The Writing Rope: Author Q and ASince the publication of my book The Writing Rope: A Framework for Explicit Writing Instruction in All Subjects in August, 2022, I have been asked to do several interviews for podcasts, webinars, and articles about the book. The book has also led to inquiries about how Keys to Literacy's professional development courses are aligned with The Writing Rope. For this month's blog post, I have collected questions and answers from these interviews.
The Importance of Teaching Prosody as Part of Reading FluencyFluency, along with phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension, is one of the five components of reading identified by the National Reading Panel (2000). The panel found compelling evidence that instruction to increase reading fluency is critical to both comprehension and future reading success and ease. Fluency plays a role in helping students become motivated readers. It is the ability to read connected text at varying degrees of complexity accurately, appropriately paced, with logical phrasing and prosodic expression, with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading. Fluency combines rate, accuracy, automaticity, and oral reading prosody (expression), which taken together facilitate the reader’s construction of meaning. Prosody is the rhythmic and melodic aspects of speech. It is reading with good expression, intonation, including pitch, tone, volume, and emphasis on certain words.
Beginning Writing: Transcription vs. Composing SkillsTranscription skills include spelling and handwriting, basic skills that are needed to transcribe the words a writer wants to put into writing. For students in upper grades, keyboarding in place of handwriting is also a transcription skill. Once students become automatic and fluent with spelling and handwriting, they can focus their attention on higher level composing. If students do not develop fluency with these skills by grade 3, this will put a constraint on writing development as they move into the later grades. One of the four main recommendations in the Institute of Sciences research guide Teaching Elementary Students to be Effective Writers (Graham et al., 2012) is to teach students to become fluent with transcriptions skills, including teaching young writers how to hold a pencil correctly and form letters fluently and efficiently, and to spell words correctly.
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.
Reading Assessment BasicsReading assessment is essential for supporting effective reading instruction. Reading assessment data provides teachers important information to guide instructional decisions. It also helps guide school leadership as they make reading curriculum decisions. This goal of this blog post is to share basic explanations of key terms related to reading assessments.
Spelling Rules and GeneralizationsThe focus of this post is on explicit instruction, with examples, of spelling rules and generalizations
Teaching HandwritingA few years ago I developed The Writing Rope as a framework to organize the writing skills that are woven into skilled writing. One of the components is transcription skills, which includes spelling and handwriting. When students develop fluent handwriting skills, they can focus their attention on composing. Difficulty with handwriting can have negative consequences for later writing ability. Teaching handwriting should be an essential part of a writing curriculum.
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)
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?
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.