Essential Instructional Practices
“The primary classroom is the laboratory in which children discover literacy: but the most essential element in that process is the teacher who provides the raw material –demonstrations, explanations, appropriate materials, feedback, and encouraging and revealing interactions” (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996, p. xvii ).
Below are three essential practices teachers can use that support children in their development as proficient readers.
1. Use of Controlled Text to Support Phonics Instruction
There has been great debate about what type of text is best for beginning readers. Kathleen Brown (2000) indicates the choice is not about choosing one type of text over another, but it is about the text type that best fits the developmental reading level of the students. As students progress in their reading, teachers need to provide the appropriate type of text that supports and expands their students’ progress. The text choice for these readers is an instructional tool that scaffolds their learning.
Decodable text is one text choice for supporting beginning readers. These texts support students who are breaking the code. Brown (2000) asserts that decodable texts provide scaffolding in a variety of ways. The sentence structure is simple and supports the story line. Students must use what they have learned about letter-sound correspondence as well as spelling patterns to identify many of the words. When the text level is matched to the pace of their word study instruction, students are more likely to recognize the value of this instruction. It also provides beginning readers opportunities to develop fluency as they work with texts that require a significant amount of decoding. The National Reading Panel Report (2000) indicates the benefit of using decodable text is that it provides students opportunities not only to practice sequential decoding but also to develop fluency and automaticity, which are key components of beginning reading instruction.
Chad and Osbourne (1999) emphasize the importance of carefully selecting decodable text. They suggest selecting stories with a significant number of decodable words; a sequence of stories with sound-letter relations students have studied and in which there is a cumulative review of words studied; stories that students can comprehend; and stories that use words that are in student’s spoken vocabularies
Cooper (2001) stresses the importance of using a variety of texts with students. He states, “At the same time decodable texts must be read along with other types of texts to help students continue to broaden their oral language base, develop vocabulary, and develop the use of comprehension strategies and skills ” (p. 5).
Decodable texts are important resources for supporting the beginning reader. However, the value of using these texts is in making the appropriate choice of text at the appropriate time in a student’s reading development. Brown (2000) states, “ …they [teachers] have chosen to use particular types of text to achieve particular goals with particular students at particular points in their reading development” (p. 305).
2. Guided Reading Instruction Using Leveled Text
"Teachers must balance students’ exposure to texts of high quality that requires engagement in high levels of reading, writing, and talk with students’ opportunity to improve their independent reading abilities through focused teaching using texts written at their instructional level” (Pearson, Raphael, Benson, & Madda, 2007).
Teachers should remember that leveled texts were never intended to be the sole reading material for students. When students have a “diet” of only leveled texts, they may develop a distorted view of what reading is all about and their purpose for reading disappears ( Szymusiak, Sibberson, & Koch, 2008).
Guided reading is a planned, intended, focused lesson that usually occurs in a small group setting. Teachers assist students in learning more about the reading process. The ultimate goal of guided reading is to foster independent readers (Opitz & Ford, 2001).
General structure of a guided reading lesson:
- Before Reading – Teacher selects text, introduces the text, and engages students in a conversation about the text.
- During the Reading – Students read the entire text while the teacher listens in, observes, and makes notes about strategies students are using.
- After Reading – Teacher and students discuss text. Teacher assesses students’ understanding of text and often engages them in extension activities related to the text read.
The following video features a guided reading lesson with second grade students. To view, click here.
Fountas and Pinnell (2001) identify three contexts—independent reading, guided reading, and literature study—for teaching readers within the reading workshop. The literature study provides students with an opportunity for an in-depth discussion, which emerges from their experiences. The discussion may also focus on elements like characters, genre, and literacy techniques. The following video features a literature study with fourth-grade students using the book Dear Mr. Henshaw. These students are in the beginning stages of moving from guided reading to literature study. To view, click here.
3. Using Buddy or Partner Reading to Support Reading Instruction
Partner reading is often an important aid for transitional readers who are not confident enough to take risks on their own. During partner reading, children are more often willing to try a new genre, sustain interest over time, or read a more complex book (Szymusiak et. al., 2008, p. 192).
In addition to these benefits, research has demonstrated that students who participate in partner reading outperform other students in a comparison study group on measures of fluency (Rasinski, Reutzel, Chard, & Linan-Thompson, 2011). In order for this type of reading to take place and be useful and enjoyable for transitional readers, appropriate instructional supports must be in place (Szymusiak et. al., 2008).
This PowerPoint provides explicit directions for students to use with their buddy readers so that both partners know what to do.
According to Grambrell, Marinak, Brooker, and McCrea-Andrews (2011), independent reading can be defined as the time spent silently reading self-selected texts with the following goals in mind:
- to promote a positive attitude toward reading, and
- to provide reading practice students need to become proficient.
Marie Clay (1991) indicates that reading for understanding and reading independently are possible at any stage of learning to read, and opportunities should be provided every day for this to occur.
To support independent reading, students need easy access to the books they have selected. Some strategies for this access include the use of bag of books, boxes of books, ziplock bags with books, etc.
Brown, K. What kind of text: For whom and when? Textual scaffolding for beginning readers. The Reading Teacher, 53(4), 292-307.
Chad, D. J., & Osborne, J. (1999). Phonics and word recognition instruction in early reading programs: Guidelines for accessibility. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 14(2), 107-117.
Clay, M. (1991). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Cooper, J. D. (2001). Using different types of texts for effective reading instruction. Retrieved from http://www.eduplace.com/state/author/jdcooper.pdf.
Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (1996). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (2001). Guiding readers and writers (grades 3-6): Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Gambrell, L. B., Marinak, B. A., Brooker, H. R., & McCrea-Andrews, H. J. (2011). The importance of independent reading. In S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (4th ed., pp. 143-158). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Opitz, M.F., & Ford, M.P. (2001). Reaching readers: Flexible and innovative strategies for guided reading.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Pearson, P. D., Raphael, T. E., Benson, V. L., & Madda, C. L. (2007). Balance in comprehensive literacy instruction: Then and now. In L. B. Gambrell, L.M. Morrow, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (3rd ed., pp.30-54). NY: The Guilford Press.
Raskinski, T. V., Reutzel, R. D., Chard, D., & Linan-Thompson, S. (2011). Reading fluency. In M. L. Kamil, P. D. Pearson, E. B. Moje, & P. P. Afflerbach (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. IV, pp 286-320). New York, NY: Routledge.
Szymusiak, K., Sibberson, F., & Koch, L., (2008). Beyond leveled books: Supporting early and transitional readers in grades K-5 (2nd ed.). Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.