As promised, today we offer a checklist of instructional priorities. As with our list of writing essentials, this is NOT AN EXHAUSTIVE LIST. We have not addressed diversity in text, instructional vs. frustrational reading levels, differentiation, rereading, fluency, etc.
These questions are a place to start as you are considering the elements of your reading instruction and how they fit together as a whole in a classroom with Common Core intentions.
1. How are you developing your classroom library?
Since learning to read involves practice and reading practice requires reading material, one of the most important elements of elementary reading instruction is a classroom library. The classroom library is at the heart of most of the reading that goes on in a classroom, and how well you develop your library has implications for classroom management, student access, reading practice, home-school connections, and more.
2. How much time are your students reading?
Students won’t learn to read if they don’t get to read. This seems a crazy point to make, but with all the external demands of teaching to discrete skills and content, time for actual reading practice seems to be waning. We are referring to the actual work of reading, not the allotted time for guided or independent reading. This question addresses more than a daily schedule, but invites you to think about the realities of actual vs. scheduled time for students to grapple with text.
3. Are you explicitly teaching comprehension strategies?
Children who are taught comprehension strategies are likely to comprehend better. There are a two important qualifications. First, children who already comprehend well may need to learn the labels that facilitate classroom discussion, but they don’t need to interrupt actually reading and predicting to make notes on post-its about predicting. Secondly, once you teach a strategy and students have it, move on. The strategies are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Finally, authentic reading demands an unpredictable integration of strategies rather than isolated focus on one. Strategy instruction needs to focus on calling up the best strategy for a task as well as integrating many strategies.
4. How are you showing children how to read?
Read alouds, thinking aloud, and mini-lessons (to name a few) are all opportunities to explain to young readers the way our system of print works. One of our favorite instructional strategies for teaching children how to read is shared reading. Shared reading is vastly underutilized in schools and holds great potential for tackling the challenge of text complexity. Throughout elementary grades, and even into middle and high school, shared reading gives you an opportunity to engage students while actually showing them how reading works.
5. What are you reading aloud to students?
In our pay-it-forward paradigm, read aloud is the most important instructional component. Read aloud models fluency, builds vocabulary, and teaches children how to comprehend, not to mention that it can help them fall in love with books. If preschool teachers do not read aloud to students, they enter first grade less prepared to comprehend written and spoken information. This makes them more likely to receive an intervention, which will likely be print-based (i.e. practicing letters, sounds, or other skills) and may pull them out of whole group events such as read aloud. Less read aloud in first grade makes them less prepared in second grade, which means more intervention and possibly less read aloud …, etc. If you do nothing else with students, read aloud from interesting and challenging books and engage them in discussions about what these books mean.
6. About what are your students talking?
Reading is thinking. Whether reading independently, listening to books read aloud, or participating in shared or guided reading experiences, students need to talk about the books they explore. We need to let them engage in conversations that support them in learning how to think about texts and articulate their thoughts. Engaging students in text-based conversations teaches a myriad of skills and addresses CCSS for Listening/Speaking, Language, Reading, and Writing. With the Common Core, teachers should talk less; students should talk more.
7. How are you assessing student progress?
We recommend ongoing formative assessments based on the needs of particular students. Once students read even the simplest texts, we recommend that you monitor their progress using running records. While these running records can give you insight into text level appropriateness, they are most beneficial for studying student reading behaviors. In particular, how well do students integrate and balance access to cues while they are reading.
8. Is your reading instruction complete?
Too often in education we latch onto one thing and believe it is the key to teaching children to read. Guided reading tends to push read aloud out of the picture. Whether students participate in timed readings for fluency and accuracy, answer text-based questions, or independently read from texts they choose, too much of anything becomes problematic. Children learn differently and mental muscles they use vary with different reading tasks. Take the time to look across your instruction and consider the diversity of tasks that make up the whole. Is any particular instructional context dominant in your classroom? Is something missing?
These are our eight, “pay-it-forward” essentials for reading, but they are not all you need to teach reading in preK-2. Most importantly, for third-graders to meet the demands of the Common Core reading standards, we must begin with our youngest, emerging readers.