Tim Rasinski is a renowned professor of literacy education whose research on reading fluency and word study has made him a literacy hero to many. Below, he shares his thoughts about the core competencies needed in effective reading instruction.
I’ve heard that the teaching of reading is like rocket science. Actually, I think that teaching reading may be even more challenging than rocket science! Reading itself is a multidimensional construct that requires students to master key competencies in ever more complex ways. Moreover, each student learns in his or her own unique way and brings different prior knowledge and experiences to the classroom. When one teacher has to address the multifaceted instructional competencies of reading with the incredible diversity of learners in his or her classroom, you can see why teaching reading can be a challenge. But, it is definitely a worthy challenge. I can think of very few things in life that are as important as knowing how to read.
Still, with teaching reading, like every endeavor, we must begin somewhere. Whether you are a teacher, school principal, parent, or someone interested in literacy, there are some basic reading competencies that need to be taught and mastered to foster reading proficiency. In this blog entry, I will briefly describe those essential competencies that need to be taught daily to students.
Words do matter! We need to teach our students about words. Not only how words are decoded or sounded out (i.e. phonics), but also how they are spelled, and what they mean (vocabulary). What good is it to be able to sound out a word if you don’t know what the word means? Such words are essentially nonsense words, and the texts in which such words are found will be extremely difficult to understand. Every day, time should be dedicated to instruction in words. With children in pre-kindergarten through grade 2, greater focus should be placed on phonemic awareness and phonics. Beyond grade 2, instruction should gradually shift to a greater focus on word meanings.
There is no one approach to teaching words that has been found to be most effective for all students. However, I think that word instruction is most effective when it is:
- Playful and fun (think word games)
- Focused on word patterns (think rimes and Latin and Greek roots)
- Taken from the materials students are actually encountering in their reading (think authentic reading)
- Conducive to the students having some control over the words they are to learn (think ownership)
Fluency is the new kid on the block when it comes to reading. For years it was neglected, until a body of research demonstrated just how critical it is for becoming a proficient reader. Fluency is actually made up of two sub-competencies: fluency-automaticity and fluency-prosody. Fluency-automaticity refers to learning to decode and understand words in texts so effortlessly that the reader can focus on the meaning of the text rather than the words in the text. Fluency-prosody refers to the ability of fluent readers to read with appropriate expression, rate, and phrasing that reflects the meaning of the text.
Both sub-components of fluency are developed essentially through oral and silent reading practice, particularly repeated practice (rehearsal) of texts to the point where the reader can read the text with automaticity and prosody. For young students, phonics skills are a key part of the puzzle. Get your students to practice tricky phonics concepts like consonant blends, vowels, and digraphs, so they can improve their fluency. When students are a little older, texts such as poems, songs, and scripts, are particularly well-suited for fluency instruction as they are meant to be performed for an audience with good expression, and, as such, need to be rehearsed.
Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction. We want students to derive meaning from the texts they read. Developing competency in comprehension is done through what is often called guided reading – actual encounters with texts that students read themselves or that are read to them by a teacher or someone else. Before, during, and after the reading, students are guided by the teacher to engage in thoughtful consideration of the meaning that is conveyed in the text. Thoughtful comprehension activities include:
- Making predictions about the nature of the text
- Comparing and contrasting the text or aspects of the text with other texts
- Engaging in authentic discussions with classmates about what is read
- Responding thoughtfully in writing
- Using the information in the text creatively (e.g. transforming the text into a poem or script to be performed)
What to do? What to look for?
I know this is a very quick survey of what is admittedly a complex topic. Nevertheless, here is my point in writing this post: Teachers, as you plan your reading curriculum for the coming year, be sure that you include time every day for each of these three core components – word study, fluency, and comprehension. How much time per day is up to you. If you have 90 minutes per day to devote to reading instruction, I might suggest allocating 30 minutes to word study (including spelling), 20 minutes to fluency, and 40 minutes to comprehension or guided reading. In my upcoming blog posts, I will explore a variety of instructional activities you might want to engage in with your students in each of these areas.
… be sure that you include time every day for each of these three core components – word study, fluency, and comprehension.
For school principals and others who are involved in providing leadership to the school reading curriculum, this post can help start the conversation you need to have with your instructional staff about reading at the beginning of the school year. It also gives you a general template that you can use as you visit classrooms during your school day. Are each of these competencies promoted each day of the week? How much time per day is devoted to each? If these areas are not being adequately addressed instructionally, then you may want to work with your instructional staff to make changes so that students have daily opportunities to develop their word knowledge, their reading fluency, and their comprehension.
Without question, all teachers and school leaders want students to succeed in reading. While teaching reading can be complex, the format I outline provides all of us with a starting point for reading instruction that will be most effective for all students.
Rasinski, T. (2010). The Fluent Reader (2nd edition). New York:Scholastic.
Tim Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University. His research on reading has been cited by the National Reading Panel and has been published in journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, The Reading Teacher, Reading Psychology, and the Journal of Educational Research. Read more about Rasinski here, or connect with him on Twitter @timrasinski1.
For more from Tim Rasinski, continue to follow us for his exclusive VocabularySpellingCity blog series and be sure to watch a video recording of his webinar “Automaticity (Fluency) in Word Learning Improves Comprehension”
Rasinski’s research on word fluency is cited in the report, “Applying Best Practices For Effective Vocabulary Instruction,” written by VocabularySpellingCity in partnership with McREL International.