Despite good intentions, educators sometimes take a passive stance toward developing literacy skills, often noting lack of resources and time. However, children need to experience high-quality, literacy instruction offered consistently every day if they are to be engaged and successful in building literacy skills.
We now know more about what type of instructional practices support the literacy success of students. In this article, we’ll look at instructional elements that can easily be implemented in any classroom, without having to invest in additional materials and without spending an unreasonable amount of time.
Here are practical rules of thumb, based on the work of educational leaders Richard L. Allington and Rachael E. Gabriel, to get teachers in the right state of mind for improved reading performance.
Let Me Choose.
One of the greatest frustrations teachers experience in the classroom is students’ lack of motivation. Too often, students are not excited about learning and find the material irrelevant and boring. Research clearly states that students are more motivated to read when they are given the opportunity to choose what they read. We want students to love the content they read, because then they will read more, understand more, and want to continue reading. However, it’s easy to fall into a rut and offer students the same reading choices over and over. Often that choice is a textbook which may be a good source of information, but shouldn’t be the only one. Give students access to a variety of books and the freedom—within reason—to choose what to read and students will respond with enthusiasm.
It’s Too Hard!
In most classrooms, the range of children’s needs and reading abilities is all over the board. The problem is, texts are written for one grade level. When a steady diet of grade-level text is offered day after day, the gap can widen.
It’s vital students are provided text they can read accurately and understand. When students are able to read accurately, they will enjoy reading and want to read more. When they struggle to read texts that are too challenging, they read more slowly and, therefore, less. What can teachers do about this universal problem? They can consistently and intentionally give all students texts they can read accurately, comprehend, and enjoy.
I Don’t Understand!
Children must understand what they read. Research shows that reading comprehension development is accelerated when students read and re-read rather than work on skill practice. Yet many interventions have struggling readers spending time on tasks other than reading and re-reading. Research also demonstrates that the most effective teachers are more likely to differentiate instruction to give all readers books they can understand—extra effort that pays off in better, more confident readers.
No More Fill-in-the-Blank!
Sadly, in too many classrooms across the country, student writing boils down to short-answer responses or fill-in-the-blanks. Or students are expected to write to a prompt and write about things they don’t know about—or care about. The truth is, students blossom when given the opportunity to write about things that are personally meaningful. Textbooks can be boring. Find a compelling magazine article, essay on a controversial subject, or online report on a topic of interest to kids. That’s the trick to getting kids to read, write, and enjoy learning.
Let’s Talk About It.
They say the student who does the most talking in the classroom does the most learning. Indeed, research confirms that conversations with peers improve comprehension and engagement. For teachers whose plates are already full or who fear an uncontrollable room, a mere 10 minutes a day devoted to peer conversations can make a difference. No costly workbooks, worksheets, or texts required.
Read to Me, Please.
Teachers should devote at least a few minutes a day to reading to their students—no matter what grade level. Listening to an adult read increases student fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, background knowledge, and more.
When consistently implemented, these simple instructional practices will benefit every student. All that’s required is a commitment by a teacher to give students the best literacy instruction possible.
For a deeper look at what literacy instruction looks like in a classroom, check out SDE’s webinar Developing Content Knowledge through Literacy Centers (Gr. 4–8), by author and literacy expert Katie McKnight, PhD.