Happy New Year, fellow educators! I have been looking forward to the freshness that accompanies this time of year. Cleaning off my desk, organizing those stacks of books and articles, getting back into our classrooms after a restful time with family and friends, gratitude for the gifts of love and joy in this season.

January, and into February, is the time of year when teachers report their students’ reading skills take off. Maybe it’s the cumulative practice effect. Maybe it’s our carefully designed, purposeful instruction. Maybe it’s because now we can relax for longer stretches of academic time without interruptions and really get down to business in our classrooms.

Whatever the reason, we all benefit from reminders that inform our decisions and instruction. I’ve gathered a few reminders for you below.

Language is the foundation for literacy.

Before reading develops, language must develop, and continue to develop once reading skills begin to take place. Here are some ideas for you to incorporate every day, day in and day out to enhance and strengthen your students’ language skills.

Oral Language: Nothing like Turn and Talk or Partner Share to provide opportunities for students to express their thinking and learning orally. Tips to make these practices stronger:

  • Number partners 1 and 2. Mix up who goes first so that the students with lower language skills can go first sometimes. We all know that the students with the gift of logorrhea will dominate and more reticent students will let them! “Partner 2 go first this time.”
  • Avoid open prompts like, “Talk about what you learned.” Give students a specific prompt to guide their conversation. Research has shown that greater learning occurs when we ask metacognitive questions that begin, “How do you know…?”, “What makes you say that?”. Download this document from Top Ten Tools that will give you some effective prompt ideas.
  • Give students a few seconds of silent time to formulate their thoughts, to think about an answer before sharing. “Think about your answer. When you are ready to share, raise your hand.”
  • While students are sharing, monitor the room. Note students’ use of language. Supply vocabulary terms, restate students’ thinking using syntactically correct sentences then ask them to restate their thinking. Correct any misinformation. Ask additional questions.
  • When students are finished sharing, instruct them to write their thinking. Oral rehearsal leads to improved writing outcomes!

Listening comprehension: The researchers who first hypothesized the Simple View of Reading applied Listening Comprehension to denote the language domain. Through listening, students gain vocabulary knowledge, build a sensitivity to the sounds of language, become acquainted with syntax, and develop richer and deeper content knowledge. Read to your students!

  • Choose several books about the same topic. As you read these texts to students, draw them into conversations about the content. Compare information shared across several texts; use the vocabulary the authors use, engage students in conversation about the topic. Choose several main ideas, broad categories, and create a graphic organizer to collect the subordinate details as you work through each text, adding the new details as they emerge with each reading. “What did we learn from this author that we did not learn in the previous book?”
  • During the course of the day, ask students to put into their own words what they hear you share and read. Instruct them to share with a partner or write it down. After you give an explanation, or directions, ask students to turn to their partners and tell them what they heard.
  • Before students write, ask them to share their thinking orally first. Provide vocabulary they are learning and ask them to use the new words in their conversations.
  • Write, write, write – Implement brief writing responses several times a day! Coupled with a teacher’s explicit instruction on sentence construction, spelling, and word use, these multiple writing exercises can really help support the January growth spurt!

Decoding is Essential!

The ability to translate written language into spoken language does not happen without a firm and robust foundation in phoneme awareness and phoneme grapheme knowledge. Learning to decode is not learning a new language, but rather learning the process needed to access a familiar spoken language. Here are some tips to keep the momentum going and ensure that the January growth spurt happens!

  • Provide LOTS of practice reading texts that contain words students can decode and words that are in their sight vocabularies – This means decodable texts for young students. Words students can decode contain the phonic elements that have been taught to them. Follow these reading practice sessions with comprehension discussions.
  • Strive for at least 20-30 minutes of individual reading practice a day… during school hours. Then work with family members to ensure that reading is happening at home too.
  • Continue your decoding instruction following your skills sequence. Build in frequent reviews or previous phonic elements taught; introduce new words with the graphemes students have been taught. Follow isolated word work with reading the words in connected text.
  • Any word students decode – ask them to encode. A good practice is to decode new words (tap and blend) and then, remove the word from the students’ sight, and dictate the words to them to spell. This practice reverses the pathways in the brain: decoding begins in the orthographic, encoding begins the process in the phonological processing center. Stronger and quicker learning happens when we provide both decoding and encoding in the same lesson.
  • With intermediate grade students, highlight morphology in your word work. Discuss sounds and spellings in the vocabulary words students are learning. Compare the pronunciations of words that share the same root – origin and original – how do the syllable stresses compare?
  • More on morphology – create word families – words that share the same root.
  • Teach intermediate students how to syllabicate to read new words, how to use the root to help them determine meaning and then check out their thinking with an online dictionary.
  • As students get older, and if their reading levels are adequate, increase the complexity of the texts they are reading. Listen to students read aloud to continually assess the student – text match. Adjust the text if necessary.

As always, practice makes permanent. How much reading practice are your students getting? What is the miles-on-the-page quotient for your classroom?

Happy New Year – May your students’ January growth spurts become a reading celebration!