Monday, July 1, 2013

Teaching With the Common Core Standards - Book Club - Chapter 4 - Reading Standards: Foundational Skills

*Discussion topics/questions will be found in the comment portion of this post. Please feel free to add your thoughts or ask questions of your own.

I chose this chapter for a variety of reasons. My first several years as a teacher were spent teaching in the primary grades where it is expected that students will pick up what are considered "foundational" skills in Reading. The last few years I have spent in intermediate grades, so I have seen both ends of the spectrum. I have seen very young children grasp foundational skills quickly, older students who struggled with these same skills and everything in between. To start however we need to understand which skills are considered "foundational." These skills include: print concepts, phonological awareness, phonics/word recognition skills, and fluency. Often in the upper grades there is the preconceived notion that these skills have already been taught and therefore there is not a necessity to focus on them. Increasingly perception just isn't true. Far more intermediate students are struggling because - for whatever reason - they never mastered these skills. Just like a building collapses without a strong foundation, so too does comprehension collapse without these vital building blocks.

That then begs the question - What now? What can upper grade teachers do to help these struggling students gain the foundation they need to be successful readers, especially with the increased rigor brought about by the CCSS? Before we delve any deeper into that question, perhaps a quick review/summary of what these skills cover would be appropriate. 

Print concepts - Ability to recognize basic features and conventions of text including progression of text, i.e. left-right, top-bottom. Also encompasses recognition of all upper and lowercase letters and the fact that joining letters together in specific ways creates words and that spaces separate words.

Phonological awareness - Ability to recognize sounds (phonemes), syllables, and whole words in spoken language. 

Both of these skills are expected to be mastered by the end of a child's first grade year in school.

Phonics/Word recognition - Ability to apply word analysis skills - including phonics - to transfer words in print into the corresponding spoken words.

Fluency - Ability to accurately, with automaticity and prosody (expression).

So, now that we understand what the foundational skills mean, back to the question - What do we do to help students master them? The authors of this chapter focus mainly on helping students master the word recognition and fluency standards with their instructional suggestions.

Word Recognition

1) Focus on word patterns - a) Teach students common rimes - consistent word patterns also known as word families. b) Teach students Latin and Greek word bases - including prefixes, suffixes, and root words. This helps students focus on morphemic pattern which are pieces of words imbued with their own meaning.

2) Guided word building - Give students the chance to "build" predetermined words guided by the teacher. Two ways of going about this are presented. a) McCandliss, Beck, Sandak, and Perfetti (2003) have students start with a word and change, add, or subtract one letter at a time to create new words. This has also been called a "word ladder." b) Cunningham and Cunningham's Making Words approach has students use a limited number of words gradually increasing in difficulty and in the number of letters used. Finally all the letters are used to make one last word that students are to try to discover without the aid of the teacher.

1) Wide Reading - Reading multiple texts in succession to maximize one's reading ability. This has most often been seen in schools through silent reading either of trade or textbooks, guided by the teacher, or by independent silent reading. For those who criticize independent silent reading as having too little accountability another approach has been developed by Reutzel, Jones, Fawson, and Smith (2008) called "scaffolded" silent reading where the teacher takes a more active role in helping students choose books and adding a measure of accountability for students. 

2) Deep Reading (Repeated reading) - Whereas wide reading has a student read many texts once, deep reading has students repeatedly read a text until it can be read with great accuracy, expression, and automaticity. While repeated reading is helpful in understanding more complex narrative text, it is especially helpful in reading informational text which introduces both concepts and vocabulary together. Suggestions for types of reading that are effectively used for deep reading include poetry, Reader's Theatre, famous speeches, short excerpts of texts with strong "voice." A more intensive version of deep reading called a "fluency development lesson" was developed by Rasinski, Padak, Linek, & Sturtevant (1994). This calls for students to master a 100-200 word passage during a twenty minute period of instruction. This lesson also includes word study, teacher modeling, and discussion.

As the authors wind down the chapter they also mention "four block" instruction pioneered by Cunningham (2006) wherein one "block" of approximately 20-30 minutes is reserved daily for word study. New words are added to a board or "word wall" for students to use as a resource. They also mention Shanahan's (2012)  description of a 20-30 minute fluency block where students work on a text that will be performed at the end of the week. The chapter lists several books that have strong "voice" as examples of works that can be used to develop fluency.

The conclusion of the chapter stresses the authors' hopes that teachers will explore multiple methods of instruction to help students master foundational learning skills, especially word recognition and fluency.

It is vitally important that we find ways to help students fill in the holes where their understanding falters. While it can seem a daunting task, it is possible to help scaffold students' instruction and understanding to help them gain the necessary skills to be good readers.

** Activities suggested by the authors**
1) Choose a word that you will be working with over several days. (Could be content area vocabulary.) Figure out all of the words that can be made using the letters in that word. This website is a resource for finding those words -

2) Find Greek or Latin affixes you'll be learning during the year and choose one or two to brainstorm all the English words you can think of that use those affixes.

3) Find a book you will be reading to the students. Look at the first five pages and list all the interesting, unusual, and irregularly spelled words you can find. Then decide which of those words you could display and discuss or make part of a word study unit.

4) Have students find a challenging text and read it to a partner having the partner keep track of the number of words that were read correctly. Have the student practice reading the text to themself or a partner two or three times. Put the text away for a few days without reading it again. After three or four days have students read again to their partner and have them count the number of correct words. Even without reading the text for several days, the second reading should have more correct words than the original.

Please take a chance now to add your thoughts on this chapter and the ideas it brings forth. I look forward to seeing the insights you all have to offer.

Don't forget that next week's chapter discussion will be hosted by Jennifer Findley of "Teaching To Inspire In Fifth."

For those who may be new to this discussion you can catch up on our previous posts with these links:


  1. 1) When you think of your struggling students do you find some who a) have difficulty breaking words down and decoding, b) read accurately, but at a slow and laborious pace, c) read orally without appropriate prosody (expression)? What have you done to help these students? Are there specific things that worked well or DIDN'T work at all?

  2. 2)Do you agree that even teachers in older grades need to be involved in teaching and/or reviewing foundational reading skills? Why or why not?

    1. Absolutely! I have been teaching 7th grade reading for the past couple of years, and sometimes I feel that I need to stop and go straight back to the foundational reading skills with those struggling readers. Many times, students are pushed through, but this only hurts them. They find it harder to "catch up" as the next year they are having to learn new concepts and skills.

    2. YES! YES! YES! I don't think students EVER have it mastered enough to stop teaching basic skills. I think that as teacher, especially in the upper grades, assume that they have mastered all that "stuff" in the lower grades. Then we find out who our low students are and realize that they are missing those key skills we assumed they had. I have even noticed a growing trend in basal programs to start including basic phonics skills and such even at the 6th grade level.

  3. 3) How can you use some of the activities described in the chapter to help in other content areas such as science, social studies, art, etc.?

    1. I definitely think using Deep Reading would greatly impact other content areas such as science and social studies. I think the students would gain a better understanding of the content.

  4. 4) There are several activities suggested by the chapter authors.
    a) Have you tried any of them? If so, how did it work? If not, would you be willing to try one of the activities with your students?
    b) Reread the final activity. If repeated reading works well the way the activity is set up, can you imagine what would happen if the text were not put away but continued to be practiced during that time? How much greater would be the gains?

  5. Other thoughts? Questions? Conundrums? Sound off... :)

  6. Funny that kids are expected to have full phonological awareness at the end of first. I play a spelling game that starts out with me giving them a phoneme and asking for a word that contains it. For example, I might say, "who can think of a word with the sound "eer" in it?" Several fourth graders each year struggle! They might say "Where" because they think of a word with er but not the sound I'm looking for. Even worse was at my last school; the administrator told me off for writing about the "rime game" in my lesson plans. I had to explain to him what rimes are so that he would start to believe me when I told him it wasn't a typo. :\