February 12, 2019
On November 27 and 28, I had the opportunity to attend the Nebraska Instructional Materials Training in Omaha. I was interested in this opportunity because many teachers ask questions dealing with the appropriate and most effective use of their elementary reading materials. Nationwide the focus on reading instruction has only led to minimal gains and the National Assessment Education Progress 2017 scores have been basically flat for over 20 years. Teachers are working harder than ever so why is there little growth?
Our presenters, from Student Achievement Partners, propose a vision for text-centered instruction. This vision includes giving students opportunities to spend lots of time actively reading. Students need support while reading content-rich, complex text in order to grow their knowledge, vocabulary, and understanding of syntax. Instruction and support from their teacher is necessary in order to engage in close reading of this type of text. The most important thing to teach kids is that the text they read should make sense.
This vision of text-centered instruction not only requires quality text, but teachers should spend planning time deciding where understanding is crucial and where understanding might break down. Instruction should be geared around the specifics of the text and which standards the text requires them to focus on. Discussion, activities, questions and tasks should be guided by the standards and the students’ needs and their strengths. The text and activities don’t have to be reinvented but teachers can use their reading series and strategically choose the most complex text to spend the most time on.
In order to incorporate text-centered instruction the foundational skills have to be addressed so each student can access grade level text. However, the teaching of these foundational skills goes on while working on knowledge building and reading fluency as well as writing, speaking and listening.
Building students’ vocabulary through context and in word study should be done by reading text that requires little support as well as complex text that requires teacher support. This goes hand-in-hand with growing students’ knowledge of the world from reading a volume of texts at varying levels of complexity. Research tells us that reading ability and knowledge of the world is solidly connected. One practice that has been overlooked in recent years is that of reading aloud to students. This can help grow general world knowledge especially when integrated with concepts being learned.
Maybe it is time to stop teaching standards and skills in isolation. Instead, let’s weave the standards into authentic reading experiences that engage students while using complex texts. Focusing on just one skill in this complex task called reading is the opposite of what we need to be doing. Any one text requires interaction of a multitude of skills that result in understanding what they read.
-Susan Evans, Teaching and Learning Coordinator