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What We Have Learned about Early Reading

My colleagues and I at the Center for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC) have been working with and learning from young readers for more than two decades. Very early on, we recognized that many emerging readers benefit from systematic phonics and sight word instruction. To that end, we collaborated  with Dr. John Shefelbine at California State University, Sacramento to develop and produce SIPPS® (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics and Sight Words). SIPPS is now used as an early reading or intervention program in thousands of classrooms across the country. Widespread adoption of SIPPS and our reading comprehension program Making Meaning have allowed us to work side by side with teachers in order to research and develop our approach to early reading instruction.

As we have observed and taught in classrooms, we developed a shared understanding of what young learners need to develop and grow into strong and enthusiastic readers. We have also identified some specific areas where students (and their teachers) most often struggle. Below is a list of some of our core learnings and beliefs about about how students develop into self-directed, independent readers who love and value reading.

  • Systematic instruction in phonological awareness, phonics, and sight words is essential for many students and has been proven to accelerate students’ reading development.
    • A research-based scope and sequence builds students’ decoding skills incrementally.
    • Every child learns to read along a developmental continuum at his or her own pace. Effective early reading instruction meets children where they are on the continuum.
    • Effective instruction meets students at their point of need. Teaching students who are not yet ready for new phonics understanding is inefficient and ineffective.
    • Teaching students phonics they already know slows their progress. We believe in teaching students only the phonics they need to develop into fluent readers. We have learned that instruction in phonics and decoding is most effective when done in small groups where students are grouped by need.
  • Many students struggle to make the transition from traditional early phonics readers into easy-to-read leveled trade books. The struggle to make the transition is a barrier for students as they work to become fluent readers.
  • Students need a wide variety of rich literacy experiences  early in their school lives. These experiences include hearing stories and poems read aloud, chanting and singing songs, clapping out syllables and finding rhyming words, and acting out stories. These experiences are critical for all students, but are especially valuable for English learners.
  • Students also need to do a high volume of independent reading in increasingly challenging books. Wide reading is critical to developing fluency, deep comprehension, and a large working vocabulary.
  • To take the risks they need to be successful and fully develop as learners, children need a safe place where they experience a sense of community in school. Social and emotional learning is just as critical as academic instruction. Powerful literacy development occurs in a nurturing and caring community.

Our newest program for beginning reading, the Being A Reader program, is underpinned by these beliefs. The multi-faceted instructional model relies on our many  years of experience working with a wide range of  readers. The Being a Reader program is designed to address what we believe about how young children best develop as readers and as caring and principled people.

You can learn more about Being a Reader here, or at our webinar on Thursday, February 25. We hope you'll join us.

Peter Brunn is the vice president of organizational learning and communications at Center for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC). Previously at CCC, he was the director of professional development, director of staff development, the assistant director of CCC’s Reading Project, and a staff developer. Before coming to CCC, Peter was a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and worked in New York City public schools helping teachers implement reading and writing workshops in their classrooms. Peter received his master’s degree in curriculum and teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University, and his undergraduate degree in history from Marquette University. Peter is also the author of The Lesson Planning Handbook: Essential Strategies That Inspire Student Thinking and Learning, published by Scholastic. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pdbrunn.

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