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Reading Readiness

Big topic for a small article. With big topics, such as world peace, global warming, or the problem of evil, authors usually find it expedient to narrow things down a bit. Not so with reading readiness. With few exceptions, the following big picture advice applies equally to teachers of four-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, and forty-year-olds. Of course, there are differences that need to be considered for each age group. Preschool/kinder/first grade teachers, intermediate and middle school reading intervention (RtI) teachers, and adult education teachers know how to teach to their clients’ developmental learning characteristics. Similarly, English-language development teachers and special education teachers know their student populations and are adept at how to differentiate instruction accordingly. But, my point is that the what of reading readiness instruction is much the same across the age and experience spectrum.

So in keeping with this big picture advice, let’s begin with a definition of reading. More specifically, what is reading and what is not reading.

What is Reading

Reading is making and discovering meaning from text. It involves both process skills and content. It is both caught and taught.

What is Not Reading

Reading is not just pronouncing (decoding) words.

Reading is not just recognizing a bunch of words and their meanings (memorizing and applying sight words).

Reading is not just content.

Reading is not just applying the reader’s understanding of content by means of prior knowledge and life experience.

Reading is not just a set of skills or strategies.

How Reading is Caught

Plenty of studies demonstrate a positive correlation between skilled readers and their literate home environments. However, because it would be impossible to isolate, we will never be able to determine precisely which features of a literate environment positively impact reading and which do not. From my own experience as a reading specialist and parent of three boys, I offer these observations:

Reading to and with your child or student certainly makes a difference. Yes, reading pattern books, picture books, and controlled-vocabulary books are advisable. But having your child or student read to you (and others) is more important than you reading to them. Apologies to the read-aloud-crowd, but the goal is not to build dependent listening comprehension. The goal is to build independent readers with excellent silent reading comprehension. By the way, although it is nice for children, adolescents, and adults to have warm and fuzzy feelings about reading, it is certainly not necessary. All three of my boys hated reading and being read to at points, but my wife and I still required plenty of reading. All three are now avid and skilled adult readers.

Modeling reading as a reading readiness strategy is highly overrated. Having your child see you read and discuss text will be a by-product of a literate environment. Reading a newspaper in front of your child will not create an “ah-ha” connection in your child that will turn that child into a life-long reader. Similarly, having a teacher read silently for thirty minutes in front of a group of students doing Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) will not improve student reading. The students would be better served if the teacher spent that time refining lesson plans or grading student essays. Or more importantly, shouldn’t students be doing the bulk of independent reading at home? Charles Barkley was right to this extent: Role models are overrated for some things in life, and reading is one of them.

Turning off the television is not a good idea. There is no doubt that we gain vocabulary, an understanding of proper and varied syntax, and important content by watching the tube. Now, of course, a Rick Steeves travel show or the nightly news does a better job at oral language development than does Sponge Bob, but silence teaches nothing.

Talking with your child or students is a huge plus in reading development. A ten-minute conversation exposes children and students to far more vocabulary and content than does a video game. Of course, reading is the best vocabulary development, but we are talking about reading readiness here.

Word play, such as nursery rhymes, verbal problem-solving games (Twenty Questions, Mad Libs®, I See Something You Don’t See), board games, puzzles, jokes, storytelling, and the like teach phonological awareness, print concepts, and important content.

How Reading is Taught

Preschool (home or away), but preferably with other children and a trained teacher, has no easy substitute. A tiered approach to reading intervention, based upon effective diagnostic data is essential for struggling pre-teen or adolescent readers. The social nature, structure, and accountability of a reading class for adult learners has a much higher degree of success than does independent learning or tutoring.

Phonological (Phonemic) awareness must be taught, if not caught. In my experience, most struggling readers do not have these skills. Effective assessment and teaching strategies can address these deficits and even jump-start success. The mythical notion that reading is developmental or that a child has to be cognitively or social ready to read has no research base. The earlier exposure to sounds and mapping sounds to print, the better. Children simply cannot learn to read too early.

Don’t teach according to learning styles and beware of bizarre reading therapies. There just is no conclusive evidence that adjusting instruction to how students are perceived to learn best impacts learning. Focus the instruction of what readers need to learn, less so on the how. 80% of reading process and content is stored as meaning-based memories, not in the visual or auditory modalities.

Teach according to diagnostic and formative data. Build upon strengths, but especially target weaknesses. Even beginning reader four-year-olds can benefit from effective assessment.

Teach a balance of reading approaches. Certainly sound-spelling correspondences (synthetic phonics with continuous blending), explicit spelling strategies (encoding), sight syllables, rimes, outlaw words (irregular sight words) are time and experience-tested. Despite what some will say, learning sight words will not adversely affect a reader’s reliance upon applying the alphabetic code. Work on repeated readings, inflection, and fluidity to develop reading fluency. Teach comprehension strategies and help your child or students practice both literal and inferential monitoring of text, even before they are reading independently.

Take a close, hard look at expensive reading intervention programs such as READ 180 Next Generation and Language!® Live. These expensive programs promise the moon but what reading intervention students need most is solid assessment-based reading resources. Playing video games and creating cool avatars does not trump good old-fashioned assessment-based reading instruction. Check out Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live for a biased comparison of these programs to the author’s own Teaching Reading Strategies.

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

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