What do we do to achieve the goal of every student being able to comprehend complex texts upon graduation? Of course there are many things we can do at every grade level to address the range of reading abilities within our classrooms. Many are clearly stated in the list of indicators within Indistar. However, there are some elements of reading instruction that have been found to be effective but aren’t universally implemented.
Richard Allington and Rachael E. Gabriel present six elements in their article "Every Child, Every Day" in Educational Leadership (March 2012 | Volume 69 | Number 6 Reading: The Core Skill Pages 10-15) The authors argue that these elements should be incorporated into every primary-grade classroom. These elements require little money or time. They do require educators, including state officials, district superintendents, principals and administrators, and teachers, to make the commitment to put them into practice.
This week, I will present the six elements they suggest and attempt to link them to a few of our many Indistar indicators to show how they can support the development of plans leading to full implementation of those objectives. At the end of the blog you will find a link to the Allington article (following some Ning maintenance that is currently underway).
1. Every child reads something he or she chooses.
Research demonstrates that selecting books to read improves student reading performance. The authors state there is no such research supporting the use of workbooks.
- IIIA07 All teachers differentiate assignments (individualize instruction) in response to individual student performance on pre-tests and other methods of assessment. (116)
What better way to individualize instruction than to allow students to select their own reading material for a portion of the day. This does not mean that students should never be expected to read teacher-selected texts.
- IIIC02 All teachers acquire an understanding of each student's background and interests as a way to increase motivation to learn. (3053)
Self-selected reading encourages students to choose books they are interested in reading. This increases motivation, persistence, and the development of background knowledge, which allows students to read books above their instructional level. Students may need some guidance how to select appropriate books.
- IIB04 Teachers individualize instruction based on pre-test results to provide support for some students and enhanced learning opportunities for others. (94)
Struggling readers (those requiring support) spend more time reading too-difficult texts, filling out worksheets, answering low-level questions, and therefore become frustrated with their repeated failures. when presented with a constant diet of texts they cannot read successfully. If we are going to provide support for some students, as the indicator states, we need to break this cycle of frustration and failure by implementing the six elements Allington recommends.
2. Every child reads accurately.
This element holds the key to successful reading. It’s why I selected this article to write about in this week’s blog. I’m particularly focused on the early primary years because this is where the foundation is built for subsequent success and where struggling readers are unfairly challenged by being placed in reading material (whether trade books or basal readers) that are too difficult for them to succeed. I recognize that older readers (middle and high school) are equally challenged with texts that they cannot read nor understand. These students require additional supports through teaching techniques that won’t be covered in today’s blog. That’s a topic for a future blog or for an IndistarConnect member to add to the Discussion tab.
Allington and Gabriel cite the relevant research in this section of the article:
- “… reading at 98 percent or higher accuracy is essential for reading acceleration. Anything less slows the rate of improvement, and anything below 90 percent accuracy doesn’t improve reading ability at all.”
- The positive impact of time spent reading is reduced or eliminated if the reading material cannot be read with 98 percent accuracy.
Which leads to the following questions for your consideration:
Can your struggling students independently read the texts put in front of them with 98% accuracy? (Note: Texts used for instructional purposes can be read with 90%-95% accuracy, as long as teachers provide guided reading support, which would include appropriate book selection and introductions. See Clay, M. (December 1991). Introducing a Storybook To Young Readers. Reading Teacher, v45 n4 p264-73.
If not, does your school have alternate texts that your students can read successfully?
Do you use a reading assessment that helps teachers assess the strengths and needs of their students and to place them appropriately? Are students regularly assessed to determine appropriate groupings and changes in groupings?
3. Every child reads something he or she understands.
- IIIA26 All teachers encourage students to check their own comprehension. (135)
One of the most interesting research findings reported by Allington and Gabriel in this article was that “remediation that emphasizes comprehension (as opposed to basic skills approaches) can change the structure of struggling students’ brains.” Other research actually documented that the white matter of struggling students’ brains was of “lower structural quality” than that of good readers before an intervention. The intervention included lots of reading and rereading of real texts. The white matter in the struggling students’ brains improved following the intervention. Most significant is the correlation between the brain’s white matter and improvement in reading ability.
Note to readers: I am not suggesting eliminating skill instruction for struggling readers. The point is that a balanced literacy approach needs to include the six recommendations made by the authors, particularly for struggling readers. They go to an extreme by not addressing this issue, leading to the impression they advocate eliminating all skill instruction.
4. Every child writes about something personally meaningful.
- IIIC15 All teachers use a variety of strategies to motivate students that honor their cultures, interests, and strengths. (3087)
Writing and reading are reciprocal processes. The development in one area supports development in the other area. So carving out time each day for students to write about something personally meaningful supports the development of reading skills and comprehension. I recommend a great article addressing this topic: Tierney, R.J., & Pearson, P.D. (1983). Toward a composing model of reading. Language Arts 60, 569-580.
Another good summary of the research with some concrete examples about how to do this is in this article by Anderson and Briggs, 2011.
5. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.
- IIIA24 All teachers encourage peer interaction. (133)
Among the many benefits of peer interaction is the ability to provide an authentic purpose for reading and writing. Allington and Gabriel cite studies that link talk with improved reading comprehension, independent of family background or reading level. This is particularly helpful for English language learners.
- IIIA35 Students are engaged and on task. (144)
If we employ these six elements, the cumulative effect is more active engagement because students will be more successful readers and they will have opportunities to talk and write about issues that have personal relevance. This is particularly important for struggling readers who need every advantage to accelerate their developing reading and writing skills. Which all leads to some additional questions to ponder:
What do you already have in place? Do all students have regular opportunities to write and share their reading and writing? Are your struggling students reading texts with 98% accuracy?
What steps can your Leadership and Instructional Teams take to move toward more effective implementation of these six elements?
What professional development does your staff need to address these elements? Do you have the expertise within your school or do you need to look outside your four walls for assistance?