An Intentional Model of Reading Instruction and Assessment

Second graders read together

Today's readers are tomorrow's leaders. Learn how Green Acres teachers approach the craft of reading instruction and assessment to set the stage for all future successes.

By Tracey Marks, Head of Lower School                                                             

Dick and Jane books. Bob books. Phonics. Whole language. Balanced literacy. How are teachers and parents supposed to make sense of the ever-changing landscape of reading instruction and assessment? Like all academic areas, the realm of reading is informed by research—not only in the area of reading, but also by other research areas that impact reading and have implications for its instruction. For example, the tremendous amount of recent research in the area of neuroscience has important ramifications for reading instruction, shedding light on the elasticity of the brain and what its role is in processing information and, therefore, in the acquisition of reading skills.

The debate of phonics versus whole language is, by now, a well-known one focusing on which is more central to teaching children to read: children knowing the letter sounds and the relationships among them, or being exposed to a print-rich literacy environment that enables them to view themselves as readers, even before they have acquired all of the component building blocks to read successfully. This debate has translated into the parenting realm, as well.  As parents, when our children arrive at an unfamiliar word when reading a book and ask us what the word is, we wonder whether we should just tell them the word or, instead, teach them how to look at its context in the sentence and then make an educated guess.

At Green Acres, our approach is to keep abreast of current research, while at the same time trusting our experience with students over many years and our knowledge of child development. When students arrive at a new grade level, our task is to find out as much as we can about where that child is as a reader and what strategies we should use in advancing that student’s reading skills, whether that child is just learning how to decode words or reading chapter books.

One important way that we  accomplish this is through reading assessments, which vary according to different grade levels. These include informal assessments, such as teacher observations, and more formal ones, such as the DRA II, where a teacher sits on-on-one with a student to read leveled books. The latter enables teachers to see what strategies and word-attack skills the student possesses and what the child’s comprehension of the texts are, leading to the establishment of an independent reading level (the level at which a child can read and understand texts independently) and an instructional level (the level at which a child should be instructed by a teacher).  Assessments such as this provide teachers with a reading roadmap for each child and informs the reading instruction of every student.

As for the phonics-versus-whole-language debate, Green Acres teachers value both and feel well-prepared to immerse our students in each approach. While some children learn to read the “whole word” way,  learning to read naturally through exposure to print, others learn to read by sounding out words, and we need to teach them how to do this in a comprehensive and systematic way in the younger grades. This is why, for example, our 2nd grade teachers spent time last summer taking a course in Orton-Gillingham, a comprehensive, systematic, sequential approach to reading instruction, and why this year, a number of our teachers have been receiving training in the Really Great Reading program, which is based on the science of reading. Current reading research informs us that this type of explicit reading instruction develops in children a deep understanding of letter-sound relationships and promotes reading fluency. This goes hand-in-hand with comprehension work, because being able to sound out words is critical, but knowing what the words and texts mean is the ultimate goal of a skillful reader. Comprehension work involves discussing and responding to literature, analyzing texts, and posing and answering questions. It may be accomplished through whole-class, small-group, partner, and individual work. It can involve remediation, enrichment, and extension, depending on what the reader needs at a particular time or stage.

Even with all of the training and work our teachers do as they teach children how to read, parents play a pivotal role in moving children forward as readers. Research tells us that children seeing their parents read for pleasure makes a huge difference in how they perceive the importance of reading. When children observe their parents, their most critical role models, enjoying reading, they come to view reading as a gratifying activity in which they, too, should engage. After all, the more time spent reading, the better most children become as readers! Reading aloud to children is also very important, and parents model fluency for their children when they do this. Parents should not feel that they must be “teachers at home,” continuing the formal reading instruction that has occurred during school.  Reading at home should be a relaxed bonding experience for both parents and children.

Reading is a science and a process. It is multi-faceted and complex, and learning to read develops at different rates for different people. Our work is to develop in our students a love of reading and an effective reading skill set that is informed by science, research, experience, and child development.  I would continue writing this article, but I can’t—I am in the middle of a great book, and I need to get back to reading it... ❖