vocabulary and their own knowledge to make sense out of the words they can now read, and then remember the ideas that he or she has come to understand.

Our SharpReading Developmental Progression is built on these two phases. It provides six clear developmental stages introducing layers of increasingly more complex strategies to enable the reader to move beyond decoding to constructing meaning from sentences and then thinking critically about the content (SharpReading Stages 3-6).

LEARN MORE about our suggested Scope and Sequence for introducing these six stages across the Year Levels.

2. Consistent and Purposeful Assessment Practices

Secondly, the reading program needs to have robust diagnostic and benchmarking systems in place which can quickly determine what readers are doing well and what are the deficients so that instruction can be targeted at the appropriate place within the developmental progression. 

For the Beginner Reader, running records still provide the best quick insights into the way the reader is wrestling with the squiggles on the page.

For the Older Reader, a common practice is to rely on whole-class standardised pen and paper tests, (PAT, Star, NAPLAN to name a few) to provide comparisons and aggregations of data school wide. Of greater diagnostic value are one-on-one tests where the actual reading behaviour can be observed to establish the readers ability to process and understand text while they are reading.

LEARN MORE... SharpReading's Informal Prose Inventories.

Having made decisions about what testing needs to occur there need to be guidelines about WHEN. Make sure assessment doesn't dominate the reading program. Remember, students don't get better by being continually measured.

LEARN MORE...'ASSESSMENT - a great way to derail your Term 1 Reading Program.'

3. Getting the Teaching Right ... the HOW

Research and our experience in hundreds of schools tells us that having a consistent approach to what actually takes place in the guided reading lesson has a huge impact on the learners' confidence and progress. If your learners are continually having to adapt to the new teacher's way of doing things and their expectations, confusion and switch off occur.

Not only should there be consistency, but that consistency needs to be embedded in an efficient best practice pedagogy. A couple of posts ago we quoted recent research out of Massey University which advocated 'structured literacy teaching' (explicit teaching from simple to more complex strategies) as opposed to 'implicit teaching' approaches which relied on lots of reading opportunities and learning as you go with teachable moments. 

We have always advocated this explicit teaching model using 'Explain, Model, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, Fluency.'  It is a well researched pedagogical approach to learning but we think teacher's get stuck in Guided Practice and don't fully know how to facilitate Independent Practice to get learners to true fluency. We tend to rely more on Explain, Model, Guided Practice ... and Hope. LEARN MORE

In our experience, achievement in reading school-wide improves dramatically when there is a systematic, agreed upon, structured approach that understands and incorporates ALL of the steps to fluency.

4. Selection of Resources

And finally, there needs to be a match up between the teaching approaches and the resources that are used. In New Zealand we are very blessed with MoE provided resources so this is not so much about availability, but more about selecting the right material.

If our diagnostic assessment identifies specific learning needs along a developmental progression then we must be able to identify text for explicit teaching and independent practice that places the learner in the 'hard fun' zone, where there is just enough challenge to allow success and keep them motivated.

If we get it wrong we can easily topple them into the 'too hard' zone which requires lots of teacher intervention and cueing and prompting to read the text - a recipe for disempowerment.

StoryBytes and InfoBytes provide plenty of leveled text from RA 7-14+ years. While we always maintain that any leveled text can be used for our approach to comprehension instruction (SharpReading Stages 3-6), these resources do provided some very finely graded levelling which will enable you to get the text just right for the needs of your students. 

LEARN MORE about our School-Wide Approach to Reading Instruction and contact us to discuss SharpReading at your school.


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