Marie Clay (1991) defines reading as a message-getting, problem-solving activity, which increases in power and flexibility the more it is practiced. She further states,
Reading is a process by which children can, on the run, extract a sequence of cues from printed texts and relate these, one to the other, so that they understand the message of the text. Students continue to gain in this complex processing throughout their formal education, interpreting statements of ever increasing complexity. (p. 1)
The surface structures (graphophonic, lexical, and syntactic) are essential for children who are going to become independent problem-solving readers and writers. Surface structures shape the audible and visible components that make language users proficient. These surface structures facilitate the use of the deep structures. They allow readers and writers to identify words and read fluently (Keene, 2008). In using both systems children are able to negotiate and problem-solve as they gain meaning from the text.
As a part of phonics instruction, students need opportunities to interact with text as they are learning the graphophonic and lexical systems. They need to practice newly developing reading skills by reading meaningful texts that include many words that exemplify the sound-spelling patterns introduced (Beck & Juel, 2002). By using these decodable texts, teachers have opportunities to model how to blend and segment sounds, sound out unknown words, use onset rimes or word chunks to decode words (Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2004). Mesmer (2001) stresses that “…for decodable text to achieve its purpose, actual instruction must work with words in text. As an instructional strategy, the teaching and the text cannot be separated” (p. 137). She also contends that it is essential for the phonics lessons to have some level of applicability to the words students read. Beverly, Giles, and Buck (2009) share that “Explicit phonics instruction and reading practice with decodable texts can be a prerequisite to successful comprehension for beginning readers; however, as readers advance, they are more likely to benefit from challenging and meaningful literature” (p.1). Providing these scaffolds allows children to learn to decode quickly and automatically so that they can turn their attention more fully to the task of making meaning of what they are reading.
Taylor (2011) states that in addition to learning about phonics, children need to be able to apply their phonics knowledge to actual reading of high-quality literature. The idea Taylor states is that children use their understanding of phonics to recognize words. These phonics skills are “enabling skills” that are not an end but a means to comprehension of texts.
As young learners continue their journey towards becoming proficient readers, it is important to provide a scaffold of using leveled books with interesting stories that have been ordered in increasing difficulty. By using these texts in their instruction, teachers give children many opportunities to gain control over three hidden types of information in texts: the phonological, syntactic, and semantic. Through the use of leveled books, teachers have an appropriate ratio of opportunities for teaching letters, for letter clusters and for words, as well as for grammar (syntax). The vocabulary that children already use when speaking will provide added support to their attempts to read and write (Clay, 2001).
The goal in using leveled texts is to support readers by selecting books that are easy enough for the student to learn something about reading and how stories work. These texts should also be challenging enough to require them to do some “reading work,” which requires them to use multiple systems. Young readers make the most progress when the books are not too easy and not too difficult (Allington, 2006, Clay, 1991; Szymusiak, Sibberson, & Koch, 2008). In order to make the appropriate selection for each student, teachers must know their students, what they are and are not doing as readers, as well as knowing the books and what they offer as support for a particular student or group of students.
As an added dimension to reading instruction, teachers should consider another of the findings of the National Reading Panel Report (2000). The panel found that students at a variety of reading levels and across grade levels could raise their reading achievement level by participating in partner reading. Research has demonstrated consistently that students who participate in partner reading across weeks and even months make amazing gains in their reading. The benefits gained apply to both partners (Limbrick, McNaughton, & Glynn, 1985; Juel, 1991). Juel (1996), Invernizzi, Juel, and Rosemary (1997), and Wasik (1997) used many of the same partner reading techniques in their volunteer reading training programs. They had success in programs that were well planned with strict guidelines for training partner readers and tutors.
Partner reading often serves as a support for developing independence as a reader. Through partner reading, students frequently take risks that they wouldn’t necessarily take while reading independently (Szymusiak, et al., 2008). In their work on reading fluency, Rasinski, Reutzel, Chard, and Linan-Thompson (2011) assert that when students have the opportunity to select their partners and when the level of difficulty of the text is appropriate for the pair, student engagement in reading practice will increase. They also indicate that research supports the strategy of older students working with younger students as they practice reading. Koskinen and Blum (1986) found that students involved in partner reading significantly outperformed a comparison study strategy group on fluency measures
Through explicit instruction, teachers model and scaffold students as they develop the skills of a proficient reader. It has been shown through numerous studies that when children have the opportunity to read self-selected, developmentally appropriate, high-quality literature independently, their reading skills are strengthened and further developed (Gambrell, et.al., 2011). In planning reading curriculum, it is important to include time for students to read independently every day for an extended amount of time to ensure that they reach their full potential as strategic readers.
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