Webinar Script

Slide 1: Welcome to the fourth webinar in the series on helping teach reading. My name is Aimee Howley, Professor Emerita from Ohio University. This webinar discusses reading instruction from a “big picture” perspective. It introduces the different methods that educators use to teach reading and explores the connections between state reading standards and the learning progressions that help students meet those standards.

Slide 2: As a quick reminder: Reading is a way to create meaning by interacting with written material. Whenever students read, they draw on their life experiences and oral language use. Reading also requires some specialized skills including attentiveness to visual clues and the ability to connect particular sounds with written symbols.

Slide 3: Effective early reading instruction teaches specific skills that help students learn to read, but it also contributes to expanded language competence and a broader base of experience. Once students move from the “learning to read” to the “reading to learn” phase, reading provides one important avenue for expanding the richness and complexity of students’ thinking.

Slide 4: For students at the learning to read stage, the most important reading task involves figuring out the words that are represented by different collections of letters. This task is called decoding because the process involves looking at symbols and hearing or saying the correct sounds.

Slide 5: The extent to which accuracy in this process is necessary has fueled a major debate among reading experts. Let’s look at an example. Take the sentence, “The boy has a new pup.” If we define accuracy in terms of the correct link between sounds and symbols, it would concern us if the student were to read this sentence aloud as, “The boy has a new dog.” If we define accuracy in terms of interpreting meaning, it wouldn’t concern us very much at all.

Slide 6: The two competing perspectives on early reading instruction typically are distinguished by the terms, “phonics” and “whole language.” Whole language advocates do not think educators should ignore the sound-symbol connection, and phonics advocates do not think educators ought to ignore the meaning of texts.

Slide 7: These advocates differ in terms of the degree to which they believe early literacy instruction ought to focus on one feature of reading or the other. Practicing educators, however, do not need to resolve the debate. Rather they can take guidance from experts on both sides.

Slide 8: Some other debates also exist concerning reading instruction. For example, should students learn words by sight or should they rely on phonics to decode every word? Again, there are advocates on each side of the debate. But good reading instruction makes use of insights from both camps. Not only do some students learn better through one approach rather than the other, some words cannot be decoded phonetically. For example, think about the limits of phonics to help with words like “the,” “of,” “said,” and “know.”

Slide 9: Furthermore, all readers end up memorizing what a lot of words look like because recognizing them right off the bat makes the reading process so much easier and more pleasant. Stopping to decode words can be annoying and can interfere with comprehension.

Slide 10: Another debate concerns the extent to which students benefit from receiving reading instruction that is blended with instruction in writing and other language arts. In other words, is it better to provide integrated language arts instruction or to provide separate instruction in reading, writing, spelling, speaking, and listening?

Slide 11: Putting the debates aside, it’s important to remember that good reading instruction provides multiple avenues to help students learn to read. Good reading instruction also keeps the making of meaning at the center of the work. There’s not much sense in teaching a child to say the correct sound when he or she sees a particular symbol if that child is turned off to reading as a result of repeated experiences of frustration and failure. But it also doesn’t make sense to deprive a child of the tools that will give him or her access to the written word. Subsequent units in this module will provide more details about some of the most powerful tools for helping children learn to read.

Slide 12: In most classrooms where reading is taught teachers rely on commercial materials to help them develop and deliver reading instruction. These materials combine (1) lessons focusing on skills and (2) lessons focusing on comprehension of fiction and non-fiction texts.

Slide 13: Commercial materials that try to include everything needed to teach reading are called “basal reading programs.” They assume that, if teachers follow the lessons presented in the teachers’ manual, that students will learn to read.

Slide 14: But instruction through the basal reading program does not work for all students, and various interventions are needed to help these students learn to read.

Slide 15: Response-to-Intervention (also known as RTI) is a support strategy that offers a sequence of ever-more intensive forms of assistance to students for whom core instruction is not sufficiently effective. RTI couples on-going assessment with each intervention that’s used with a student as a way to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention.

Slide 16: With RTI, an initial intervention—what is called a Tier I intervention— might involve just one change in reading instruction for a student who is having difficulty. For example, the teacher might increase the length of time the student spends on each reading lesson if the student is having trouble catching on within the amount of time that his or her classmates seem to need. A more intensive intervention might involve small-group instruction with a co-teacher, volunteer, or paraprofessional.

Slide 17: Paraprofessionals, in fact, often help out with reading instruction in order to provide help to one student or a small group of several students who need extra support.

Slide 18:  Commercial materials that present sequential reading lessons reflect the commonly understood view that instruction in reading should start with very simple prerequisite skills and then, building on those skills, move on to more complex types of reading tasks.

Slide 19: Textbook companies often talk about this progression as the “scope and sequence” of their instructional materials. For example, lessons based on written materials ranging in difficulty (perhaps from early second to early third grade) might provide a sequence to help second graders with vocabulary development and reading fluency. Lessons based on decoding increasingly more complex word forms (e.g., starting with “…s” as the plural form and moving onto “…tion” as the form that turns the verb form of some words into the noun form) might provide a sequence to help students identify new, increasingly more difficult words.

Slide 20: The scope of a textbook concerns the different types of skills that it covers. The sequence concerns the steps needed to make progress through each scope. Take a minute to look at the diagram on the slide. It shows the scope that a reading textbook might cover.

Slide 21: Now take a look at the diagram on this slide, it shows the sequence of skills within just one of the categories that comprise the scope of the reading lessons in a commercial reading series.

Slide 22: Although commercial publishers define learning progressions in this way, through lists of each textbooks’ scope and sequence, the standards movement in education encourages educators to engage in a similar, perhaps more precise activity based on academic standards.

Slide 23: Educators write academic standards by starting with the most complex tasks that they hope students will be able to perform at the end of their schooling. Then they work backwards to define a sequence of skills leading toward competence with those ultimate tasks or outcomes. Finally, they match the sequence to the approximate grade levels at which students should be able to accomplish each skill or set of skills.

Slide 24: Educators call these lists “learning progressions” or “progress maps.”

Slide 25: Whatever guides instruction—standards, a textbook’s scope and sequence chart, or some combination, reading instruction involves moving students from very simple letter and word recognition toward sophisticated understanding of complex texts. Good instruction across this continuum emphasizes the life-long pleasure and enlightenment that reading can provide.