Syntactic Awareness: Teaching Sentence Structure (Part 1)The ability to understand at the sentence level is in many ways the foundation for being able to comprehend text. The ways in which authors express their ideas through sentences greatly affects a reader's ability to access and identify those ideas. Sentences that are complex, contain a large number of ideas (also called propositions), or have unusual word order will make it difficulty for students to comprehend what they are reading, especially students who enter school with limited oral language exposure or for whom English is a second language.
Levels of Language & LiteracyQuestion: What role does knowledge of language play in reading and writing? Answer: A huge role! Teachers tend to focus on the “five components of reading” when thinking about what’s needed to teach students to be good readers (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). But there is another model that should be considered: the seven levels of language.
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.
Previewing Vocabulary Before ReadingExisting background knowledge is a critical component for comprehension, and word meanings are part of larger knowledge structures about a topic. Knowing the vocabulary words associated with a given topic enables students to connect their background knowledge to what they are reading. What if students aren't unfamiliar with some of the vocabulary in the text? Many studies have shown that previewing unfamiliar words before students read improves comprehension.
We Need to Pay Attention to the Science of Reading!
The scientific evidence base on how we learn to read and how to best teach reading has been growing and converging over 40 years. This includes brain imaging studies that show how our brains learn to read and underlying causes of why some students have difficulty learning read.
Sadly, teachers often do not have access to this evidence base. Many teachers report that their preservice education in college did little to prepare them for teaching reading. Many veteran teachers report a lack of quality professional development once hired that could help them improve their reading instruction. And for too long, the reading wars have confused teachers and administrators. These wars started in the 1990's when whole language advocates succeeded in convincing too many schools that learning to read comes naturally without the need for explicit instruction in decoding skills. Even today, there are many reading "experts" that say they promote a "balanced" approach to beginning instruction, but what that actually represents is a little bit of incidental phonics thrown in on top of the same approaches to reading instruction that have not worked for the past 25 years. The latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card, were just released—and things aren't looking good for the country's young readers.
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.
Close Reading: Elementary Grades K-5I recently read two blog posts that address close reading of complex text in the elementary grades, including kindergarten and grade 1. The first was a piece by Tim Shanahan titled Complex Text for Beginning Readers... Good Idea or Not. Shanahan makes the case that, even for these early grades, teachers can begin to teach students how to tackle challenging text. Keys to Literacy provides professional development for close reading using our Keys to Close Reading one-day teacher training offering. We are often asked if this PD is appropriate for teachers in early primary grades. Our answer is, "Yes, but only if the teacher uses read aloud to give students access to the text."
How to Teach Main IdeaThe ability to identify and state main ideas and distinguish them from supporting details is a foundational comprehension skill. Instructional practices for this skill are an integral part of several Keys to Literacy professional development programs, including The Key Comprehension Routine and Keys to Content Writing. Its importance as a reading skill is highlighted as one of the 10 anchor standards in the Common Core ELA standards.
How to Jigsaw a Literacy Lesson in P.E. by Peg GrafwallnerThis guest post was written by Peg Grafwallner and first published in her blog 2018. It caught my eye because it is an excellent example of how literacy instructional strategies can be embedded in any subject area. She made main idea and summary instruction a part of her lesson, which are two big skills in our Key Comprehension Routine.
Retell, Recount, Summary: What’s the difference?Most educators agree that having students of all ages describe text they have read is a helpful comprehension strategy. This includes retelling or recounting, summarizing, and paraphrasing. In reading standard #2, the Common Core Standards require students in grades K-1 to “retell”, students in grades 2-3 to “recount”, and students in grades 4-12 to “summarize”. However, many students and their teachers are not sure about what each term means.
Using Morphology to Teach VocabularyA recent blog post by Tim Shanahan titled “What should morphology instruction look like?” reminded me how important it is to teach students about word parts (i.e., roots, prefixes, suffixes) as a useful tool for determining the meaning of unfamiliar words and growing academic vocabularies. One of the five components of our Key Vocabulary Routine is Teach Word Learning Strategies, which includes how to look for clues outside the word (use of context) and inside the word (use of word parts) when encountering an unknown word while reading. Outside clues include rereading the sentences before and after the word and using the context of the text. Inside clues come from recognizing meaningful parts of the word, i.e., using morphological knowledge.
Question Generation: A Key Comprehension StrategyFor this post, I want to focus on teaching students to generate their own questions while reading to improve comprehension. There is significant evidence that learning to generate questions while reading improves memory, integration and identification of main ideas, and overall comprehension (Rosenshine et al., 1996; National Reading Panel, 2000; Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002). Question generation is one of the four student strategy activities in The Key Comprehension Routine. You can take an online professional development workshop about how to teach question generation by going to the Keys to Literacy Teachable website.
The Great and Powerful Topic WebI recently read a piece at the Cult of Pedagogy blog site by Jennifer Gonzalez titled “The Great and Powerful Graphic Organizer” in which she explains why graphic organizers are such powerful teaching and learning tools. Everything she noted rang true to us at Keys to Literacy, especially as related to the foundational graphic organizer used in our Key Comprehension Routine and in our Keys to Content Writing as a pre-writing strategy: the Top-Down Topic Web.
Background Knowledge and Reading ComprehensionA recent article “Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years” in The Atlantic addressed the critical role that background knowledge plays in the ability to comprehend. The article subtitle was “Schools usually focus on teaching comprehension skills instead of general knowledge – even though education researchers know better.”
Explicit Instruction of Note Taking SkillsNote taking, and two-column note taking in particular, is integrated into several Keys to Literacy professional development programs. It is used in The Key Comprehension Routine as a strategy for improving reading comprehension. It is used in Keys to Content Writing as a strategy and scaffold for gathering information from sources before writing. It is also used in The Key Vocabulary Routine as a template that can be used to deeply teach academic vocabulary terms. This post provides some suggestions for teaching note taking.
Patterns of OrganizationExpository text typically incorporates five common patterns of organization, and transition words and phrases often signal the use of these patterns in text. These patterns are sometimes referred to as text structures. They are more commonly found in informational and opinion types of writing, but may also be used in narratives.
Digital Note TakingBeth Holland’s recent blog piece Digital Note Taking Strategies that Deepen Student Thinking, written for Mind/Shift, includes some helpful suggestions for how technology can support student note taking. I wrote a post in October, 2016 that referred to earlier pieces written by Holland on a similar topic, Note Taking Technology. Her current suggestions are so good that I had to revisit this topic again.
Executive Skills and Reading ComprehensionThe role of executive functioning in learning has been researched for many decades, and we now know that executive skills play important roles in literacy learning, and especially in successful reading comprehension. I recently finished a book by Kelly Cartwright, Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension: A Guide for Educators (2015, Guilford Press) that explores this connection in detail and provides suggestions for supporting students who have weak executive 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 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!
Teacher Expertise Matters MostEarlier this year I read a piece in The Economist titled "Teaching the Teachers" that addressed this research finding about what works best in successful schools: Many factors shape a child’s success, but in schools nothing matters as much as the quality of teaching....
Note Taking With TechnologyI recently read two pieces by Beth Holland, writing for Edutopia, about using technology to support note taking that got me thinking about the note taking skills we teach in several of our Keys to Literacy professional development routines...
The Language and Literacy ConnectionI have recently been developing modified versions of Keys to Literacy’s professional development for instructional practices of comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills to focus on how these practices can be used to meet the needs of English Language Learners and students with a reading disability. This work has reminded me that language skills are tightly connected to learning literacy skills, and that weak English language skills are often the reason why many students struggle with reading and writing...
I Should Have Written That!For the third time in my life, I have read a book and immediately said, “I should have written that!” Has that ever happened to you? I mean, really, “ THAT book is my life!”
The first time it happened was with Frank Smith’s, Insult to Intelligence: the Bureaucratic Invasion of our Classrooms, published in 1986. Smith promotes alternatives to “drill –and-kill” instruction where, “children are learning that reading and writing are ‘school activities,’ punitive, pointless and boring, not to be engaged in unless teachers require them.” He promotes “literacy clubs,” where …”there is never a formal, tedious, and meaningless period of instruction; no one ever gives a struggling beginner a low score; differences in interest and ability are expected.” He was describing MY classroom! I should have written that book...