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Reading instruction- text selection for Primary School students.

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I have written quite a bit about the importance of decodable readers and why they are a necessity for any evidence-based literacy instruction. Please see my overview of some of the most common decodable readers on the market here!

I am the Literacy Coordinator/Specialist in a large school in Western Australia. I am going to describe exactly what our reading program looks like and how we select texts to target decoding (phonics), comprehension, fluency and vocabulary.  Our reading instruction and text selection is aligned with evidence-based practice, much of which is described in the report by Kerry Hempenstall and Jennifer Buckinham, available here.

As a school, we have purchased all of the Phonic Books Dandelion Series ( up to Level 4) as well as all the Catch-Up remedial reader series. These are organised into the Initial Phonics Code (introducing simple letter-sound relationships, common digraphs, blends) and the Extended Phonics Code (difficult vowel digraphs, alternative graphemes to represent sounds, multisyllabic words etc). We have sets of each text so that they are used in reading groups every day throughout the whole school for emergent and remedial reading students. This was quite an expensive investment (about $12, 000) but this is a game changer in literacy instruction!

Initially when students are learning to read, we just use the Dandelion Readers during reading groups (Initial Code). During reading groups, the focus is on DECODING of the text (not comprehension). It is important these texts are used to build fluency after students have already been explicitly taught the phonics concept (I.e.  vowel digraph ‘oo’ would be taught prior to exposing student to the ‘oo’ Dandelion text).

As the focus is on phonics/decoding during reading groups, we target comprehension orally through shared reading sessions on the mat using  high quality literature with Tier 2 vocabulary  highlighted and expanded. Blank Level Questions/Concepts are taught and used for assessment of comprehension. There are a number of research-aligned strategies which should be included during shared reading sessions to promote oral language and comprehension. These include:

  1. Focus on narrative macrostructure elements – explicitly teaching story grammar components using icons (we use the narrative icons from the Black Sheep Press narrative pack for all our book sharing activities!).
  2. Using a range of open-ended inferential comprehension strategies to promote inferential thinking.
  3. Use think-alouds to model and promote inferential thinking (e.g. I wonder why the mouse ran away? I think the donkey might be feel lonely because his eyes look sad and his head is down).
  4. Use scaffolding and questioning to support children in answering inferential questions (e.g. rephrasing the question, giving semantic and phonemic cues, providing the start of a sentence).

Once students finish the Initial Code, we use the Extended Code decodable texts which include variant correspondences of sounds (i.e different graphemes which represent the same sound). For example, the variant correspondences for the long /ay/ sound are: a_e, ae, ai, ay etc. Once Extended Code decodable readers are introduced, we also start to introduce other readers/chapter books which contain rich vocabulary. This is when we focus on reading comprehension through rich discussions of events, inferential questioning and explicit teaching of Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary. Comprehension strategies are also explicitly taught and modelled, and students are provided with guided opportunities to apply these strategies to their text.

In addition to the decodable readers and short texts, we have established a novel spine for students who are reading at an age appropriate level in Year 2 and above (fluent readers).  A novel spine is a selection of novels assigned to each year group, so that by the time they finish Primary School- they would have completed at least 10 novel studies prior to entering High School. The novel spine includes books such as Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlotte’s Web, Paper Planes, Coraline, Blue Back, Us Mob Walawurru and  City of Ember. For more information on implementing a novel spine in your Primary School, read my blog post here. 

I hope you find this information useful! For my research-informed posts and ideas, follow me on Instagram @thespeechieteach

5 thoughts on “Reading instruction- text selection for Primary School students.”

  1. Hi, as a teacher librarian I’ve been asked to gather a team of teachers to select books for each of our year levels to use in a similar way you are. This is to complement our synthetic phonics approach. I know our collection very well so I have many suggestions, however I have a few questions. How many texts do you offer each year level? How many do they use each year in class? What criteria guided you with your selections? How many copies of each book are in your collections? Do all books selected have teacher notes and did your teachers help to create them for those that weren’t available? I appreciate any advice you can offer. Di

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    1. Hi Di! Firstly, I am so sorry it took me so long to reply! Ideally there would an assortment of high quality picture books that each year has access to for shared reading, but we have approx 4-5 on the spine for each year group. I believe students should be read to every day, but perhaps an in-depth picture book comprehension unit would be 1 book every week. We have approx 10-12 copies of each picture book on the spine, to allow for shared comprehension activities (e.g. sticking macrostructure pictures on the relevant pages in pairs). We also have a novel spine which consists of 2-4 novels per year group from Year 2-6. Only a small amount of our Year 2 students are ready for the novel spine (e.g. Fantastic Mr Fox), so we only require about 10 novels. However, in Year 6, we keep class sets of novels. The process of selecting the picture books and novels was based on recommendations from Speech Pathology Australia, Children’s Book Awards, discussing texts with other literacy leaders at different schools and involving the staff on texts they wish to teach. I am happy to send you our picture book and novel spine if you would like- just flick me an email to stephanie.hatton@education.wa.edu.au

      Best Regards

      Steph

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