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.
We Need a “Writing Rope”!The literature and discourse related to literacy instruction tends to focus on reading, even though writing is just as important for student literacy achievement. In addition, significant attention is paid to the multi component nature of skilled reading, while writing tends to be referred to as a single, monolithic skill. With a nod towards Hollis Scarborough’s “Reading Rope”, in 2019 I developed a model that identifies the multiple components that are necessary for skilled writing: The Writing Rope: The Strands That Are Woven Into Skilled Writing. In 2001, Scarborough published a graphic that depicts multiple components of language comprehension (i.e., background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, literacy knowledge) and word recognition (i.e., phonological awareness, decoding, sight recognition) as strands in a rope. As students develop skills in these components they become increasingly strategic and automatic in their application, leading to fluent reading comprehension.
The Power of Quick WritesI recently read an Edutopia blog post by Benjamin Barbour titled "The Power of Short Writing Assignments" just after delivering a professional development workshop about Quick Writes from my Keys to Content Writing teacher training program. I knew I had to make this the topic of my next blog post!
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.
Teaching Writing in KindergartenI just read another good blog post from Tim Shanahan, this one about how to teach writing in kindergarten…. on the same day that our new Keys to Early Writing book is going to the printer! So, I thought I’d devote this entry to kindergarten writing instruction. You might be asking this question: Do young children in kindergarten even have the skills to be able to write? Part of the answer is how you define writing. When you substitute the word composing, it’s easy to see that the answer is yes! Kindergarteners definitely have the ability to compose, even if they can’t yet read or write letters.
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.
The Writing RevolutionI’ve long been a fan of Judith Hochman’s work related to teaching basic writing skills to older students who struggle with writing. In 2012, the Atlantic published a riveting article titled “The Writing Revolution” that chronicled the experience of a New York City high school as they sought to understand why so many of their students could not write. They determined that Judith’s sentence instruction practices were a big part of the solution. Now Judith has written a book with Natalie Wexler (with a forward by Doug Lemov) titled “The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in all Subjects and Grades.”
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 Basic Argument Writing ComponentsOver the past two years since Keys to Literacy published my Keys to Argument Writing professional development module and the associated training book Keys to Content Writing I am often asked by teachers advice for how to teach argument writing (and opinion for elementary grades). The place to start is to introduce students to the structure of argument/opinion writing.
Teaching Secondary Students to Write EffectivelyThe last decade has seen a renewed focus on improving the content writing skills of middle and high school students. A new Educator’s Practice Guide was just published in November, 2016 by the IES (Institute of Education Sciences) titled Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively. This report presents writing instruction recommendations aligned with several earlier research reports including Writing Next (2007) and Writing to Read (2010). The authors of the report (Steve Graham and colleagues) organized their recommendations into three sections. Similar to reading instruction where the focus after grade 4 shifts from learning to read to reading to learn, the focus for writing instruction also shifts from learning to write to writing to learn. As students move through grades 6 to 12, the need grows to learn to write specifically for different content areas (i.e., disciplinary writing). This opening paragraph from the introduction of the new report sums up the important role of writing.
Universal Design for LearningUniversal Design for Learning (UDL), often associated with using technology to improve accessibility for all learners, applies that principle to the classroom. However, the instructional design choices available can often include low-tech solutions. Small-group instruction and graphic organizers provide flexible options in addition to the tech-savvy internet hyperlinks and text to speech translators. UDL has much more to do with how a teacher thinks about his or her students’ learning than it does with using iPads, YouTube, or Google Docs to create a final product.
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...
Building CommunityIt’s summer and I am cleaning out my office; organizing files, restocking the paper clips and staples, filling the recycling bin. Nostalgically looking through a folder of handouts for a writers’ workshop I conducted many years ago, I laser focused on the words of one page in particular. It outlined the grading criteria for my writing classes – how to evaluate the product and, always more importantly for me, how to evaluate the process of writing....
Scaffolds to Support SummarizingSummarizing is one of the most effective activities for improving both comprehension and writing skills (National Reading Panel, 2000; Graham & Perin, 2007). Summarizing enhances comprehension as students select, condense, and synthesize in their own words the big ideas of what they have learned. Summarizing also lets teachers monitor student comprehension. It’s not surprising that the Common Core has devoted one of the ten reading standards to summarizing....
Teaching Grammar: What Works and What Doesn’tI have been recently working with my Keys to Literacy colleagues to develop our new Keys to Early Writing professional development program -- we will pilot it next month. An important piece of comprehension and writing instruction for young children, (and also for older struggling writers) is teaching sentence structure. What’s the best way to teach sentences? A recent article by Lauren Gartland and Laura Smolkin in The Reading Teacher titled The Histories and Mysteries of Grammar Instruction presents some interesting history about grammar instruction and some suggestions for effective teaching, but first let’s address why students need explicit sentence instruction...
“The Write Stuff”The February issue of Educational Leadership Magazine, “Helping ELLs Excel”, was of great interest to me as a Keys to Literacy teacher trainer. Much of the work I do is with teachers who are from urban districts where the ELL population is quickly becoming the majority of the students they teach.
I was particularly interested in the article “The Write Stuff” by Carol Booth Olson, Robin Scarcella and Tina Matuchniak. This article reported the grim statistics of the 2011 NAEP scores in which only 1% of ELL students scored at proficient or above in writing....
Three Ideas to Motivate Kids to WriteIn recent writing follow-ups for Keys to Content Writing, I have noticed a positive trend of teachers "stepping outside of the box" when it comes to writing instruction. The goal? To make writing more meaningful for their students.
What are three simple things you can do to make writing assignments in your class more meaningful? ......