Developing a Balanced Reading Program
Current research overwhelmingly supports the idea that it is the teacher standing before the students and not a commercially-packaged reading program that will make the difference in the advancement of reading ability.
At the core of any effective reading program is a teacher who truly believes that all students have the ability to become proficient readers. The teacher can help students not only improve their reading ability, but also become lifelong readers and learners.
A successful secondary classroom reading program must incorporate research-based reading instruction strategies blended with the principles of adolescent development and motivation. Teachers must examine current practices and be willing to incorporate changes that will help reluctant and struggling readers learn to make sense of what they read and improve their reading ability.
The more a student reads directly impacts how proficient a reader he/she will become. Additionally, the amount of time a student spends reading is directly related to his/her vocabulary development, his/her general and specific knowledge and his/her overall level of academic achievement. The other defining factor between proficient and reluctant or struggling readers is the number of reading comprehension strategies they have and how they use them. Reluctant readers have very few strategies to help them make meaning of text.Basic Tenets of Effective Adolescent Instruction
• A safe and challenging learning environment;
• Learning is social; adolescents learn best through interaction and activity with peers;
• Students must be actively engaged in the learning process and require choice and voice in their learning;
• Instruction must be driven by assessment and explicit, immediate and ongoing feedback is required to improve student learning
• Self-assessment is necessary as part of meaningful goal setting, ownership of learning and academic success;
• Students must be gradually given responsibility to take ownership of their learning, improve upon their levels of achievement and develop into successful independent learners
• Reading selections must be relevant and authentic to the students’ lives and must be differentiated to meet the needs of all students;
• Authentic experiences are required to motivate students and develop critical thinking and literacy skills as well as attitudes necessary for success beyond school;
• Adolescents are capable of critical and complex thinking and are most motivated when challenged with real world problems;
• Teachers must create learning experiences focused on real problems with a significant level of complexity;
• Adolescent learners tend to be very idealistic and respond well to challenges involving making the world a better place.
Knowing students as readers, assessing and regularly monitoring progress, and adjusting instruction to meet their needs are all components of a successful reading program; these steps will not only improve student achievement in reading, but in all academic areas. Providing reading materials that are interesting and meaningful to adolescents, along with ample time for in-class reading, will support readers’ development regardless of their motivation, interest or ability level.
Foundations of a Successful Reading Program
• Meaningful reading opportunities reflective of students’ interests, experiences and cultural backgrounds
• Learning and assessment activities that are reflective of the various learning styles and strengths of the individual students
• Rich opportunity for personal and shared responses to a variety of texts that are representative of student experiences, culture and values
• Reading instruction is direct, explicit and based on student need
• Students are taught the various reasons for reading and how these reasons affect the strategies they use
• Oral language is the foundation of all learning;
• Effective literacy instruction starts with the needs of the student and how he learns;
• Differentiated instruction and assessment to meet the needs of all students;
• Daily use of instructional tools such as graphic organizers, anchor charts and student exemplars;
• Student-centered instruction balanced with teacher-led instruction and uninterrupted independent reading;
• Explicit teaching and modelling of the strategies used by proficient readers;
• Various groupings including whole class, small group, partner and individual;
• Daily teacher read-alouds and exposure to quality literary and informational texts through a broad range of resources;
• Reading materials that are interesting and meaningful to adolescents to encourage higher-order thinking;
• Resources must reflect both genders and include a variety of genres, topics and forms;
• Student choice in selection of reading material;
• Instructional approaches that match students’ needs as they develop including varied and ongoing assessment combined with immediate and explicit feedback with strategies for improvement;
• Meaningful self- and peer-assessment combined with success criteria designed in collaboration with students.
• Survey students using learning styles and preferences inventories, multiple intelligences inventories, and reading surveys to create class and student profiles to inform instruction. Include results of diagnostic, formative and summative assessments to the profiles;
• Plan curriculum with a focus on intended outcomes;
• If using a previously planned unit, adjust it to meet the needs of current students;
• Establish routines for group work and independent work at the start of the semester;
• Continually evaluate appropriateness of material for the existing students;
• Use flexible student groupings that change frequently;
• Involve resource staff (e.g. special education teacher, teacher librarian, student success teacher)
• Consult with other subject-area teachers to try and provide reading selections that will build background knowledge for students;
• Manage instructional time to ensure uninterrupted reading time in each lesson;
• Engage students with varied daily readings through a balance of modelled, shared, guided and independent readings;
• Determine how to ensure students are clear on instructions and expectations of each lesson;
• Match instructional approaches to the strategy being taught and the level of the students.
Finally, the most important consideration is to ensure reading – and the enjoyment of reading – becomes an important part of instructional time, and that the needs of all students are considered. Make it fun. Make it relevant. And make it effective.