The Science of Reading is on everybody’s lips nowadays, as schools across New York State are gearing up to embrace its principles and incorporate Structured Literacy into their curriculums. The pressing issue is that despite our best efforts, there are still children who struggle to become fluent readers, and these children run the risk of getting left behind as their peers evolve and achieve fluency.
That’s why so many educators are now incorporating elements of the Science of Reading into their lessons, and balancing out the principles of Balanced Literacy with those of Structured Literacy to help students reach fluency. But a complete overhaul of a curriculum can be tricky, and not all schools might be prepared for it. However, there are ways to infuse the Science of Reading into your daily lessons and curriculum, gradually adding structure and enhancing your teaching to serve the needs of students struggling with reading in your classroom. But where do you start?
1. Start with the 5 Pillars of Reading
One report published in The Reading League Journal mentions a study that revealed that roughly 20% of U.S. schools are spending less than the recommended amount of time on systematic teaching of decoding. Many teachers still encourage beginner readers to figure out a word by looking at a picture, or they encourage the use of clues and context. Instead, Structured Literacy focuses on comprehension, on phonics, and on decoding the letters and word structures to figure out a word – and this is a much more efficient and sustainable approach to literacy.
You can start by infusing the Science of Reading into your classroom by looking at the five pillars of reading: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. These are the building blocks of Structured Literacy, and by focusing on developing each of these pillars, you have a better chance at helping struggling students become fluent readers. Focus less on the guesswork aspect that’s sometimes present in Balanced Literacy, and incorporate more structure into your lessons. By focusing on Phonics and Phonemic Awareness, you’ll establish the groundwork for students to build on to reach comprehension and thus fluency.
2. Take things one step at a time
You can’t completely throw out everything you’ve been taught so far and all the experience you have and do a complete shift in your teaching methods. This can overwhelm you and your students alike, and such a drastic measure might not even be necessary. Instead, gradually add a new method, a new resource, or a new tool into your lessons, to complement your existing curriculum and enhance it. Make one small weekly addition to your teaching routine and work on implementing that, tracking progress and getting feedback from your students. Implement the principles of the Science of Reading gradually, and observe how your students react and where they need extra help – this should inform your next steps and tell you what you need to work on next.
For instance, regarding reading fluency, start early; this means explaining to your students what fluency is and why it’s an important goal for them, how it can help them in their personal and academic lives, to help them understand why lessons are structured a certain way. Then gradually start working on phonics, on vocabulary, comprehension, and more, taking as much time as needed to bring all your students to the level you have in mind.
3. Focus on the importance of repetition
When it comes to reading fluency, your students’ best friend is repetition. You know what they say, repetition is the mother of learning? Well, in this case, it applies, because it’s through repetition and constant practice that children learn to read and spell out words. Provide as much repetition and practice as you can in the classroom, and provide a practice sheet for homework, as well, to encourage children to keep reading at home.
Then, on Fridays, have the students repeat and read the texts they practiced at home in front of the class, to track their progress. It doesn’t have to be a competition between students; instead, make it fun and relaxed and organize a mock award ceremony for the three students who have made the most progress. Do this every Friday to encourage children to practice reading at home, but do pay attention to the children who are struggling and don’t want to read in front of the class, as they might benefit from individual work related to reading fluency.
4. Incorporate frequent assessments to track progress
Another way to infuse the principles and methods of the Science of Reading into your classroom is to make tracking progress a priority. Any teaching program focused on the five pillars of reading and Structured Literacy should include frequent assessments that target key areas of literacy. These assessments should be cumulative, meaning you should test students to assess their level of comprehension and understanding of concepts you’ve taught over time, and they should be constant.
Whenever you introduce a new tool or method into the curriculum, take note of the current level of your students through an initial assessment. Don’t move on to the next concept or introduce a new tool before testing again and seeing if any students need more practice. However, taking tests can put a lot of pressure on students, especially if they are struggling, so try to make these assessments fun and relaxed, and as engaging as possible. Include gamification in the mix to make students feel like they’re doing a fun activity and not taking a test. Make it fun and change the goal gradually, seeing if students can complete certain reading tasks in an hour, then 40 minutes, then 30 minutes or even less, and test their speed, accuracy, and comprehension.
5. Make the best possible use of data
When it comes to incorporating and tracking the success of Structured Literacy concepts in your classroom, data is your best friend. Data-driven instruction can help you keep track of how your students are progressing, at what pace, and it can also help you identify pain points and areas that require more in-depth, targeted intervention, especially in an inclusive classroom.
After each assessment, whether it’s a monthly assessment or a grade-level assessment, you should be able to use a tool that compiles all the data and offers a comprehensive report. These data reports can inform your next steps, and tell you how students are progressing, where they need more help, and can help you figure out ways to intervene. The more data you have, the better, so take advantage of the assessments to test different things, from reading speed, to accuracy, to phonemic awareness, and more. Extract different reports then to see if students in your classroom are all at the level you’d like them to be, and consult with your peers or administrators to figure out next steps.
If you’re unsure how to infuse the Science of Reading into your curriculum, how to test students in a comprehensive manner, or how to analyze the data, don’t hesitate to reach out to Da Vinci Collaborative. Our team of expert educators and counselors are specialized in the Science of Reading and learning disabilities like ADHD, dyslexia, or dyscalculia, and we’re ready to offer guidance and support to our fellow educators.