Early Reading Strategy


The Report of the Expert Panel on Early Reading in Ontario, 2003


Effective Reading Instruction

Effective classroom instruction in the early grades is key to creating strong, competent readers and to preventing reading difficulties. When a child enters school, it is the teacher's role to provide effective reading instruction. Although many others share responsibility for creating a supportive learning environment, it is the teacher who has the greatest opportunity and most direct responsibility for providing the instruction that inspires and enables the child to become a lifelong reader.

In the past 30 years, much research has been conducted on how children learn to read and on the most effective strategies for supporting reading achievement. Recently there has been a convergence of evidence about the knowledge, skills, and supports that children need to become proficient readers and about how to deliver these in the classroom. With this evidence to inform their practices, teachers can now be better equipped than ever to plan and deliver effective reading instruction, and to involve the whole school, the home, and the community in helping every child become a successful reader by the end of Grade 3.

The foundations of good reading are the same for all children, regardless of their gender, background, or special learning needs. All children use the same processes in learning to read. Some will need more help than others and may need more instruction in one reading skill than another, but all children must ultimately master the same basic skills for fluency and comprehension.

The focus of this report is on reading instruction in primary classrooms, but reading does not happen in isolation. The three strands of the language curriculum – oral and visual communication, reading, and writing – are interwoven. Oral language is the basis for literacy development, particularly in the early primary years. Children need oral language and writing skills in order to be proficient in reading; conversely, they need to be proficient readers in order to further develop their oral language and writing skills. Although instructional strategies for oral language and writing are not discussed in detail here, they are essential for teaching children to read. They need to be integrated in all subject areas and encouraged at every opportunity.

This section of the report outlines the essential, interactive components of effective reading instruction. It addresses the following: the goals of reading instruction; knowledge and skills that children need to become effective readers; instruction; and assessment, evaluation, and reporting.

The Framework for Effective Early Reading Instruction (figure 1) reminds teachers to include all of these components in their classroom reading programs to ensure that their students become successful readers and achieve the expectations of the Ontario language curriculum. All of the components are important, but the degree of emphasis on specific knowledge and skills will depend on the child's age, grade, and stage of reading development.

Figure 1. A Framework for Effective Early Reading Instruction

A Framework for Effective Early Reading Instruction

Goals of Reading Instruction

Reading is the process of constructing meaning from a written text. Effective early reading instruction enables all children to become fluent readers who comprehend what they are reading, can apply and communicate their knowledge and skills in new contexts, and have a strong motivation to read.

The framework in figure 1 identifies three main goals for reading instruction:

  • Fluency is the ability to identify words accurately and read text quickly with good expression. Fluency comes from practice in reading easy books about familiar subjects. These texts primarily contain familiar, high-frequency words so that the child will encounter few unfamiliar words. As children develop fluency, they improve in their ability to read more expressively, with proper phrasing, thus gaining more of the text's meaning.

  • Comprehension is the ability to understand, reflect on, and learn from text. To ensure that children develop comprehension skills, effective reading instruction builds on their prior knowledge and experience, language skills, and higher-level thinking.

  • Motivation to read is the essential element for actively engaging children in the reading process. It is the fuel that lights the fire and keeps it burning. Children need to be immersed in a literacy-rich environment, filled with books, poems, pictures, charts, and other resources that capture their interest and make them want to read for information and pleasure.

These three goals are interconnected, and the strategies for achieving them work together synergistically.

Knowledge and Skills for Reading

Children need to learn a variety of skills and strategies in order to become proficient readers. In the earliest stages, they need to understand what reading is about and how it works – that what can be spoken can also be written down and read by someone else. Some children will have already grasped the basic concepts before entering school, but many will need explicit instruction to set the context for reading. When children first experience formal reading instruction in school, they need to learn specific things about oral language, letters, and words. They need to understand how print works, and be able to connect print with the sounds and words in oral language. Once they can demonstrate these skills, the emphasis shifts to developing fluency. Fluency at this level involves recognizing words in text quickly and without effort. This will allow the children to read with increasing enjoyment and understanding. Fluency is critical if they are to move from learning to read to reading to learn. The role of primary teachers, working as a team, is to move children from the earliest awareness of print to the reading-to-learn stage, where they will become independent, successful, and motivated readers.

According to research, the knowledge and skills that children need in order to read with fluency and comprehension include: oral language; prior knowledge and experience; concepts about print; phonemic awareness; letter-sound relationships; vocabulary; semantics and syntax; metacognition; and higher-order thinking skills. These are not isolated concepts taught in a lock-step sequence; they are interrelated components that support and build on each other.

Oral Language

Children come to reading with considerable oral language experience. They acquire most of what they know about oral language by listening and speaking with others, including their families, peers, and teachers. Through experience with oral language, children build the vocabulary, semantic knowledge (awareness of meaning), and syntactic knowledge (awareness of structure) that form a foundation for reading and writing. Children who are proficient in oral language have a solid beginning for reading. This knowledge allows them to identify words accurately and to predict and interpret what the written language says and means.

Not all children begin school with a solid foundation in oral language. Some children come from language-impoverished backgrounds where they have little opportunity to develop a rich vocabulary and complex language structures. These children may or may not be native speakers of English or French. Other children have a history of speech and language difficulties and may have smaller vocabularies and less mature grammar than their peers. Children with mild hearing impairment may find it difficult to make fine distinctions between similar speech sounds. These children require instruction that increases their oral language abilities (including phonemic awareness, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and the oral expression of ideas) in conjunction with reading skills.

It is important to remember that, although some children who speak a first language or dialect that is different from the language of instruction may begin school with a limited vocabulary in the language of instruction, they may have strong conceptual knowledge and a rich language foundation on which to build fluency and comprehension in their new language. The key for these children is to provide support for building strong bridges from the known to the new.

For the benefit of all children, teachers should constantly model language structures that are more elaborate and varied than the ones children use outside of school, and should engage the children in using these structures and variations for themselves. Children need frequent opportunities to ask and answer questions, participate in discussions, and classify information in order to develop their capacity for higher-order, critical thinking.

The importance of oral language as a foundation for reading has significant implications in the French-language school system. Because French is used by a minority of Ontarians, children have limited opportunities to hear and speak it outside of school. For some children, school is the only place where French is used systematically. It is therefore imperative that the school provide an environment where children can experience the language in a living way. Children must have many opportunities to speak French, both in the classroom and during extracurricular activities. By allowing time for in-class discussions and by providing a rich vocabulary, teachers help children to develop their fluency in French.

Prior Knowledge and Experience

In order that children may understand what they are reading, it is important that they come to the text with a variety of experiences that will allow them to appreciate the concepts embedded in the text. These experiences enable them to anticipate the content, and such anticipation leads to easier decoding of the text and deeper understanding of its meaning.

Prior knowledge and experience refers to the world of understanding that children bring to school. Research on the early stages of learning indicates that children begin to make sense of their world at a very young age. In many parts of Ontario, children enter school from a variety of countries and cultures. Thus their prior knowledge and experiences may differ considerably from those of their classmates and teachers, and they may find it difficult to relate to the context and content of the resources generally used in Ontario classrooms. On the other hand, they may have a wealth of knowledge and experiences that can enhance the learning of their classmates. Teachers need to be aware of children's backgrounds, cultures, and experiences in order to provide appropriate instruction. By creating rich opportunities for all children to share prior knowledge and related experiences, teachers will engage the interest of children from various backgrounds and ensure that they will better understand what they read.

Concepts About Print

When children first encounter print, they are not aware that the symbols on the page represent spoken language or that they convey meaning. The term concepts about print refers to awareness of how language is conveyed in print. These concepts include: directionality (knowing that English or French text is read from left to right and top to bottom); differences between letters and words (words are made of letters, and there are spaces between words); awareness of capitalization and punctuation; diacritic signs (e.g., accents in French); and common characteristics of books (such as the front/back, title, and author).

Young children can be taught these concepts by interacting with and observing experienced readers (including teachers and family members) who draw their attention to print and give them opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts. Teachers need to provide children with a variety of printed materials for practice, including books, big books, charts, and environmental print (such as signs and labels).

Phonemic Awareness

Children need to learn that the words we say are made up of sounds. This understanding is called phonemic awareness. Research has confirmed that phonemic awareness is a crucial foundation for word identification. Phonemic awareness helps children learn to read; without it, children struggle and continue to have reading difficulties. The evidence also shows that phonemic awareness can be taught and that the teacher's role in the development of phonemic awareness is essential for most children.

Phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge account for more of the variation in early reading and spelling success than general intelligence, overall maturity level, or listening comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2000). They are the basis for learning an alphabetic writing system. (Learning First Alliance, 2000, p. 14)

Children who have phonemic awareness are able to identify and manipulate the individual sounds in oral language. They demonstrate this, for example, in recognizing that the spoken word "ship" consists of three distinct sounds: sh + i + p. In English there are about 44 speech sounds and in French 36. The number of individual speech sounds in other languages varies. In learning a second language, children may encounter speech sounds that do not exist in their home language, and so they may need more time to develop phonemic awareness in the language of instruction.

In order for children to develop phonemic awareness, teachers need to engage them in playing with and manipulating the sounds of language. This can be accomplished through songs, rhymes, and activities that require children to blend individual sounds together to form words in their heads, and by breaking words they hear into their constituent sounds. Blending and segmentation of speech sounds in oral language provide an essential foundation for reading and writing. Phonemic awareness prepares children for decoding and encoding the sounds of the language in print.

Letter-Sound Relationships

Building on the foundation of phonemic awareness and concepts about print, children are ready to understand that there is a way to connect the sounds they hear with the print on the page in order to make meaning. In both the English and French writing systems, one letter may not necessarily represent one single sound, and so it is important that children receive systematic and explicit instruction about correspondences between the speech sounds and individual letters and groups of letters.

Phonics instruction teaches children the relationships between the letters (graphemes) of written language and the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language. Research has shown that systematic and explicit phonics instruction is the most effective way to develop childrens' ability to identify words in print.

Vocabulary for Reading

Children need a broad vocabulary of words that they understand and can use correctly to label their knowledge and experiences. The breadth and depth of a child's vocabulary provide the foundation for successful comprehension. Oral vocabulary refers to words that are used in speaking or recognized in listening. Reading vocabulary refers to words that are recognized or used in print.

Vocabulary development involves coming to understand unfamiliar words and being able to use them appropriately. It is a huge challenge for children to read words that are not already part of their oral vocabulary. To develop their students' vocabulary, teachers need to model how to use a variety of strategies in order to understand what words mean (e.g., using the surrounding context, or using smaller, meaningful parts of words, such as prefixes or suffixes). Good teaching includes selecting material for reading aloud that will expand children's oral vocabulary, and providing opportunities for children to see and use new reading vocabulary in different contexts. Recent research on vocabulary instruction indicates that children learn most of their vocabulary indirectly by engaging daily in oral language, listening to adults read to them, and reading extensively on their own. Research also shows that some vocabulary must be taught directly. This can be done by introducing specific words before reading, providing opportunities for active engagement with new words, and repeating exposure to the vocabulary in many contexts.

Even children who have a very extensive oral vocabulary may have great difficulty reading words in print because they have a small reading vocabulary. The reading vocabulary – often referred to as sight vocabulary – is determined mainly by how many times a child has seen those words in print. Children who read a lot have a large pool of words they recognize immediately on sight; children who do little reading have a limited sight vocabulary. To increase their students' sight vocabularies so they can recognize a large proportion of the words in print, teachers need to focus their instruction and practice on the most commonly used words in the language.

Semantics, Syntax, and Pragmatics

Although words alone carry meaning, reading for the most part involves the deciphering of phrases and sentences, which depends on both the words and how those words are organized. Therefore, it is important to spend instructional time not only on the meanings of individual words but also on the meanings of phrases and complete sentences. 1

Semantics refers to meaning in language, including the meaning of words, phrases, and sentences. Syntax refers to the predictable structure of a language and the ways that words are combined to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. Syntax includes classes of words (such as noun, verb, and adjective) and their functions (such as subject and object). Semantic and syntactic knowledge are important because they help children to identify words in context and lead to deeper levels of comprehension. Beginning readers may not need to be able to define noun or verb, but they need to understand that a word (like "snow") can represent a thing or an action, depending on the context. Providing this explicit understanding can be especially important for children whose first language is not the language of instruction.

Teachers need to model correct sentence structures so that children can learn to anticipate these structures when reading print. Opportunities should be provided for children to become familiar with and use the specific terminology for basic parts of speech (e.g., noun, verb, adjective, adverb) to facilitate instruction. Teachers also need to familiarize children with a variety of language structures and encourage their use of longer, more complex sentences.

Pragmatics, which is introduced in the later primary years, is the study of how people choose what they say or write from the range of possibilities available in the language, and how listeners or readers are affected by those choices. Pragmatics involves understanding how the context influences the way sentences convey information. A sentence can have different purposes depending on the situation or context in which it is used. It can be a mere statement or affirmation, but it can also be a warning, a promise, a threat, or something else. Readers with pragmatic knowledge and skills are able to decipher these different intents from the context.

Teachers in the later primary years need to show children how to use context clues that surround an unfamiliar word to help figure out the word's meaning. Because children learn most word meanings indirectly, or from context, it is important that they learn to use context clues effectively. However, context clues alone are not enough; the teacher will need to teach other word-meaning strategies to develop the child's ability to learn new words.

Metacognition and Comprehension Strategies

Comprehension is the reason for reading. If readers can identify the words but do not understand what they are reading, they have not achieved the goal of reading comprehension. To gain a good understanding of the text, children must bring to it the foundational knowledge and skills of oral language, prior knowledge and experience, concepts about print, phonemic awareness, letter-sound relationships, vocabulary, semantics, and syntax. They must integrate what they bring to the text with the text itself. In order to read to learn, children need to use problem-solving, thinking processes. They must reflect on what they know and need to know (metacognition) and draw on a variety of comprehension strategies to make sense of what they read.

Good readers plan and monitor their reading at a metacognitive level. What they are doing is thinking about the strategies they need to make sense of the text. When they run into difficulty, they evaluate their reading to determine the best strategy for improving their understanding of the text. Children who read at a metacognitive level know the strategies that affect their own reading (e.g., decoding hard words, connecting text with prior experiences, understanding word meanings, identifying main ideas, drawing inferences from the text, and synthesizing information). These children use a variety of strategies to decode and understand text and to know when and why to apply particular strategies (e.g., knowing they do not need to use a phonics strategy to identify a word they already know by sight). Their understanding of the text extends beyond the literal.

Teachers play an important role in modelling how to think metacognitively to help children figure out what they know and what they need to know. Comprehension strategies are conscious plans that readers use to make sense of the text. Research has pointed to some effective comprehension strategies that teachers can use to help children gain meaning from the text. These include teaching children to ask questions such as those found in table 1.

Table 1. Asking Questions to Promote Comprehension
Question Purpose of the question
How does this connect with what I already know? activating relevant, prior knowledge before, during, and after reading
What pictures does this text create in my mind? creating visual and other sensory images from text during and after reading
How can I use the pictures and the text to help me understand? drawing inferences from the text to form conclusions, make critical judgements, and create unique interpretations
What are the most important ideas and themes in the text? using the main ideas to provide clues about meaning
How can I say this in my own words? synthesizing what they read
Does this make sense? monitoring comprehension
Why did the author write this? exploring the author's intent
How is this text like other texts that I have read? finding clues in the text's structure

Higher-order Thinking Skills

The development of higher-order thinking skills is essential throughout the primary grades. In the early stages of reading development, higher-order thinking can be developed at the oral level through teacher read-alouds and shared reading. In the reading-to-learn stage, classroom teachers need to ask children questions that challenge them to move beyond what they recall of the text and on to what they understand through application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Children need to have opportunities to manipulate and criticize the concepts and understandings of what they have read. Children will formulate opinions and substantiate their thinking. They are no longer simply passive readers.

Bloom's taxonomy is a useful tool for helping teachers engage children in higher-order thinking when they read. 2 Table 2 shows that, as children apply higher-order thinking, they are able to draw more meaning from what they learn and apply the learning in more sophisticated ways. Although thinking skills alone do not make a child an effective reader, they are essential forreading. Higher-order thinking is what enables children to achieve the provincial standard for reading, which is level 3 in the Ontario curriculum.

Table 2. Using Bloom's Taxonomy in Reading Instruction
Level Definition What the Student Will Do:
Evaluation Judging the value of ideas, materials, or products Give value. Make choices. Arrange ideas. Judge ideas. Present choices.
Synthesis Putting together constituent parts or elements to form a new whole Use prior knowledge to activate new knowledge. Change existing ideas. Create new ideas.
Analysis Breaking down an idea into its constituent parts Look at parts. See relationships. Organize parts.
Application Using information in new situations or to solve a new problem. Uses knowledge. Apply previously learned information to another situation.
Comprehension Understanding the information being communicated but not relating it to other material or ideas Organize previously learned material in order to rephrase it, describe it in own words, explain it, or predict implications or effects on the basis of the known facts.
Knowledge (memory) Learning the information Recall or recognize bits of information.

Instruction

Read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, guided comprehension, independent reading, phonics, and word study provide instruction that gives children the opportunity to experience and enjoy authentic texts and to practise the skills and strategies necessary for fluency and comprehension.

No single skill in this complex interaction is sufficient on its own, and the teacher must be careful not to overemphasize one skill at the expense of others.

Reading is a meaning-making process that involves a great deal of thinking, problem solving, and decision making by both the teacher and the child. Comprehensive reading instruction teaches the child to use a variety of skills to decode, read fluently, and understand the text. No single skill in this complex interaction is sufficient on its own, and the teacher must be careful not to overemphasize one skill at the expense of others. It is important that teachers understand the interdependent nature of the skills being taught, and that competent readers integrate all sources of information as they engage in reading meaningful texts.

The teacher should provide children with planned activities for before, during, and after reading. For example:

  • Before beginning to read, the teacher and students establish the purpose for reading. Together they consider what they already know about the topic or genre and use the title, headings, table of contents or index, and new, unfamiliar vocabulary to enhance their predictions.

  • During reading, the students respond to the text by searching for meaning, identifying the main ideas, predicting and verifying predictions, and building a coherent interpretation of the text. Students bring their experiences of the world and literature into the reading activity. The teacher directs the attention of students to subtleties in the text, points out challenging words and ideas, and identifies problems and encourages the students to predict solutions.

  • After reading, the students reflect on their learning as they apply the knowledge acquired during reading, or transfer that knowledge to other contexts (e.g., by retelling, summarizing, creating graphic organizers, or putting pictures in sequential order).

With all of this instruction, the teacher provides continuous role modelling, coaching, guiding, and feedback, and is always building on the children's prior knowledge and experiences. The teacher also ensures that children are focused and engaged in the reading process, and monitors their time on task.

Phonics and Word Study

Research has shown that phonics and word study are valuable strategies for improving children's ability to recognize words and decode text. Although these skills alone are not enough, they are essential building blocks for becoming an effective reader. They may be taught out of context but must be practised in authentic contexts, and reading material that is engaging and meaningful for the children should be used.

Phonics is a systematic instructional approach that links the foundation of phonemic awareness with children's growing knowledge of letter-sound relationships to enable children to decode words and read. Instruction begins with the most common and more easily discerned letter-sound relationships and progresses to more complex spelling patterns, which include larger chunks of words, such as syllables. Teachers need to introduce the letter-sound correspondences in a planned, sequential manner so that children have time to learn, practise, and master them. Letter formation is a part of phonics instruction that reinforces children's memory for letter-sound correspondences. To understand the usefulness of letter-sound correspondences and letter formation, children need to apply their knowledge by seeing, saying, and printing words in interesting and authentic contexts.

Word study gives children the opportunity to practise high-frequency words so that they can read them automatically (word identification), and to learn word-solving strategies so that they will be able to read partially familiar or unfamiliar words (word knowledge). Word study improves the child's ability to decode words independently, which is important for both fluency and comprehension. The teacher provides the children with an organized environment that includes charts, lists, word walls, and other resources. Activities can involve the whole class, small groups, or children working independently, and may include: searching for big words or mystery words; recognizing whole words, word parts, root words, and compound words; adding prefixes and suffixes; using known words to get to unknown words; and recognizing letter patterns.

To become fluent readers, children need to be able to read high-frequency words automatically. The most common words in texts include articles, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, and everyday verbs such as to be and to have. The strategies for teaching these words are different from the strategies for teaching more engaging but less frequent words, such as the names of people and the words for colours and interesting concepts. A word like dinosaur, for example, represents an interesting idea, and so children are more likely to remember it and recognize it when they see it in print.

Lists of grade-appropriate sight words should be used to guide instruction. Sight words need to be selected for their frequency of occurrence in print. Teachers need to expose children regularly to these most common words and give children plenty of meaningful practice in reading them in well-written books on engaging topics, so that children are able to recognize the words instantly by sight. If teachers provide enough opportunities for practice, children will develop the ability to read many sight words that are phonetically irregular, and will have mastered a large proportion of the words they will encounter in books.

Read-Aloud

In read-aloud(s) the teacher reads to the whole class or to a small group, using material that is at the listening comprehension level of the children. The content may focus on a topic related to a curriculum expectation in another subject area, such as mathematics, science, or social studies.

Reading aloud to children helps them to develop a love of good literature, motivation to pursue reading on their own, and familiarity with a variety of genres, including non-fiction. It provides them with new vocabulary, exposes them to a variety of literature, and contributes to their oral and written language development. Reading aloud should occur every day in the early stage of reading instruction to stimulate the children's interest in books and reading.

Shared Reading

In shared reading the teacher guides the whole class or a small group in reading enlarged text that all the children can see – for example, a big book, an overhead, a chart, a poster, or a book. The text can be read several times, first for the children and then with the children joining in. Shared reading involves active participation and considerable interaction on the part of students and teachers. It is both enjoyable and motivating for children. The teacher takes into account the difficulty of the text and the skills, knowledge, and experiences of the children in structuring this activity.

Shared reading provides the teacher with the opportunity to model effective reading; promote listening comprehension; teach vocabulary; reinforce concepts about books and print and letter-sound relationships; and build background knowledge on a range of subjects.

Shared reading provides a bridge to guided reading. It should occur daily in the early stages of reading instruction and less frequently in later stages.

Guided Reading

Guided reading is a small-group, teacher-directed activity. It involves using carefully selected books at the children's instructional level. The teacher supports a small group of children as they talk, read, and think their way through a text. Children can be grouped for guided reading by reading ability or specific instructional goals. The group composition is fluid and changes according to the teacher's observations and assessments.

Guided reading provides opportunities to integrate children's growing knowledge of the conventions of print, of letter-sound relationships, and of other foundational skills in context. Through modelling and instruction, guided reading enables teachers to extend children's vocabulary development and their knowledge and use of appropriate comprehension strategies. It gives the teacher the opportunity to observe reading behaviours, identify areas of need, and allow children to develop more independence and confidence as they practise and consolidate reading behaviours and skills.

Guided reading provides a bridge to independent reading and can help children develop the necessary higher-order thinking skills.

Comprehension

Children learn comprehension skills in a variety of situations, using many levels of texts and different text types. The focus of guided comprehension is on direction, instruction, application, and reflection.

Focused instruction in comprehension skills – such as previewing; self-questioning; making links to self, text, and others; visualizing; using graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic cueing systems; monitoring, summarizing, and evaluating – is provided first. The children then apply the comprehension strategies in teacher-guided small groups and student-facilitated comprehension activities, such as literature circles, questioning the author, or reciprocal teaching.

Children work with varying degrees of support and use texts at their instructional level and independent level of reading. The teacher and the children reflect on performance, share experiences, and set new goals for learning. The levelled texts and the organization of the small group will change as the children's knowledge and reading skills increase.

Independent Reading

During purposeful and planned independent reading, the children choose their own books according to their interest and ability. The text should be chosen carefully so that each child can read with a high degree of success. Children can be taught to select appropriate independent reading material and can share this task with the teacher. Emergent readers can use this independent reading time to practise reading small, predictable stories, as well as books that have been used in shared and guided reading.

When teachers plan independent reading for children, they need to provide children with time to engage in discussion and reflection. Independent reading is preceded and followed by discussion and dialogue with the teacher and/or peers. The teacher is always observing, listening, and gathering information about the children's reading behaviour.

Purposeful and planned independent reading provides opportunities for children to build self-confidence, reinforce skill development, enhance fluency, build memory for language structures and vocabulary, and promote comprehension and the motivation to read. In addition, independent reading gives children time to get more information about a specific subject of interest.

It is important to note that the American National Reading Panel, in Put Reading First, their comprehensive meta-analysis of reading research, found considerable evidence to support having children read aloud with guidance and feedback, but no evidence to confirm that instructional time spent on silent independent reading with minimal guidance and feedback improves reading fluency and overall reading achievement (Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement [CIERA], 2001, p. 25). This does not mean that teachers should abandon independent reading in the classroom, but they should use texts that match the child's independent reading level and ensure that each child receives feedback (from the teacher, a peer, or a volunteer) to enhance fluency, comprehension, and the motivation to read. These practices help children to decode with increasing fluency and comprehension.

Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting

Assessment begins with what children know; the evidence for what they know is in what they can do. (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996, p. 73)

There is a direct and continuous link between teaching and assessment. Ongoing assessment must be frequent, well-planned, and organized, so that teachers are able to help each child move towards his or her full potential in reading. Assessment often involves techniques that teachers already use, such as observations and checklists. Knowing the developmental stages of reading, the associated reading skills, and the components and strategies of effective reading instruction helps the teacher to administer the right assessment and evaluation tools and interpret the results correctly. This knowledge, together with the assessment data, enables teachers to provide differentiated instruction in order to ensure the best learning opportunities for all children, through direct, explicit instruction – either in large groups, in small groups, or at the individual level, depending on the children's needs. Timely assessment is also important for identifying the small percentage of children who cannot be adequately served by good classroom instruction and who will need interventions and extra support to help them acquire the knowledge and skills for reading.

Assessment

Instead of teaching in a whole-class fashion to a hypothetical average student, we need to take into account the range of development within our classrooms, designing a curriculum that meets all our children where they are and takes each child further. Our classroom-based system of assessment should wreak havoc with any instructional plan that doesn't allow us the elasticity and breadth necessary to teach the full range of readers. Our assessments should nudge us, as teachers, to look at all our children and their work, and to look at ourselves and our work. (Calkins, 2001, p. 157)

Assessment includes gathering, recording, and analysing information about a child's knowledge and skills and, where appropriate, providing descriptive feedback to help the child improve. (Assessment is different from evaluation, which involves making an informed judgement about a child's achievement at a point in time.)

  • Diagnostic assessment occurs before reading instruction begins so that the child's prior learning and current reading level can be identified and instructional priorities for the child can be determined. Diagnostic assessment can inform the teacher about detailed strategies that the child uses in the reading process. On the basis of this structured observation of the child's progress, the teacher plans the next steps in learning. Diagnostic reading tools include running records, observation surveys, cloze texts, miscue analysis, and retells.

  • Formative assessment occurs on an ongoing basis to track the child's progress towards achievement targets. It is formative in the sense that it provides information about learning that is still forming or in progress. The child may receive the feedback immediately or at a specific stage in the learning process. Formative assessment helps the teacher to make programming decisions, such as whether and how to adapt instruction to meet the needs of specific children. The majority of assessment time is spent on formative assessment. Resources include teacher observations, student portfolios, student logs, and self-reflection activities.

  • Summative assessment occurs at the end of a learning module or specific time period. Its purpose is to provide information needed to make judgements (evaluations) about student understandings. The tools for summative assessment include tests and performance-based tasks.

Choosing Assessment Strategies

Young children show their understanding by doing, showing, and telling. Assessment strategies need to capture this doing, showing, and telling by watching, listening, and probing. Hence, observation is an integral part of all other assessment strategies. Reading assessments should not generally require the child to use writing strategies.

Table 3 gives examples of assessment strategies that can help a teacher to assess specific reading skills. Some of these strategies, such as running records, miscue analysis, and cloze procedure, are described in the ministry's curriculum documents.

Table 3. Instruction and Related Assessment Strategies for Reading
Phonics and Word Study Read-Aloud
What Can Be Assessed?
  • Letter-sound knowledge
  • Ability to hear sounds within words
  • Ability to use spelling approximations
  • Ability to use conventional spelling
  • Strategies for pronouncing and spelling unfamiliar words
  • Vocabulary development
What Can Be Assessed?
  • Motivation to read
  • Word knowledge
  • Comprehension strategies
Assessment Tools and Strategies
  • Letter-sound knowledge
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Word lists
  • Independent writing samples
Assessment Tools and Strategies
  • Teacher observation
  • Question/answer related to word knowledge, sentence knowledge, comprehension
  • Comprehension at a story level
Shared Reading Guided Reading
What Can Be Assessed?
  • Motivation to read
  • Comprehension strategies
  • Word knowledge
What Can Be Assessed?
  • Sight word knowledge
  • Accuracy in analysing and decoding unfamiliar words (in and out of context)
  • Reading fluency/rate
  • Accuracy in reading connected text
  • Comprehension strategies
Assessment Tools and Strategies
  • Teacher observation
  • Question/answer related to word knowledge, sentence knowledge, comprehension
  • Retell
Assessment Tools and Strategies
  • Running records
  • Word lists
  • Retelling
  • Teacher observation
  • Developmental continua
  • Conference
Guided Comprehension Independent Reading
What Can Be Assessed?
  • Motivation to read
  • Comprehension
What Can Be Assessed?
  • Motivation to read
  • Comprehension strategies
  • Reading fluency/rate
  • Ability to read high-frequency words on sight
  • Strategies for activating prior knowledge
  • Strategies for developing vocabulary
Assessment Tools and Strategies
  • Attitude surveys
  • Interest inventories
  • Literacy histories
  • Motivation profiles
  • Reader/writer self-perception scales
  • Miscue analysis
  • Observation
Assessment Tools and Strategies
  • Running records
  • Word lists
  • Retelling
  • Teacher observation
  • Student portfolio
  • Reading log/journal
  • Developmental continua
  • Conference/interview
  • Literature circles

Linking With the Curriculum Expectations

The Kindergarten curriculum identifies ten expectations for reading, but does not distinguish categories or levels of achievement. (See The Kindergarten Program [Ontario Ministry of Education, 1998, pp. 14–15].) For Grades 1 to 3, the expectations become more specific. Teachers assess children not only for individual reading skills, such as phonemic awareness, concepts about print, and vocabulary, but also according to the four categories of achievement from the Ontario language curriculum, which are reasoning, communication, organization of ideas, and application of language conventions.

Evaluation

Evaluation is an informed judgement about the quality of a child's work at a point in time. For children in Kindergarten, the evaluation is largely a description of what the teacher has observed in the classroom. The teacher assigns a value (level, mark, comment) that represents the child's achievement of the curriculum expectations, using the reading exemples and rubrics produced by the Ministry of Education as a guide to ensure consistency.

Reporting

Reporting relates to the communication of accurate, comprehensive, and timely information about student achievement to parents, students, and/or other educators. One tool for this is the provincial report card, which students and their families receive three times per year, starting in Grade 1. However, the report card is only one of many ways that teachers can communicate results to children and parents. For Kindergarten children, as with all primary children, reporting should be ongoing and should include a variety of formal and informal methods, ranging from formal written reports and discussions with parents and the child to informal notes to parents and conversations with them. (See the Guide to the Provincial Report Card [Ontario Ministry of Education, 1998].)

Reporting provides an opportunity to involve the parents in helping their child to progress as a reader. For reporting to be effective, the teacher must be able to clearly explain the results and next steps. Teachers should discuss specific recommendations for helping the child to reach the provincial standard of level 3. Suggestions might include strategies for individual, classroom, or home-school support.

Teaching Practices

The Framework for Effective Early Reading Instruction (on page 12) lists several practices that support reading achievement in young children. They create the conditions for teachers to provide focused, explicit instruction that addresses the specific needs of individual children and groups of children. These practices are woven throughout the report and include:

  • a balance of direct instruction, guided instruction, independent learning, and practice

  • large group, small group, and individual instruction, discussion, and collaboration

  • a variety of assessment and evaluation techniques to inform program planning and instruction

  • the integration of phonics and word study in reading, writing, and oral language instruction

  • an uninterrupted literacy block each day

  • parental and community involvement

  • high-quality literature and levelled texts

  • a variety of genres, narratives, informational texts, and electronic media

  • authentic and motivating literacy experiences and learning activities

  • interventions for children who are at risk of not learning to read

  • a supportive classroom culture and environment that promotes higher-order thinking skills

  • guidance, coaching, and feedback for children

  • effective classroom organization and management


1. In French, the written language differs from the oral language, and this difference can have an impact on reading. Certain alphabetic symbols may be present in writing but not be pronounced (e.g., in ils marchent).

2. Bloom's taxonomy is a widely used way of classifying educational objectives, developed in the 1950s by a group of researchers headed by Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago.