"I wish I had received this kind of training in college. All teachers need this training."
Learning to Read and Write

The Reading Process

Literacy acquisition is a complex task involving the development of oral language and the mastery of written language, both reading and writing. As parents of more than one child can attest, their children did not acquire oral language in the same way or at the same pace. Language acquisition is progressive, and it involves more than just modeling and copying. Children develop oral language by participating in increasingly complex conversations and extending their understanding of the language they hear and use.

The acquisition of written language is a similarly complex process. Students do not progress at the same pace or in the same way. Teachers have historically relied on various means to help students acquire an understanding of the English language system. Most students succeed in constructing their own understandings based on the methodology used in their classrooms. Some students, however, need additional support in learning to read and write.

An approach to reading instruction that uses various teaching methods with various levels of teacher support, which is based on the student’s own oral language processes and provides them with a means to develop their own reading behaviors to become proficient is of greatest benefit to the largest number of students. To provide this kind of reading instruction, teachers need to know what knowledge, skills and strategies students already possess. Teachers also need a strong theoretical and practical understanding of the process of oral and written language acquisition. This understanding of theory and practice, together with ongoing and thorough observation of each student, is what makes an effective approach to reading.

Reading is a cognitive process. Basic to the process is the understanding that what can be said can be written down and then read again by the writer or by someone else. Once students grasp this basic concept, they must acquire an understanding of print—the code by which speech is represented as visual information—and the skills to decipher the code and turn it back into speech. In English, this visual information is composed of the letters of the alphabet, arranged in systematic patterns and clusters to spell words. Each letter has its own distinctive visual features, and each letter stands for one or more sounds by itself or in combination with other letters. Beginning readers need to learn to associate letters with sounds in order to access the information represented by print and comprehend the intended message. Comprehending the author’s intended message is the goal of reading.

Readers, at all levels, bring their own knowledge and experience to the task of reading and comprehending what is read. Oral language and background knowledge are important resources that readers use to decode print and make sense of the message. As students progress through the grade levels to more complex text, the language in books becomes increasingly complex; the language of books is academic language rather than basic oral or conversational language. This change must be part of their understanding as students become proficient readers and writers. Extra support is needed for students who are English language learners or who have low levels of language in their primary language.

What Research Tells Us About Teaching Students To Read

There is a considerable body of scientific research that identifies effective ways to teach students how to read (National Reading Panel, 2001). Five areas of instruction have been identified that are critical elements to success in teaching reading.

Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with individual sounds in spoken words. Before you become a reader you must be aware of the sounds that are in words. Readers understand that written words can be spoken and that they use phonemes or particular speech sounds when they read a word.

Phonics is the relationship between the sounds of the spoken language (phonemes) and the letters of the written language (graphemes). Phonics is a system for remembering how to read words. The letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds when placed in memory are used to decode words.

Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and quickly. Fluent readers decode automatically and therefore are able to concentrate their attention on the meaning of the text. Fluent readers recognize and comprehend words at the same time.

Vocabulary is the words we know and need to communicate. Oral vocabulary is the words we use when speaking and reading vocabulary is the words we can read in print. Reading text with meaning relies on the words used being part of the vocabulary of the reader. A reader needs to know most of the words that are read to comprehend the text. Understanding phonics and using these skills to decode text is not helpful if the word decoded by students is not a word in their vocabulary or the meaning of the word can’t be determined by context.

Text Comprehension
The purpose of reading is to understand what is read. Comprehension is the ability to take meaning from text and remember and communicate the meaning from the text. Good readers are those that monitor their comprehension to make sure they understand the text.

Reading in the Classroom

The development of literacy is progressive. The process of learning to read involves surrounding students with conversation and print, modeling how reading is done, providing direct instruction in specific areas of need, and encouraging them to engage in similar activities independently. Various teaching methods are available to provide this support throughout the reading process.

Reading Aloud
Reading aloud to students allows them to experience great examples of literature, works they would not be able to read on their own at this point in their learning, and to experience a variety of forms and styles of writing. It acquaints them with the language and form of books and allows them to appreciate the pleasure that comes from reading without having to concentrate on the mechanics of decoding the printed word. Reading aloud encourages them to want to emulate the reader and to acquire the skills that will allow them to enjoy the pleasure and satisfaction of reading for themselves. The listening and thinking skills used during reading aloud help students with the development of comprehension skills that are used when students read themselves.

Shared Reading
In the classroom, the reading done with students is called shared reading. The technique of shared reading in the classroom was created to replicate the experience of storybook reading, where the student follows along as the adult reads aloud. Shared reading is commonly done with books large enough to allow a group of students to see the print and follow along. Shared reading can also be done with poems and songs that are written on chart paper or the overhead projector and with the products of interactive writing activities. The teacher’s role in shared reading is to: 1) choose appropriate material, 2) point to the text while reading word-by-word for beginning readers and phrase-by-phrase or line-byline for more advanced readers, 3) read along with the students, 4) read in a fluent and expressive manner, 5) select explicit skills for direct instruction, and 6) observe the students' responses and behaviors.

Guided Reading
In guided reading, students assume more responsibility than in shared reading. The teacher and a group of students, or sometimes just one student, have their own copy of the book being read. The teacher provides an introduction to the story, and then observes the students as they read orally, talk, think, and question their way through the story. The text chosen for guided reading should be within an instructional range and should permit some new learning and the opportunity for problem solving by the students. The teacher assists the students in the problem solving experiences in such a manner as to promote future use of the behaviors and strategies needed by the students in problem solving situations.

Independent Reading
In independent reading the students assume responsibility for reading. Opportunities for independent reading should be part of each stage of students' literacy development. Materials for independent reading can be familiar stories that students know from reading aloud, shared reading, and guided reading experiences. New books appropriate to a student’s independent level may also be used. The teacher can take this time to observe individual student reading and problem-solving behaviors.

Two other small group teaching methods are available for more advanced readers that use flexible grouping and where students apply reading and thinking strategies.

Reciprocal Teaching
Reciprocal teaching is an instructional approach that is used to help students read for meaning and monitor their comprehension. It is a small group activity that uses the major strategies of predicting, clarifying, questioning, and summarizing to encourage thinking during the reading process. This approach focuses more on reading in the content areas but is appropriate for literature as well.

Book Clubs
Students who are proficient at using decoding systems can be organized into book clubs where the books read are selected by topic and interest. Book clubs help develop deeper comprehension strategies and overall enjoyment of reading. The teacher meets with the group regularly to discuss issues, clarify points, and extend student thinking while monitoring for progress.

The Reciprocity of Reading and Writing
Reading and writing are reciprocal processes. When a student reads, he is decoding the message that the author has sent. When a student writes, he needs to organize his thinking to form the message that he intends to send to himself or to another reader. During writing, students need to use alphabetic principle, word analysis, spelling, and the conventions of print required for the particular message that is being written. There are many important skills that are necessary to learn in the reading and writing process. Different kinds and levels of understanding are needed for students to use these skills in reading and in writing. The ability to read or decode a word does not guarantee that a student will be able to write or encode the same word.

The Writing Process
Writing instruction is based upon student’s oral language development and knowledge of the world around them, very much like reading instruction at the acquisition phase. Learning that what one says can be recorded in written form and then read by another becomes a goal even for the very youngest student. In order to provide writing instruction, teachers need to know what knowledge students already possess.

The reciprocity of reading and writing is an essential connection that all students need to develop and draw upon. Writing is done at many different levels of understanding and thinking. The writer needs to understand the basic principles of letter-sound correspondence, letter formation, and using systematic patterns in words and word clusters to spell words. Central to the process is, of course, that the writer is sending a message to the reader and that the message carries a meaning.

Students need to understand various purposes and forms of writing:
• Narrative writing tells a story or gives an account of something dealing with sequences of events and experiences.
• Expository writing is the communication of details, facts and content specific information.
• Descriptive writing provides a verbal rendition of a character, event, setting or plot.
• Persuasive writing attempts to change a reader to a new belief, position or course of action.

Writing generally develops more slowly than reading. A reader has the advantage of gaining new knowledge by reading the writing of others. Writers on the other hand have only their own knowledge and must use this information to express themselves in print. Beginning writers are encouraged to write about things they know and are familiar with in their lives. They are encouraged to use the language that they hear every day in their homes and communities. Even though this writing might not be grammatically correct, it helps students understand that their thoughts and ideas can be written down and communicated to others. This level of ownership is an important part of becoming a writer.

Writing in the Classroom
The development of oral language is progressive. As vocabulary grows, language structures become more complex and the knowledge base expands as students progress in their language acquisition. Likewise, in their writing, students progress from beginning levels of vocabulary, sentence structure, spelling and phonology to more complex levels. There are a variety of teaching methods and experiences that support students’ growth in writing.

Interactive Writing
Interactive writing is a process in which the teacher and the students collaborate on the construction of the text and share the role of scribe. The negotiation of text is a process that develops thinking, planning, refining and consolidating while at the same time developing appropriate language structures and increasing vocabulary. Types of interactive writing provide different levels of support. In transcription students focus on known text and how that text was constructed. In innovation students also work with known text but add their own thinking and writing to the end product. In negotiation students and teacher share the responsibility for deciding what to write and then the writing itself. The teacher and students can work at many levels of competence, from letter recognition and formation to learning various types of writing. Interactive writing is an effective method to support skill development in beginning readers, focus on the confusions of struggling readers, and teach advanced writing skills to more proficient readers and writers.

Interactive Editing
Interactive editing is a teaching method where the teacher and students collaborate to edit familiar, error-free text. Interactive editing provides an opportunity to discuss grammar and all of the conventions of writing in the context of an authentic writing activity. The importance of the reciprocity of reading and writing is emphasized in interactive editing. The reading style and form becomes the model for the writing, particularly with expository materials.

Advanced Word Analysis
Advanced word analysis is the study of spelling patterns, suffixes, prefixes and word origins. Words and patterns are taught based on teacher observation of the independent writing of students. The emphasis is on teaching students to make associations and to draw upon what they already know about works in order to decode or pronounce unknown words.

Independent Writing
Independent writing is the ultimate extension of all the other methods of writing instruction. The goal is that the students are all given the time necessary to independently write text, incorporating all they have learned in large group and small group writing methodologies.


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