What are the characteristics of effective literacy instruction?
Effective instruction for students who struggle with reading should be systematic. It should be systematic in that it follows a scope and sequence that builds in level of difficulty and complexity while also building in time for review for students to practice skills they have already learned.
It should also be explicit. Explicit instruction that is teacher directed has been proven to be more effective through research than less teacher directed, less explicit instruction. Explicit instruction involves several components. The first is the teacher explanation. The teacher explanation should be short and concise. It should provide an objective or a target area of learning for that part of the lesson, and the quicker the teacher explanation is, the more time there is for students to respond to instruction. So, quick and concise is key with a teacher explanation.
The next component of explicit instruction is a teacher model. The teacher model should show students exactly what is expected for a response. Once students know what is expected the model can be dropped to provide additional practice opportunities for students within the lesson.
The signal is an important part of explicit instruction as well. The signal includes four parts. It's the focus, the cue, think time, and then a signal for response. A focus shows students exactly what they are working on in the task at hand. A cue is a quick reminder of what they are being asked to do, such as "sound" if they're working on sounds practice. Think time is a crucial component of the signal. The think time allows all students to think about and formulate their response before students give the response in unison as a group. And then the signal to respond shows that all students are ready to respond and all students take part in the practice opportunity.
Another component of explicit instruction is multiple opportunities to respond. Which the signal that we just mentioned helps with that. Multiple opportunities to respond could be through the use of whiteboards, or response cards for students. You could also have students work in small groups or work with pairs in a think-pair-share model, where students think about their answers, share them with a partner, before sharing out as a whole group. The big part with multiple opportunities to respond are that all students are practicing and all students are engaged in the lesson.
Choral responding is another way that you could have students engage, where all students are responding to the response, in a quick and concise way when answers are the same and short. The pacing of your lesson should be quick and perky to allow all students the opportunity to respond to your instruction and it keeps them engaged as your lesson moves along. One part of your pacing is to remember to add in that think time for each component students are working on. So, embed that into your pacing for all students to have time to think and practice as part of your lesson.
Another component of explicit instruction is immediate error correction. Errors should be corrected immediately, in a non-punitive tone, and it consists of two parts for your error correction. The first part is the actual error correction. The teacher models the correct answer and students practice that correct answer. The second component of error correction is part firming. So, students move on from the item that they missed and then loop back later in instruction to make sure that the efficient error correction was effective.
Checks for understanding should be frequently embedded throughout your explicit instruction lesson. Frequent checks for understanding can be used to ensure that students are mastering the content that you are teaching or it can identify areas where students need additional practice throughout the lesson. Two to three individual turns is sufficient for each component of your lesson. If all students are given individual turns for each component of the lesson it takes away from student practice opportunities for everyone as you're teaching. Through systematic explicit instruction students are given multiple opportunities to practice and they are given the supports they need to promote literacy development.
Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade - U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, What Works Clearinghouse.
Jess Surles is a Professional Development Coach for reading instruction at the Center on Teaching and Learning at the University of Oregon.