There have been numerous one-size-fits-all programmatic responses to the complex learning that takes place in the brain when a child learns to read and write. If teaching children to read was a simple sequence of teaching moves that all children should pass through, most children would have learned to read and write successfully.
Our students depend on our expertise: our expertise in understanding the alphabetic system and how it works; our understanding of texts and their challenges and opportunities; and an understanding of the unique strengths and needs of each learner and how their in-the-head literacy processing system is changing over time.
Know Your Readers
Beginning with your skill in observing how a child interacts with print, you develop an understanding of how a child is putting together an early literacy processing system. When you abandon all your presuppositions about a child and pause from teaching to listen carefully to what the child can do, you can observe more and learn more about the child you are teaching. The better you know the children the better you can teach them.
Set your eyes on what the child can already do and work from there. If you have learned to code the reading behaviors you observe using the coding system of running records (Clay, 2005), you can step back and capture the complexity of the child’s literacy processing in a standardized way and you will have clear evidence that no child reads the same text in exactly the same way. And that means your precise responses to each child within the act of teaching will need to fit what the child can do, can almost do, and cannot yet do in order to shift the child’s learning. And this means that your focus is on the individual child and the child’s repertoire, and your specific response to the child, not on teaching the book or the next lesson in the program.
A Strong Literacy Processing System
The child builds an in-the-head system for processing print. Your teaching influences what the child can learn how to do by your facilitative moves. As you teach on the cutting edge of the child’s competencies, you can lead the child’s learning forward (Vygotsky, 1978).
Sometimes you need to do nothing and just wait for the child to problem-solve. Other times you will need to show the child how to do something he does not yet know how to do, or you may need to prompt the child to do something he already knows how to do, and sometimes you may simply need to confirm an effective move by the reader so he continues to work in that way.
The Curriculum of Effective Literacy Processing: The Lighthouse for Teaching Moves
As a literacy teacher, your understanding of the composite of competencies that are characteristic of effective reading and writing and how they change over time will set the pathway for your teaching. A complete description of reading, writing, language and phonics behaviors to notice, teach for and support for whole group, small group, and individual teaching is described in The Literacy Continuum (Fountas & Pinnell, 2017).
Alongside your understanding of an effective literacy processing system are the most important tools of reading – beautiful books that engage children’s heart and minds, are relevant to their lives, and expand their view of the world. You may collect a variety of additional tools and resources, but don’t lose sight of real books in kids’ hands and continue to develop your expertise in making teaching decisions as you design the children’s literacy experiences.
There is no reading program that can take the place of your expertise in leading each of your students forward as they learn to read effectively and find the joy in their reading and writing lives.
Clay, M. M. (2005). Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, Part One: Why? When? and How? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Fountas, I.C., & Pinnell, G.S (2017) The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum : A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching (Expanded ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann