What is Effective Reading Instruction?
There are many students who will do well in spite of teachers, and despite of us as well. However, the most effective teachers are also able to be effective with the lower-achieving students. This has always been an equity issue when we fail to meet the needs of all students, but particularly those who are marginalized.
When we dive into multiple sources of data, we often can see that there are key practices that exemplary teachers engage in that are great for all students, but absolutely essential for those students who struggle with literacy in our schools. Often, the students who struggle are also marginalized in some way, and it is up to teachers to make the real differences in their lives.
What does a successful reading experience look like? It looks like students performing with a high-level of accuracy, fluency and comprehension. It is the high-accuracy, fluent and easily comprehended reading that provides the opportunities to integrate complex skills and strategies into an automatic, independent reading process.
Excellent readers can also self-monitor for understanding, summarize while reading and edit while composing.
What does the research say about how to do this?
Can students who struggle with reading become successful readers? Yes! The lowest achievers benefit the most from exemplary teachers, when they can spend 50% of the day purposefully reading with books and texts that they can actually read, with teachers engaged in explicit instructional practices.
What are the practices that make teachers particularly effective for all students, but especially struggling readers? What are the exemplary practices that work? According to Arlington (2002), the following practices are those that exemplary teachers put in place:
- Students are actively reading and writing at least 50% of the day
- This includes language and math
- Explicit demonstrations of skills and strategies/modelling
- Line-by-line analyses of different types of text
- More student talk between teacher and student, and student to student
- Longer assignments, less shorter tasks
- Writing tasks that last for 10 days or more
- Individual and small-group research projects
- Integration of several content areas
- More complex tasks that span several content areas
- Work that requires more self-regulation of students
- Student choice and voice – ‘managed choice’ makes it difficult for peers to compare and rank each other (as can be done when students compare identical worksheets and templates)
- Extensive and explicit practice including consolidation of skills and strategies, more guided reading, more independent reading, and more explicit math reading
- Less time on copying definitions, less time completing ‘after-reading’ comprehension worksheets, less time on ‘stuff’
- Activating student background knowledge before reading, and having rich discussions after reading
Engaging a classroom in rich reading discussion sounds like it is common sense, however, according to Allington (2002), data demonstrates that the dominant pattern of classroom talk tends to be the teacher posing questions, having students respond, and then teachers verifying and correcting the students. Whether during the math block, or the literacy block, this is definitely a pattern that continues to dominate many classrooms. This also takes the onus off of the students to listen to each other, and to try to understand what others are thinking. Yet, it is a practice that still permeates school. Pre-packages lessons are also problematic for promoting rich classroom discourse.
Exemplary teaching cannot be packaged. It is responsive.
Prepackaged instructional handouts/kits etc are not useful for the explicit teaching of skills or strategies. It is also not equitable or responsive to purchase units online to give to our students to fill out and complete. Therefore, it is essential to think deeper about any worksheets we give our students. For example, if you are providing students with a worksheet to fill in, and they get the answers right, they are not engaging in an instructional activity – they are engaging in an assessment activity of who can fill the work in and who is experiencing difficulty. While this can work sometimes in formative ways, an graphic organizers may be essential to help some students organize thinking, and build executive functioning skills, worksheets are just not an exemplary instructional practice.
Strong instructional practices are essential for students – especially those who are struggling, or considered low-achieving.
Students need a very rich supply of books, and a rich supply of books that they can successfully read. Aside from books for instructional purposes (which are indeed necessary), students require many more available books that are at their developmental level. For students to become independent and proficient readers, they require copious amounts of successful reading experiences. It is important to consider not just how to ensure that classrooms and libraries have these book supplies, but also how to use them effectively each and every day.
When all is said and done, reading proficiency has to rest with the exemplary practices of the classroom teacher. While there are excellent programs out their to support teachers and students, exemplary teaching in literacy is about being responsive to students needs, and providing strong and responsive literacy programs where at least 50% of the day is devoted to reading and writing – in any subject.
Arlington, R. (2002). What I’ve learned about effective reading instruction: From a decade of studying exemplary elementary classroom teachers. Phi Delta Kappan. pp 740 – 747