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Teaching for Reading

Educators must explicitly teach the "Big Ideas" of reading for students to be successful.


Explicit instruction involves the teacher modeling skills for students ("I do it"), teacher and students practicing together ("we do it"), and students demonstrating skills ("you do it") with feedback. The amount of each component will vary based on student needs and accuracy of responses.

Reading instruction should be systematic and sequential, ensuring that:

  • Focus is on the big ideas.
  • Easier skills are taught before more difficult skills.
  • High-frequency skills are taught before low-frequency skills.
  • Prerequisite skills are taught first.
  • Similar skills are separated.
  • Complex skills and strategies are broken down into smaller components that are easier to obtain.

Elementary Schools

Adequate Time

At the elementary level, adequate instruction time is allocated daily to support all students and coordinate resources to ensure optimal use of time. A 90-minute reading block is recommended for reading instruction at each grade level. To maximize the instruction time, the reading block should be prioritized and protected from interruption. Any “discretionary” activities should be scheduled outside of the reading block.

Allocating instructional time for reading in and of itself will not be sufficient to improve outcomes for students. It is what is done with the time to maximize student learning that will improve outcomes. Within the 90-minute reading block, there should be a combination of whole group, small group, and practice stations for reviewing, reinforcing, and extending previously taught skills and strategies.

Whole Group and Small Group Instruction

Whole group instruction should focus on the big ideas for all students every day for 30-45 minutes per day. Small group instruction should be teacher-led and provided to groups of students with similar needs with the goal of increasing the probability of mastering grade-level skills. These small groups should be flexible, meaning students will move in and out of groups based on needs. Small group instruction will include pre-teaching skills, re-teaching skills, scaffolding supports, and extending learning linked to the core reading instruction and based on student needs.

Practice Stations

When students are not engaged in whole group or small group instruction, they should be engaged in practice stations that review, reinforce, and/or extend previously taught skills and strategies. For practice stations to be successful, the activities must be differentiated to meet students’ skills. Activities must focus on work the student has relatively high accuracy with, and they should not involve something the student is unable to do independently with accuracy. Small group and practice stations should be occurring for 45-60 minutes per day.

Additional Skills to Teach

In addition to the big ideas of reading, skills that directly impact reading achievement can and should be a part of the reading block. These skills include:

  • Spelling based on phonics patterns to support decoding.
  • Attending to punctuation to develop prosody, a component of fluency.
  • Writing in response to reading to support comprehension.

The 90-minute reading block should not include:

  • Handwriting.
  • Keyboarding.
  • Sentence combining.
  • Grammar.
  • Writing process.

While these skills are important, they should not be a part of the 90-minute reading block.

Secondary Schools

At the secondary level, the emphasis on instructional time shifts away from a reading block as students enter into middle and high school grades. Reading instruction is embedded within content area courses such as science, social studies, and mathematics. These content area reading strategies are critical evidence-based instructional practices that are used across different content areas to provide higher-quality instruction by incorporating the practices into the curricula to ensure students can access and comprehend secondary narrative and expository text.

Maximizing Instructional Time

At both the elementary and secondary levels, there is a strong link between behavior management and maximizing instructional time in order to have optimal amounts of academic learning time. This intersection is between high-quality instruction and good behavior management is seen when instruction includes:

  • A brisk instructional pace using routines focused on the big ideas.
  • Frequent opportunities for students to respond with specific feedback.
  • Judicious practice and review.
  • Behavioral routines.
  • Clear behavioral expectations.
  • Efficient transitions.

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