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.
Vocabulary Instruction for English Language LearnersTogether with my colleagues at Keys to Literacy, I have recently updated the content in our Key Vocabulary Routine professional development course, including information related to vocabulary instruction for English language learners (ELLs). This quote from Michael Graves sums up an important message for teachers of all grades and subjects: “While most of the assistance we provide for ELLs will not be different in kind from that we provide for English only students, many ELLs will need to be taught more words, will need more powerful instruction, and will need to be given particular help in mastering word-learning strategies. This is also true of other students who enter school with small vocabularies.” (2016, p. 41)
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.
Vocabulary: Templates for Teaching Words In-DepthThis post features two scaffolds that can be used to teach specific words: the Frayer and the Two-Column templates. Effective vocabulary instruction should combine direct and indirect approaches to developing students' vocabularies. Direct methods of vocabulary instruction include teaching strategies for learning new words such as analyzing word parts and using the context to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words. It also includes providing in-depth instruction for specific words. Research has shown that direct instruction of at least 400 words per year produces gains in vocabulary and comprehension (Beck et al., 2002; Biemiller, 2004). The Common Core State Standards (and similar state-specific standards) call for students to "acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases" (Language anchor standard #6).
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:
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.
Semantic Mapping to Grow VocabularyKnowledge helps you remember new information, and people who know a great deal about a topic also know its vocabulary. One critical finding from research is that word learning takes place most efficiently when the reader or listener already understands the context well. In fact, we learn words up to four times faster in a familiar context than in an unfamiliar one (Landauer & Dumais, 1997; Hirsch, 2006). Vocabulary instruction that compares and contrasts word meanings and that activates prior knowledge not only helps students learn new words, but also has been shown to improve comprehension of a reading selection (Graves, 2006). Therefore, an important goal of instruction in any subject grade, in any grade, should be to help students acquire the vocabulary associated with the content and to make connections between known and unknown words.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
Academic VocabularyThe ACHIEVE THE CORE website is an excellent resource for everything related to literacy instruction. I recently became aware of a free, online tool at their website called the Academic Word Finder.
When teachers enter sample text into the tool, it finds the high-value, academic vocabulary words in that text. The Common Core emphasizes the need for students to learn academic vocabulary in order to access the content of subject-area texts, as noted in the anchor Language Standard #6 for grades K-12...
The Way You Talk Can Grow Students’ VocabularyI just read a blog post written by Louisa Moats. In the piece, she discusses how to expand students’ vocabulary based on a new line of research confirming that the way teachers talk and use language with students makes a big difference.
Moats, who is an expert on phonological awareness, points out that if we have only heard a word but don’t know its meaning, we still have an advantage when we first encounter the word in print because we have a “pronunciation in memory” to which we can attach the letters. Moats explains that “this aspect of word memory is called the phonological lexicon, and it is enriched every time we listen to people speaking who use words that are new to us.”...
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. ..
Content Vocabulary Instruction: Video ResourceA free webinar video of Joan Sedita presenting professional development about content vocabulary instruction is now available. It includes a teacher study guide and knowledge quiz. The video is approximately 90 minutes and can be used as an in-house professional development workshop with teachers of grades 4-12.....
Creating a Word Conscious ClassroomWord consciousness is "awareness and interest in words and their meaning" (Graves & Watts-Taffe, 2008). While word consciousness is just one aspect of effective vocabulary instruction, I believe it is the most important way to motivate students to read and build their vocabulary. Teachers who share their love for words (logophilia) and who provide engaging opportunities to interact with words across all content on a daily basis will ignite this word learning passion in their students.....
Word CollectingI like to collect new words….. in fact, I have a large, glass jar on the top of my desk where I keep slips of paper with new words that cross my path. If a word catches my interest, I find and write its definition, use it in a sentence, and add this to slip of paper that goes in the jar.
I just added this new word: “jonesing”, which means “craving, wanting really badly” (InternetSlang.com) and “to have a strong need or desire for something” (urbandictionary.com). I met the word via a friend who has used it several times in writing and conversation, as in an email message that noted “I am jonesing to go skiing in the mountains.”....
“Voice of Literacy” PodcastsI’d like to share a resource I recently found that archives podcasts related to literacy. On the Voice of Literacy site, Dr. Betsy Baker (Associate Professor of Literacy studies at the University of Missouri) posts bi-weekly podcasts of interviews of researchers as they discuss the implications of their literacy research. Most podcasts range from 10 to 12 minutes long, and are archived back to 2008. I can’t believe I am just finding out about this resource!....
Main Idea and Note Taking Tips for ParentsIn August, The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) published in Dyslexia Connection: A Parent Newsletter an article I wrote for parents titled "Helping Your Child with Main Idea and Note Taking Skills".
The article includes suggestions for how parents can help their children develop categorizing and main idea skills. It also presents an overview of the two-column note format that students can use when they are reading for homework...
Web Resources from Reading Matters to MaineI had the pleasure of working with Wendy Gaal, a reading specialist, tutor and founder of Reading Matters to Maine. Reading Matters to Maine is a group of Maine educators, parents and academics who understand the growing problem of children not learning to read. They advocate and provide resources for an improved knowledge base for current and future teachers of reading.
Wendy has created a fantastic website full of articles, videos, and other great resources for teaching struggling readers (the picture of the girl pouting on the first page is priceless). Check out the great work Wendy and the rest of the advisors at Reading Matters to Maine are doing.....