Targeted and Purposeful Reading Practice - Part 2

Reading is less like learning to hum, and more like learning to play the piano. Years and years of practice are required, and over time, growth is measured by quality, not quantity. Research continues to show us that deepening skills matters when it comes to reading proficiency and comprehension. Learning to read well takes years of practice and application, and working with ever-challenging texts moves students beyond the 4th or 5th grade reading level, all the way to 12th grade skills and beyond!

But what does reading practice look like beyond those early learning years? Especially for students who need additional support (read: the majority)?

After teaching your student to read and write using our Pinwheels curriculum, it is time to broaden and deepen their learning. We broaden their learning using our programs, Wand and Foundations for Teaching Reading, Writing & Spelling. We deepen their learning through our other online educator training classes and instructional materials.

As we reviewed in Part 1 of this blog, we broaden and deepen reading quality by addressing these language arts skills:

  • phonics & spelling patterns
  • grammatical structures
  • vocabulary & concept building
  • fluency practice
  • analysis & comprehension strategies

But the types of reading texts we select as we teach must vary in order to change the quality of student reading. Three types of reading practice are needed:

  • Purposeful practice
  • Working Level Text
  • Challenging Text

These texts must include three levels:

  • word lists
  • phrases and sentences
  • paragraphs
    • half-page to full-page texts
    • multi-page texts (such as articles and short stories)
    • chapter books

It is easier to plan in threes, so when we think about paragraphs, we plan for text ranging from a single paragraph to multiple paragraphs found in novels.

Here’s how this looks:

Purposeful Practice

New concepts are taught and practiced across three levels, with additional practice for learners who struggle. For example, in Foundations, you may be teaching stable syllable patterns: tion & sion. Purposeful practice involves having students read word lists containing these targeted syllables, reading sentences containing words with targeted syllables, and reading a paragraph containing many of those words. (This is the type of practice found in the Foundations Reading Kit.) Another example might be practice on a new grammar structure, such as prepositional phrases. Purposeful reading practice would include reading preposition words, reading prepositional phrases (or sentences with prepositional phrases), and reading a paragraph or poem that contains these phrases. Purposeful practice is accomplished using controlled text for "loaded" practice. In other words, the text is controlled so the specific target occurs multiple times.

Working Level

The student’s working level is a reading level they can accomplish with minimal educator support. New concepts are practiced with this level of text so the student applies new learning to their reading. In other words, we use authentic text (uncontrolled) so students add new knowledge to prior knowledge. In our examples above, students would practice newly learned stable syllables reading a multisyllable word list that has a mix of various suffixes, only some resulting in stable syllable usage. Or the student may read word lists with a single base word combined with many different suffixes, resulting in one or two stable syllable words being read. Sentences may also contain stable syllables and other multisyllable words for more mixed practice. Then, articles or stories may be added for reading practice with content words that use the targeted stable syllables, but these words would be used authentically to fit the topic (such as an article on construction or a science lesson on erosion). Mixed practice could also be applied in our grammar example of teaching prepositional phrases. Since these phrases are found everywhere, selecting authentic articles and stories for practice would be easy.

Challenging Level

Challenging text is above the student’s working level and is, therefore, more difficult than typical practice. Research suggests that when we read with students to help them tackle text above their competency level, their skills grow as a result. For this text, we start by selecting a passage to read together. We will likely have to add in word and sentence level practice so the student can be successful reading the passage. For example, a student may practice challenging words within the text, then read those words in phrases or sentences, and then read the entire passage. We may do this as pre teaching before reading, or as mini-lessons as the student reads through the text. A final read-through is then recommended, either that day or soon after.

Challenging text is presented in smaller amounts, such as a paragraph or short page, so students can maintain their best reading without cognitive fatigue. These selections may occur alone as a lesson (such as a poem or specific passage), or they may be part of a larger body of work (such as a read aloud story or audio book). Reading may be infrequent (a few times a month), or it may occur a few times a week (such as reading in partnership for an advanced story). Challenging texts are important to include because they build the student’s grammar, vocabulary, and comprehension skills–all qualitative advances. They also instill a sense of pride!

When we vary our practice and our texts, we deepen students’ reading skills throughout their education. To learn more about teaching reading, take our online educator training class, Reading Accuracy, Fluency & Comprehension.

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