Shifts in Reading Instruction

As we approach the holiday, we have been inviting learners to showcase their learning within our community. Last Friday 20 primary school learners, many from our grade 1 learning hub, were risk-takers and communicators as they shared their learning (tweet curtesy of @makingoodhumans.) I had many conversations with our young learners that day about how nervous they were prior to the showcase and how excited and exhilarated they felt after.

As a primary school staff, we were also going to have the opportunity to share our learning, but sadly we have reverted to online learning for our last week of term, and this opportunity has been postponed. Both these events got me thinking about how little I have shared over the last year via this blog, though I have shared a bit on other social media platforms. I think the introvert in me feels nervous like our Grade 1 learners, and like them I need to be both vulnerable and brave again. So, I am going to recommit to sharing my learning in the hopes that it helps other educators.

This time last year, I knee deep in my action research project for my Masters. As I thought about my Grade 2 class at time, I felt I needed to do what I could to help them become better readers. I, like many others, did not get a solid foundation in how to teach reading. In fact, I think I mostly learned on the job, and I will be honest and say that most PD I received just didn’t fit right with my experiences and my intuition about what learners needed. However, intuition was not enough at this point, I had to demystify the teaching of reading. This led me to find the scientific research and evidence about how we learn to read, or the Science of Reading.

Looking at all the research that spans decades was daunting, however I found Reading Simplified, a sound based decoding approach to teaching reading systematically and explicitly. This approach, by Dr. Marnie Ginsberg, truly did take the mystery out of teaching reading through a streamlined approach. In a time when we were facing reduced instructional time and teaching virtually, I could not have asked for anything more. In the 10 weeks of my action research, every learner made at least 1 level’s progress in the leveling system our school uses. Some made as much as 4 levels progress, or 1 years worth of growth in 10 weeks.

The following are some key shifts I made to reading instruction, based on the Reading Simplified approach. First, I moved from using leveled texts to decodable texts, giving learners the opportunities to apply the phonics skills we were working on. Rather than learning about phonics in isolation, it was embedded into reading instruction through 2 main activities: word chaining or Switch It and word sorts.

We used the Google tool Jamboard to play Switch It. As learners were switching graphemes, I was able to see what each learners was doing and provide immediate feedback.

Switch It is an activity that works on developing so many skills at one time. Learners are developing their phonemic awareness as they manipulate sounds. Doing this not just orally, but with letters helps to the develop their grapheme phoneme correspondence. Additionally, learners are asked to both segment and blend the words they make, and I should also mention that its fun!

Once we were exploring the advanced phonemic code, for example, all the graphemes that can be used to represent the long /ay/ phoneme, we began to use word sorting activities to learn more about spelling patterns.

Here we used the tool Padlet to sort /er/ words by the spelling patterns in the key sentence. Once we generated our lists, we were able to discuss if the words fit the patterns we were looking for or not, and were able to engage in interesting conversations about the form and structure of words.
In this example, we used Jamboard to play the digital version of the game steal it. Each time learners pulled a card, they had to read it and then sort it by spelling patterns. Each time they were able to steal a list, they had to read all the words in the list – sorting and rereading can be fun!

Secondly, we dedicated time to rereading texts, so that rather than just focusing on decoding, they could work towards fluency and then free up some energy or brain power to work on comprehension. Third, we worked on comprehension and vocabulary development through our units of inquiry more intentionally than I would have done in the past.

This post has just been a brief glimpse into my journey to become a better reading teacher, so that I can honor all our learners, by helping them master an essential skill for future learning. If the ideas I have shared here resonate with you, then I encourage you to dig deeper. Whilst I am not an expert, I can say with confidence, that there is expertise and knowledge waiting for you when you are read. So much of my learning was done through educational groups on social media and and simple online searches. I invite you to take your steps to find out what science says about how we learn to read.