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Elements Comprising the Colorado Literacy Framework:

I. The Five Components of Reading

The integration of the Five Components of Reading must inform CDE's literacy initiatives.

Multifaceted Nature of Reading Aquisition recorded webinar giving a one-hour overview of the Science of Reading.  


What and Why?

Implications for Best Practice

  1. Phonological Awareness
  2. Phonics and Word Study
  3. Reading Fluency
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Reading Comprehension

Exemplary Practices in Action

Go back to the Elements outline


What are the Five Components, and why are they important?

In 1997, at the request of the U.S. Congress, the National Reading Panel, through the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), was assembled to assess the effectiveness of different instructional approaches for teaching reading in the early grades. Their findings, described in the panel’s report titled“Teaching Children to Read,” were released in 2000. The report identified five essential (though not exhaustive) components of reading instruction, the importance of which has been validated by subsequent research. (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004; August & Shanahan, 2008; Honig, Diamond, & Gutlohn, 2008). The components are: Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Reading Fluency, Vocabulary, and Reading Comprehension.

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1. Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is an inclusive term that describes an awareness of all levels of the sound system used for speech including words, syllables, rimes, and phonemes.

Adams (1990) describes the brain as having multiple processors that function together to read and write . In the phonological processor, readers connect visual images (print) with speech. A meta-linguistic awareness of this occurrence facilitates later reading ability. Blachman (2000, p. 502) synthesizes this research as follows:

Research, grounded in a common theoretical framework, now provides evidence that instruction that heightens phonological awareness and that emphasizes the connections to the alphabetic code promotes greater skill in word recognition – a skill essential to becoming a proficient reader.

From birth, children have a predisposition to learn speech. The ability to distinguish between different speech patterns, words, and intonation exists even in infants. It is not until later, however, that children begin to develop an overt awareness of speech. The development of phonological awareness begins at the word level and becomes more phoneme specific, advancing through these levels: word, syllable, onset-rime, and phoneme (Gillon, 2004).

Phonological Awareness – Implications for Best Practice

Typically, early childhood programs and early literacy experiences provide the foundation in phonological awareness so that students entering kindergarten are ready for explicit instruction in phonemic awareness. Within all levels of phonological awareness there is a skill spectrum which results in some phonological tasks being more difficult than others. Over the years, educational research has proven that phonological awareness is one of the few factors that teachers are able to significantly and effectively influence through instruction (Lane & Pullen, 2004). Therefore, it is critical that teachers are aware of and plan for varying levels of student proficiency and task difficulty. Blachman (2000, p. 495) states:

Although not every child needs an explicit program in phonological awareness, every teacher of young beginning readers should know why such instruction is important and how and when to provide it… Some children will not have the necessary preschool exposure to language play and early literacy experiences that trigger these associations. Other children, because of differences or deficiencies in phonological ability, will not discover the connections between print and speech on their own, even if they have the important preschool literacy experiences and opportunities to play with oral language. Especially for these two groups of children, explicit instruction in phonological awareness and the connections between the sound segments and letters may help to close the ever-widening gap that exists between those beginning readers who lack insight in to the phonological structure of spoken words and those who seem to acquire this awareness effortlessly.

There are many types of phoneme manipulation. The skills are progressive, with isolation being easiest, and deletion and manipulation being the most difficult. Having children identify the sounds in pan (/p/ /a/ /n/) is much simpler than having them manipulate the middle sound in pan /a/, and switching it with /i/ and then identifying the new word. The ability to blend and segment words has the most impact on later reading achievement (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000). Blending is combining separate phonemes to create a known word. (“What word is /c/ /a/ /t/? Cat!”) Segmenting is breaking down a word into separate phonemes. (“What sounds do you hear in map? /m/ /a/ /p/. How many sounds do you hear in kiss? /k/ /i/ /s/ three!”) Research shows that it is most effective to use just one type of manipulation at a time.

Children who begin school with little phonological awareness have difficulty acquiring alphabetic coding skills and therefore, have difficulty recognizing words. (Stanovich, 2000) The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units (Lyon, 1995). Poor phonemic awareness at four to six years of age is predictive of reading difficulties throughout the elementary years (Torgesen & Burgess 1998).

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2. Phonics and Word Study

Phonics is the term used to describe the connections between individual speech sounds (phonemes) and letters or letter combinations (graphemes). While children are predisposed to language acquisition, the matching of sounds and spellings needs to be directly taught. Additionally, the structure of English goes beyond simple phoneme-grapheme matching to include multisyllabic word reading, analogies, irregular words, morphology, and Greek and Latin roots. Phonics, or the alphabetic principle, and continuing word study are essential components of any reading program. A student’s decoding ability is directly correlated to his or her comprehension as demonstrated in this table.

Correlation Between Decoding & Comprehension (in the Connecticut Longitudinal Study)


Grade 1










Grade 2










Grade 3










Grade 4










Grade 5










Grade 6










Grade 7










Grade 8










Grade 9











Grade 1

Grade 2

Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5

Grade 6

Grade 7

Grade 8

Grade 9

(Foorman, et al. 1997, p. 247) Decoding

Additionally, it is estimated that more than 90% of students with significant reading problems have a core deficit in their ability to process phonological information (Blachman, 2000). These deficits can be overcome through quality instruction, which significantly accelerates students’ subsequent reading and writing achievement. Therefore, once students demonstrate phonemic awareness and alphabet knowledge, they are ready to map speech to print. All students can benefit from phonics instruction, although some types of phonics instruction are more effective than others. Types of phonics instruction include synthetic, analogy, analytic, embedded, and phonics through spelling. In the meta-analysis of phonics conducted by the “Report of the National Reading Panel,” the most effective phonics programs utilized a synthetic, or part to whole, approach to phonics instruction. Additional findings indicate that “systematic phonics instruction provides beginning readers, at-risk readers, disabled readers, and low-achieving readers with a substantial edge in learning to read over alternative forms of instruction not focusing at all or only incidentally on the alphabetic system (NICHD, 2000).” The CORE Teaching Reading Sourcebook (Honig, Diamond, & Gutlohn, 2008) summarizes five significant findings of the National Reading Panel stating:

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction:

  • significantly improves students’ reading and spelling in kindergarten and grade 1.
  • significantly improves students’ abilities to comprehend what they read.
  • are beneficial for all students, regardless of their socio-economic status.
  • are effective in helping to prevent reading difficulties among students who are at risk.
  • are beneficial in helping students who are having difficulty learning to read.

Phonics – Implications for Best Practice

According to Moats (LETRS Module 7, 2009):

Phonics instruction should begin as soon as students: (a) know their alphabet letters; (b) can segment phonemes in spoken words that contain at least three phonemes; and (c) can associate a few consonants and vowels with their spellings. Phonics instruction should continue until students know all the major phoneme-grapheme correspondences and syllable patterns and can make good attempts at decoding unfamiliar words (p. 24).

The 26 letters of the English alphabet are used to map 44 phonemes to print resulting in over 200 graphemes, or spellings. Traditionally, students are first taught single letter/sound correspondences and then instruction is extended to digraphs and trigraphs, long vowels, diphthongs, r-controlled vowels, and silent-letter combinations. Since much of English orthography is predictable, the most frequent graphemes are taught first. For example, the sound /s/ is spelled with an s 73% of the time and with a c only 17% of the time, so the spelling s is taught first (Hanna et al. 1966).

Further research into the predictable nature of English spellings reveals as many as 121 phonics generalizations that can help students develop strategies for automatic word recognition. However, due to the number of exceptions within these generalizations (e.g., the word “ocean” does not follow the soft c generalization). For this reason, Adams (1990) recommends only four categories of generalizations for direct instruction:

  1. Pronunciation of consonants
  2. Accentuation of syllables
  3. Division of syllables
  4. Pronunciation of vowels

These categories represent only about 20 of the previously identified phonics generalizations. Most critically, it is imperative that teachers are aware of the generalizations as well as the corresponding recommendations for instruction.

Familiarity with the following concepts is essential:

Word Families
Just as students learn phonological chunks and generalize the skill using rime, students learn phonetic chunks and often read by analogy. The more recognizable chunks in a student’s repertoire, the more words he or she is able to access without fully decoding. For example, if a student is able to read the word cold he is able to compare words such as bold, fold, hold, etc., and derive at the correct pronunciation through analogy. For this reason, word families are often included in explicit, systematic phonics instruction.

As the sound/spellings are mastered, students develop activation in both the phonological and orthographic “processors.” This activation leads to a word memory when any particular word has been decoded, recoded, and encoded numerous times (Adams, 1990). This automaticity is a critical aspect of fluent reading and comprehension.

According to Stanovich (1996), when word recognition processes demand too much cognitive capacity, few cognitive resources are left to allocate to higher level processes of text integration and comprehension. In other words, the less cognitive effort that a student directs towards decoding, the more cognitive capabilities a student is able to use for context and comprehension.

Phases of Word Reading Development
Along these same lines, beginning readers develop reading skills along a predictable continuum and it is this continuum that influences the explicit, systematic phonics scope and sequence found in many research-based curricula. See the following table summarizes Ehri’s Phases of Word Reading Development (1995) .


Phases of Word Reading Development

How Child Reads Familiar Words


Novice Alphabetic

Mature Alphabetic



Rote learning of incidental visual features of a word; no letter-sound awareness

Partial use of letter-sound correspondence; initial sound and salient consonants

Pronunciation of whole word on basis of complete phoneme-grapheme mapping

Variously by phonemes, syllabic units, morpheme units, and whole words

How Child Reads Unfamiliar Words

Guessing constrained by context or memory of text

Constrained by context; gets first sound and guesses

Full use of phoneme-grapheme correspondence; blends all sounds left to right; begins to use analogy to known patterns

Sequential and hierarchical decoding; notices familiar parts first, reads by analogy to similar known words

Other Indicators

Dependent on context; few words; errors and confusions; cannot read text

Similar-appearing words are confused

Rapid, unitized reading of whole familiar words is increasing

Remembers multisyllabic words; analogizes easily, associates word structure with meaning


Strings letters together, assigns meaning without representing sounds in words

Represents a few salient sounds, such as beginning and ending consonants; fills in other letters randomly; some letter names for sounds

Phonetically accurate; beginning to incorporate conventional letter sequences and patterns; sight word knowledge increasing

Word knowledge includes language of origin, morphemes, syntactic role, ending rules, prefix, suffix & root forms

Multi-syllabic Blending
As students advance from the Mature Alphabetic phase to the orthographic, or consolidated alphabetic phase, they encounter more multisyllabic words in less-considerate text. To ensure continued reading achievement at this level, formal instruction in reading longer words is necessary for many students. A basic concept that must be clarified when beginning syllable division instruction is that the spoken syllable and the written syllable are not always the same. When teaching multi-syllabic blending, it is important to focus on the written syllable, because it is the written syllable that will determine the words pronunciation. There are two critical areas of multisyllabic instruction; the six syllable types and the syllable division rules. The six syllable types are closed, which account for nearly half of all syllables in connected text, open, consonant-le, vowel team, vowel-r, and vowel-consonant-e (Moats, 2005). Teachers who know the six major syllable types and the predominant patterns for syllable divisions can help children read multisyllabic words; this knowledge also transfers into spelling and writing (Henry, 2003). These rules are helpful when teaching older elementary students as a strategy for reading longer and more complex words.

If the spelling follows the identified pattern, then divide the words as follows:

  • VC/CV – Divide between the consonants. The first vowel will be short.
  • VC/CCV – Divide between the consonants but keep digraphs and blends together.
  • VCC/CV – Divide between words in a compound word. The first vowel will be short.
  • V/CV – Most of the time the syllable division will be after the first vowel, creating an open syllable with a long vowel sound.
  • VC/V – Twenty-five percent of the time, the syllable division will be after the consonant, resulting in a closed syllable with a short vowel sound.
  • -Cle – This is a final stable syllable and the consonant should be kept with the –le.
  • -Vowel-r – Do not separate the r-controlled vowels.

High-frequency words, irregular words, and sight words
The terms high-frequency words, irregular words, and sight words are often used interchangeably but they are not synonymous. Some words might be highly-frequent but not irregular while other words are both highly-frequent and decodable. All words hold the potential to become “sight words” for proficient, automatic readers. Some words, however, must be taught by sight or memorization because they are phonetically irregular. This is not the same as the words that appear so frequently (comprising 50% of all text) that they must be taught before students have mastered basic decoding strategies. The chart below (adapted from Moats, LETRS Module 7, 2009) shows how words can be classified in this manner).

100 Most Common Words in Written English
Louisa Moats (2009)

























*Irregular Word

Morphology is the study of meaningful units, while a morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit in language. It is important to include instruction in morphemes in any word study program because we spell by meaning and morphological awareness leads to better comprehension. Generally, morphology instruction includes compound words, irregular words, base words, affixes, roots, combining forms, and plurals. The layers of English orthography come from the history of the language and include Anglo-Saxon (Old English), Latin and Old French (Norman-French), and Greek origins. Word study instruction typically begins in first grade with an emphasis on phonics and Anglo-Saxon morphemic structures, advances into Norman-French during the intermediate grades, and concludes with the Greek and Latin morphemes by eighth grade (Moats, 2005).

That English spellings are not predictable is a myth. This myth can be refuted by including a phonics and word study program as part of a comprehensive literacy curriculum. A complete phonics and word study program includes instruction in sound/spelling correspondences, syllables, analogies, irregular words, morphemic structures such as affixes, roots, and combining forms, and word origin. In 1966, Hanna, et al. determined that 50% of words are fully decodable, another 36% of words are predictable with one error, an additional 10% of words can be predicted if their morphology or word origin is known, leaving only four percent of English words that are truly irregular. Students who benefit from a detailed phonics and word study curriculum thus have the potential of unlocking all words!

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3. Reading Fluency

Fluency is the ability to read accurately, quickly, and expressively. It requires automatic word recognition, appropriate expression and intonation, as well as grouping words into meaningful phrases paying attention to punctuation (Armbruster, Lehr, &Osborn, 2001). The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004 p. 188) identifies three areas of fluency:

  1. accuracy - reading without too many miscues
  2. rate - reading at a reasonable rate, and
  3. being prosodic - reading with expression, including rhythm, stress and intonation

Reading fluency is one of several critical factors necessary for effective reading comprehension (Allington, 1983; Rasinski, Blackowicz, & Lems, 2006). Even in the middle and high school grades, reading fluency has been found to be correlated with silent reading comprehension (Rasinski, Rikli, & Johnston, 2009). If children read aloud with speed, accuracy, and proper expression, they are more likely to comprehend and remember the material than if they read with difficulty and in an inefficient way. In general, less-fluent readers suffer from poor comprehension (Carnine, Silbert, & Kame’enui, 1997).

To become fluent, students need to learn to rapidly and accurately decode words both in isolation and connected text. Over the past decade, fluency has become a prominent part of the literacy curriculum. Teachers need to make sure they are focusing on every aspect of fluency and not just word recognition. Kuhn, Schwanenflugel, & Meisinger (2010) remind educators to focus on all aspects of reading fluency. To synthesize the research on fluency, the authors propose the following definition:

Fluency combines accuracy, automaticity, and oral reading prosody, which, taken together, facilitate the reader’s construction of meaning. It is demonstrated during oral reading through ease of word recognition, appropriate pacing, phrasing, and intonation. It is a factor in both oral and silent reading that can limit or support comprehension.

Though supported by other researchers, this reinforces the important bridge between word recognition and comprehension. Fluent readers are able to identify words accurately and automatically while simultaneously focusing on comprehension. Brain research indicates the brain is capable of doing only a certain number (4-7) of processes at one time (Beckmann, 2010). So a student engaged in constantly decoding and recoding has few processes for comprehension and truly being a proficient reader (Foorman & Mehta, 2002; LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Farstrup & Samuels 2002).

Fluent Readers

Less Fluent Readers

Recognize words automatically

Must focus their attention on decoding the words.

Group words together quickly

So much effort goes into decoding; they have difficulty understanding what they read.

Don’t have to concentrate on decoding words


Give their attention toThe Many Strands that are Woven into Skilled Reading, (Scarborough, 2001). comprehension


Recognize words and comprehend at the same time


Samuels, Schermer, & Reinking, (1992)

The following graphic ( Scarborough, 2001) portrays the complexity of reading and the numerous components that must be woven together, simultaneously by the proficient reader. With regard to language skills, the reader must become increasingly strategic in applying his/her background knowledge, knowledge of word meanings (vocabulary), knowledge of language structures and verbal reasoning. Likewise, the reader’s phonemic awareness, phonemic decoding and encoding, and sight word recognition must be increasingly instantaneous and automatic. The skilled reader is one who is able to weave or coordinate these underlying processes with automaticity which then results in fluency and comprehension:


Reading Fluency - Implications for Best Practice

The “Report of the National Reading Panel” (NICHD, 2000) reviewed two major areas of fluency instruction, guided repeated oral reading and independent silent reading. When practicing fluency, students need to practice at their independent reading level as much as possible. An independent level is when students can read 95% of the text accurately. If material is at a student’s frustration level(able to read less than 90% of the words) it is too difficult for learners. An instructional level is when students are able to read 90-94% of the words accurately. Independent reading materials help to develop fluency and build confidence in developing readers (Allington & Cunningham, 2001). Instructional level materials may also be used to practice fluency with support and guidance from teachers and more capable peers. Round-robin reading is not the most effective practice for developing fluency and should be discouraged in a whole class setting (Ash, Kuhn, & Walpole, 2009). Not enough students receive practice when one student at a time is reading. The more time children spend practicing in appropriate text, the more they develop as skillful readers (Leinhardt, Zigmond & Cooley, 1981; Taylor, Frye, & Maruyama, 1990).

Additionally, strategies such as Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) and Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), do not benefit students’ reading fluency, unless supported with scaffolding options such as “partner reading, reading-while-listening, or other forms of assisted reading ” (Kuhn, Schwanenflugel, & Meisinger, 2010, p. 245). New research from Heibert & Reutzel (in press) addresses the importance of purposeful silent reading and the supports that must be in place to ensure students have the stamina and focus to read independently.

The “Report of the National Reading Panel” (NICHD, 2000) found that guided oral reading that included significant teacher support was more effective in increasing student’s fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Instructional Practices for Fluency

Instructional Practices


Fluency-Oriented Reading Instruction


An integrated approach developed by Stahl for fluency instruction that combines repeated oral reading with teacher and peer-assisted reading. FORI is used during independent silent reading. It can be used with any core reading program and was found to be effective with any grade level (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004).

Repeated Oral Readings


Guided oral reading covers many different procedures. The “Report of the National Reading Panel” (NICHD, 2000) reviewed many repeated reading approaches for whole group and small group including assisted reading, tutor-based techniques such as partner reading, peer tutoring, and cross-age tutoring, and listening while reading.

There are a variety of ways to have students practicing re-reading text orally. Some methods have been developed to improve accuracy and rate and some have been developed to improve prosody. Here are two examples:

  • Echo reading- a teacher or more proficient student reads aloud a sentence, paragraph, or page and then students repeat the read-aloud section. Pointing to the words is necessary for many students and makes it easier for teachers to assess if students are truly reading the words rather than mimicking what was read.
  • Partner reading- various forms of partner reading have proven significant gains in increasing fluency (Eldredge, Reutzel, & Hollingsworth, 1996; Koskinen & Blum, 1986). Partners take turns reading aloud to one another. What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (Farstrup & Samuels, 2002) describes a typical partner reading procedure:
    1. Students who are better readers are paired with students that are less able readers. Fuchs (2002) recommends pairing highest readers with medium readers and medium readers with your lowest readers.
    2. The teacher reads aloud a section of text and points out difficult words and has students repeat those words.
    3. Students practice reading that same passage to one another with the better reader reading first and the other reader following along.
    4. The less able reader reads the same passage and receives guidance from his or her partner.

Rereading the passage a few times until it can be read independently helps the reader gain confidence and increase comprehension. The closer the text is to the reader’s independent level, the more effective the practice will be. See Conducting Partner Reading Routine in the exemplary practices section under fluency.

One consistent finding from the process-product studies of effective teaching (Berliner, 1981), to the experimental work reviewed by the NRP (2000), to Kuhn and Stahl’s (2003) study is that the amount of reading that children do influences their achievement, at least as long as the children are guided and monitored during that reading. But not all practice is equally effective (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004, p. 205).

Timed, repeated oral reading is most appropriate for slow, but accurate readers who need practice to increase their automaticity in reading. Passages selected as practice material should be relatively short (100-250 words) and at the student’s instructional or independent level. To provide sufficient practice, timed, repeated oral reading should take place at least three times a week with no more than one session per day. If a student needs assistance with more than 10% of the words then the passage is too difficult and a less difficult passage needs to be selected. Students need corrective feedback on pronouncing words and reading with expression during the task. Having students monitor their progress and practice setting goals is important to their motivation. Other strategies include phrase-cued reading, choral reading, and partner practice (Honig, Diamond, & Gutlohn, 2008).

The following formula is used to calculate oral reading fluency:

Total Words Read – Errors = Oral Reading Fluency

For more information and Oral Fluency Norms, see Hasbrouck and Tindal, 2006 (Teaching Reading Sourcebook, p.331).

Reading fluency continues to be a factor in comprehension in the adolescent years as well. A body of research demonstrates the subtle effect of fluency in the reading ability of teens. In Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents (Torgesen et al., 2007) the authors assert “Although absolute reading rates do not increase substantially after about sixth grade” reading fluency continues to explain a variance on reading comprehension tests, even in high school. Students must continue to increase the range of words they can recognize at a single glance (sight words) in order to continue to meet grade-level expectations for reading fluency (Torgesen & Hudson, 2006). Normally students continue to increase their store of sight words as they expand their range of reading after elementary school, but if they do not maintain relatively high levels of reading practice, they can fall behind (Torgesen et al., 2007).

Students must be able to identify the new words they encounter in text with reasonable accuracy when they first encounter them (Ehri, 2002). As Torgesen, p. 7) explain:

The most efficient way for readers to identify an unknown word in text is to analyze its phonological or morphological parts to link them to a known word that is part of their general vocabulary, and to confirm their guess by considering whether the newly identified word makes sense in the context of what they are reading.

This accurate word recognition will impact fluency in adolescent readers.

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4. Vocabulary

Vocabulary refers to the words necessary to communicate with others. Because of the verbal nature of our society, knowledge of words and the ability to use language are essential to success in school and vital for achievement in vocations and in society. Large and rich vocabularies are hallmarks of an educated individual (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002). There are two forms of vocabulary—oral and print. A reader encountering a strange word in print can decode the word to speech; and, if the word is in the reader’s oral vocabulary, the reader will be able to understand it. If the word is not in the reader’s oral vocabulary, the reader will have to determine the meaning. Within the two forms, there are four types of vocabulary:

Expressive types of oral and print vocabulary:

    • speaking
    • writing

Receptive types of oral and print vocabulary:

    • listening
    • reading which includes sight words as well as words that can be decoded

A comprehensive analysis of collective research studies suggests that a variety of direct and indirect methods of vocabulary instruction can be effective in vocabulary development (NICHD, 2000). Graves (2000) recommends four components of an effective vocabulary program:

  1. wide or extensive independent reading to expand word knowledge
  2. instruction in specific words to enhance comprehension of texts containing those words
  3. instruction in independent word-learning strategies
  4. word consciousness and word-play activities to motivate and enhance learning

Two instructional practices that improve comprehension are vocabulary related: ongoing, long-term vocabulary instruction (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982) and teaching vocabulary words prior to making reading assignments (Brett, Rothlein, & Hurley, 1996). The importance of vocabulary knowledge has long been recognized in the reading skill development. Vocabulary is critically important in oral reading instruction and profound differences in vocabulary knowledge exist among students. The word knowledge gap between groups of children begins before children enter kindergarten. Hart and Risley (1995) found that three-year olds from advantaged homes had oral vocabularies five times larger than children from disadvantaged homes. According to Wolf (2007), the implication is that when words are not heard, concepts are not learned. When syntactic forms are never encountered, there is less knowledge about the relationship of events in a story, and a lack of understanding of what other people feel and experience. Vocabulary is also important in recognizing words. Young readers use the pronunciation and meanings of the words in their oral vocabulary to recognize words they see in print. When children decode words, they use their initial pronunciation and search their oral vocabulary to make sense of the text. If the word is not in their oral vocabulary, they will have a difficult time recognizing that word in print, even if they accurately decode it. Without intensive intervention, this gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged grows ever larger. This is known as the Matthew Effect where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer (Stanovich 1998).

The range of vocabulary in text grows after third grade.

Expanding students’ word knowledge (vocabulary) after third grade needs to be supported in two principal ways …. First, students learn the meanings of many new words by inferring their meaning from how they are used in text and from their knowledge of word parts (morphemes). In fact, there is reasonable evidence that most of the expansion of students’ vocabulary after third grade comes from their exposure to new words during reading” (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998, p. 3).

Current research also suggests that explicit and systematic instruction in carefully selected new vocabulary should also be part of efforts to increase adolescent reading proficiency (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986). This is particularly true for struggling readers, who are often substantially behind in vocabulary growth (Torgesen et al., 2007).

For adolescent readers, specific content knowledge, vocabulary, about texts they encounter impact comprehension.

There is strong evidence that knowledge related to the content of text being read leads to better reading comprehension … Students are expected to learn from increasingly technical expository texts during adolescence, and their knowledge base must continue to grow in order to meet the demands of this text. In order to increase students’ depth of understanding and to increase their knowledge base efficiently, texts that students encounter in the higher grades are written using increasingly significant assumptions about what students already know. Thus, students who do not keep pace with the increasing demands content-area texts place on prior knowledge will fall further and further behind in their ability to construct the meaning of the text. As with vocabulary, or word knowledge, students acquire conceptual knowledge and understanding through both broad and deep reading and through explicit instruction from content-area teachers (Torgesen et al., 2007, p.8).

Vocabulary – Implications for Best Practice

Vocabulary should be taught directly and explicitly even though a great deal of vocabulary is learned indirectly through wide reading. The “Report of the National Reading Panel” (NICHD, 2000) identified the importance of instructional methods that include active engagement in word learning, multiple repetitions, and the use of computers and multimedia presentations (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004). Active engagement is critical for learning vocabulary and the use of these words in student’s reading, writing, and speaking. A number of studies have identified active engagement, when students are involved in an active rather than a passive manner with words,as an important factor in students learning vocabulary. Senechal (1997) reported that pre-kindergarten children learned more when they answered questions during the reading of a story instead of when the story was read straight through without questions. Baker, Simmons, & Kame’enui (1995, p. 209) state that “vocabulary acquisition is critical to academic development, not only do students need a rich body of word knowledge to succeed in basic skill areas; they also need a specialized vocabulary to learn content area material.” Dole, Sloan, & Trathen (1995) found that having students consistently participate actively in learning words is the best approach. Specific examples for instruction include providing clear, accessible explanations, fortified with visual illustrations, including examples of word meanings with multiple exposures to the word in various contexts, having students act out the definitions, creating mental images, using words in writing, and actively applying word learning strategies to infer meanings. Consequently, the larger the reader’s vocabulary (either oral or print), the easier it is to make sense of the text.

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5. Reading Comprehension

Comprehension is the active process of constructing meaning from text; it involves assessing previous knowledge, understanding vocabulary and concepts, making inferences and linking key ideas (RAND Reading Study Group 2002) . Comprehension, the primary purpose for reading, is an active process requiring an intentional and thoughtful interaction between the reader and the text. Harris & Hodges (1995, p. 39) define comprehension as “the construction of the meaning of a written text through a reciprocal interchange of ideas between the reader and the message in a particular text.” The "Report of the National Reading Panel" (NICHD, 2000) reviewed research on comprehension instruction in three areas: vocabulary instruction, comprehension strategy instruction, and preparing teachers to teach comprehension. Readers who are taught comprehension strategy instruction make significant gains on comprehension compared to students who are trained in more traditional ways such as answering factual information questions (Pressley, 1989; Rosenshine, B., Meister and Chapman, 1996). Rote instruction will not build strong reading comprehension. Rather, it is learned through intentional instruction and exposure to multiple strategies that build understanding. The effective reading processes and strategies of proficient readers can be explicitly taught to all students and doing so improves their comprehension (NICHD, 2000).

Reading Comprehension - Implications for Best Practice

The "Report of the National Reading Panel" (NICHD, 2000) concluded that strategies employed by effective readers can be explicitly taught to improve reading comprehension. Analyzing 203 studies of comprehension strategy instruction, the panel found research support for eight direct, explicit instructional strategies.

  1. Comprehension Monitoring Good readers are highly cognitive (Garner, 1987). Baker and Brown (1984, p. 353) explain meta-cogntion as “the knowledge and control the child has over his or her own thinking and learning activities, including reading.” Readers use monitoring or self-listening when reading silently, out loud, or listening to others read (Elliott-Faust & Pressley, 1986). Readers monitor their own comprehension by noticing when they start to lose meaning of the text they are reading. Once they realize they have lost the meaning they apply one or more fix-up strategies, which range from the simplicity of rereading to the complexity of summarizing (Taylor & Frye, 1992).
  2. Cooperative Learning This strategy places students with a partner or in a small group and the teacher provides clearly defined tasks that require full participation from each student. Group members help each other increase their knowledge by explaining material they are working on in their own words (Klingner, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998). The RAND Reading Study Group (RRSG)(2002, p. 41) found that “teachers who give students choices, challenging tasks, and collaborative learning structures increase their motivation to read and comprehend text.”
  3. Graphic Organizers This strategy helps readers to display relationships of ideas with diagrams, pictorial devices, and story maps. Graphic representations help readers to organize their ideas and understand the essential learning at a deeper level. In the book Comprehension Instruction, (2002), p. 179, editors Pressley and Block note the review of 11 studies that used graphic organizers with readers in grades 4 through 8. The findings identified that teaching readers to use systematic, visual graphs in order to organize ideas benefited readers in remembering what they read and improved comprehension and achievement in social studies and science.
  4. Story Structure Narrative text is organized into common elements that include the setting, initiating events, internal reactions, goals, attempts, and outcomes. Because all stories can be analyzed by these elements, the reader can comprehend stories better with knowledge of these elements than without such knowledge (Greenwald & Rossing, 1986; Singer & Dolan, 1982). Using story structure helps the reader develop a deeper understanding of the story by being able to answer the questions of, who, what, why, when, and how. It also helps the reader to construct more coherent memory representations of the story (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004). Teachers can teach story structure through the use of questioning and graphic organizers. Pressley & Block (2002) note the review of 17 studies that identified teaching students story structure improved comprehension, for all readers and especially less able readers in grades 3 through 6.
  5. Questioning Answering Students are often asked to answer questions at the end or during the reading of a section of text. When little to no guidance is provided, students may experience difficulties answering the questions. Strategy instruction, including teaching students how to answer the questions and locating the answers within the text, can help. Also, asking the questions before the reading and modeling for students how to find the answers while they are reading helps improve students’ comprehension and recall of information (King, 1994; Davey & McBride, 1986; Rosenhire, Meister, & Chapman, 1996). Teaching this strategy also helps students to learn that not all answers are right in the text and that they have to use their own knowledge or another resource to find the complete answer. Since answering questions is a prevalent assessment practice, taking the time to teach students how to answer questions correctly is critical, especially for struggling students (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004).
  6. Question Generation Skilled readers use questioning to focus on connecting the content they are reading to their prior knowledge . Generating questions helps the reader to predict about the text and to identify aspects of the writer’s perspective and style. Teachers model the process of generating questions during reading aloud and then provide guided practice with students in generating their own questions during reading. Evaluating student questions to determine if important information was covered helps teachers assess student success or failure comprehending the text and then provide additional explicit instruction as needed ( Pressley & Block, 2002). A meta-analysis of the research found there was strong support for using question generation as a strategy of helping students improve their comprehension (Roshenshine, 1996).
  7. Summarization Harris & Hodges (1995) explain a summary as a “brief statement that contains the essential ideas of a longer passage or selection.” Summarizing forces the reader to focus on the most critical information in the text and not on the details. It forces the reader to process the text by disregarding irrelevant information (McCardle & Chhabra, 2004). Rinehart, Stahl, & Erickson (1986) identify that summarizing is effective in improving comprehension but not many students are explicitly taught how to summarize and few develop the skills necessary to draft good summaries. Teachers begin by teaching students how to identify a topic sentence, disregard irrelevant information, and find the main ideas within paragraphs. Then, students can move to finding the main ideas within a multiple paragraph passage. Pressley & Block (2002) note the analysis of 18 studies on summarization instruction in grades 3-8. The analysis concludes that providing instruction in summarization improved the quality of summaries and improved memory of what was read through retell and the answering of questions.
  8. Vocabulary Instruction “Vocabulary instruction promotes word knowledge that enhances text comprehension. It is a part of normal content area learning. Having a strong vocabulary leads to better reading and listening comprehension and to improvement in course achievement.”(Pressley & Block, 2004, p. 182). See the vocabulary section of this framework for additional information.

The Use of Multiple Strategies

The “Report of the National Reading Panel” (NICHD, 2000) regards the need for multiple comprehension strategies instruction as its most important finding. Instead of teaching strategies and skills in isolation, multiple strategy instruction teaches students to apply comprehension strategies flexibly and interchangeably (Liang & Dole, 2006; RAND Reading Study Group (RRSG). (2002).). McCardle & Chhabra (2004) describe multiple strategies in the following two paragraphs. They write:

Although there are clear improvements in comprehension as a result of using any of the strategies noted so far , it is the case that skilled readers often use more than one strategy. In multiple strategy instruction, students are taught how to adapt the strategies and use them flexibly, according to the task (Pressley, Gaskins, Wile, Cunicelli, & Sheridean, 1991). Cooperative learning or peer tutoring may be used as a part of multiple strategies instruction.

One of the most well-known examples of multiple strategy instruction is reciprocal teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 1984). In reciprocal teaching, the teacher models and explains what strategies are and when to use them. Readers are guided in applying and practicing strategies while reading a passage. Ultimately students practice and implement each strategy independently. One feature of reciprocal teaching is that students assume the role of the teacher as well as that of the student. This feature is not the central characteristic of the strategy; rather, it may be a key element in learning what the strategies are and how they work.( p. 225).

Adolescent readers also benefit from instruction on comprehension strategies. Findings described in Torgesen et al. (2007, p. 9) indicate:

Studies of more and less effective readers both during and beyond the initial stages of learning to read have repeatedly shown that proficient readers are much more likely to use a variety of purposeful strategies to enhance their comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000; Perfetti, Landi, & Oakhill, 2005). These strategies include self-directed activities such as rereading in order to resolve confusion, paraphrasing to enhance memory and understanding, making explicit connections from the text to prior knowledge and to other parts of the text, underlining and note taking, and visualizing relationships and events in the text. Good readers more actively monitor their comprehension as they are reading, and they use their knowledge of comprehension strategies to improve their understanding or to repair it when it breaks down (Pressley, 2000). As text becomes more complicated in middle and high school, and as the demands for learning from text (particularly expository text) increase, students must become more sophisticated in both the range and the flexibility of their reading comprehension strategies in order to maintain or accelerate their level of reading proficiency (Duke & Pearson, 2002). One of the most common suggestions from the research literature on adolescent literacy is that more effective instruction and support in the use of multiple, coordinated reading comprehension strategies is required in order to improve overall levels of literacy in older students (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006).

Other findings in Torgesen et al. (2007, p. 27-28) provide more guidance on comprehension instruction for adolescent readers.

Looking across experimental studies of the effectiveness of comprehension strategies, we found that several common features seem critical to the success of this type of instruction; these features are also noted in the “Report of the National Reading Panel” (NICHD, 2000).

  1. Initial discussions that help students become more aware of their own cognitive processes and learn about strategies they can use to help increase their understanding of what they are reading. Such discussions help establish the purpose of the work the students will be doing to improve their comprehension.
  2. Explicit instruction from the teacher about the particular strategies being learned, with frequent think-aloud demonstrations by the teacher to show how the strategy is used during reading. This instruction includes a discussion of why the strategy can be useful, how to do it, and when it is appropriate to use. Teacher modeling of strategy use is essential.
  3. Extended opportunities for students to practice using the strategies in meaningful literacy activities. Sometimes this practice is structured as small-group activities that encourage student discussion of both the text’s meaning and how they are using the strategy to help them understand; sometimes it involves whole-class discussions. The purpose of this instruction and practice is to gradually transfer responsibility for selecting and using strategies from the teacher to the students.

Researchers have noted a number of important issues in implementing comprehension strategy instruction, including:

  1. Balance. Finding a balance between content and strategy instruction that responds to the needs of all students is important. The ideal approach is to use strategy instruction as a vehicle for effective content teaching and learning. Klingner et al. (1998) provide at least one demonstration that it is possible to do this.
  2. Involvement. Using small-group interactions effectively to increase the involvement of underachieving students and facilitate active discussion of both content and strategies is critical. Both Klingner et al. (1998) and Guthrie et al. (2004; reviewed on page 50 of this document) have shown how comprehension strategies themselves can provide a structure for small-group text-related discussions that not only increase student involvement but also foster learning of content and strategies. Other examples of this principle appear in work on cooperative learning (Stevens, Slavin, & Farnish, 1991).
  3. Number of strategies. The consensus is that it is useful to teach students more than one comprehension strategy, but it is not clear how many strategies can be effectively taught in any given period of time. The answer will likely vary, depending on teacher skill, student abilities, instructional group size, and the time available for instruction.
  4. Time for professional development. It takes time for teachers to become skilled in providing this type of instruction. One group with substantial experience in training teachers to provide comprehension strategy instruction (Brown, Pressley, Van Meter, & Schuder, 1996) found that it often took several years for teachers to become skilled at teaching students to use multiple comprehension strategies flexibly and adaptively.

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