Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading

by Mary Howard

You can access our Wakelet chat artifact here

On 4/14/22, we had the great pleasure to welcome an old friend to our #G2Great guest host seat. Christina Nosek first joined our chat with co-author Kari Yates on 6/7/18 for their book, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy (2018, Stenhouse). This week Christina returned to help us explore her amazing new book, Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Elementary Reading (2022, Corwin)

Christina opens her book with a loving hat tip to her first-year mentor, veteran teacher Midge. In celebration of the “Midge inspired mentors” that every teacher so richly deserves, we shared Christina’s words below during our chat that is a foundational centerpiece of professional dedication.

In one sentence, Christina offers three essential reminders:

1) Find a mentor who will set you on a success trajectory (and stay on course)

2) Acknowledge the never-ending role of your professional quest for learning

3) Keep children at the ver center of your efforts from the first day to the last

These three beliefs reflect the heartbeat of Teaching Elementary Reading and are intricately interwoven across the pages of the book. Through her words, we are consistently asked to verbalize, internalize and individualize our beliefs often and with a critical lens. It’s worth adding that while our first mentors launch a path to professional excellence, our need for mentor figures continues across our careers. I have been blessed to have countless mentors across fifty years and counting who inform and support my thinking even now. Christina models deep respect for the mentorships that will sustain us even in the most of challenging of times if we are willing to take the time to find and access the inspiration and information they so generously offer us and put it into glorious action.

In each of our #G2Great guest chats, we ask our authors to respond to three questions that offer insight into their book WHY. Since our first question directly reflects the mentors who support us, let’s begin here:

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

When I was a first year teacher, I was mentored by a dedicated and loving grade level partner named Midge, who I discuss in the introduction of the book. I was so fortunate to have a mentor to turn to whenever I had a question or concern around the teaching of reading. Many teachers do not have a Midge to mentor them as they enter the profession. I hope teachers can turn to this book in the way that I turned to Midge many years ago. 

One of the wonderful things about the entire Corwin Five to Thrive Series is that they are all positioned around essential “guiding questions.” These questions are unique to each book in the series and offer a reader friendly, belief driven experience. Christina poses and responds to six essential questions that include five key areas:

1) community (pages 8-35)

2) organization and planning (pages 36-67)

3) instructional principles (pages 68-101)

4) assessment (pages 102-125)

5) student agency (pages 126-145)

NOTE: I linked sneak peek chapter descriptions on Christina’s wonderful blog

These five chapters are tied together with next step words of wisdom in chapter 6 (pages 146-148). To add to this question-based framework, each of the five umbrella questions have 7-12 subquestions as well as additional questions that accompany wise instructional suggestions and advice across the book. With professional grace, Christina gifts us with our own mentor between two covers.

When we are honored to have an author lead our #g2Great chat twitter style discussion, we ask them to craft their own questions. We do this because it gives us a glimpse into what each author believes are the most relevant underlying book ideas from their perspective and how we can translate the passions that fueled their writing into a chat format so that those same passions will rise to the surface in the form of a twitter discussion. Because we value their responses to their own questions, let’s pause for moment and look at our six questions with Christina’s thoughts about each one in the course of the chat.

TWITTER QUESTIONS/RESPONSES

Q1 Drawing from the “Five to THRIVE” series theme, let’s establish our #G2great baseline. What do you value most in reading instruction that is designed to help children THRIVE? What practices are non-negotiable?

Q2 What are specific ways that teachers can grow and nurture the reading communities in their classrooms? 

Q3 Describe one high-impact instructional method or routine that both engages students and stretches them as readers. How do you know the method/routine works for your students?

Q4 What does it mean to use reading assessment in the service of students? What does this look like in the classroom? 

Q5 What advice would you give to a new teacher who is learning about the teaching of reading or to a veteran who wants to make their reading instruction more authentic?

Q6 One goal of our #G2Great chats is that you will take action after the chat. What have you seen or heard tonight that you a) want to learn more about? b) want to implement? Or c) want to revise to meet the needs of your students?

Christina’s responses clearly illuminate what matters deeply to her, both in her book as well as over twenty years in her own classroom. Let’s extend this by sharing her response to our second question on her book takeaway hopes:

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

My hope for teachers is that they embrace following the lead of their readers in the classroom. I want teachers to feel inspired to teach the readers in front of them rather than follow a canned curriculum page by page. Afterall, we are teachers of children, not of curriculum. 

In Teaching Elementary Reading, Christina heightens our responsibility to envision a broader perspective that is sorely needed in our schools right now while also cautioning against the one-size-fits-all approaches and practices that have long maintained a stranglehold in our schools. She asks us to expend our time and energy in the most effective, productive, and yes, joyful ways by making a commitment to let go of those things that set up roadblocks to what matters most. This process of “letting go” reminds us of the harmful impact on our learning day when a clock rigidly dictates every choice we make. Christina reminds us that we always have a choice about how we spend the important moments of our day and that those choices clearly reflect that we see ourselves as “teachers of children, not curriculum.”

One of the choices Christina enthusiastically asks us to embrace is reflected in this second quote above we shared during our #G2great chat. This is not only a choice that she embraces in this book, but one that she has embraced in her own classroom since I have known her. Volume is a topic that Christina holds dear and she approaches this with deep conviction for three areas of reading she refers to in her book: reading to learn, reading to be entertained, and reading to grow.

Before I close this post, let’s return to Christina’s third question:

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind?

It’s ok to feel that you do not have all the answers right now. Learning and growing as a teacher is a continual journey. Never stop seeking out the ways to best support your students. I am a very different teacher than I was even five years ago. I hope to teach differently five years from now. Serving students is all about learning and growing. 

The most important thing you need to know right now is that you are on a continual learning journey to be the kind of reading teacher who values your own learning because you know your students’ learning depends on it.” (p 6)

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

Early in the book, Christina cuts to the chase and focuses her attention on what matters most in our teaching as she brings Teaching Elementary Reading to life across each page filled with essential advice.

“Good teaching always involves following the lead of your students above all.” Christina Nosek, page 17

Every suggestion, every idea, every description and every question Christina posed and responded to so eloquently brings us back again and again to the reason for all we do – our students and what is in their best interest. Teaching Elementary Reading is a book of questions; but even more than that it is about crafting questions that rise out of curiosity and commitment to children and using them as a springboard for the view that teaching is a process of reflective introspection that helps us to make the best possible choices on their behalf.

As I began writing this post and revisiting the incredible questions Christina crafted to guide her readers on their own journey, it occurred to me that generating questions can initiate a powerful process of exploratory discovery. Just as I am certain that Christina fine-tuned her thinking in the course of breathing life into each question, we too could do the same. Just imagine if teachers created a growing list of BURNING questions, using those questions as the gentle nudge that can lead to a “continual learning journey to be the kind of reading teacher who values your own learning because you know your students’ learning depends on it” Self-discovery begins with the questions that drive us to know more, to understand more, to be more and to apply those things in our teaching. And when those questions inspire us to reflect on our innermost beliefs and commitment to kids, it can awaken the best kind of teaching and learning that occurs in the company of and in the name of kids.

I am very privileged to call Christina Nosek a dear friend, making this opportunity to craft our #g2Great post this week an added honor.

Thank you, Christina!

Volume as an Intervention Priority

You can revisit our #G2Great chat Wakelet artifact HERE

Guest Blogger Laura Robb

This week, your #G2Great co-moderators were grateful to take on a very important topic that should be a central component of our discussions around the intervention process in every school. Since our wonderful friend, Laura Robb suggested this topic but is also a long time expert on this discussion, we were delighted that she agreed to write the post that follows. When Laura sent me the final draft, I got chills that stayed with me throughout the day. That is the sign of a brilliant piece indeed. We are honored to spotlight Laura Robb’s powerful voice starting with this wonderful quote below.

 Volume in Reading: The Core Intervention for Developing Readers

To become readers children need to read books at school and teachers need to read aloud to their students every time class meets. These words might sound like obvious common sense to educators since we are a storying people, and we think in terms of stories, share our thoughts through stories, and stories enable us to learn and remember information, concepts, and ideas (Newkirk, 2014, Wells, 1986).  A sad truth is that many developing readers—students reading two or more years below grade level—rarely hear stories read aloud or read books they choose.  Reading books and listening to read alouds are usually not the core intervention for moving developing readers forward and improving their reading skill and identities. 

Instead, interventions for many developing readers consist of skills such as phonics practice, developing and improving phonemic awareness, pseudo or nonsense word reading, fluency practice using repeated readings of short passages, etc.  Such interventions are easily measureable and become the data by which many intervention programs measure success.  Though children in these programs can show progress with individual skills, they frequently continue to struggle with reading, recall, and comprehension. In addition to skill practice and a steady diet of decodable texts, offering developing readers outstanding books that are relevant to their lives can change the landscape of intervention.  Moreover, when these students increase their reading volume and listen to daily teacher read alouds, they can understand how:

  • skills fit into the reading of meaningful books;
  • a knowledge of word families supports decoding using analogous thinking;
  •  phonemic awareness supports decoding;
  • hearing fluent, expressive reading during teacher read alouds can improve their fluent reading and why;
  •  practicing fluent, expressive reading with self-selected books can increase their recall and comprehension.

When Data Collection Is King

An intervention program exclusively focused on the data collection of measureable skills not only excludes volume in reading of books, but also often fails to consider the whole child—the person behind the numbers. Numbers can be deceptive and can advance the illusion that children are improving because skill assessments show progress. However, there’s a disconnect that often occurs and raises this question: If children’s skills are solid and show progress, why can’t they read and comprehend texts at their independent or instructional reading level?  The answer is that practicing skills in isolation without students experiencing how these skills link to reading books can inhibit progress in reading with enjoyment and deep comprehension.  The solution is simple: put volume in reading at the center of intervention plans and offer students opportunities to apply skills they’re practicing to outstanding books they select.

 It doesn’t matter if your school has adopted a Response to Intervention (RTI) program or if you intervene using the original intent of RTI: that teachers use information they collect through observations and one-to-one interactions with students to tailor and target interventions to each student’s needs. What does matter is that the core intervention for students always is volume in reading and daily teacher read alouds.  

Research Studies Support Volume in Reading

The research of Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding (1988) tells the story about volume in reading. Their study found a correlation between the time students devote to daily reading and their reading proficiency and comprehension of texts.

In sum, the principal conclusion of this study is that the amount of

time a child spends reading books is related to the child’s reading level in the fifth grade and growth in reading proficiency from second to fifth grade. The case can be made that reading books is a cause, not merely a reflection, of reading proficiency. (page 302)

However, The National Reading Panel rejected the findings of the 1988 study on the grounds that it did not meet their scientific research standards. The good news is that in 2004 Dr. S. Jay Samuels and Dr. Yi-chen Wu completed a scientific study in response to the National Reading Panel and concluded that the more time students read, the higher their achievement compared to a control group.  Samuels’ and Wu ‘s scientific research corroborated the conclusions of Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding!

 Nancie Atwell also links daily reading to developing proficiency in reading books every day (2010). Volume in reading is an effective intervention for developing readers (Allington 1977, 2012; Allington & Gabriel, 2012; Allington and McGill-Franzen, 2021) and a predictor of learning success because students who read, read, read develop a strong personal reading life as well as meet words in different contexts and enlarge their vocabulary, meet and understand diverse literary genres, discuss books with peers, develop positive reading identities, and find pleasure in reading and learning. 

Even though the research on volume in reading is compelling, a survey done by Scholastic in 2017 and based on nearly 3,700 PreK-12 principals and teachers show that 94% of principals and teachers agree or strongly agree that students should choose books at school and read independently every day. Here’s the big disconnect: only 36% made time for daily independent reading. A startling statistic that most likely affects developing readers participating in RTI.  In addition to more time for students to read at school, it’s would be helpful to study how schools schedule intervention support for elementary and middle school students.

Scheduling RTI Matters

When my granddaughter was in the fifth grade, she complained many times to me about being pulled out of her core reading class to receive support services. Here’s a summary of her complaints: Everyone thinks I’m dumb. They all stare at me when I have to leave class. I always get pulled out when we have independent reading or work with a partner on a project. I hate getting pulled out. I never get to do the fun stuff.  Sometimes, we’re so intent on the interventions  that we don’t take the time to evaluate students’ feelings as well as look for alternate ways of scheduling extra help. When principles, other school leaders, and teachers collaborate to find alternatives to pulling students out of a core class, they can find the solutions that meet the needs of all students.

            My son, Evan Robb, principal of a Johnson Williams Middle School in Berryville, VA created an extra 25-minute class for intervention and independent reading of self-selected books. Students who required extra support received it during that time but also read books they chose; other students read self-selected books during that time and increased their volume in reading.

Robb discussed the need with faculty who agreed to give 5-minutes of their classes toward creating a separate class.  By pooling ideas and thinking out of the box, it’s possible for teachers and administrators to find creative solutions that allow children receiving extra services remain in their core class for independent and instructional reading. Moreover, research clearly shows that a skilled, core ELA teachers can meet the needs of most of their students.

The Core ELA Curriculum Supports Developing Readers

Responsive, skilled teachers adjust their core ELA curriculum so that it’s accessible to every student in their classrooms. Instruction includes whole-class and small-group lessons that meet the diversity of reading and writing levels among students. Instead of practicing isolated skills, all students, including developing readers, practice skills in the context of motivating, culturally relevant instructional reading texts and then have opportunities to apply what they’ve learned to independent reading of self-selected books. These teachers recognize that volume in reading matters for all learners!

Researchers and educators agree that high-quality, responsive teaching in core ELA classes can support about 80 percent of the student population, enabling them to show solid growth during the year (Howard, 2009; Owocki, 2010). Teachers can meet this high level of progress because they try to identify students’ strengths and needs early in the school year and assess students’ progress through kid watching, conferring, and frequent informal conversations (Owocki & Goodman, 2002). They also monitor students’ progress in fluency, recall of details, comprehension, making inferences, writing about reading, etc. in order to evaluate present interventions and adjust their plans so students continually improve. Responsive teachers’ intervention plans also include daily read alouds that introduce students to a variety of genres and develop a keen interest in stories. 

Consider Reading Aloud an Intervention

As responsive teachers build trusting relations with their students and start to know their students as learners and human beings, they recognize that daily read alouds are also interventions. When students listen to read alouds, they develop their imagination while picturing settings, characters, and events. They meet and hear a wide range of literary genres and begin to understand how each one works; they develop literary tastes and discover authors to explore; they tune their ears to literary language and words used in different contexts; they develop their listening capacity and experience pleasure in hearing stories and learning information from past, present and future worlds.  Read alouds form and enhance students’ literary foundation, developing students’ prior knowledge about how stories and informational books work—a prerequisite for intervening with volume in reading.

Ramp Up the Reading Volume for Developing Readers

When volume in reading is the core intervention for developing readers, they can experience the value and joy of reading, the excitement of learning new information and meeting new people, laughing, enjoying conversations about books with peers, as well as understand the connection between skill practice and reading wonderful books. As you read the list of “15 Benefits of Independent Reading,” reflect on the power of volume in reading as the core intervention for developing readers.

15 Benefits of Independent Reading

  1. Refines students’ understanding of applying strategies, for during independent reading, students have multiple opportunities to practice what they learn during instructional reading.
  2. Develops an understanding of how diverse genres work as readers figure out the likenesses and differences among realistic, historical, and science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thrillers, biography, memoir, informational texts, etc.
  3. Enlarges background knowledge and deepens readers’ understanding of people as they get to know different characters.
  4. Builds vocabulary as students meet and understand words in diverse contexts.  Independent reading, not vocabulary workbooks, is the best way to enlarge vocabulary because students meet words in the context of their reading.
  5. Teaches students how to self-select “good fit” books they can and want to read.
  6. Develops students’ agency and literary tastes. Choice builds agency and as students choose and dip into diverse genres and topics, they discover the types of books they enjoy.
  7.  Strengthens reading stamina, their ability to focus on reading for 20-minutes to one hour.
  8.  Improves silent reading. Through daily practice students develop their in-the-head reading voice and learn to read in meaningful phrases.
  9. Develops reading fluency because of the practice that voluminous reading offers.
  10. Supports recall of information learners need as they read long texts that ask them to hold details presented in early chapters in their memory so they can access these later in the book.
  11. Improves reading rate through the practice that volume provides.
  12. Develops students’ imagination as they visualize settings, what characters and people look like, conflicts, decisions, problems, interactions, etc.
  13. Fosters the enjoyment of visual literacy when students read picture books and graphic texts.
  14.  Creates empathy for others as students learn to step into the skin of characters and experience their lives.
  15. Transfers a passion for reading to students’ outside-of-school lives and develops the volume in reading students need to become proficient and advanced readers.

By increasing developing readers volume in reading, and that includes daily teacher read alouds, you can impact their desire to read which in turn improves their reading skill, offers them a wider range of book choices, and cultivates their reading identity.  As you amplify the message that volume in reading matters by making time for students to read books every day, you telegraph to developing readers that you value choice, volume in reading, and will provide support and encouragement as they embark on a journey of becoming joyful, lifelong readers.

References

Allington, Richard, L. (1977). “If They Don’t Read Much, Hope For Struggling Readers,” Voices from the Middle, 14(4): 7-14.

Allington, Richard L. (2012). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-based Programs. Boston, MA: Pearson. 

Allington, Richard L. & Rachael E. Gabriel (2012. “Every Child, Every Day” Educational Leadership 69(6), 10-15.

Allington, R.L. and McGill-Frazen, A. M. (2021). Reading volume and reading      achievement: A review of recent research. Reading Research Quarterly. Newark, DE: ILA.e

Anderson, Richard C., Wilson, Paul T., and Linda G. Fielding. (1988). “Growth in Reading and How Children Spend Their Time Outside of School.” Reading Research Quarterly, 3(23), 2d85-303, Newark, DE: The International Reading Association.

Newkirk, T. (2014). Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Writ Informational and Persuasive Texts, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Howard, Mary (2009). RTI From All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Owocki, Gretchen (2010). The RTI Daily Planning Book, K-6.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Owocki, Gretchen and Yetta Goodman (2002). Kidwatching: Documenting Children’s Literacy Development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Samuels, S. Jay, and Wu, Yi-chen. (2004). How the amount of time spent on independent

reading affects reading achievement: A response to the National Reading Panel

Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.539.9906

Scholastic. (2017). Teacher & Principal School Report: Focus on Literacy.

http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/press-release/new-research-reveals-teachers-value-independent-reading-time-only-36-can-set-aside-tim

Wells, Gordon (1986). The Meaning Makers: Children Learning Language and Using Language to Learn. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Additional References from Laura Robb

There’s an Elephant in Our Classroom by Laura Robb

Our #G2Great Blog post on Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches, and Leaders to Support Students by Laura Robb and Evan Robb.

Framing Increasing VOLUME as Our Central Intervention Goal (3/5)

by Fran McVeigh

The June 7th, 2019 #G2Great chat was the midpoint of five chats scheduled under the title: Rethinking our Intervention Design as a Schoolwide All-Hands on Deck Imperative and and it was momentous as the Twitterverse was filled with wisdom about increasing volume.

Before we can begin, what exactly are we talking about?

What is volume? This question whirred in my brain for the week leading up to the chat as I thought about my answers to the chat questions and this follow up blog post. Some answers: Not the volume on the TV. Not the “speak louder” for volume in fluent reading. Not the first “volume” in the Harry Potter series. Not the volume measurement in liters.

How do you define volume in reading? In search of a definition of volume, I consulted some reading texts, Google Scholar, and some real life literacy scholars. There are several definitions available. Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis define it as “Access + Choice + Time.” Those three elements were present in the pre-chat quotes shown here.

Although literacy gurus agreed that volume was critical to student success in reading and writing, everyone also had just a little different twist that added depth. Allington said it most succinctly when he talked of time spent reading and number of words read.

Scholastic. June 2015

Others chimed in with “meaningful” and “engaged” reading as well as “across the day” although a commitment to time remained constant. Both Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher tell us that if students are not reading AT school then we know they are not reading at home either.

But is Reading Volume more flexible and fluid than JUST time and words?

Yes, there must be a commitment to time but a small part also says access means a lot of texts as well as the engagement factor or rapture of being “lost in a great book” and then the meaningful conversations that come from conferring and dialogue about books.

How do we measure Reading Volume?

In the past many have tried to measure reading volume with book logs and lists of books read. Questions and concerns arose from those practices: Were the books chosen by the students or the teachers? Were the lists accurate? Did the lists include some “fake reading” titles?

Accountability may have won the battle and lost the Volume War as students did the “bare minimum” or perhaps less only in the name of compliance or completed logs. Time is surely one factor.

But does time only count when provided by teachers?

What about the time when students are “sneak reading”? And HOW would time be counted? Minutes? Pages? Books? If we value time spent reading, there is no time to be wasted “counting” words so we could use “The Google” to find out some word counts. (Try googling Harry Potter and number of words just for fun.) As students build up stamina, how could/should those counts increase?

One way to consider the flexibility and fluidity of time is shown in this table from Simple Starts by Kari Yates. The differences between the fall and spring show the expected growth in time and also reflects the increased difficulty of texts throughout the course of the year.

Heinemann link

A commitment to access to quality books (chat #2) and quality Tier 1 (chat #1) are a great beginning to improving interventions for striving students. Where do we find Access, Choice and Time that are necessary for reading VOLUME? We will need to continue to say NO to programs that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to continue to say NO to interventions that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to say NO to “magic bullets” that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read. We will need to say NO to spending money on resources that don’t allow students to have access, choice and time to read.

How can these tweets add to your knowledge bank?

Tweets curated from Wakelet

What conversations do YOU need to have about VOLUME?