Vocabulary Strategy: Use of ContextAn important strategy to help students build their vocabulary is use of context – i.e., using the clues or hints provided in the text that surround an unfamiliar word to help guess the meaning without depending on a dictionary. This can include words, phrases, or sentences that appear before, after, or close to the word. It can also include visuals or headings embedded in the text – basically anything that helps a reader understand the meaning of an unfamiliar word. Expository, non-fiction text tends to offer more context clues than narrative text.
New Book: The Writing RopeI am pleased to announce that Brookes Publishing in August published my new book titled The Writing Rope: A Framework for Explicit Writing Instruction in All Subjects. I am also delighted that my friend and colleague, Jan Hasbrouck, wrote the foreword. The book can be ordered at the Brookes website. I wrote about The Writing Rope framework in a 2019 article, and again in a Literacy Lines January 2020 blog post.
Providing Reading Interventions Grades 4-9A new research guide titled Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4-9 was released recently from the Institute of Education Sciences that summarizes research-based instructional interventions for older students who struggle with reading. The report was written by a panel of reading researchers and practitioners, chaired by Dr. Sharon Vaughn after reviewing the research related to intervention instruction for older students.
What is advanced word study?Keys to Literacy recently launched its newest professional development program: Advanced Word Study - Grade 4 and Beyond. Sometimes referred to as advanced phonics, instruction for advanced word study teaches students how to read and spell multi-syllable words by using a combination of word analysis that focuses on syllables, and structural analysis that focuses on meaningful units (morphemes - roots, prefixes, suffixes). Learning how to focus on morphemes also helps students determine the meaning of an unfamiliar word.
The Science of Reading ComprehensionThe term Science of Reading has been the focus of attention for several years (see my January, 2020 post). The term refers to the research that reading experts, especially cognitive scientists, have conducted on how we learn to read. This body of knowledge, over twenty years in the making, has helped debunk older methods of reading instruction that were based on tradition and observation, not evidence. Much of the discourse around instruction based on the Science of Reading tends to focus on the importance of explicit instruction for phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency. But what does the research tell us about effective instruction for comprehension?
Reading Intervention for Older Struggling StudentsIn the last few months I have seen a growing interest in adolescent literacy. This includes content literacy instruction for all students that is integrated across subject areas, as well as intervention instruction for older students who struggle with reading and writing. Between 2005 and 2015, a number of adolescent literacy research reports were published based on meta-analyses of research on effective practices for teaching reading and writing to older students, and the website AdLit.org was also launched (see the reference list).
What is adolescent literacy?Ever since the report of the National Reading Panel in 2000, significant emphasis has been placed on research-based practices for teaching reading in the elementary grades. Early literacy achievement, however, is not necessarily a guarantee that literacy skills will continue to grow as students move beyond grade 3. Scores at the secondary level, where there has been relatively little investment by school districts or states, have remained flat. A growing body of research has developed about what students beyond grade 3 need in order to keep growing their reading and writing skills, why some struggle, and what effective instruction looks like, beginning with two seminal research reports: Reading Next (2004) and Writing Next (2007).
Science of Reading in the NewsAs the number of articles, podcasts and blog posts related to the science of reading grows, I've been updating a list I started for our Keys to Literacy trainers to share. We have been getting so many requests about the list, that I decided to make it the focus of this post.
Building Executive Function SkillsA piece by Lisa Suh for the Edutopia blog about executive function caught my attention after I recently provided a professional development session for teachers about possible causes for difficulty with reading comprehension. During the training, I reviewed the following skill components associated with executive functions: organizing, goal setting, cognitive flexibility, working memory, and self-monitoring. Click here for a chart that defines each skill and its role in supporting reading.
The Writing RevolutionI’ve long been a fan of Judith Hochman’s work related to teaching basic writing skills to older students who struggle with writing. In 2012, the Atlantic published a riveting article titled “The Writing Revolution” that chronicled the experience of a New York City high school as they sought to understand why so many of their students could not write. They determined that Judith’s sentence instruction practices were a big part of the solution. Now Judith has written a book with Natalie Wexler (with a forward by Doug Lemov) titled “The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in all Subjects and Grades.”
What is Adolescent Literacy?“Reading is the key. Without it, the instruction for playing Monopoly, the recipe for Grandma’s lasagna, The Cat in the Hat, the directions to the job interview, the Psalms, the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven – all these and a lifetime of other mysteries large and small may never be known.” (Kansas City Start newspaper) The quote above reminds us that literacy skills in the 21st century are more essential than ever for success in education, work, citizenship, and our personal lives. However, far too many older students and adults do not have the necessary reading and writing skills to succeed in postsecondary education or the ever-increasing number of jobs that require literacy skills.
Literacy in Every ClassroomThe focus of the February 2017 issue of Educational Leadership is “Literacy in Every Classroom”. The journal has several excellent articles aligned to our work at Keys to Literacy. Only members of ASCD can access the full edition, but there are a few articles that are available free to the public. I have listed them below and added notes connecting the instructional practices suggested by the authors with our Keys to Literacy teacher training routines.
Teaching Secondary Students to Write EffectivelyThe last decade has seen a renewed focus on improving the content writing skills of middle and high school students. A new Educator’s Practice Guide was just published in November, 2016 by the IES (Institute of Education Sciences) titled Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively. This report presents writing instruction recommendations aligned with several earlier research reports including Writing Next (2007) and Writing to Read (2010). The authors of the report (Steve Graham and colleagues) organized their recommendations into three sections. Similar to reading instruction where the focus after grade 4 shifts from learning to read to reading to learn, the focus for writing instruction also shifts from learning to write to writing to learn. As students move through grades 6 to 12, the need grows to learn to write specifically for different content areas (i.e., disciplinary writing). This opening paragraph from the introduction of the new report sums up the important role of writing.
Teaching Reading for UnderstandingIn the November/December 2016 issue of Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Goldman, Snow and Vaughn present the results of a three-year adolescent literacy project that focused on three projects that examined content literacy instructional approaches. While each project had its own model of building comprehension, all were successful in improving student outcomes. Three common practices to support content literacy instructional practices are: engaged reading, small and whole group work, and knowledge building. The findings of the study support a continuing body of research that supports the teaching, modeling, and practice of content literacy instructional strategies that are embedded in the disciplinary classroom using subject-area text. This is foundational underpinning of all Keys to Literacy professional development!
Free Online Course: Content Literacy InstructionI recently learned of a free online professional development course available called “Reading and Writing in the Disciplines”. It was produced by WGBH Educational Foundation and made available by the Annenberg Foundation. It can be accessed for free at the website Annenberg Learner: Teacher Resources for Professional Development Across the Curriculum....
Content Literacy Skills: Building a Stronger PlateI recently read an article in the Washington Post about one school district’s plan to make an overhaul of literacy instruction a priority, especially in its high schools. The Prince George’s County School District in MD set a goal of ensuring that by 2020, 90 percent of its students graduating from high school will be prepared for college and the work force. The district decided to fully embrace the Common Core focus that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility among all content teachers within a school – literacy instruction is being filtered into every subject classroom, including math, science, and health class....
Tips for Motivating Your StudentsExperts say there are six variables of human motivation. Whether we are two years old or 92 years old, experiences from our past contribute to our future decisions. One of those variables is success. We must be at least 50% successful at something in order to be motivated to do it again. It makes sense for me. At age 17, I went downhill skiing. It was an horrific experience. To this day, I will not even cross country ski; there may be a decline in the terrain and in seconds I will be kissing the ground. I have zero motivation to ski. I snowshoe, thank you...
Literacy Instruction ResourcesPart of the Keys to Literacy mission is to make research-based, practical instructional material available to educators. To address this goal, we provide a wide range of free resources that can be accessed from the Keys to Literacy website. We recently updated much of this material, so I decided to focus this blog entry on identifying these resources and providing links to them. ..
Common Core, College Readiness, and Disadvantaged StudentsA recent article in U.S. News and World Report about preparedness of college-bound students from disadvantaged backgrounds is the catalyst for this blog entry. It was written by Tiffany Miller, a first-generation college student. Miller refers to a report recently released by ACT and the Council for Opportunity in Education: The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2014: First-Generation Students.
Miller reminds us of the major challenges that first-generation and low-income students face when they enter college...
What Are Prospective Teachers Being Taught About Literacy?The answer: Sadly, not enough!
The International Literacy Association recently released new research brief about teacher preparation for literacy instruction based on states’ requirements. It is part of a larger effort by ILA to examine overall teacher preparation for literacy instruction.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the ILA found that there is inconsistent and insufficient state requirements for ensuring that teachers have the training and knowledge to provide literacy instruction....
Raising Kids Who ReadI often find articles written by Daniel Willingham (a researcher and psychology professor at the University of Virginia) thought-provoking, including a piece he wrote for the Spring 2015 edition of American Educator titled “For the Love of Reading.”
The article is based on his new book Raising Kids Who Read, which I decided to purchase after reading the article. In both pieces, Willingham addresses the challenge for parents and teachers to get children, especially teens, to read more....
Why Students Need to Read Challenging TextWhy do literacy standards focus so much on making sure students learn to read complex text? Common Core Appendix A: Research Supporting Key Elements of the Standards (2010, p. 2-4) provides some insight, summarized below.
The demands and complexity of reading in a college setting, in workforce training programs, and in civic life in general have either remained the same or increased over the last fifty years. However, K-12 texts have actually declined in difficulty and sophistication and become less demanding....
Stopping the Summer Reading SlideAs a reading specialist/coach for many years, part of my responsibility was to work collaboratively with teachers to develop summer reading requirements for students. We were aware of the research showing that if students are not engaged in reading activities over the summer they could lose up to 3 months of their reading progress and low socioeconomic children are at the greatest risk. We did everything to ensure that it would not happen to our students! We would take great efforts to plan a summer reading kick off, organize book drives and create packets so that we could send each student off for the summer well equipped, only to be disappointed when less than a quarter of the students returned to school in the fall with their packets completed.
Challenge Students With Challenging Text?The title of a recent piece in The Hechinger Report caught my attention: ”Should we tailor difficulty of a school text to child’s comfort level or make them sweat?”
The author of the piece, Annie Murphy Paul, notes that the practice of leveling students’ reading material so that teachers can adjust the difficulty of text to suit the ability and skills of the reader is very popular and has been around for over sixty years....
Resources for Fluency InstructionEven though Keys to Literacy professional development programs focus on comprehension, vocabulary, and writing, we are often asked about resources related to fluency – what it is, why it’s important, and how to teach it. This blog entry is devoted to identifying fluency resources.
I decided to start with the work of Jan Hasbrouck, a friend and colleague who I believe knows more about fluency than any other educator in the country. Together with her colleague, Gerald Tindal, Jan developed the first set of national norms for oral reading fluency performance in 1992. They updated and presented the norms in 2006 in an article: Oral Reading Fluency Norms: A Valuable Assessment Tool for Reading Teachers...