When are students ready for Stages 1 & 2

As with all learning, some children will find it harder to read than others.  Below is a simple checklist to help you determine the readiness of your students. 

1. Can they sit still and be attentive 10 - 15 minutes and stay focused?  - ie play with a toy, draw, listen to two songs, listen to you reading a short story and stay focused

2. Can they repeat a sentence of  5 or 6 words? - eg. I went shopping on Saturday, The car is big and black.

3. Are they interested in books?  Do they know what a book is, how it works?

4. Can they see properly? If there is any doubt arrange for an eye test. 

5. Can they hear properly? A quick test for a 5 year old is to get them to stand 1 metre away from you and repeat the following 7 sounds.  (use a normal soft voice) - ah, oo, sh, ss, mm, ee, or.
Repeat this from 3 metres away with a different order to these sounds eg. ss, ee, ah, oo, ss, mm, sh.  If they can't repeat these sounds and you have a sense that they are not hearing you it may pay to get a formal check.

6. Can they clap a rhythm?  (sound break)clap a simple pattern and note the children’s ability to copy it OR clap sound breaks with names eg. Ben (1 clap), Jenny (2),  Angela (3), Anthony (3)

7. Can they Rhyme

If your student can pass most of these assessments from the above checklist then they are ready to begin their reading journey.  If not then you have identified some areas to develop. 

What text level do I start them on?

Having established that there is reading readiness, the next challenge is to identify their instructional reading level - text that is slightly challenging but, with your support, they will be able to successfully read.

The graphic below shows the SharpReading Stages 1, 2 and 3 and an approximate correlation with a phonics progression, PM Readers ( a well used UK reading system with 30 levels) and  NZ's "Ready to Read" series which uses a colours system to show text book levels. Notice in the first year there is an expectation that students will move through 4 or 5 levels.  This is because the level of difficulty does not change so much in the early books but is vital for early development, success and confidence building.

Establish what level your student is at by testing them with a PM Benchmark test or a Running Record Assessment.  You will need to source these tests yourself and there are a number of video and written explanations on how to deliver these them. For copyright reasons we have not elaborated on them here.   

Once the starting level has been established you can group students of similar ability...and that is where the fun begins. Most classrooms we work in have a wide range of ability and the potential of 8+ groups. You will have to compromise because it is difficult to manage more than six if you are wanting to see each group daily. Aim for a maximum of six or seven in a group with not too much spread within the group.

How often should I take Stage 1&2 Lessons?

The 5 Bits routine was initially designed for New Zealand classrooms where teachers allocate about an hour every day for their reading programme with an expectation that they will read with every child each day. With six reading groups that equates to 10 minutes per group. That means that whatever you do in that 10 minutes has to be VERY efficient for it to have any impact. As you will see, our 5 Bits routine is VERY efficient!

Students can never get too much mileage reading when they are developing their decoding fluency.  The re-reading of books from a browser box (a box of books the students have read in a guided reading session), buddy reading, and reading at home should be built into your reading programme expectations. 

If you can achieve at least three-four guided lessons per week with each child plus other mileage reading activities, then be reassured, you are doing a good job.

What do I do with the rest of the class?

It is absolutely essential that you are not interrupted during guided reading and that your students know how important these lessons are to each group.  If you are constantly being interrupted or having to manage the rest of your class while your students are reading you will not be able to do the very valuable monitoring that your students need. 

There are a lot of programmes that help teachers with managing the rest of the class and a lot of them revolve around quiet, independent literacy activities that can be repeated day after day with changing content.  They often involve rotating the students from activity to activity, usually coinciding with the end of each reading group lesson (every 10 minutes). 

Don't be put off by those who say it is impossible for 5 year olds to work quietly and independently for 10 minute blocks of time.  It can be challenging we know! BUT there is very sound research that highlights the incredible importance of students learning to stay on task and manage themselves, by themselves (in the presence of others) for periods of time. (The Dunedin Study). Think of it as not only a necessity for your sanity while taking reading groups, but also a vital life skill. 

Quiet, independent work in a classroom of 5-7 year olds will not just happen. The activities need to be taught and you need to police quiet focussed work until they get the hang of it. At the beginning of the school year or a new term we recommend you take a week or two to set this up before even attempting reading groups.


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