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Teacher Interviews on Reading Instruction

Traditional reading programs view the teaching of reading comprehension largely as a set of formal skills to be taught and practiced. None of the programs acknowledge the importance of building broad, general student knowledge as the primary means by which to improve reading comprehension (Walsh, 2003). Although the basal reading program is traditionally incorporated into early reading programs and focusing on phonemic awareness may increase the ability to decode sounds, many students have difficulties comprehending written text an anticipating content due to lack of  knowledge about particular subject matter.  To increase students’ world knowledge, students must be exposed to more rigorous content. For example, teacher read-alouds should be generally two grade levels above the students performance level, and students’ basal stories should ideally develop the same bodies of knowledge that have been introduced in the teacher readalouds. Moreover, significant chunks of time should be devoted to discussion after each read-aloud. This will allow time to ensure that all students comprehend the high-level read-alouds, explain new vocabulary, and start using the new vocabulary and new ideas and concepts (Walsh, 2003). While the best predictor of reading success is the increased amounst of time spent reading, reading achievement is also influenced by the frequency, amount, and diversity of reading activities provided. Effective teachers of reading engage their students in reading for a variety of purposes; for pleasure, for exploration, and for information to perform a task. Effective teachers recognize that not all students enter reading through the same door or at the same level; therefore, they provide students with a wide range of meaningful reading activities, including those that promote social interaction with their peers (Gambrell, 2006).

Interview with Novice 1st Grade Teacher 

Upon completion of my interview with a relatively new teacher of a first grade class, it became more apparent that the intricate details involved with teaching reading while developing a sense of comprehension in students took careful balancing from a variety of aspects and learning methods.  In order to make the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” children must have a foundation of a broad vocabulary and world knowledge that includes a variety of domains and is built up over time. Without this knowledge, children may be able to sound out words in their textbooks, but will not be able to extract adequate meaning from the text (Walsh, 2003). Although the teacher interviewed planned on using a phonics approach to teach the basic elements of reading and word awareness, she also incorporated the “look and say” sight reading technique in order to ensure the ability to read words that are not phonetically in sync. She also felt that reading interesting and age-appropriate materials aloud to students will encourage early reading and provide a foundation for fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. To foster a love of books, children need opportunities to talk about them. Studies suggest that informal conversations around books, such as book talks or book chats, enhance children’s motivation to read. In addition, children develop more complex understandings of stories by talking about books with others. During book chats, children tell about an interesting event or fact in their book, information about the author, and why others might like to read it in 5-to-10 minute conversations before the whole group. In the course of retelling, children develop new knowledge and understandings, as well as gains in comprehension (Gambrell, 2006). Teachers should be encouraged to establish a daily “sustained engagement time” when all children are expected to be engaged with books in whatever manner most comfortable to them, whether browsing through books, looking at pictures, or reading the library books alone or with classmates. During independent reading time, reluctant readers may be more likely to select a book if the teacher highlights particular books during daily read-aloud sessions, or reads favorite books at least three times prior to placing them in the classroom library (Gambrell, 2006).

According to the Common Core State Standards, foundational reading skills for grade 1 should include; print concepts, such as understanding of the organization and basic features of print and the ability to recognize the distinguishing features of a sentences; phonlogical awareness and word recognition, including knowing and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words; and fluency, which includes reading with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension (Common Core State Standards, 2012). So although the basal method will be used as a foundation to teach basic reading skills, teaching literacy will combine the use of phonics, teacher read alouds and class discussion to encourage independent reading and expand comprehension. In addition, small reading groups were used to further discussion and reading materials targeted at student’s specific areas of interests were used as home assignments with question and answer worksheets used to incorporate writing skills while encouraging comprehension and story decoding.  The class discussions offered purpose for reading while allowing students to utilize the skills needed to increase comprehension while becoming actively engaged in the text.

A key to teaching all students within the classroom to read is providing engagement in an exciting literate atmosphere that stimulates and supports reading. Teachers should be aware that students need both skill and desire to read in order to develop as proficient and effective readers.  Reading engagement can be facilitated through modeling a love of reading, reading aloud, book talking, providing access to a wealth of trade books, engaging students in a variety of activities with diverse texts, including daily independent reading of self-selected trade books, and providing book-related incentives that recognize students for their reading while emphasizing the value of reading (Gambrell, 2006).

Reading is a complex process that involves multiple factors including decoding, integrating background experiences, having a purpose for reading, and using skills and strategies to construct meaning. There are five basic pillars of literacy, which include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. All of these factors contribute to reading comprehension. Students need ample opportunity to learn, practice and utilize these skills. Researchers report that students’ construction of meaning is enhanced when they use a repertoire of reading comprehension strategies, including predicting, self-questioning, visualizing, monitoring, summarizing, and evaluating (Education and Family, 2012). Effective teachers recognize that students need to practice and refine their reading skills, and they provide students with blocks of time within the school day to read books beyond their textbooks. They also encourage their students to read outside of school day and throughout the year, as research shows that even proficient readers eventually exhibit academic declines if they do not read in their free time (Gambrell, 2006). Promoting independent reading outside of the school may include daily at-home reading assignments, providing summer reading lists, encouraging parent involvement, and working with community groups to provide access to books. “Effective teachers of reading engage their students in reading for a variety of purposes— for pleasure, for exploration, and for information to perform a task” (Gambrell, 2006).

Interview with Experienced 7th Grade Teacher

The basal method emphasizes particular sounds or other targeted reading skills in order to promote phonemic awareness and increase the ability to decode words within a text. While knowing basic phonetic rules helps students sound out words, other very common “outlaw words” still need to be memorized as sight words because they don’t follow any but the most complicated rules. Phonics is considered a “bottom up” approach where students “decode” the meaning of a text. The advantage of phonics, especially for students who come to schools with large vocabularies, is that once students get the basics down, they can go to the library and read a wide variety of children’s literature (Reyhner, 2008). However, as students’ progress in grade level and move on from simple texts to more advanced reading materials, the whole language approach will be incorporated to allow the reader to construct a personal meaning for the material based on using their prior knowledge to interpret the meaning of what they are reading. Teachers are expected to provide a literacy rich environment for their students and to combine speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Whole language teaching emphasizes the meaning of texts over the sounds of letters, and phonics instruction becomes just one component of the whole language classroom. For example, students who come from “high literacy” households where reading was encouraged at a young age and on a regular basis, books and other reading materials were provided and adults read regularly, tend to produce students who learn to read well regardless of the teaching approach used. These students generally enter school with large vocabularies and reading readiness skills. Students from “low literacy” households who are not exposed much to reading in their homes tend to have smaller vocabularies and may be viewed as unmotivated students. They may speak non-standard dialects of English and see teachers as enemies trying to change how they speak. It is argued that standard phonics approaches can be unsuccessful for these students, indicating that whole language approaches encourage teachers to find reading material that reflects these students’ language and culture while providing greater reading motivation (Reyhner, 2008).

Converging evidence from correlational studies supports the theory that high exposure to print and increased reading volume have a positive impact on reading achievement. To become proficient readers, it is clear that students must be taught the skills and strategies of reading in a systematic way and then practice those skills by reading repetitively (Gambrell, 2006). While conducting an interview with an experienced 7th grade teacher of 10 years, she indicated that the reading students do out of school has a significant impact on classroom performance. The encouragement of early reading, access to quality and interest appropriate reading materials, both within and outside of the classroom, will play a major role in determining the student’s ability to develop the vocabulary and comprehension needed for all other areas of academic success. Access to quality books will influence how much students read. If students are provided with well-designed classroom libraries, they interact more with books, spend more time reading, exhibit more positive attitudes toward reading, and exhibit higher levels of reading achievement. By providing students with access to engaging books and time to read them, educators can reduce the variability in cognitive differences among students caused by the lack of print exposure and reading volume (Gambrell, 2006).

Moving to more advanced literature to prepare students for the next grade level should involve interest and age-appropriate materials that can be related to in some form and discussed within the classroom to provide an in-depth view within a diverse range of content. Providing access to a wide range of material that allows students to find text that is personally interesting, will encourage reading engagement by providing meaning and purpose to the experience. For example, encouraging the reading of both fiction and non-fiction can be applied to the student’s specific areas of interest that can be viewed as beneficial to the student’s personal goals. Students are more likely to make a connection with both fiction and non-fiction books if the content relates to personal experiences or goal sets. Effective teachers know that diverse readers span a range of reading interests and abilities and need access to a wide variety of engaging books to meet their reading needs. Classroom libraries should be stocked with a large number of trade books, reflecting different genres, topics, authors, and reading levels. Providing access to a rich classroom library, teachers promote greater amounts of reading, increased reading frequency, and more diverse reading experiences among their students, thus helping them to attain greater levels of reading achievement.  The availability of quality, young adult literature that is relevant, interesting, and challenging to young adolescents will increase the likelihood that students will become actively engaged as readers. Motivation and reading development are fostered when students become immersed in a book-rich environment, engaging in interactions with other students about the books, and given the responsibility for making decisions about what, when, and how they read (Gambrell, 2006).

According to the Common Core Standards, students at the 7th grade level should be able to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. In addition, students are encouraged to determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; such as providing an objective summary of the text while analyzing how particular elements of a story or drama interact (Common Core State Standards, 2012). The introduction of writing strategies can be used when identifying themes or central ideas of the reading material to encourage further analyzation of the text. For example, students may be encouraged to write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content. This may include introducing a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; including proper formatting,  graphics , and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension (Common Core State Standards, 2012).

According to the teacher interviewed, difficulties in writing for many students seem to involve the ability to elaborate and generate new ideas while describing relevant information. Implementing a variety of writing techniques can help build an organizational pattern that matches the writing’s purpose. Writing should be focused on specific content and introducing claims about a topic should organize evidence in logical order. Topics should be clearly introduced and concepts can be placed into broader categories in order to organize content’s purpose. Using appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts as well as providing a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented can be used to help student’s organize and elaborate on main ideas. The Common Core Standards require that students be able to incorporate narrative elements effectively into arguments and informative/explanatory texts (Common Core State Standards, 2012).

It seems apparent that in order to facilitate reading fluency, increased vocabulary, and the ability to comprehend written text while elaborating in further detail, students must be provided with a wide range of reading materials suited to interest in order to encourage reading enjoyment. Students learn to read through reading, and failure to provide enriching reading materials may result in decreased abilities in other areas of academia.  To spark children’s interest and enthusiasm about reading, books must catch children’s attention, captivate imaginations, and make them want to return to their pages again and again (Gambrell, 2006). Studies provide convincing evidence that the amount of reading is a major factor in growth in literacy. For virtually all children, the amount of time spent reading in the classroom consistently accelerates their growth in reading skills (Gambrell, 2006). Reading engagement seems directly related to academic achievement; indicating that in order to create successful and engaged students in all areas of academia, we must first create well-rounded, effective readers.

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012). English Language Arts Standards; Reading: Foundational Skills; Grade 1. Retrieved January 31, 2013 from    http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RF/1

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012). English Language Arts Standards; Reading: Literature; Grade 7. Retrieved January 31, 2013 from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/7

Education and Family (2012). Viewpoints: Teaching Children to Read. Retrieved January 31, 2012 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-19812961