Showing posts with label Oral Reading Fluency. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oral Reading Fluency. Show all posts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Best Oral Reading Techniques for Beginners

Could you comment on first grade small group reading instruction, specifically round robin, "whisper" reading, echo reading, choral reading, etc.? You have mentioned partner reading and echo reading. Is there research to clearly favor one over another? My practice is to use a variety, although not round robin with the whole class, but my principal is pushing student driven discussion, partner reading, with the goal of student engagement. What does the research say?

Beginning readers cannot read silently. They need to read aloud to be able to figure out the words and to understand the author’s message; so round robin, whisper/mumble reading, choral reading all might have a place—for a little while. Several of these techniques are also useful throughout the grades to help students build oral reading fluency (e.g., repeated reading, echo reading, paired reading, reading while listening, neurological impress). There are no studies that I am aware of that compare these with beginning readers, but in fluency studies they all tend to do pretty well: each has students reading aloud, with repetition, and with some kind of feedback or guidance.

Until beginning readers are able to read silently with understanding, ALL of these techniques (including the much reviled round robin reading) could have a profitable place in your classroom. If the point is to get kids started with reading, choral reading makes great sense. But you want to try to get away from that soon, because kids need to figure out/remember the words themselves (and choral reading allows one to pretend to do that). If students are a bit further along, and the point is to guide kids through a story to begin building reading comprehension, then round robin can make sense, for a little while. Whisper reading or mumble reading tend to be used when teachers are trying to get kids to shift from oral to silent reading (it is a transformational strategy).

It is important to move on from round robin quickly not because the reading practice it provides is so bad, but because there is so little of it. Not much reading happens on a per child basis in round robin, so methods that allow more than one kid to read are a better choice. Studies suggest that the only one doing any learning during round robin is the child who is reading; that’s great for the reader of the moment, but it is a big waste of time for the others.

When kids are independent enough to read aloud on their own (or when paired with another kid without the teacher), then paired reading and those other fluency builders become essential tools. While they all work, I use paired reading most often—again, for efficiency sake; with that approach kids have to do the reading and half the class can practice at the same time.

Think of the various things you need to accomplish to reach the learning goals:
  • ·     Introduce students into reading itself (not just listening to someone else read), but trying to put words to text oneself
  • ·      Give students experience in sustaining this reading through a whole selection to comprehend it
  • ·      Making it possible for kids to read text silently (with understanding)
  • ·      Developing oral reading fluency

Select instructional activities that would facilitate each of these goals… considering research (what has worked successfully), efficiency (which methods allow the most reading experience/instruction for the most kids), and classroom environment (balancing efficient routines that kids can negotiate quickly and easily with variation of activities to hold their interest).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How Much In-Class Reading?

I am wondering what you think are the acceptable ways to read text in a text in grades 3-8.  Obviously, round robin or popcorn reading is not one of them -- and these are still options we see too often. Independent reading is desired, and some degree of teacher read aloud to the whole class to model fluency and dramatic reading is appropriate as well. What other ways do you think are effective? How much time would you say we should push teachers to do each? (i.e. 60% independent, 20% teacher read aloud...) etc.

I’m with those who believe that students need to read a lot during their school days. Yes, they should read at home, but within their schoolwork at school in class, students need lots of opportunities and requirements to read.

The most powerful of such reading (in terms of stimulating student learning) seems to be oral reading with feedback from a teacher. I would discourage popcorn or round robin but not because the reading practice that they provide is so bad—just that they provide so little practice. When one student is reading, many more are just sitting waiting for their turn. The students who are reading are learning, and the others, not so much.

Research suggests that techniques like paired reading (in which kids read and reread texts to each other), reading while listening, echo reading, radio reading, etc. can all be good choices. In all of these techniques, many students are able to practice simultaneously, they read relatively challenging materials, and then they reread these in an effort to improve the quality. If students can read texts (8th grade or higher) orally at about 150 words correct per minute, I wouldn’t bother with this kind of practice, and if they could not, I would provide about 30 minutes of it each school day.

As powerful as oral reading is at stimulating student reading ability, we can’t ignore the fact that most reading that we engage in will be silent, and students need to practice this as well. I would strongly encourage teachers to have students read those texts silently that they are to write about or that are going to be the focus of group or class discussion. When I assign such reading in classrooms, kids often tell me that I’m doing it wrong (because their teachers have them read the texts round robin). Teachers do this to make sure kids read it and to monitor their reading. By doing the fluency work noted above, I do away with the need to monitor their fluency progress (I’m already doing that), and teachers can make sure students read from the discussions and writing that ensues. I would usually have students reading their literature selection and their social studies or science chapters silently. If students struggle with this, divide the assignments into shorter chunks (even 1 page at a time), and then stretch this out over time. I would suggest that students should be engaging in as much silent reading as oral reading in these grades (and if students are fully fluent as described above, then the silent reading should be almost 100% of what students read).

I would argue not only for minutes to be dedicated to fluency practice, but for another 30-45 minutes to focus on reading comprehension daily—and a lot of this time would entail silent reading. However, silent reading is also going to come up during science, social studies, and other subjects and this counts, too. Thus, having students spend as much as 15 minutes reading aloud (paired reading for 30 minutes would allow each student 15 minutes of such practice), and having students read for 20-30 minutes of a 45 minute comprehension lesson and reading another 10-20 minutes a day in other subjects would give kids a substantial amount of oral and silent reading practice.

Even in the silent reading context, there should be at least some oral reading. Most prominently: students should read aloud during discussions to provide evidence supporting their claims or refuting someone else’s.

It is a good idea to encourage kids to read on their own, but this has such a small impact on student learning that I would make such opportunities available in ways that would not appreciably reduce the instructional doses suggested above. Getting kids to read on their own beyond the school day, while providing them with the heavy involvement in reading across their school day will be the most powerful combination for getting students to high performance levels.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Too Fluent by Half

I am a Reading Specialist at a parochial school.  I wonder if you can give me some advice regarding one of my 4th grade students. She reads very fluently, however, her comprehension is poor.  We have worked extensively on vocabulary and visualization skills.  Can you make any recommendations?

Let’s assume your description of the student is correct (that is not always the case: sometimes teachers tell me that a student is fluent, but what they mean is that the student reads the words accurately, though often too slowly and without it proper prosody or expression).

If she is a fluent reader, but not understanding the text anyway, then try something I call intensive questioning. Have her read the first sentence of a text… and before allowing her to read any more, ask her a ton of questions;

Sentence 1: “We got back from the grocery store and found the house a mess.”

1.       Where were they?
2.       What do you think they were doing?
3.       Then what happened?
4.       What did they find?
5.       Do you think they were surprised? Why?
6.       Where were they first? And, then where were they?

Then she reads a second sentence.

Sentence 2: “I had neglected to close the bathroom door again, and our Saint Bernard, Bernie, had left chewed toilet paper all over the house.”

1.       Who had caused the mess?
2.       What allowed him to cause the mess?
3.       What did he make the mess with?
4.       How did he get the paper?
5.       What kind of paper was it?
6.       What was the Saint Bernard’s name?
7.       What kind of a dog was Bernie?
8.       What did Bernie do to the toilet paper?
9.       What was the person who is telling this doing while Bernie was making the mess?

Etc. As she gets better with that, start stretching her out to read  longer segments, but still with this thoroughness of attention to meaning. (You can also turn this around getting her to generate the questions about the sentences—then trying to answer her own questions). The idea is to keep her so focused on the meaning that you break the habit of simply calling the words.

Stay with silent reading with her too, not oral (except to show evidence)… and don’t have her spending any time at all practicing fluency. But for interactive sessions, limit the amount of text (1 sentence initially) and keep the emphasis as much on recalling and interpreting the ideas as you can. I would also encourage writing, but again, with a heavy emphasis on the content that she is writing about.

Good luck.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reading Aloud in the High School?

Recently, I came across some interesting stuff in Jay Mathews’s “Class Struggle” column in the Washington Post."

Mr. Mathews explains that he noticed oral reading taking place during a high school classroom observation and he wondered whether this was a waste of time or a good idea. Various teachers chimed in, on both sides, with valuable insights. The column is worth a read—in fact, it would make a great kickoff to teacher discussions.

I’ve been in the field of reading education for a long time (I started tutoring inner city kids in reading 40 years ago). For that entire time, the professoriate has been anti-oral reading (or “round robin reading” as it is usually pejoratively referred to). Why not oral reading? A lot of the complaints about it seem to be personal, based on childhood memories; these complaints focus on how nervous it made them, or how they only focused on their part and ignored the text.

However, some of the criticism has been based on research. When I first started, the claim was that listening to a poor reader and trying to follow along in text was disruptive to the reading of the better readers. This important finding was based on a single study of about 6 kids doing a single reading. Not very convincing evidence. Later, another study was done that found kids answered questions better when the reading lesson focused on the text meaning rather than on oral reading practice. But, again, one study, one small group, one lesson.

Despite expert complaints about the practice of oral reading, teachers have persisted. Every large scale observational or survey study of teaching finds it to be a common teaching practice. Of course, the professors were upset when Jane Stallings and her colleagues found amount of oral reading practice in class to be related to learning gains in reading—even in high school.

The mindless each kid take a brief turn kind of oral reading is a bad idea, but not for the reasons given. Kids can learn a lot from oral reading practice, but some practices are just inefficient or poorly tuned. Tim Rasinski has shown the large numbers of disfluent high school students; paired reading, echo reading, and similar practices have been found to improve fluency—which in turn improves comprehension.

Many of the teachers whose opinions were recorded by Mathews focus on more direct comprehension benefits, such as when the oral reading targets particularly complex aspects of the text—so the teacher can guide student translation (which makes a lot of sense, but which I don’t see much of when I visit schools). And, I always remember Eudora Welty talking about how important oral reading is to writers (I concur with this, and truth be told, I engage in quite a bit of oral reading myself—some material is just meant to be read aloud).

No, don’t just have students taking turns reading paragraphs through your chapter; that’s a real time waster. But the practices noted above are well worth it, if your concern is student learning.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Useful Information on Adolescent Literacy

Hi everyone,

I just got back from the big Reading Summit in Indiana. The governor and state schools superintendent, Tony Bennett (no, not that Tony Bennett) have noticed that the nation has been improving in literacy, but Indiana has not (fourth graders in Indiana are reading no better than they were in the early 1990s, while American fourth graders have been on the improve; older US kids haven’t done any better, so the lack of progress among the Hoosiers is more understandable, though certainly not acceptable).

The Indiana Department of Education brought in a group of speakers to help kick off their efforts, and I was proud to be there. I spoke about adolescent reading and the talk was well received. As promised to the audience, I have attached a copy of the Power point slides here. Reid Lyon gave a rousing opening, and before I headed back home I got to hear Mel Riddle, an amazing principal who has successfully led efforts to improve reading in an urban high school. He sure knows how to get the job done. Mel also serves on the Carnegie Adolescent Literacy Commission and is one of the authors of their new report, Time to Act, which is a fine piece of work and one that I think you might find useful.

After my talk, during a Q & A session I was stumped; I couldn’t remember the name of a silent reading fluency test for older kids, so I promised to place that info here: the Test of Silent Contextual Reading Fluency (Pro-Ed). I’m not a big fan of group fluency tests, but sometimes it is the only way to go. I would say, however, that even in middle and high school, teachers can evaluate fluency while teaching fluency. If that is done regularly, the fluency level estimates can be every bit as good as what any standard test might provide.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do I Teach Fluency to English Language Learners?

I got a question yesterday: Does it really make sense to teach oral reading fluency to English learners or would it be better to have them working on oral language proficiency in English?

Oral reading fluency, which includes accuracy, speed, and expression is an important (skill or collection of skills) because instruction in oral reading fluency improves reading comprehension. As such, it is an important factor in reading. (Because it is an amalgamation of skills, activities such as repeated reading can improve several of them: including automaticity in word recognition and prosody--using the sound to show the meaningful relations among the words).

However, the relationship between fluency and comprehension changes a bit with second-language learners, and our educational practices have to change accordingly. Most important in this regard is that fluency instruction has been found to have a positive impact on the reading of English learners, however the effect size of this impact tends to be smaller (meaning that such teaching helps English learners, but not as much as it does native speakers). This doesn’t mean that I would not teach fluency to English learners, only that I would alter my criteria for success and I wouild teach it somewhat less and a little bit differently.

Certainly, fluency should not just be reduced to rate and accuracy (as is done in far too many classrooms), some consideration to the expression (especially as children get into the intermediate grades) is needed. ELLs should not spend inordinate amounts of time in discrete skills programs (but some instruction in discrete skills can be beneficial to these students). It is critical that the whole program be considered in such placements: most of their time these students should be in rich language settings with explicit English language instruction.

In assessing fluency, common ELL miscues that do not affect comprehension should not be counted (or these words should be counted as correct). Don't expect children from Mexico to pronounce words like children from Dubuque. No decisions on these children should just be made solely on the basis of a reading rate measure (consideration of comprehension is an important indicator and would help me decide what to do with the child). Oral language proficiency is especially important with English learners, so I definitely would not ignore that in terms of assessment or instruction.

A small amount of targeted skill instruction in decoding and/or fluency is not problematic with second language learners if they are struggling with those things (in fact, such teaching can be beneficial), but it is easy to mistake language differences for weaknesses in these basic skills, so care is needed. Also, if too much time is spent on such instruction, oral language proficiency will not be attained and the student will eventually struggle no matter how well he or she does on the basic skills.

NICHD supported a lot of research that identified young children with serious decoding deficiencies. They entered them into programs that successfully taught them to decode (though it took a long time and a lot of hard work). However, once these kids could decode they still underperformed their classmates in reading... their basic skills had improved, but they lacked the language and knowledge to take advantage of those now-proficient decoding skills.

The problem is that fluency or decoding are NECESSARY, but NOT SUFFICIENT skills. Without them, you won't be able to read with comprehension. With only these skills, you are also going to be unable to read with comprehension. The pendulum swings back and forth between too much skills work and too little skills work. We need to keep it in mind that kids need fluency and comprehension.

With second language kids, I would have them do something meaningful at the end of every fluency reading (like answering a question). I would spend extra time on the vocabulary of the passage as well (making sure they understood the word meanings); more than I would do if they came to the reading in English. I would ignore dialect pronunciations. I would give them every opportunity to ask questions about what they are reading. I would avoid have them read meaningless stuff, like "decodable text," as I would not want to get them used to the idea that reading doesn't make sense. I would do all of that, but I would also teach them to be fluent. It's a balancing act.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Irish Literacy and Some New Audio Resources

What a great week... I just got back from a very pleasing visit to Dublin, Ireland. My Irish friends invited me over to see if I could provide any help to their wonderful "youngballymun" project. Ballymun is an area of Dublin that is economically challenged. Ireland has one of the world's best education systems and among the highest literacy levels, but everything isn't what it should be in Ballymun.

As in major cities all over the U.S., the kids who live in economically-challenged neighborhoods (with the worst housing, the most serious health problems including drug abuse, etc.) do worst in school. Some Irish areas manage remarkably to avoid this unfortunate pattern, but not Ballymun.

Consequently, Atlantic Philanthropies has teamed up with the Irish government to provide support to make things go better in such neighborhoods. The team in Ballymun is working closely with the schools to get improvements there, but they are also expanding preschool, afterschool, and health care opportunities, and doing everything they can to try to make it possible for more kids to do well in this changing neighborhood.

The current environment there reminds me of Chicago when they were tearing down the Robert Taylor homes--the high rise public housing projects that didn't work well for the residents in Chicago. Right now in Ballymun the ever-changing landscape is punctuated by abandoned high rises, piles of rubble from the demolition, and hopeful new housing. But while changing the physical environment is a good idea, that alone will not likely lead to improved achievement without real changes in these children's educational lives.

That was why they brought me over. I visited all the schools, attended a plethora of meetings, shared my framework with everybody who would listen, and kept up the mantra that it is the children's experience that matters: amount of teaching, curriculum focus, and quality of delivery are what improve literacy--everything else is just commentary. I look forward to continuing to work with this vibrant and commited group, and will keep you posted on their progress. For more on the youngballymun project go to

Also, while I was away Just Read, Florida has posted some professional development materials that you might be interested in. They conducted an interview with me about oral language development, decoding and fluency, explicit comprehension instruction, vocabulary development for older students, writing, and ELL. You can listen to the interview or download the transcript at:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Demolishing a Straw Man: Should We Teach Fluency?

What’s the relationship between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension? Does fluency instruction automatically lead to comprehension? Are reading comprehension and fluency independent processes? Reasonable questions like those abound about this aspect of learning to read. However, if you are seeking answers to such questions in the recent article on fluency and reading comprehension that appears in The Reading Teacher (RT, March 2009, vol. 62 (6), pp. 512-521), don’t bother.

The problem is that the authors, M. D. Applegate, A. J. Applegate, and V. B. Modla, have made up a straw man (um, straw person) argument implying that someone out there supposes oral reading fluency alone is the necessary and sufficient condition for high-level reading comprehension. Their contention is that there is this (apparently stupid) group of teachers or scholars who believe that if kids can read text aloud quickly, accurately, and with proper expression, then they’ll comprehend anything no matter what their knowledge of vocabulary or the world or their other intellectual skills and predilections.

Surprise, surprise, the authors manage to show that oral reading fluency alone is insufficient to guarantee reading comprehension. This isn’t especially difficult to show, but this study is poorly reported so the findings aren’t particularly persuasive or informative.

One big problem with the data analysis: student selection is poorly executed, leading to some rather circular analysis (I got dizzy anyway). They only included students with a score of 16 or higher on their fluency rubric, but provided no information on the reliability or validity of this, and they didn’t indicate who administered the test and how inter-rater reliability was handled, nor did they provide any information about why 16 is a good level of fluency to select. Reliability and validity data for setting a specific cut score on a test are different than the reliability and validity of an overall test—this is particularly true in an instance like this where the authors tried to identify students with a narrow range of test performance. Why should we think that a 16 on this rubric is the level of fluency that students should attain?

On other tests, fluency criteria are usually set against some outcome measures—typically reading comprehension. Here’s where it gets circular: a level of fluency on a test is usually set to make it possible to determine if, for most kids, fluency will be sufficient to allow reading comprehension success. That fluency cut is never set at a point where 100% of the kids at that level comprehend well (test data are too messy for that). So the authors have set a cut score that does not match with all kids being able to comprehend, and then they set out to prove that not all kids who reach this cut score can comprehend.

The study divides students into three levels of comprehension but not in any clear way (and neither standard deviations nor standard errors of measurement for their tests are provided), so it is impossible to know how different these groups really are or whether other ways of dividing the data would help us to understand things any better. The study tries to analyze different question types, but without any discussion of the reliability or validity of these parts of the tests (you cannot simply divide up a test into parts and assume that the parts remain valid and reliable).

Not surprisingly, they found that students who were fluent could for the most part answer questions accurately about text if the answers to the questions had been explicitly stated in text (for 143 of the 171 kids tested). They even found that more than two-thirds of these fluent kids could do high level comprehension tasks such as interpretation and critical response, but that the rest struggled with these aspects of higher-order thinking despite their fluency.

In other words, for the most part, fluent readers were able to accomplish average levels of reading comprehension when the focus was on remembering or interpreting information in the text, but about 15% of these students had difficulty when asked to use the information in text to do other things. The accuracy of these figures is impossible to verify given the reporting flaws, but whether these numbers are accurate or not the authors are correct: fluency alone will not guarantee comprehension.

The highest correlation I’ve seen between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension is about .85 (which is very high), but the correlations vary a bit and probably average a bit lower than that. But even a correlation that high only indicates that oral reading fluency predicts about 72% of the variance in reading comprehension scores. In the simplest theory possible, the one that claims that oral reading fluency simply and directly causes reading comprehension, that still leaves more than a quarter of the variation in reading comprehension performance to other variables. The imperfect correlation of fluency and comprehension alone tells me that some fluent readers will not comprehend very well—and that some disfluent ones will manage to understand text anyway. The high correlation on the other hand (especially from experimental studies in which children’s fluency is improved through some kind of intervention that leads to improved reading comprehension) indicates the importance of teaching fluency.

The National Reading Panel reviewed the experimental studies on fluency instruction and found that, in 15 of 16 studies, fluency instruction led to improved reading comprehension. The one study that did not find comprehension gains from fluency instruction is the one that proves that fluency alone does not guarantee comprehension improvement. The other 15 studies are the ones that suggest it would be wise to make sure that kids are fluent.

While teachers should know fluency instruction alone will not guarantee comprehension gains (nor will instruction in any other aspect of reading), these authors might want to spend some time in middle schools and high schools in cities like Cleveland and Chicago where large numbers and percentages of students lack the fluency levels commensurate with being able to get an author’s message or to do text level interpretation of text successfully. Teach fluency, but by all means, don’t just teach fluency.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Misinformation Marches On

The winter issue of The California Reader includes a spirited response by Glenn DeVoogd to an article that I published in that outlet this fall. Nothing wrong with differences of opinion, so I’ll not use this space to try to argue that I’m wrong and he’s right on those issues. However, I will address some egregious errors in his claims.

1. Glenn says the National Reading Panel (NRP) promoted “a more skills-based approach to reading rather than a meaning-based approach focusing on comprehension” (p. 5). In fact, NRP looked at 205 studies on the teaching of reading comprehension, all with reading comprehension as the outcome. NRP considered 45 studies on vocabulary teaching and 16 on oral reading fluency, all with comprehension outcomes. Even 18 of the 52 phonemic awareness studies and 35 of the 38 phonics studies focused on reading comprehension. Maybe the complaint isn’t that NRP failed to focus on comprehension outcomes, but that we dared to consider a broader set of outcomes (like spelling, fluency, and word recognition).

2. He also claims NRP “missed some well-designed studies supporting the use of” sustained silent reading (SSR), the Book Flood studies of Warwick Elley. NRP did not ignore those studies. It searched for them systematically as described in the report, examined them, and set them aside because they only included second-language learners (beyond NRP’s scope). We were concerned about differences between first- and second-language learners, and, we were not willing to generalize from one group to the other given that their learning situations are so different.

Later the National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth (NLP), a panel devoted to synthesizing research on second-language learners, examined the Elley studies. Glenn claims the Elley studies were well-designed, but the NLP scientists were troubled by lack of either random assignment or any kind of pretesting. The supposed “gains” from Book Flood may have been pre-existing differences. One book flood study had a sounder design and a positive result, and it was included in NLP. A provocative pattern emerged from that analysis. Three studies, including book flood, showed positive benefits for encouraging reading and three did not. The three that did had second-language learners reading independently in English, and the three negatives had the kids reading in their home languages. The English learners in the positive studies were very isolated from English and had little opportunity to hear it, see it, or use it beyond their school lessons, and this might have been why this treatment was successful. It’s funny that having kids read in their home language had no impact on their reading skills, sort of like the SSR studies with native English speakers.

3. Glenn repeats the incorrect claim that the NRP set aside studies of SSR that did not include oral reading fluency outcomes. That is not the case. That was claimed many years ago by Jim Cunningham whose critique was rife with that kind of misinformation. Glenn apparently believed the critic, but failed to check this out himself. Nope, NRP did not miss some big group of SSR studies that focused on comprehension. Didn’t happen. Those studies were ALL included.

4. Glenn confuses the effects of independent reading with the effectiveness of the methods used to get kids to read more. That is a huge interpretive problem. That reading CAN have positive effects is not proof that particular ways of encouraging kids to read more will be effective (maybe not all approaches for encouraging kids to read work). I remember when Newt Gingrich set up a program to pay kids to read during the summer. Lots of school people set up a howl that claimed paying kids to read would be ineffective. The assumption behind such complaints is that the Gingrich approach is a bad one, not that reading is bad for kids. The fact that SSR has almost no impact on kids learning (average effect sizes are a negligible .05 to .10) should bother people who want to encourage kids to read, since if it doesn’t work, something else should be tried. (Since NRP various researchers, such as James Kim, have been conducting studies where they try to get a learning effect from encouraging reading. They are having a heck of a time of it, because it turns out it is not that easy to get kids to increase their reading enough to make a difference, but we are certainly learning important things from their efforts—more than we are from the folks who are clinging to the failed SSR methodology).

5. Glenn attributed causality to studies that show a correlation between amount of reading and reading quality. Doing that opens the door to lots of quack remedies to reading problems like eye movement training, learning styles, balance beam exercises, etc.—all of which claim effectiveness on the basis of such correlations. A bigger problem with correlations is the fact that the relationship between two variables can be due to their relationship with an intervening variable. I’m surprised those who push these correlations as evidence don’t bother to control for the effects of parent’s socioeconomic status. When you do that, the correlation between amount of reading and reading ability drops dramatically. Kids whose parents have high incomes and high education read more than kids who don’t. (Shhh! Don’t tell the teachers: they might not use SSR if they knew that was the evidence on which it was based).

Glenn expresses concern that teachers have stopped using SSR because of the NRP finding that it had insufficient evidence showing it works. He apparently thinks it is bad that teachers have dropped this ineffective approach. Interestingly, Glenn suggests some ways to improve SSR—and all of his recommendations make it more like instruction, very different from the SSR designs recommended in textbooks or evaluated by research or that one commonly sees practiced in actual classrooms (but more like the reading comprehension interventions that have been found to be so effective). That’s good advice in my opinion, but it makes me wonder why such a smart man is insistent that teachers continue to use such problematic approaches instead of pushing hard for alternative procedures like the ones he notes.

6. Another area I talked of in my article was the findings being reported for studies of reading to children. It turns out that almost none of those studies have reading outcomes, and that the oral language measure used to evaluate the effectiveness of these procedures (simple receptive vocabulary) has a very low relationship with later reading achievement. Glenn’s response is that reading to children has been shown to have a close connection to pre-reading skills… in other words, he takes a “skills-based approach to reading rather than a meaning-based approach focused on comprehension.” Wow that is a very different standard than the one he had a page or two earlier for the NRP. It is those inconsistencies that undermine his arguments: he wants to be able to cherry-pick the evidence that supports his case, no matter what measures were used or how badly the studies were executed, and he wants to be able to ignore the evidence that doesn’t fit with what he wants teachers to do.

Ultimately, that’s why these large public syntheses of research studies by scientists are so important. They are an antidote to the priesthood of professors who claim to be the ones who know best what needs to be done in schools, even as they obscure their claims in mysterious evidentiary standards and inconsistent logic.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How To Observe Reading Instruction

It is important that principals know what to watch for in a reading lesson. What makes it effective? It is important for coaches to, if they are to give teachers any kind of supportive guidance. And, let's face it, good teachers are likely to do much more self evaluation than being observed by others.

One thing that complicates reading instruction is there are lots of different kinds of lessons, and each of these lesson types has its own requirements. Basically, reading is both a skilled activity that requires a lot of precision performance without much conscious awareness (like recognizing high frequency words or common spelling patterns). But, it also requires actions that are synonymous with thinking and these require a lot of reflection and depth of thought. That means that a comprehension lesson ought to look pretty different from a phonics lesson; not just in content, but in the kinds of cognitive action the lesson leads kids to engage.

So, if you need to do observations -- including self observations -- you might find the following document to be useful. It tells the kinds of things I would watch for in various reading lessons.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

FAQ on Oral Reading Fluency Instruction

Hi everyone. What a busy week. I attended the White House Conference on International Literacy on Monday, a meeting of the Colorado Literacy Council on Wednesday, and now I'm in Boston for a meeting of the Advisory Board of Reach Out and Read. With all of that going on, I haven't had an opportunity to get a blog out, until today. Here is an FAQ on teaching oral reading fluency.

Do all students need work with fluency?
No, not all students need work with fluency, but most elementary students do. Some students are so good with fluency that they apparently can read almost any book so well that it sounds like they can understand it. As a population of students goes through school, an increasingly large proportion of them will be fluent at the highest levels. This means that fewer students will need fluency work as time goes on.

Our students are getting low scores in reading comprehension. Why aren’t we focusing on that instead of fluency?
Low comprehension scores can mean many things. They might mean that your students have poor knowledge of word meanings or that their fluency is limited, or that they lack strategies for making sense of a text. We need to address all areas of reading progress; fluency is just one of them.

How much fluency teaching are we expected to provide?
Schools should provide students with up to 30 minutes a day of fluency instruction or more if more than 2 hours of reading instruction is provided. But remember, this is across all classes. If every class did 10 minutes of fluency work once or twice each week, that would be sufficient.

What do you mean “up to 30 minutes a day?”
If a student is fluent with the course materials and the teacher checks on this regularly, then there is nothing more to do with fluency. However, if a student is not fluent, then the school should find ways to provide 30 minutes per day of this kind of instruction. That could mean that some students do very little direct work with fluency, while others spend a full quarter time of the framework on fluency.

How do I keep from embarrassing my low readers?
Fluency work is a practice activity, not much different from Michael Jordan shooting free throws to get ready for the big game. Practice usually isn’t embarrassing, as long as everyone sees it as practice. Most students enjoy fluency work as it is involving and they can see their own improvement. Don’t do much round robin reading, where one student reads and everyone else follows along; paired situations are much better as long as they don’t single anyone out. Talk to the class at the very beginning to make sure that they understand the purpose of this practice, and what to expect.

How do I pair the kids?
Don’t make a big deal out of pairing up, as this can be a real time waster. One rule is to make sure that the students who are working together on a given day are using the same book. That’s easy in most classrooms. A second rule is not to pair up the same kids all the time; they differ in their ability to give feedback, so share the wealth.

What kind of texts should we use for fluency?
Many teachers like to select special texts for this work, such as poetry. However, we really want students to become fluent with prose, so practice with prose materials is essential. Any material that you are using in class for reading comprehension or in a content subject such as social studies or science are ideal.

I've been told the texts should be easy for kids to read?
Actually, research says the opposite. In repeated oral reading activities, it is more productive to work with texts that are challenging--even frustration level. It takes more rereading, of course, but kids learn more from such practice.

Doesn’t silent reading improve fluency?
Of course, silent reading can help fluency. Kids who read a lot will usually be pretty fluent. Unfortunately, teachers can only be sure if their students are fluent if they listen to them read. Paired reading becomes a great opportunity for this. Silent reading only works when the students are actually reading, and not just looking at pictures or turning pages.

How do I know that fluency activities such as paired reading or chunking actually work?
Nothing works automatically, you have to make them work. However, research indicates that the various techniques that are being recommended have worked successfully in other schools with students at a variety of age levels. Over time, fluency ability transfers to other texts.

I work with very young children. Do you recommend fluency work for them?
When children are first getting started with real reading, you actually want them to be somewhat disfluent. That is, you want the reading to go slowly enough that each word stands out on its own. Fingerpoint reading is the starting point. However, once students begin to read, the fluency goal is the same as with older children.

When you observe in classes, what are the biggest problems that you see with fluency instruction?
The biggest problem is teachers often fail to teach fluency at all, and students fall further and further behind as the texts get harder. Another problem is the reliance on round robin reading, which is a real time waster compared with paired reading. Finally, even when teachers do have students work on fluency, there often is little or no repetition, so the students do not necessarily become fluent (they just read the material aloud and then move on).

Friday, September 19, 2008

For My Friends in Bucks County

I had a great meeting with my friends in Pennsylvania this week. I have put the powerpoint on line (and a copy of the oral reading fluency partner sheets that I like to use).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Improving Adolescent Reading

From time to time, I'm aksed to give talks about improving adolescent literacy. Recently, Pearson Publishing asked me to do so (I have developed an instructional program for teaching reading to adolescents who read between the 3rd-5th grade levels: AMP Reading Systems).

I gave the speech to a group of teachers in Minnesota, and yesterday the publisher gifted me with the following video clips of parts of my talk. I've posted the powerpoint slides of this talk previously, but now you can actually hear what I say about the various slides. Hope you find these useful. I've listed the topics of each clip below in the order that they are listed.

Key 1: The Need for Learning Standards
Key 2: Require Reading
Key 3: Increase Reading Instructional Time
Key 4: More Time for Low Readers
Key 5: Teach Vocabulary
Key 6: Oral Reading Fluency
Key 7: Reading Comprehension
Key 8: Writing
Key 9: Professional Development
Key 10: Motivation

Friday, July 11, 2008

Raising Achievement in Urban Schools

This week, I had the opportunity of working with a terrific group of teachers and administrators in Syracuse, NY (the Emerald City). This is one of those school districts that did a great job with Reading First. They were only funded to put the program in some of their schools, but they recognized its importance and adopted it district-wide anyway. And it has made a real difference there. Kids are reading better than in the past (though like a lot of urban districts the problem is so big that they still have a long way to go to get literacy levels to where they need to be).

I was there to provide workshops for upper grade teachers in reading comprehension, oral reading fluency, and vocabulary instruction. Reading First stops at third grade, and reading issues in Syracuse go all the way through high school. It is pleasing to work with a district that used the Reading First money properly (not buying furniture, etc.), and that ended up with much better reading achievement than before. While I was there, I watched one of their teachers presenting a workshop on vocabulary. I can see why they succeeded!

If you are interested in the powerpoints that I used in Syracuse, here they are:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Oral Reading Fluency for Young Children?

The National Reading Panel found that oral reading fluency instruction (such as having students read a text aloud repeatedly with teacher feedback) helped raise reading achievement. The studies that conclusion was based upon took place in Grades 1 through 9, with most of the studies being done in by the fourth grade. It is pretty clear that oral reading instruction can help many students.

But what about young children who cannot read yet? What are the precursors? With reading comprehension, we often encourage teachers to focus on listening comprehension as a prerequisite. With decoding, we aim at early phonological awareness and letter name knowledge. But what about for fluency, where do we start with that? Programs like Reading First don't even encourage teachers to address oral reading fluency until about half-way through first grade (when most kids can read well enough to practice oral reading).

Next Sunday I will speak at a preconference institute at the International Reading Association in Atlanta. My audience will be preschool and primary grade teachers. It is obvious what to say to the primary grade teachers, but the information for preschool teachers is not widely available. Here is the presentation that I will make to them next week. I hope it is useful to you.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Help With Partner Reading

One of the most important findings of the National Reading Panel Report was that partner reading (where two kids take turns reading aloud to each other) raises reading achievement for kids at a variety of grade levels and reading levels. Teachers need to stay involved in the process, by circulating through the room, listening to individual's reading, and giving feedback through the coaches. I even deputize the younger kids when they do this (swearing them in as deputy teachers).

How do you keep the kids focused on the goals and really working? I find that giving the students rating sheets on which to evaluate their partners. I have never actually used these to grade students or anything like that, but it keeps their head in the game. I also have them write down any words that they and their partners do not know. I usually take the last few minutes of the lesson to consider those words together--doing guided decoding at the chalkboard with the problem words.
If you click here, you can download a copy of a partner reading form that I sometimes use. These criteria came from a group of elementary kids, so feel free to make changes to it. As you can see, it is set up so that you can print copies of it, and there are two forms to a page (have to save paper where you can).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The National Reading Panel Report: Practical Advice for Teachers

January 29, 2008

In 2005, Learning Point (the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory) asked me to write an interpretation of the National Reading Panel Report; something that teachers could read and understand easily. I wrote the piece and they published it as a 43-page book, which they sold for next to nothing in today's expensive-publication world ($5.00, I think).

I just noticed that Learning Point now has it up on their website where anyone can download this booklet for free, so I am providing a link to that file right here. I think you might find my practical advice about phonemic awareness, phonics, oral reading fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension to be useful if you are a parent or a teacher.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fluency -- Not Hurrying

December 24, 2007

Oral reading fluency has become a hot topic in the past few years. Of all aspects of reading, it still may be the most neglected, but we seem to be doing somewhat better in providing fluency instruction than we were when the National Reading Panel ( concluded that fluency instruction improved reading achievement. That surprised many people; the idea that practicing oral reading could do more than improve the oral reading seemed strange. Usually we get better at what we practice: so, it would make sense to have kids doing a lot of silent reading rather than oral reading, since we want them to get good at silent reading.

But the research is pretty clear that oral reading practice, when done appropriately, not only makes kids sound better, but comprehend better, too—including on silent reading tests. One reason that oral reading can do more for silent reading than silent reading, is that often when students are asked to read silently, they may not even be reading, or their reading might be flawed and labored but who would know it if it was done silently? Oral reading makes reading more physical and less mental, so it is easier to keep on task and to notice miscues and deal with them.

Of course, if we are going to teach oral reading (in order to make kids better comprehenders) it is reasonable to monitor their progress. That’s where oral reading tests, like DIBELS (, come in. Teachers can listen to kids read, and get a pretty good idea of their progress and pick out who may need more help. Sadly, I’m starting to see teachers doing silly things like asking kids to read as fast as they can so that they can get good DIBELS scores. The problem with that is that kids are supposed to read faster as a result of becoming more skilled at decoding and interpreting text, not because they are hurrying. I have no doubt that fluency instruction can have a powerful impact on reading comprehension. I also have no doubt that hurrying kids through texts is bad idea that won’t lead to that kind of learning. By all means use DIBELS (and DIBELS-like) oral reading tests. But make sure they are tests of reading--rather than hurrying.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Chicago Reading Framework

November 12, 2007

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 I was guiding others to improve achievement, and I have 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 that 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. I've even included a link to a powerpoint presentation on the framework. p://

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.

This document, and the videotape and slides distributed in August, are meant to provide an introduction to the Framework. More information will be forthcoming as the school year proceeds—including a wide array of professional development opportunities, resources, and guidelines.

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 InstructionIt 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 ContentReading 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.

ContinuityPowerful 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.
ConclusionsEducational 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., & 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. (
Tierney, R., & Shanahan, T. (1991). Reading-writing relationships: Proc­esses, transac­tions, out­comes. In P. D. Pearson, R. Barr, M. Kamil, & P. Mosenthal (Eds.), Hand­book of Reading Research (pp. 246-280). New York: Longman.