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?
Word Walls, Sounds Walls: What’s the difference?A hot topic in the field of beginning reading instruction these days is the use of classroom "walls." Word walls, sound walls, spelling walls, morphology walls - so many different kinds of walls! Understanding the difference among these options, and the different purposes for using them can be confusing. To help clear up some of this confusion, here are some brief descriptions and examples of different types of walls:
Teaching the Schwa Sound in Unaccented SyllablesSchwa is one of those phonics concepts that can be really confusing to students as they learn to decode longer, multi-syllable words. The schwa sound is the most common vowel sound in the English language, accounting for 20% of all vowel sounds (Yule, 1996), and it often is the cause of spelling mistakes. The schwa sound is formed with a neutral mouth position, and it replaces a vowel sound in the unaccented syllables of multi-syllable words. It is sometimes called the “lazy” vowel.
Phoneme & Letter-Sound LaddersOne of the most well-established findings in beginning reading research is the relationship between phonemic awareness and reading acquisition. Phonics is the system by which symbols (i.e., letters, also called graphemes) represent sounds (i.e., phonemes) in an alphabetic system like English. Some sounds are represented by just a single letter (e.g., b for /b/ as in tub) while some sounds are represented by two or more letters (e.g., bb for /b/ as in rubber). In order to learn this phonics system where "print maps to speech" students rely on their phonemic awareness ability to isolate, blend and segment sounds as they learn which letters/graphemes represent those speech sounds. This is why, of all the phonological awareness tasks, phonemic awareness is most closely associated with phonics and learning to read. One activity that can support both phonemic awareness and learning letter-sound correspondences is Word Ladders, sometimes called Word Chains.
High Frequency Sight WordsEducators sometimes confuse the following related terms: sight words, high frequency words, decodable words, irregular words. Sight words are words that are instantly recognized and identified without conscious effort. High frequency words are the words most commonly used in the English language. Because high frequency words are essential to learning how to read, teachers should begin to teach some high frequency words as sight words to children in primary grades at the same time children are being taught how to use phonics to decode words. Teachers introduce these words as soon as kindergarten if their students are ready.
Teaching Literacy Skills VirtuallyDuring this unprecedented 2020 to 2021 school year educators, students and parents across the country are struggling to adjust to ever-changing instructional models that combine in-person teaching, virtual online instruction, and asynchronous online learning. The numbers of students prior to the pandemic who had difficulty developing grade-level reading and writing skills was already too high, and the disruption to teaching and learning will only make things worse. Reading and writing skills are the foundation of all learning, so we must do the best we can to teach students of all grades the literacy skills they will need to be able to access the content in all subjects that they are missing because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I have met and heard about so many dedicated literacy educators and organizations who are meeting the challenge by developing resources to teach literacy skills virtually. This month's post will focus on resources for teaching reading and writing virtually.
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 Role of Orthographic Mapping in Learning to ReadEvery word has three forms – its sounds (phonemes), its orthography (spelling), and its meaning. Orthographic mapping is the process that all successful readers use to become fluent readers. Through orthographic mapping, students use the oral language processing part of their brain to map (connect) the sounds of words they already know (the phonemes) to the letters in a word (the spellings). They then permanently store the connected sounds and letters of words (along with their meaning) as instantly recognizable words, described as “sight vocabulary” or “sight words”.
Systematic Phonics Scope and SequenceSystematic phonics instruction follows a sequential and planned set of phonics elements that gradually builds from base elements to more subtle and complex structures. Teachers follow a scope and sequence, as opposed to implicit phonics instruction that addresses phonics as it comes up in text. While there is no universally agreed upon scope and sequence, any logically ordered sequence begins with the most basic phonics concepts and progresses to more difficult concepts, with new learning building on prior knowledge (Carreker, 2011). Sequences vary somewhat among phonics programs. If teachers are using an explicit, systematic phonics program it is best to follow its sequence for the order of teaching. If this is not the case, or if the program is not systematic enough, Keys to Literacy has developed a "generic" scope and sequence.
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.
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."
Why are we still teaching reading the wrong way?“Scientific research has shown how children learn to read and how they should be taught. But many educators don't know the science and, in some cases, actively resist it. As a result, millions of kids are being set up to fail.” This is a quote from Emily Hanford's September, 2018 podcast and article published APMreports by American Public Media. Her piece highlights the lack of teacher knowledge about science-based reading instruction, due in part from not being taught reading science in teacher preparation schools, and in part from incorrect beliefs about how children learn to read.
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.
Multisensory Teaching by Emily GibbonsThis post was written by Emily Gibbons, a dyslexia instructor. Emily provides suggestions for using multiple senses when teaching foundational reading skills. Multisensory teaching is not just crucial for kids with dyslexia, it is good solid teaching for ALL students. Using a variety of senses helps with memory and retrieval and allows students to support their areas of weakness with their areas of strength. Incorporating multisensory learning tools into your classroom lessons will not replace intervention services, but it will make classroom lessons more accessible to students with learning differences.
Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and LetterlandLast year, Keys to Literacy decided that it was time to offer a phonics program and literacy professional development for phonemic awareness and phonics instruction in the primary grades. We knew it had to be up to the quality, high standards that educators have come to expect from Keys to Literacy. That is why we chose Letterland!
A literacy planning model to support MTSSIn an earlier Literacy Lines post (What is MTSS? November 16, 2016) we explained an instructional framework that includes a universal screening of all students, multiple tiers of instruction and support services, and an integrated data collection and assessment system to inform decisions at each tier of instruction. An MTSS framework can be used for literacy, math, or supporting positive behavior. In order to successfully implement an MTSS framework for literacy, schools and districts must first complete a process to develop a literacy plan.
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...
The Listening and Reading Comprehension LinkI recently read a piece by Monica Brady-Myerov in Language Magazine in which she addresses the importance of teaching students listening skills. That same day I was reviewing the final proof for my updated training book, The Key Comprehension Routine: Primary Grades that includes an updated chapter about the foundational role of oral language and listening comprehension. The coincidence caused me to devote this blog post to listening comprehension!...
Literacy Legislation in the New ESSA LawOn Dec 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) which replaced the “No Child Left Behind Act” (NCLB) of 2002.
There are a number of key changes in the new law. Here at Keys to Literacy we are most interested in the LEARN part of the legislation: Literacy Education For All, Results for the Nation.
The program addresses reading and writing instruction across ALL grades and ages – i.e., birth through grade 12...
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....
Young Voices find an AudienceAs a foundational piece of our Keys to Content Writing training, we examine the 10 Common Core State Standards for writing. Standard 4 specifically addresses the importance of task, audience and purpose.
W#4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.....