Education, Literacy

Literacy Essentials

Recently a small group of colleagues and I created a document that we intended to be a “gold standard” of sorts for teachers in our K-6 school who currently have the luxury of a 90-minute literacy block. I am posting it here with the hope that my readers could give me some feedback about what we believe are the essentials of any literacy “program” (and we use the word “program” very loosely and with a hitch in our throat). Obviously (or perhaps not), literacy is something that should be threaded throughout the day, but having said that, please take a gander at our document here and feel free to post your ideas/critiques/questions in the comments section below.

Thanks so much!

Six Literacy Program “Essentials”

No matter what format you use with which to frame your literacy “program” (e.g., Daily 5/CAFE, reading workshop, etc.), here are six essentials the RGS Literacy Team believes should be a part of students’ daily literacy lives at school:

1. Access to a classroom library that includes a variety of texts representing a variety of reading levels.

  • Access to texts is one of the most important factors re: the extent to which students choose to read independently. In order to facilitate this access for all students, it is essential that not only is there a variety of texts to choose from (e.g., picture books, chapter books, easy readers, graphic novels, informational texts, etc.), but a wide variety of reading “levels” represented among the texts.

2. The opportunity to independently read “good fit” texts of their own choosing (at least 20 min./day).

  • Why “20 minutes”?
      • Students need sustained opportunities to read, and many studies point to the correlation between reading volume and reading proficiency. While we recognize that it will take time for some groups of students to build the stamina to read independently for 20 minutes (and that some groups can and will want to read for a longer duration), this seems like a reasonable goal to strive for in the majority of classrooms.
  • Why “independent”?
      • When students read independently, they are practicing. Practice is essential to proficiency–in anything.
  • Why “good fit” texts of their own choosing?
    • “Good fit” texts are those that are neither too difficult (i.e., frustrating) nor too easy* to read. In order to be a good fit, this means that students should also be interested in the text.

*In the real world, readers often read “easy” books. There’s nothing wrong with this, and students should have some easier books as part of their independent reading repertoire. However, to maximize their reading development, the majority of students’ independent reading should be with texts that are not too easy and not too difficult.

3. The opportunity to independently compose texts of their own choosing (at least 20 min./day).

  • Why “20 minutes”?
    • Just as students need sustained opportunities to read, they also need sustained opportunities to write/compose. As teachers, we need to value both.
  • Why “compose” texts? Why not “write?”
    • Many of the same decisions and processes that illustrators use to compose illustrations are those that writers use to compose texts. We believe that it is essential to value both equally, especially considering the ubiquity of images in our world.

4. The opportunity to talk about their reading and writing.

  • Learning is an inherently social process, and learning to read or write is no different. Offering students the opportunity to talk about their reading and writing honors what real people do in the real world outside of the four school walls. This “talking” might take the form of any of the following, depending on purpose, need, or interest: teacher-student conferences, reading or writing partnerships, small groups, whole group reading or writing shares, etc.

5. The opportunity to listen to engaging texts be read aloud by a fluent reader (e.g., the teacher).

  • The synapses that are fired and the connections that are made are different when children are read to, as opposed to when they read something themselves. Furthermore, if we want to promote reading engagement, reading aloud books, stories, poems, and magazine articles that are high-interest but that may be more challenging than the texts students can independently read is essential to this purpose.

6. A balanced approach to strategy instruction.

  • We recognize that there is way more that teachers can possibly do to promote students’ literacy development than there is time in the day. However, in order to move our readers and writers forward, students must receive direct strategy instruction, whether that be as members of a whole class, in small groups, and/or individually. This may take the form of…
    • individual reading and writing conferences
    • small guided reading groups
    • small “book” club or text interest groups
    • whole class minilessons
    • word study pairs or groups
    • craft study explorations / units
    • illustration study explorations / units
    • etc.

Please share your thoughts!

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