I spent ten years as a Reading Recovery Teacher leader and Reading Recovery teacher, and I’ve spent the past fourteen years tutoring needy readers in grades one through three. I have personally seen the difference in the growth of young readers who spend massive amounts of time reading at their independent levels.
In Becoming Literate, Marie Clay spoke of the "constructive learner" as a child who is "seeing, searching, consolidating, and problem solving." How can a teacher encourage these practices? In the Reading Recovery Guidebook, she discusses "accelerated growth" in reading and writing. The importance of continuous text in both processes is stressed. She states that this growth depends on how the teacher selects the clearest, the most memorable examples with which to establish student responses.
The child must take over the learning process and work independently. New discoveries must be made. Two kinds of learning must be considered. The use of familiar materials and independent solving on the part of the child must be important. The independent reading at the student's desk and at home must be at his independent level. This means that the child can read with 95% accuracy or better. The instructional level is at 90%–94% accuracy.
Therefore, the reader accelerates because some things no longer need his attention. He is now free to give attention to new things.
Teachers are wise if they realize that their instruction and guidance is to assist a child as strategies to problem-solve are developed. These problem-solving techniques include monitoring their reading for meaning, searching for cues, discovering new things, cross-checking for meaning, and self-correcting their errors. The goal is not to accumulate items of knowledge.
All kindergarten and first-grade teachers would like to think that their students will enter second grade as proficient readers. A study of proficient readers in that grade was included in the Reading Recovery publication Teaching and Learning (Volume 10, Number 2). The researcher discovered that these good readers in grade two demonstrated more than sixty ways to overtly solve unknown words. They never appealed for help without attempting ways to solve the word. They never articulated a word using phoneme-by-phoneme strategies, but used larger parts of words. They expected meaning and found meaning as they read.
These second-graders were avid readers and spent large amounts of time reading. Teachers need to provide as many books as possible on the child's independent level for reading from the class library and at home. Time for reading must be provided. During a visit to New Zealand schools, I observed teachers pair students to other students reading at a slightly more difficult level. Children can read to animals, siblings, volunteers in the classroom, buddies from a different grade level and/or parents. First-graders might read to second-graders.
I recommend at least twenty minutes a day for this independent reading. It seems obvious to me and to researchers that accelerated reading growth depends upon this practice. Encourage families to have family reading times when all members of the family read independently or read to each other. Ask any pianist how they got to be an accomplished pianist. They will tell you they had to practice the same selections several times before they could play in a recital. It is the same way with reading skills.
Remember that the child leads the way. I once heard Clay say that teaching a child how to read was like dancing with him or her. The child leads, you follow. Be a good "follower." Know the child and fit the instruction to the child's reading needs. Provide the appropriate books and time for each child to read.
Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children.
To learn more about the Kaleidoscope Collection series of books, which includes four titles written by Geraldine Haggard, click here to visit the Kaleidoscope page of our website, or click the image below to download an information sheet with highlights of the series.