Teaching With Challenging, High-Quality TextAll students across all grades should be provided access to complex, grade-level texts that offer opportunities to develop academic language (vocabulary and syntactic awareness) and acquire knowledge about the world, both of which contribute to development of reading comprehension. High academic expectations for all students using challenging text is an important way to support students from multiple ethnic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds.
Motivating & Engaging Adolescents to ReadA significant number of the teacher trainings that Keys to Literacy delivers at schools and districts are focused on teaching reading comprehension, vocabulary, and writing to students in grades 5-12. A common question teachers ask us is, "How can I motivate students to read and stay engaged while they are reading?" This is not surprising given that there is strong evidence that students' motivation and interest in reading school-related texts declines after they move from elementary to middle school, and this is particularly true for students who have difficulty learning to read (Torgesen et al., 2007; Kamil et al., 2008). This post provides information about this topic and suggests instructional practices associated with improved motivation.
Writing Personal Reactions to Narrative TextThe Writing to Read report summarized the findings from a meta-analysis of the research related to how writing supports reading (Graham & Hebert, 2010). One of the key recommendations was to ask students to respond in writing to narrative text (e.g., a story or a biography), such as writing a personal response to narrative material read or writing about a personal experience related to it. The report suggests that this might take the form of a response journal, for which the teacher asks students to write their feelings, reactions, and questions during or after reading a story or other form of narrative text, such as a biography. Personal responses to narrative text help students clarify and organize what they are reading and become aware of their reactions to the text.
Comprehension Strategy Instruction: Grades K-3What do we know about effective instruction to support comprehension as young students in primary grades learn to read? The Institute of Education Sciences research guide titled Improving Reading Comprehension Through 3rd Grade (Shanahan et al., 2010) offers the following recommendations based on a meta-analysis of research related to comprehension instruction. This post focuses on the first -- teaching comprehension strategies.
Teaching Text Structure to Support Writing & ComprehensionWhat is text structure, and why should teachers teach it? Text structure is unique to written language, and awareness of text structure supports both writing and reading comprehension. This post explores the different types of text structure that can be taught explicitly to support writing and reading.
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.
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.
The Mighty ParagraphSentences and paragraphs are the building blocks of writing. One by one, sentences combine ideas to make meaning. Sentences related to the same main idea are grouped into a paragraph. Then, one by one, paragraphs combine to become text. In 2020, I devoted two posts to sharing suggestions for developing sentence writing skills (see Part 1 and Part 2). This post will focus on paragraph structure.
Culturally Responsive Literacy InstructionCulturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of meeting students where they are culturally and linguistically. It puts students at the center of instruction that validates and affirms students' identities and gives students from historically marginalized communities an equitable education experience. When culturally responsive educators validate and affirm students and bring them where they need to be academically, students are more likely to feel recognized, valued for their contributions, and eager to learn. (Hollie, 2017)
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?
What is Structured Literacy instruction?Keys to Literacy recently launched our new "Understanding Dyslexia" online course, and one of the major topics in the course is the importance of using a structured literacy approach to teaching reading to students with dyslexia. Structured literacy is a comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that research shows is effective for all students and essential for students who have difficulty with reading. This approach addresses all the foundational elements that are critical for reading comprehension. It is characterized by the provision of systematic, explicit instruction that integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing. It includes instruction for multiple levels of language.
What are Cohesive Devices and how do they affect comprehension?I was recently developing some PowerPoints and activities for a comprehension training session about the role that text structure plays in reading comprehension. One of the related topics that is unfamiliar to many teachers was Cohesive Devices (sometimes called Cohesive Ties, and also known as anaphors). I thought I'd devote this post to explaining cohesive ties and how they might affect reading comprehension, especially for younger students or English language learners.
The Power of Transition WordsWhat are transition words and phrases? Sometimes called linking words, transitions connect sentences, paragraphs and sections of text. They also allow us to connect ideas when we speak. Instruction about transitions supports student reading and writing. When students are aware of transitions while reading, they provide powerful clues to support comprehension. When students include transitions when writing, the message and ideas they want to convey are clear and organized.
Syntactic Awareness: Teaching Sentence Structure Part 2I posted part 1 of Syntactic Awareness on June 2. As noted in that post, 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. Developing sentence skills is also essential to becoming a good writer.
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.