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The Preview: Education

Making good reading teachers great: Four essentials for teacher trainers and principals

Teacher overseeing a group of students concentrating on an assignment

Eight out of 10 students successfully grasp the skills they need to become effective readers. The other two, however, struggle with core concepts and are at risk of falling further and further behind. Getting all students on track and reading at the best of their ability is possible, provided the teacher has the right tools and techniques to make it happen.

Teacher trainers and principals can take four important steps toward helping teachers improve students' reading outcomes:

  • First, provide materials and professional development opportunities that highlight the latest evidence-based best practices and approaches.

  • Next, ensure teachers have the means to assess students throughout the year and conduct effective differentiated instruction.

  • Then empower teachers to take immediate action if interventions aren't working.

  • Finally, ensure everyone is moving toward the ultimate goal of comprehension to help students make the critical transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."

Follow these steps so teachers will be prepared to provide effective, targeted reading instruction to all their students.

Improve teacher professional development

Studies have shown that teachers who are the most effective at helping students learn to read are those well-versed in reading instruction, with both content knowledge and practical skill. Yet, it is not uncommon for teachers to enter the classroom lacking an understanding of reading instruction and reading psychology, many having been licensed with only one survey course and little background in reading psychology or language structure. Some special education teachers aren't even required to take courses in reading instruction, despite the fact that many of their students will have specific reading disabilities.

Administrators can help educators effectively teach reading by providing and supporting the use of resources that demonstrate what research has shown is effective. Evidence-based guides such as Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers, Second Edition or Unlocking Literacy: Effective Decoding and Spelling Instruction, Second Edition give teachers the foundation they need to provide the explicit, systematic instruction that struggling readers need to succeed.

This free download from Speech to Print summarizes the findings of research studies concerning effective teaching methods and includes a brief quiz of language knowledge that teachers can use to test their baseline understanding of syllables, phonemes, and more.

In addition to ensuring educators have a solid foundation in the basics of reading instruction, administrators can collaborate with teachers to create individualized professional development plans. A good professional development plan might include grade-level meetings, conference attendance, in-service and summer workshops, professional learning communities, collaborative problem-solving, and independent study of the latest research-based resources.

Give teachers tools to assess their students and differentiate instruction

Without intervention in their formative years, students who struggle with reading usually don't catch up. Empower teachers with the tools they need to assess their students' reading skills, identify at-risk students as early as possible, and differentiate instruction to meet students ' specific needs. To do this, teachers will need a reliable, efficient formative reading assessment they can conduct themselves; easy-to-implement reading interventions for small-group differentiated instruction; and efficient progress monitoring tools that don't take too much time away from their teaching.

You can give teachers a single solution for assessment, intervention, and progress monitoring with the new 2010 TPRI®, developed for grades K–3. Conducted by teachers at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year, TPRI® gives teachers a brief universal screener that pinpoints children who may be at risk for learning difficulties, and a more in-depth assessment that diagnoses struggling students' specific needs. Going beyond assessment, TPRI® also helps teachers plan differentiated instruction with the Intervention Activities Guide and check the effectiveness of their interventions with quick progress monitoring tools. (You can learn much more about TPRI® here.)

Download this sample TPRI® grouping tool teachers can use to prepare for small-group differentiated instruction. Assigning students to groups based on their strengths and weaknesses, the tool helps teachers select interventions that target students' trouble spots and improve key reading skills.

What if students need more?

As they implement interventions, teachers should be on the alert for signs that students are encountering stumbling blocks. Some conditions that may present challenges for struggling readers include

  • having too many learning activities in daily lessons

  • not having enough direct, explicit instruction

  • presenting new material at a rate that is too fast for students to keep up with

Discover other common troublesome areas and tips for working with at-risk readers in this download from Next STEPS in Literacy Instruction: Connecting Assessments to Effective Interventions.

Even with intervention, some students may still lag behind. When students don't appear to be progressing, the authors of Next STEPS suggest teachers ask themselves the following questions:

  • Is the instruction appropriate? Are the learning activities, and the instructional level, right for the student? Does the student have the necessary background knowledge?

  • Is this the right group? Are the different students in a group not learning at the same speed because the material is not appropriate to everyone's skills and learning abilities? Are there perhaps too many students in the group?

  • Are these the appropriate materials? Are the materials not relevant to this group?

  • Longer classes? More classes? Would the student benefit from more instructional time, such as a longer instructional period, or more days per week?

(Note: If a student is making strong gains, the teacher can ask the same questions to decide whether the student should be moved to a different learning group, given more challenging reading material, etc.)

Teachers should always be able to change their instructional methods if students continue to struggle. Be sure teachers have the autonomy to analyze the data from their assessment and progress monitoring tools and make adjustments to their instruction if data indicates that students are still having trouble.

Make comprehension the goal

Learning to read is only the beginning. Reading to learn is the goal.

While it's essential that students learn the basic skills of word recognition and fluency, teachers of older students need to focus on the more complex, high-level reading skills: vocabulary, morphology, syntax (sentence comprehension), and reading comprehension.

Arm teachers with the tools they need to help students develop high-level reading skills—and provide special attention to students identified as having problems with reading. You can begin with an in-depth evaluation of a student's comprehension skills. Tools such as the Comprehension Needs Chart found in Ready to Read: A Multisensory Approach to Language-Based Comprehension Instruction make it easier to record information pertinent to instructional planning, specific skills, and learner characteristics. By noting where special attention is needed, the chart allows teachers to define the best strategy for the student.

The Comprehension Needs Chart helps teachers identify which higher-area skills students are struggling with and which interventions will work best for those needs. A student who has trouble with abstract thinking and poor memory skills, for instance, may be able to compensate by using cues in the form of pictures or other visual aids. See a more detailed explanation of the Comprehension Needs Chart from Ready to Read with a filled-in sample, completed for a student having trouble with reading comprehension.

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Give your teachers the right tools so that they can give students the support they need to become successful readers. Academic success, increased confidence, and lifelong learning will follow.

This article features downloads from the following resources:

Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers, Second Edition

TPRI®

Next STEPS in Literacy Instruction: Connecting Assessments to Effective Interventions

Ready to Read: A Multisensory Approach to Language-Based Comprehension Instruction

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