CCSS Instructional Shifts in Elementary Reading

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k-12 teacher helping female student readingWhat should we keep? What might we add? What can we ditch?

Here we are at the beginning of a new school year, with Common Core State Standards looming large this year. Many schools and districts have been preparing since the Standards were introduced in 2010. Others are just getting started. But most are still grappling with just what and how instruction needs to change to help students meet the new, more rigorous expectations. Much has been written regarding the instructional shifts. Let’s take a look at these shifts and consider what instructional practices to keep, what to add and what to ditch.

The instructional shifts for the CCSS are as follows:

Shift 1:  Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction.

Shift 2:  Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational.

Shift 3:  Regular practice with complex text and its academic language.

What should we keep?

1) On-going reading assessments

Reading assessment is key to helping students grow in their ability to navigate and comprehend ever more complex levels of text. Teachers must be aware of each student’s reading behavior, what those behaviors indicate as reading needs, and how those reading behaviors grow and change over time. In addition, teachers must continually analyze the data they collect and make instructional decisions based on the most current and recurring data.

2) Daily Independent Reading Time

In order for students to become proficient readers of any text type, they must read and read a lot! Extended periods of independent reading have been recognized as the number one way to build reading prowess. Research has taught us that students who read the most score the highest on standardized comprehension assessments (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1988). We know that reading is a performance-based activity, meaning in order to get better at it, one must do it often. Like playing a sport or a musical instrument, reading requires practice, which requires time. Providing time in class for daily reading is a practice that we still need to make a top priority. Students need to build up to reading fifteen to thirty minutes each day in a text at their independent reading level (text they can really read…not too easy, not too hard, but just right).

3) Small Group Guided Reading

Another “reading staple” that will support the CCSS shifts in elementary is small group guided reading. These sessions with the teacher will allow students with similar reading needs to increase their independent reading levels. When we know a student’s independent level (reading with ease) and their instructional level (grappling and needing guidance and support), we can guide students through several texts at their instructional level, offering instruction that moves students’ instructional level to their independent level. Students change groups often, as they progress to demonstrating proficiency at more complex text levels. This provides a part of the “regular practice with complex texts and its academic language” that students will need to meet the rigorous reading standards.

What might we add?

1) Reading Conferences with Monitoring and Feedback

This Independent Reading Time is NOT the old DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or SSS (Sustained Silent Reading). Regular monitoring and feedback from the teacher must accompany independent reading time. Teachers should hold regular (2-3 conferences each month per student) reading conferences with their students. During these conferences, teachers listen to students read aloud, noting (possibly through a running record or other recording assessment technique) successes, challenges, miscues and misinterpretations. Teachers discuss the text, celebrating students’ efforts and successes, confirming specifically what the student did well as a reader, and providing next steps to help students continue to grow as readers. Teachers can ask questions such as:

  • Can you tell me what you read in your own words?
  • What was important about what you read?
  • What do you think that means?
  • Why did the author say it that way?
  • Can you show me in the text where it made you think that?

Throughout the short conference (5-10 minutes), teachers provide confirming, specific feedback, finishing each conference by helping the student set a reading goal to focus on until the next reading conference. Reading goals can cover a range of skills and strategies, depending on reading behaviors demonstrated during the conference. Some examples of reading goals could be:

  • When you come to a word you don’t know, pay attention to all the letters and think about what makes sense in the text with those letters.
  • When you realize you are confused, go back and re-read some of the text.
  • Practice paraphrasing, saying in your own words, what you have read.
2) Lots of nonfiction texts at appropriate text complexity levels for each classroom

In order to make the “shift” for the CCSS expectations, much of this independent reading must be done in content-rich nonfiction texts. When students have the opportunity to read several texts on the same topic, they begin to build the content knowledge that will support continued learning throughout their lives. That means that schools and teachers must build classroom libraries that are rich in nonfiction texts on a variety of topics at a range of text complexities.

What can we ditch?

Providing 15-30 minutes each day for students to read independently may mean that some classrooms will have to change their routines. Some ideas to consider eliminating are:

  • Students reading without monitoring and feedback.
  • Multiple fill-in-the-blank worksheets (most are mere busy work that require little, if any, complex reading practice for students).
  • Some “Reading Centers” (many are used as a classroom management tool, rather than a learning tool). If everyone cycles to all centers every day, there is a good chance that the activities are not data-based nor do they provide sustained reading practice or differentiated learning opportunities).
  • Computer activities lacking in extended practice with text or feedback to students (some are reading games or skill support, which may be appropriate at times, but may not support the extended reading practice needed to build stamina and to grow to complex text levels).

In the world of the CCSS, instructional shifts cause us to pause and reflect on just what changes need to occur. This blog post offers just a few ideas of what to keep, what to add and what to “ditch” Hopefully, these ideas will generate some thoughts and perhaps some conversations to help teachers make the best decisions for supporting their young readers.

We welcome you to visit the Pearson website to learn more about September’s College and Career Readiness-ELA webinar series with continued conversation about writing and the Common Core State Standards.

Janice McClure

About Janice McClure

Jancie McClure is a Literace/Field Service Specialist with Pearson.
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