What Are The Critical Features Of Effective Reading Instruction

Implement these essential instructional practices in your reading classroom and watch your students excel.

Regardless of which grade you teach, there are certain aspects to reading instruction that must be put into practice in order for your teaching to be effective. The effectiveness of reading instruction is especially important at the lower grade levels, however, since research tells us that students who fall behind in reading in the early grades very rarely catch up to their grade level in reading ability in middle school or high school.

1. You should always monitor the progress of your students. Don't wait for an annual standardized test to tell you where they stand, do an assessment at the very beginning of the year, and make a folder for each student that tells you which specific areas are in need of improvement. This will help you to individualize instruction.

Different ways of monitoring student progress are to use diagnostic reading instruments, conduct formal observations using checklists, collect student work samples and keep graphs of students' reading rate and accuracy. It is also a good idea to get students involved in monitoring their own reading performance. If you are keeping a graph, and are measuring the number of errors in a given text, have the student plot his progress. Students can also maintain checklists for number of books read and competencies achieved, as well. It can be very encouraging, especially for struggling readers, to see how much they are progressing as the year goes on. It is also a strong motivator to keep up good work and helps the student develop intrinsic motivation to learn. Of course, this practice will help you manage your paperwork as well, which is an added bonus.

2. Provide your students multiple opportunities to practice their new skills. This means that if you teach the meaning of the prefix "tri" at the beginning of the school year, you will bring up that competency again and again throughout the year, weaving it into your other instruction and bringing it up for review. With reading, repetition is key.

3. Deliver systematic, explicit instruction. Children will absorb a certain amount of skills using a whole language approach, and will in fact do much better when different approaches are combined, but they must have a foundation on which to build. To do this, find a good reading program and stick to it, so that your students will get the basics.

4. Adapt instruction to the individual needs of your students. Some students may need special accommodations, such as an index card to help them track the words and sentences. Others may need key words highlighted. Still others will do better when presented with smaller chunks of text. Some children may need additional work to take home as an extension of the work done in class, either to reinforce or to expand upon it.

5. Make sure that your classroom is well managed. Children who are easily distracted by their peers will not learn any subject well, including reading. Strive to make your classroom a place where children of all levels feel comfortable reading and taking academic risks. Studies show that learners who are in a positive environment learn better and retain more information.

6. Select the appropriate text for your readers. You want the material to be challenging, yet not frustrating. This can be a difficult balance to achieve, but if you use an assessment measure such as the Reading Level Indicator at the beginning of the year, you will have a good idea where each student stands. Such assessments can tell you what grade level a student can read at independently, and what instructional grade level is appropriate. Student's reading instruction should be at their instructional grade level, otherwise, it might be too easy or too frustrating. One rule of thumb that you can use to determine if a text is at the right level or not is to ask the student to read it to you orally, and see if he can read with 90 percent accuracy. If so, then the text is at an appropriate level. Of course, oral reading assessments should be done privately.

7. Group for instructional purposes. When students divide into groups to do reading activities, this is the perfect opportunity to individualize instruction and give students reading materials on the appropriate instructional level. For this reason, you will want to incorporate plenty of group work into your lesson plans. Groups should never be obviously differentiated by ability, but of course should have the appropriate level of text for the group members. If this is routine, then students will feel supported by this practice, rather than stigmatized.

Implement these sound, research-based practices, and your students' reading ability should increase. If you need additional assistance finding alternative assessments, behavior management tools or advice on how to effectively group students, seek out resources. The International Reading Association is a good place to start, as it offers a professional journal and myriad print and online resources to help all reading teachers and their students succeed.

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