Showing posts with label Improving Reading Achievement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Improving Reading Achievement. Show all posts

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How Can Reading Coaches Raise Reading Achievement?

Teachers question:

I have just been hired as a reading coach in a school where I have been a third-grade teacher. My principal wants me to raise reading achievement and he says that he’ll follow my lead. I think I’m a good teacher, but what does it take to raise reading achievement in a whole school (K-5) with 24 teachers?

Shanahan's answer:

            It’s easy J. Just do the following 9 things:

1.    Improve leadership.
            Literacy leadership matters. You and your principal will need to be a team. The more the two of you know and agree upon the better. Over the next few years, your principal will be hiring and evaluating teachers, making placement and purchasing decisions, and communicating with the community. You need to be in on some of those things and you need to influence all of them. Your principal should tell the faculty that you speak for him on literacy matters and you both need to devote some time to increasing his literacy knowledge so he can understand and support your recommendations. I’d get on his calendar at least a couple of times per week to discuss strategy and debrief on what you are both doing, but also for professional development time for him.

2.    Increase the amount of literacy instruction.

            How much reading and writing instruction and practice kids get is critical.  Take a close look at how much of this kids are getting. Observe, talk to teachers, survey… find out how much teaching is being provided and how much reading the kids do within this teaching. Be on the look out for lost time. Mrs. Smith may schedule two hours of ELA, but she doesn’t start class until 9:12 most mornings due to late bus drop offs, milk money collection, Pledge of Allegiance, morning announcements and so on. And, her class takes a 7-minute bathroom break at about 10 each morning. She isn’t trying to teach for 2 hours, but only 1 hour 41 minutes (and the actual amount of instruction may be even less). That’s a whopping 60 hours less instruction per year than what she schedules! Try to get everyone up to 2-3 hours per day of reading and writing instruction, with a large percentage of that devoted to kids reading and writing within instruction (and, yes, a student reading aloud to the group, only counts as one student reading).

3.    Focus instruction on essential curriculum elements.

            ELA often is used for wonderful things that don’t make much difference in kids learning. I watched a “phonics lesson” recently in which most of the time was spent on cutting out pictures and pasting them to a page. The amount of sounding and matching letters to sounds could have been accomplished within about 30 seconds of this 20-minute diversion. You definitely can send kids off to read on their own, but not much learning is usually derived from this. Instead, make ia commitment to obtaining substantial instruction in each of the following research-proven components for every child.

(a) Teach students to read and understand the meanings of words and parts of words (decoding and word meaning): Dedicate time to teaching students phonological awareness (K-1, and strugglers low in those skills); phonics or decoding (K-2, or again the strugglers); sight vocabulary (high frequency words, K-2); spelling (usually linked to the decoding or word meanings); word meanings; and morphology (meaningful parts of words).   

(b) Teach students to read text aloud with fluency so that it sounds like language (accuracy—reading the author’s words as written; appropriate speed—about the speed one talks normally; and proper prosody or expression—pausing appropriately, etc.).

(c) Teach students to read with understanding and the ability to learn from text. With beginning readers this, like fluency practice, needs to be oral reading. However, by the end of Grade 1 and from then on, most reading for comprehension should be silent reading. Such instruction should teach students about text (like how it is organized, how author’s put themes in stories, or how history books differ from science books), about the kinds of information that is important (like main ideas or inferences), and ways to think about texts that will increase understanding (like summarizing along the way, or how to ask oneself questions about a text).

(d). Teach students to write effectively.  This would include training students in various means of getting their ideas onto paper—printing, handwriting, and keyboarding, but it also teaching them to write for various purposes (narration, exposition, argument), to negotiate the writing process effectively (planning, drafting, revising, editing), to write for a range of audiences, and to write powerful pieces (with interesting introductions, strong organizations, sufficient amounts of accurate information, etc.).

            All four of those are detailed in your state standards, no matter where you live, but make sure that kids get lots of teaching in each. (I’d strive for roughly 25% of the instructional time into each of those baskets—that comes out to approximately 90-135 hours per year of instruction in each of those 4 things).

4.    Provide focused professional development.

            I suspect this will be where much of your time is focused; making sure your teachers know how to teach those four essentials well. This might take the form of professional development workshops on particular topics, organizing teacher reading groups to pursue particular instructional issues, observing teachers and giving them feedback on their lessons, co-planning lessons with one or more teachers, providing demonstration lessons, and so on. You need to make sure that every one of your teachers knows what needs to be taught and how to teach it well.

5.    Make sure sound instructional programs are in place.

            It is possible to teach reading effectively without a commercial program, but there are serious drawbacks to that approach. First, there’s the fairness issue. Programs that are shared by school staff will not make all teachers equal in their ability to teach reading, but they sure can reduce the amount of difference that exists (especially when there is adequate supervision and professional development—see numbers 1 and 4 above). Second, programs can ensure that kids get instruction in key areas of reading, even when teachers aren’t comfortable providing such teaching. Basically, we want to ensure that every teacher has an adequate set of lessons for productive instruction in those four key components for sufficient amounts of time. If your teachers are skilled enough to improve upon the lessons in the shared core program, then by all means support these improvements and make sure they’re shared widely.

6.    Align assessments.

            It can be helpful to monitor kids learning, at least in basic skills areas that are amenable to easy assessment. It is reasonable, depending on the tests and the skills, to evaluate decoding skills or fluency ability formally 2-4 times per year. Of course, teachers can collect such information within instruction much more often than that. For instance, if a teacher is going to teach fluency for several minutes per day, why not take notes on how well individuals do with this practice and keep track of that over weeks. In any event, if we recognize that some students are not making adequate progress in these basic skills, then increasing the amount of teaching they get within class or beyond class can be sensible. The amount of testing needs to be kept to an absolute minimum, so this time can be used to improve reading.

7.    Target needs of special populations.

            Often there are particular groups of kids who struggle more than others within your ELA program. Two obvious groups are second-language learners (who may struggle with academics because they are still learning English) or kids with disabilities (who struggle to learn written language). Making sure that they get extra assistance within class when possible, and beyond class (through special classes, afterschool and summer programs, etc.) would make great sense. If you are making sure that everyone in the school benefits from 2 hours per day of real reading and writing instruction, then why not try to build programs that would ensure that these strugglers and stragglers get even more? I know one coach who runs an afterschool fluency program, for instance.

8.    Get parent support and help.

            Research says parents can help and that they often do. I suggest trying to enlist their help from the beginning. Many coaches do hold parent workshops about how to read to their kids, how to listen effectively to their children’s reading, how to help with homework, etc. Lots of times teachers tell me that those workshops are great, but that the parents they most wish would attend don’t show up. Don’t be discouraged. Sometimes those parents don’t get the notices (perhaps you could call them), or they work odd schedules (sometimes meetings during the school day are best for them—perhaps close to the time they have to pick their kids up from school), or they need babysitting support or translation (those one can be worked out, too).

9.    Motivate everybody.

            Just like leadership (#1 above) is necessary to get any of these points accomplished, so is motivation. You have to be the number one cheerleader for every teacher’s reading instruction, for every parent’s involvement, and for every student’s learning gains. Information about what your school is up to has to be communicated to the community so that everyone can take part. Some coaches hold reading parades in their neighborhoods, others have regular reading nights where kids in pajamas come to school with mom and dad to participate in reading activities, there are young author events, lunchtime book clubs, and million minute reading challenges, etc. You know, whatever takes to keep everyone’s head in the game. 

            Like I said, raising reading achievement is easy. You just have to know everything, get along with everybody, work like a horse, and keep smiling.  

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An Open Letter on Literacy to President-Elect Obama

Okay, okay, I know. The election won't really take place until Tuesday, but let's face it, it would take a miracle to prevent Barak Obama from being elected President of the U.S. His victory celebration is supposed to attract about 1 million people to a site just a few blocks from my home, and commentators are talking about how important a quick transition is going to be this year with the economic crisis. Given all of that, I don't think it is too early to let the transition team know that literacy policy is going to this president's attention (and that literacy is not a Bush-only issue). If you supported John McCain in this election, my condolensces; if you supported Senator Obama, then congratulations. But frankly it doesn't matter who you were for or against as long as the new administration makes headway in increasing America's literacy.

So here is my open letter to the new president.

Dear President-Elect Obama:

Congratulations on your impending historic victory. As President you will have lots of demands on you, but please don’t forget about America’s literacy needs. This is something that you know something about (you’ve set up tutoring programs, served on the Senate education committee, and donated book royalties to the Illinois Reading Council). We need a bipartisan effort to improve reading. Here are 10 things I hope you will do to ensure that America gets stronger in this aspect of education.

1. You want the federal government to increase teacher salaries. Do that, but not on the basis on test scores as you have proposed, but by increasing the lengths of school years. Incent the states to increase the lengths of their school years by about 8 weeks per year. Nothing improves student learning like teaching, so this would be a smart investment. Increasing the time teachers spend with kids will make America more competitive (kids will be safer, and teaching will become more like other comparable jobs in terms of structure and pay which will help attract a new group of talented individuals to teaching).

2. You’ve wisely kept silent on Reading First during the campaign, so you can do what is right rather than playing to any interest group. We need to continue to try to improve reading achievement in the United States. Reading First either must be revitalized or it must be replaced with an alternative program—not just a shift of more funds to Title I.

3. During your Senate years, you have shown great concern for helping kids get through college. You should follow these investments with some kind of sustained reading help and encouragement in grades 4-12, too. Either support Striving Readers or replace it with another initiative that will encourage states to upgrade standards and efforts at these levels.

4. You intend to double the educational research budget. That’s great. Earmark about $10 million of that annually to the study of how to improve reading comprehension for readers who have basic skills (particularly for second language kids).

5. It isn’t enough to do research, it needs to be applied. Don’t back off on federal requirements for following the research.

6. Expand the charge, support, and autonomy of the National Institute for Literacy (involving it in all literacy efforts by all cabinet departments, including Justice which is not included now). Require the Institute to provide a state of American literacy policy report to Congress every fourth year, beginning in 2013 (an independent report that does not need to be approved by any department).

7. You have a said that we are testing accountability against the wrong tests. I agree. Pay to develop a reading test based on consistency with the American Diploma standards and encourage schools to work towards that test performance.

8. The big increase in preschool that you intend is very exciting. Make sure that money is spent in pursuit of guiding kids with a 21st century literacy curriculum—one that includes a lot of attention and support in the area of oral language development.

9. Encourage the expansion of Internet-based literacy and language instruction available free to teens and adults.

10. Make sure all Science, Engineering, and Math initiatives address the issues entailed in doing the demanding reading of Science, Engineering and Math.

Good luck.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Books to Support Reading Reform

Recently, I was working with a group of educators in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I love going up there, in part because my mom's family is from there. But I also am always impressed at the seriousness and purposefulness of the teachers I meet there (whether I connect with them through the school division or through the local reading council). Friday, I was there talking about my instructional framework and one of the teachers wanted to know if there were any good practical guides to helping teachers to deliver quality instruction in the various literacy components. Of course, I directed her to take a look at this blog site as there are increasing numbers of ideas posted here.

But, it was a serious question, deserving of a serious answer. When I was director of reading in Chicago, we bought a short list of books for all of my coaches. Here is an updated version of that list. These are all fine books that should be helpful to teachers.

Reading Comprehension
Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension for understanding and engagement. Stenhouse.

Irwin, J. (2006). Teaching reading comprehension processes (3rd ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Oral Reading Fluency
Rasinski, T. V. (2003). The fluent reader: Oral reading strategies for building word recognition, fluency, and comprehension. Scholastic.

Word Knowledge: Decoding
Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S. R., & Johnston, F. (2007). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling Instruction (4th ed.). Prentice-Hall.

Graham, S., MacArthur, C. A., & Fitzgerald, J. (Eds.). (2007). Best practices in writing instruction. Guilford.

Word Knowledge: Vocabulary
Beck, I., McKeown, M., & Kucan, L. (200 ). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. Guilford.

There is also a good book on vocabulary by Camille Blachowicz and Peter Fisher. Beck & McKeown have a new volume on vocabulary teaching coming in May, 2008 that I am very much looking forward to. All of them, I think, are available through Powells or Amazon or Barnes & Noble (the only one that may not be is the one from Brookes Publishing--if not, they have their own website).

Word Knowledge: Phonemic Awareness
Adams, M. J., Foorman, B. R., Lundberg, I., & Beeler, T. (1998).
Phonemic awareness in young children: A classroom curriculum. Brookes Publishing.

Reading Comprehension
Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension for understanding and engagement. Stenhouse.

Irwin, J. (2006). Teaching reading comprehension processes (3rd ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Monday, April 14, 2008

How to Improve Reading Achievement and Disciplinary Literacy

Recently, I have given some talks about reading instruction, and folks have requested copies of the powerpoints. I'm happy to provide theses.

Recently, I spoke at the Plain Talk about Reading conference that was held in Houston, and I was pleased at the wonderful audience response.

I also gave a talk about some research that my wife, Cynthia Shanahan, and I have been doing. I have placed both presentations up on this site. Feel free to download it and use it as you please.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Letters, We Get Letters...

Here is a letter I recently received, and my response to it. This is such a common problem, I thought I would add it to my blog.

Dear Dr. Shanahan:

With the pressures and concerns about NCLB and working in a low socio-economic neighborhood, our school district has implemented some mandates to try to ensure the success of our students. It is sort of an interesting imbalance. First they chose to mandate the use of the SAXON phonics program. It is required of all teachers of students in K- 2. The program teaches phonics in isolation and it takes 40 to 75 minutes to teach each day.

The second interesting situation is that we are given 4 aides that come in to our rooms for an hour each day to teach fluency in small group direct instruction. We use programs such as Reading Mastery and Read Well. The idea was to meet the needs of all students on their level. The reality is that only 2 of my 23 students are in an intensively low situation. Then I have 2 more who are only slightly below benchmark. The vast majority of my students are READERS! and good ones at that. They do not NEED interventions in fluency. They need comprehension, vocabulary and writing!!! Because about two hours a day is taken up by fluency and phonics- there is little to no time left for vocabulary, comprehension, or writing. I try to work these into my social studies and science lessons- but it is very lacking!

I was able to cover these areas at the last school I taught at. When I mentioned this, our reading facilitator answered, "Yes, but that was NOT a title one school !" We (our second grade team) has finally gotten enough courage to approach the school district about our concerns that we are not teaching with a balanced literacy approach.

Dr. _________ told of the success you had in Chicago, I felt that you could give me information and ideas to bring to the table to help our district people understand better the value of a more balanced literacy approach.

My response is printed below:

Dear Judy:

Say hi to Dr. _________ for me. What he was telling you about my work in Chicago was not research, but practice. I had left the university to be the director of reading for the Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the U. S. I was not there to collect data or write research articles, but to see if I could make instructional changes that would raise reading achievement. Chicago, like many large urban districts, is challenged: 85% of our 437,000 kids are living in poverty; more than 25% come from homes where English is not the home language; more than 2/3 of our kids read below grade level.

First, I have no big problem with the Saxon phonics program. It might not be my favorite choice (there are many phonics programs out there), but research doesn’t suggest big outcome differences due to which phonics program is being used, so there is nothing unreasonable about that choice. I also have no problem with its daily use being mandated in Grades K-2; research clearly shows that young children benefit from explicit, systematic phonics instruction included in programs like Saxon’s and such instruction not only improves decoding and spelling skills, but comprehension (kind of hard to get at what an author is saying if you can’t read the words easily and efficiently).

Not every second-grader needs an equally heavy dose of phonics, but given that this is a Title I school it is probably lower achieving than average, so I suspect most of your kids are benefiting from this teaching. I do take exception to the amount of time devoted to phonics that you describe; it sounds high to me. I would limit such teaching to 30-40 minutes a day (not because phonics isn’t important, but because time is limited and other things must be accomplished too). In Chicago, I mandated 2 to 3 hours of daily reading and writing instruction in all classes. In a school like yours and at your grade level, 3 hours would be a good choice. I wanted 25% of that time devoted to word knowledge instruction, so that would be 45 minutes a day. Word knowledge instruction isn’t entirely about phonics, however. In K-1, some of this time goes to phonemic awareness; at your grade level some of it might be for spelling (though that is best done in coordination with phonics), and at all grade levels, some of this time would be used for explicit vocabulary teaching. If most of this time was spent on phonics (as I think it should be in your classroom), you’d be talking about 30-40 minutes per day of phonics teaching. That’s a lot, but it sounds like less than you’re spending now.

Fluency instruction is not just for remedial readers, it is for everyone. The National Reading Panel found that such teaching helped average and above average readers, too. I required 30-45 minutes of daily fluency instruction (it is 45 minutes in the 3-hour plan noted above). Reading Mastery and Read Well are good programs and it is terrific that you are getting help in delivering this instruction as it can help kids to make faster progress. Like the research for phonics, research on fluency teaching finds reading comprehension outcomes for children at your grade level. Again, it sounds like the district might be going overboard on the amount of such teaching, but they’ve got the right idea in ensuring that students make real progress in this important area.

I do wonder when you say that 19 of your 23 students are hitting some benchmark: what benchmark may that be? It sounds like a pretty high level of attainment, which makes me suspect that the standard may misleadingly low (in other words, the kids might be reaching your benchmark, but may not actually be on track, normatively, to make real continuing success in learning to read). Often teachers set standards that are too low to ensure real long-term success for these kids.

Your students absolutely do need instruction in vocabulary, comprehension, and writing, and in my approach that is used in Chicago (with high poverty kids) we spend about a quarter of the 3 hours on reading comprehension and another quarter of that time on writing (I would love to have more time for thorough, explicit teaching of vocabulary; my scheme only allows a little of that during word time in the primary grades, and some less-systematic coverage of vocabulary within fluency, comprehension, and writing lessons; however, when most phonics instruction is completed for most kids, by the end of 2nd grade, most of the word time shifts over to this additional vocabulary instruction).

During comprehension instruction, students should be reading text with guidance from teachers and learning how to apply various thinking strategies to making sense of those texts (the research sketches out some key areas of thinking that can profitably be addressed during such instruction including teaching kids to summarize, ask questions, monitor their understanding, summarize texts graphically, use story maps, etc.). During writing, students should be learning how to compose their own texts for various purposes and audiences (the National Reading Panel pointed out, writing is important and valuable phonics practice time at your grade level). Some districts think that if they only invest heavily in decoding and fluency early on, they will have solved the learning to read problem for these kids; the research doesn’t support that claim, however.

It sounds like your school has made some good choices—and some bad ones, too. I’m not worried about “balanced” instruction as much about complete instruction. The federal government had a group of independent scientists review the research on reading to protect schools from unscrupulous or uninformed gurus, vendors, consultants, etc. That panel, after two years of publicly analyzing the existing research, determined that students benefit from explicit and systematic teaching in: phonemic awareness (Grades K-1), phonics (Grades K-2, and for remedial readers beyond that), oral reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension strategies. School districts might latch onto any one of those findings, of course, and ride it like a hobby horse, but it won’t change the fact that kids benefit from teaching in all of these areas. Research out of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development has shown that when you spend inordinate amounts of time successfully solving kids’ early decoding problems, they still will struggle in future years because of gaps in vocabulary or other aspects of reading. A complete or thorough approach is the best bet for your kids when it comes to their daily classroom instruction.

In Chicago, I took the thorough approach that I described. Our district saw its biggest achievement gains in district history, our kids are reading at the highest levels they ever have (still have a long way to go), and our lowest achieving schools and kids have managed to make remarkable progress (learning as fast as everyone else for a change). As I say this wasn’t a research study, it was a practical effort to improve achievement. I think district reading statistics can be found on the Chicago Public School website. They initially adopted this framework in 2001, so comparing scores from 2002-2007 with the scores obtained prior to that time would allow you to see how Chicago kids have been affected by the changes (unlike in a study, we can’t control for other changes that might be taking place simultaneously—we don’t have a control group, we made all of these changes in all 600 schools).

You can find the Report of the National Reading Panel here.

Friday, February 29, 2008

CORE Presentation a Success

I sure enjoyed meeting with so many fine educators at the Consortium on Reading Excellence (CORE) meeting in San Francisco this week. As promised, I am providing a copy of my pyramid presentation for your use.
For those of you who want to dip into the original research that I used, I have provides some citations below. This is just a partial list -- there are many more studies available on each of these topics supporting these basic ideas.

American College Testing. (2006). Reading between the lines. Iowa City: American College Testing.

Carroll, J.B. (1963). A model of school learning. Teachers College Record, 723–733.

Cooper, H. (2001). Summer school: Research-based recommendations for policy makers. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of

Educational Research, 66, 227–268. Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Pastall, C. A. (2006). Review of Educational Research, 76, 1-62.

Cooper, H. Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1-62.

Filby, N.N., & Cahen, L.S. (1985). Teacher accessibility and student attention. In C.W. isher & D.C. Berliner (Eds.), Perspectives on instructional time (pp. 203–215). New York: Longman.

Frazier, J.A., & Morrison, F.J. (1998). The influence of extended-year schooling on growth of achievement and perceived competence in early elementary schooling. Child Development, 69, 495–517.

Frederick, W. C. The use of classroom time in high schools above or below the median reading score. Urban Education, 11(4), 459-464.

Fusaro, J. A. (1997). The effects of full-day kindergarten on student achievement: A meta-analysis. Child Study Journal, 27(4), 269-279.

Heyns, B. (1978). Summer learning and the effects of schooling. New York: Academic Press.

Smith, B.A. (1998). It’s about time: Opportunities to learn in Chicago’s elementary schools. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Stallings, J.A., & Mohlmna, G.G. (1982). Effective use of time in secondary reading classrooms. ERIC Document 216 343.

Carbonaro, W. J., & Gamoran, A. (2002). The production of achievement inequality in high school English. American Educational Research Journal, 39, 801-827.

Ehri, L.C., Nunes, S.R., Stahl, S., & Willows, D. (2001). Systemic phonics instruction helps students learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 71, 393–447.

Ehri, L.C., Nunes, S.R., Willows, D.M., Schuster, B.V., Yaghoub-Zadeh, Z., & Shanahan, T. (2001). Phonemic awareness instruction helps children learn to read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 250—287.

Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescent students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 445-476.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. Reports of the subgroups. [NIH Publication No. 00-4754]. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. On-line:

Schmidt, W., Houang, R., & Cogan, L. (2002). A coherent curriculum: The case of mathematics. American Educator, Summer, 1–18.

Stahl, S.A., & Fairbanks, M.M. (1986). The effects of vocabulary instruction: A model-based meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 56, 72–110.

Trabasso, T., & Bouchard, E. (2001). Teaching readers how to comprehend text strategically. In C. C. Block & M. Pressley (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research-based practices. New York: Guilford.

Walker, D.F., & Schaffarzick, J. (1974). Comparing curricula. Review of Educational Research, 44, 83–111.

Brown, R., Pressley, M., Van Meter, P., & Schuder, T. (1996). A quasi-experimental validation of transactional strategies instruction with low-achieving second-grade readers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 18–37.

Darling-Hammond, L. (1999). Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence. University of Washington: Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy.

Duffy, G.G., Roehler, L.R., Sivan, E., Rackliffe, G., Book, C., Meloth, M.S., Vavrus, L.G., Wesselman, R., Putnam, J., & Bassiri, D. (1987). Effects of explaining the reasoning associated with using reading strategies. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 347–368.

Jacob, B. A., & Lefgren, L. (2002). The impact of teacher training on student achievement: quasi-experimental evidence from school reform efforts in Chicago. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

McGill-Franzen, A., Yokoi, L., & Brooks, G. (1999). Putting books in the classroom seems necessary but not sufficient. Journal of Educational Research, 93, 67–74.

Moats, L.C., & Foorman, B.R. (2003). Measuring teachers’ content knowledge of language and reading. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 23–45.

Ross, J. A. (1992). Teacher efficacy and the effects of coaching on student achievement. Canadian Journal of Education, 17, 51–65.

Roth McDuffie, A., & Mather, M. (2006). Reification of instructional materials as part of the process of developing problem‐based practices in mathematics education. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 12, 435-459.

Casserly, M. (2003). Case studies of how urban school systems improve student achievement. Washington, DC: Council for Great Cities Schools.

Hallinger, P., Bickman, L., & Davis, K. (1996). School context, principal leadership, and student reading achievement. Elementary School Journal, 96, 527–549.

Hallinger, P., & Heck, R. H. (1996). Reassessing the principal’s role in school effectiveness: A review of empirical research, 1980-1995. Educational Administration Quarterly, 32, 5–44.

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Braun, H. (2004). Reconsidering the impact of high stakes testing. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12(1), 1-43.

Center for Educational Policy. (2005, July). NCLB: Narrowing the curriculum? Washington, DC: Center for Educational Policy.

Marchant, G.F., Paulson, S.E., & Shunk, A. (2006). Relationship between high-stakes testing policies and student achievement after controlling for demographic factors in aggregated data. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 14(30), 1-34.

Meisels, S. J., Atkins-Burnett, S., Xue, Y., Nicholson, J., Bickel, D. D., & Son, S. H. (2003). Creating a system of accountability: The impact of instructional assessment on elementary children's achievement test scores. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11(9), 1-19.

Alexander, K.L., Entwisle, D.R., & Dauber, S.L. (1994). On the success of failure: A reassessment of the effects of retention in the primary grades. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Anderson, L.M., Evertson, C.M., & Brophy, J.E. (1979). An experimental study of effective teaching in first-grade reading groups. Elementary School Journal, 79, 193–223.

Biddle, B. J., & Berliner, D. C. ( ). What research says about small classes & their effects. San Francisco: WestEd.

Jimerson, S. R. (2001). Meta-analysis of grade retention research: Implications for practice in the 21st century. School Psychology Review, 30(3), 420-437.

Nye, B., Hedges, L. V., & Konstantopoulos, S. (2000). The effects of small classes on academic achievement: The results of the Tennessee class size experiment. American Educational Research Journal, 37(1), 123-151.

Baumann, J. F., & Heubach, K. M. (1996). Do basal readers deskill teachers? A national survey of educators’ use and opinions of basals. Elementary School Journal, 96(5), 511-525.

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Bond, G. L, Dykstra, R., Clymer, T., & Summers, E. G. (1997). The Cooperative Research Program in First-Grade Reading Instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 32 (4), 345-427.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Chicago Reading Framework

For several years, I have used a basic framework for guiding my action in the public schools. I have used this framework as a consultant when guiding others to improve achievement, and I used it myself as director of reading of the Chicago Public Schools. The description below lays out some of the basics. This is a piece I wrote for my teachers and principals in Chicago awhile back, to give them a sense of the essential direction that instruction needs to take. 

          The Chicago Reading Framework emerged from work that I have done in schools during the past eight years. The project started in one low income, inner city school and has now grown to more than 200 schools throughout Illinois and around the United States. The reason why this project has been so successful, and why the Chicago Public Schools now has adopted it system wide, is two-fold. First, it has been successful in helping many schools improve reading achievement. Chicago children need to do better in reading and the past successes of this framework—and the success of similar efforts elsewhere—holds great promise for our children. Second, this approach tries to build upon and take advantage of our current professional knowledge and strengths. Although this framework does offer some new direction and guidance, it does not try to replace all of what we are already doing. Chicago schools have many successes and this framework should support continuation of those things that are already working well in the teaching of reading.

Chicago Reading Framework
          The Chicago Reading Framework starts from the premise that effective school reading instruction can teach most children to read. This premise is not just a wishful hope—principals and teachers, including some in Chicago, already have used this model to improve reading at their schools. And we are not just talking about improving reading test scores, at least not directly. Our goal should not be to have higher test scores, but to teach children to read so well that their test scores reflect the improvement. That kind of improvement is best accomplished through an emphasis on reading instruction rather than on better test preparation and the like. That is why the Chicago Reading Initiative is investing so much in the continued professional development of our teachers.

          The Chicago Reading Framework is based upon syntheses of large amounts of educational research. Research can tell us whether particular approaches are likely to be successful based on how well they have succeeded in the past, and it can give us sound guidance with regard to how to implement programs more successfully. This framework is consistent with several syntheses of reading research such as the National Reading Panel Report (2000), the Prevention of Reading Difficulties (1998), and Becoming a Nation of Readers (1984), as well as local school evaluation studies such as those conducted by the Chicago School Research Consortium.

          Before presenting what the Framework is and what it should provide, let’s consider what it is not. First, the Framework is not a program, per se. It has no specific instructional materials tied to it. It does not require the use of specific instructional methods or activities. The research is clear: Many programs and materials work and there is not one way to successfully teach reading. Of course, some approaches are likely to be more successful than others. Teachers should rely on what they already know to begin addressing children’s reading needs, and over time—if appropriate—they will be guided to improve upon their current efforts. In the meantime, the Framework will focus attention on what needs to be taught and on ensuring that children receive sufficient amounts of teaching in each area.

          A natural tendency of teachers and principals is to delay implementation until they feel that they completely understand the framework. In this case, that would be a big mistake. Chicago Public School teachers know a lot. Let’s start using that knowledge immediately to help Chicago children become better readers. We’ll refine the quality of what we do as we proceed, but for now it is time to get started.

Amount of Instruction
          It is essential that schools offer substantial amounts of reading and writing instruction. Surveys show that the average elementary teacher provides only about 55 minutes per day of direct reading and language arts instruction using activities that research indicates have much possibility of improving reading achievement (Baumann & Hoffman, 1999). Studies clearly show that increases in academic learning time can improve reading achievement (Rosenshine & Stevens, 1984); however, with the exception of Cunningham’s (1991) Four-Block Plan which addresses the needs of beginning readers, teacher education materials have been virtually silent on the use of time in reading instruction. Methods texts and other ancillary publications cite its importance, but say almost nothing about how to use or manage instructional time in reading. Consequently, teachers are left to figure out on their own how much time to spend on reading instruction or how to apportion instructional time among the various components of reading. Time allotment decisions are especially difficult for upper grade teachers because of departmentalization.

          The Chicago Reading Framework establishes a 2–3 hour per day minimum time standard for reading and writing instruction and encourages schools to explore additional ways (i.e., before-school, after-school, summer programs, parent involvement, homework) for expanding instructional opportunity beyond the regular school day. Teachers and principals are cautioned against expending daily instructional time on activities that research has shown to be ineffective for literacy improvement (though they can still use such activities as long as they do not reduce the amount of reading and writing instruction), but teachers are free to experiment with activities that have not yet been researched. The idea is to provide all students with the maximum opportunity to learn to read and write while maintaining adequate amounts of time to teach math, science, history/social studies, and other school subjects. The time allotments for reading and writing are great, but so is the need.

           Teachers can organize this 2–3 hour time allotment in many ways. In other words, this is not a 2–3 hour time block, though schools can do this. Teachers, for instance, are not expected to provide all of their reading instruction between 9:00AM and 11:00AM each morning. Classroom schedules are complex and reading instruction can be provided throughout the day. This means that the Framework will fit a wide range of classroom schedules, and that teachers should be able to improvise plans that meet their student needs and the actual instructional circumstances of a particular school. Instruction in reading within social studies, science, and mathematics can count, too.

Focus on Essential Content
           Reading instruction should emphasize those skills or abilities that research has shown to be essential to reading development. Accordingly, the Chicago Reading Framework includes four basic categories, or components, of instruction—word knowledge, fluency, comprehension, and writing. The Framework requires that classroom teachers emphasize equally each of these four aspects in their reading instruction. That means that teachers should devote approximately one-quarter of the instructional time to each of these areas of development. This time equivalence is to be accomplished over a period of time (1–2 weeks) rather than on a daily basis. This ensures that students will receive instruction in all of the essential parts of reading, but that teachers will not be unduly constrained by a lockstep format that restricts creativity and engagement and that does not permit the flexibility necessary to accommodate to the demands of real classroom settings.

           To be included as an instructional component, five criteria had to be met, criteria established on the basis of a thorough review of existing empirical research and clinical reports. (a) It was essential that there exist experimental or quasi-experimental studies that evaluated the teachability of each category. So, for example, studies had to show that vocabulary instruction (a part of word knowledge) led to better vocabulary growth or that fluency instruction led to more fluent reading. (b) It was required that studies show the generalizability of each component by demonstrating that improvements in each component led to improved overall reading achievement, at least for some populations. Thus, studies had to show that writing instruction not only led to better writing, but to better reading achievement as well. (c) It was required that studies demonstrate the combinability of the four components by showing that various measurements of each component correlated positively and significantly with the other components and with overall reading achievement. (d) It was required that there be evidence demonstrating the independence, or separability, of each category. Such evidence includes case studies of precocious, learning disabled, or brain-injured subjects who were able to make gains in one component without commensurate or similar development in the others, or who made gains in three of the components without equivalent progress in the remaining one. (e) Finally, it was required that developmental studies reveal different growth curves for each category. These criteria, applied together, suggested Word Knowledge, Fluency, Comprehension, and Writing as four related, yet separable components of literacy growth that are amenable to teaching, and that when taught, are likely to lead to higher reading achievement.

          Recently, the National Reading Panel was appointed to inform the U.S. Congress about the implications of reading research for the teaching of reading. The panel in their report (NRP, 2000) found that instruction in three of the framework categories—word knowledge (including phonics, phonemic awareness, and word meaning), fluency, comprehension—made a clear difference in reading achievement for elementary and secondary level students, and the fourth category of the framework—writing—has been shown to be effective as well in previous research syntheses (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991).

           The first category, Word Knowledge, includes instruction in sight vocabulary, phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, and word meanings. The second category, Fluency, emphasizes speed, accuracy, and expression in the reading of connected text. Comprehension is the third category, and it includes both understanding text and learning from text, emphasizing literary and content (sciences, history, etc.) reading. Writing is the final component, consisting of students’ learning to compose their own texts effectively for a variety of purposes. These four categories are all equally important across the various grade levels, but the emphasis within categories shifts somewhat over time. For example, early word instruction centers on phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight vocabulary, but as children accomplish these, the emphasis switches to the study of word meanings throughout the higher grades. In another example, initial instruction might place greater emphasis on literary (narrative) reading or writing as part of instruction in comprehension or composing, but this emphasis shifts to a greater focus on studying and composing expository or explanatory content texts as students get older.

          Word knowledge. Word knowledge includes both word recognition and word meaning instruction. In Kindergarten through third grade, it is imperative that teachers provide children with substantial amounts of word recognition instruction. Phonemic awareness instruction (teaching children to hear and manipulate the separable sounds in words) should be part of the focus of reading instruction in the preschool and kindergarten years. Most children will benefit from approximately 20 hours of phonemic awareness instruction (about 15 minutes per day for a semester), but such instruction should continue until students are able to fully segment simple words (such as dividing the word cat into its separate sounds: /k/ /a/ /t/).

           Beginning in Kindergarten and continuing for about three years, children should receive daily phonics instruction. Phonics instruction should provide children with three kinds of knowledge: they should learn the letter names and sounds; they should learn how to read many of the common spelling patterns in the language (i.e., eat, ane, tion, ing); and, they should learn to use this information to decode new words and to spell words (that means reading practice should be part of the phonics instruction).

           During these early years, there also should be emphasis on teaching children sight vocabulary—that is, words that they can recognize immediately without sounding or any other obvious mediation. High frequency words like the, of, was, can, saw, there, to, for, and so on need to be learned to a high level of proficiency. Teachers can use many word lists to guide their focus here including the Dolch list, Fry list, or Cunningham’s word list. The key is teaching children to recognize such word quickly and accurately.

           After about three years of phonics instruction and sight vocabulary instruction, most word teaching should shift to an emphasis on vocabulary or word meaning. As with phonics and phonemic awareness instruction, a wide range of vocabulary methods or materials can work successfully. The best instructional efforts require students to use the vocabulary in a wide variety of ways (speaking, listening, reading, writing), and they require students to analyze and explore rich definitions of the words and their relationships with other words. Effective vocabulary instruction also builds in a substantial amount of review.

          Spelling instruction is an important part of word teaching, too. It should help students to spell in a conventional way, and it can provide them with an opportunity to think systematically about how words are structured. Spelling instruction needs to be kept brief, and it is probably best taught in conjunction with the phonics and word meaning teaching that should have the major emphasis.

           Fluency. Fluency refers to the ability to read a text with sufficient speed, accuracy, and expression. Although fluency refers to both silent and oral reading, the research suggests that oral reading instruction is most effective for developing this ability in students. Activities like paired or assisted reading, in which students take turns reading portions of a text aloud to each other, giving each other feedback, and rereading the text multiple times until it can be done well have been found to be effective from the primary grades through high school.

           If a student is fluent with a particular text, the teacher has two choices. First, if the teacher believes that the student is placed in an appropriate text for reading, then he or she only has to continue to monitor the child’s reading (by listening) and the amount of fluency instruction for this student can be reduced (fluency is the only component of the framework that can be reduced in terms of time coverage—and it can only be done so if the students are already fluent at an appropriate level). Second, if the teacher thinks the student should be working in more difficult materials, then he or she can have the child practice fluency in more difficult texts, including in social studies or science books.

           Students who are fluent can usually read a text with only about one mistake per hundred words, and they can read the text smoothly and quickly. Young children (through second grade) should strive to read a text about 60–80 words per minute), while for older children reading should proceed at 100+ words per minute. Students need to punctuation and pause appropriately so that the text sounds like language.

          Reading Comprehension. Students need to be taught to understand text independently. Comprehension instruction includes three components. First, we teach children to seek particular types of information. Second, we teach children how text is organized or structured and how to use these organizational plans to remember information from text more effectively. Third, we teach children a variety of strategies or actions that they can take before, during, and after reading to improve their understanding and recall.

          For young children, learning what information to pay attention to when they read might be tied to general ideas such as knowing that good readers focus on both literal information that the author explicitly tells you, inferential information that you have to interpret based upon information that the author has provided, and prior knowledge or the information that you bring to a text. As children get older, and the reading demands get more challenging and more disciplinary, instruction needs to show them what kinds of information to seek when they are reading history or science or mathematics or literature.

           Text organizations vary greatly across narrative and expository text. Students need experience and instruction in dealing with both of these. For reading narratives, children need to learn about plot structure (including characters, problems, solutions, outcomes, etc.). Knowing the organizational structures of a story help children to identify key information and to remember the story later. Similarly, students need to know about various ways that expository texts are organized (such as problem-solution, cause-effect, comparison-contrast), including knowing that particular types of information will be provided in particular texts. For example, social studies books will usually provide information on geography, economics, culture, and history. Students can use this information to think more effectively about how the author is presenting a particular culture or era.

           There are also a plethora of techniques that can be used by kids to think about text more effectively. Teaching students to monitor their reading (to make sure that they are understanding and to ask for help when they are not), to ask their own questions, to summarize, and to translate text into graphic form are just a few of the techniques that can be taught.

            Finally, it is essential that all of us remember that students benefit from comprehension instruction—not just practice. Many teachers give students reading assignments that require the answering of questions, but such practice is insufficient. Children need to be taught how to comprehend effectively.

            Writing. Children need to be able to write their own texts as well as being able to read what others have written. Reading and writing depend on much of the same information (including knowledge of spelling patterns, text organization, vocabulary, etc.), and learning to read and write simultaneously can give children an advantage. Writing should teach children to write for a variety of purposes and audiences, using strategies and actions that will allow them to solve various problems of writing. The compositions that children develop should be meaningful and effective.

           Children need to know how to retell events (narrative writing), explain and analyze information (exposition), and argue a position (persuasion), and our instruction should show them how to do these effectively. Children need to know how to alter their voice and message to meet the needs of an audience, and they need instruction in how to write text for themselves, for others who share much information with them, and for those audiences at a greater distance of time and space and shared knowledge (such as writing for publication). Students need to know how to write compositions that are appropriately elaborated, focused on a single topic, organized clearly, and that reflect proper mechanics, usage, grammar, and spelling. And students need to have a variety of techniques that they can use effectively to prepare for writing and to revise and edit what they have drafted.

           The Chicago Reading Initiative will provide professional development in all four areas for teachers and principals. However, such efforts will take time. Teachers can begin teaching in all four areas using their current knowledge and expertise, and they can improve upon those efforts through their own professional development efforts as well as through those opportunities provided by the Chicago Public Schools.

            Sometimes I am asked why a particular item is not included in this system: formal grammar instruction, language transition work for second language students, free reading time, teacher reading, and so on. The reason is that none of these has been shown by research to improve achievement for children across the grades. However, these kinds of activities can still be used in CPS classrooms. They just cannot be counted towards the two hours of required instruction.

           Powerful reading instruction is longitudinal. It builds quality upon quality, across classes, grade levels, and schools—and it does so across the complexity of program offerings that most schools provide (Title programs, special education, preschool, after school, etc.). The Chicago Reading Framework should help to establish continuity, or connectedness, across teachers at all grade levels, and from all aspects of a school or district instructional program. Entire school faculties, not just reading teachers, need to teach using the Framework. Any professional in the Chicago Public Schools whose teaching requires the use of written materials or texts are expected to be part of the effort.

           It has been traditional to focus reading efforts at particular levels such as first grade, primary grades, or grade levels in which retention decisions have to be made. The piling up of resources at these points is likely not the best way to build effective programs for children. We need to maximize our efforts across the entire system since reading development is essential for student success in academic areas such as science, history, and mathematics, as well as for their future participation in society. The Framework treats all levels of instruction as being important to students’ development.

           There are many ways that schools can ensure continuity. For example, it is possible to purchase some commercial programs that will provide some consistency of content coverage. However, commercial programs are just one alternative for accomplishing such continuity. Continuity can be accomplished through teachers arriving at a set of social agreements or shared, specific curricular goals including a clear specification of which grade levels will take responsibility for teaching particular content. We encourage principals and faculties to engage in planning and decision-making that will ensure greater continuity across the grade levels. Over time, we will provide greater guidance in this area, but we will do so—at least in part—based on the local efforts in our most successful schools. In other words, we will strive for greater continuity and consistency in the future, but we will not do this through arbitrary mandates from the top.

Assessment and Evaluation
          Another way to ensure that we have an effective reading program is to provide appropriate assessment. I am not speaking about formal achievement tests like the ITBS or ISAT here. Those tests have their place, but it is not in improving daily instruction. Teachers and principals must be aware of how well their children are learning their lessons so that they can make the appropriate and necessary adjustments along the way.

            If a teacher is teaching sight vocabulary, she needs to know whether children are learning the words that are being taught. Such knowledge will allow the teacher to slow down or speed up or to intensify the effort. Similarly, a teacher needs ways of monitoring whether children are making progress in fluency or with comprehension strategies or that their students’ writing is improving. Many teachers already collect such information on their children and are able to provide feedback to parents and improvements to daily instruction. Principals need to be able to access this type of information as well so that they better support their teachers’ efforts.

            The Chicago Reading Initiative will eventually provide schools with improved support for ongoing assessment in the four instructional areas to help teachers to improve their teaching, as well as to improve our own monitoring of your success. That way we can get the resources where they are needed and we will increase our effectiveness with all children.

          Educational research has accumulated over the past 30 years and it has overwhelmingly argued for greater time, greater focus on the essentials of learning, greater continuity, and greater awareness of children’s progress. The Chicago Reading Framework attempts to address each of these concerns—and over time, we will try to provide assistance to all teachers to help them to do so. Though research supports focusing instruction on the four key elements—words, fluency, comprehension, and writing—each could be argued for on the basis of commonsense alone. And yet, in too many schools and classrooms, these basics are sometimes ignored.

          Children who struggle tend to receive less instruction than their more successful peers. They are, likewise, less likely to receive well balanced instruction that addresses all of these key areas of concern, and there are likely to be fewer supports for continuity and ongoing assessment. It is also often in these schools that there is the greatest desire by policymakers to impose a “magic bullet” solution upon the teachers. However, research is clear that there is no magic bullet. What is needed is sound teaching, sound supervision, and lots of it. We need to ensure that these necessary conditions exist in all Chicago Public Schools. Energetic, intelligent, high quality teaching remains the best solution to our reading problems, and the Chicago Reading Framework should help marshal such teaching towards our children’s needs. In the coming days, months, and years, we will be providing resources to help you to use the Framework most effectively. However, until such support is available, there is no reason not to provide children with sufficient amounts of instruction devoted to these key areas of development. We know what to do. The time is now.

           Here is a powerpoint presentation on the framework that might be useful:

Baumann, J., and Hoffman, J. (1999.) The first r revisited: A national survey of educational practices. Reading Research Quarterly. 
Cunningham, P. M. (1991). Multimethod, multilevel literacy instruction in first grade. Language Arts, 68, 578–584. 
National Assessment of Educational Progress. (1999). NAEP 1998 Reading Report Card. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. 
National Reading Panel. (2000). The report of the National Reading Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel...
Tierney, R., and Shanahan, T. (1991). Reading-writing relationships: Proc­esses, transac­tions, out­ comes. In P. D. Pearson, R. Barr, M. Kamil, and P. Mosenthal (Eds.), Hand­book of Reading Research (vol 2., pp. 246-280). New York: Longman.