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READ 5423 Best Practices Reflection

Page history last edited by Jennifer Garich 12 years ago


Best Practices in Literacy Instruction

 Chapters 1 & 2


          From reading the first two chapters of Best Practices in Literacy Instruction, I’ve been pleased to see that recent research proves that learning how to read and write is a complex process that requires teachers to balance multiple components of literacy instruction.  The implications this research creates for schools and teachers are significant because it forces those who work within schools to examine their current literacy instructional practices and determine how closely aligned they are with the evidence-based best practices that are described in the first chapter.  As the authors assert, evidence-based best practices are instructional practices that have been shown to lead to gains in literacy achievement with children when used consistently within the classroom (Gambrell, Malloy, & Mazzoni, 2007, p. 13).  Although I am relatively new to the teaching profession, I have been fortunate to participate in a variety of professional development trainings and workshops in literacy instruction.  However, I have also experienced moving to a new school district where professional development opportunities are scarce, and it has been my responsibility to pursue learning opportunities and research best practices on my own.  If “study after study points to teacher expertise as the critical variable in effective reading instruction,” then is it not the school district’s responsibility to provide professional development in comprehensive literacy instruction so that teachers have an understanding of evidence-based best practices and can put them into practice with their own students (Gambrell et al., 2007, p. 15)?  On the other hand, there are school districts that require teachers to use a predetermined literacy curriculum that necessitates teaching certain literacy skills and strategies before others.  If truly balanced and comprehensive literacy instruction is going to take place in schools, then teachers who are dedicated to using evidence-based practices in their classrooms must be "given the freedom and latitude to use their professional judgment to make instructional decisions that enable children to achieve their full literacy potential” (Gambrell et al., 2007, p. 24).  Why are school districts and administrators often hesitant to give teachers the freedom to use their professional judgment when making instructional decisions regarding literacy?  Could it be that their hesitation stems from a basic lack of understanding of the complexities of literacy instruction?


          Achieving balance in literacy instruction cannot be accomplished without first recognizing that “there are many independent elements of literacy that must be simultaneously balanced” (Pearson, Raphael, Benson, & Madda, 2007, p. 36).  If teachers place more emphasis on one aspect of literacy instruction than another, they may severely limit the literacy success that their students encounter.  For example, if a first grade teacher focuses solely on phonics and phonemic awareness instruction and never exposes her students to high quality literature or provides her students with the opportunity to respond to literature through discussions with classmates, those students are missing an essential component of literacy instruction.  Too much of a focus on one aspect of literacy instruction may also result in students losing their interest and motivation in reading.  As a teacher, my primary goal is to instill a love of learning in my students, as well as an intrinsic desire to read.  Through implementing literacy instruction in my classroom, I have found that you must know your students by identifying the literacy skills they have already mastered as well as the skills they need to strengthen.  Without knowing your students’ literacy needs, you will be unable to achieve the type of balance that a comprehensive literacy instructional approach requires.


          There are numerous challenges in creating a balance in literacy instruction within a classroom.  One of the most significant challenges that I have come to realize is that achieving balance requires hard work, dedication, and time.  The process of creating this balance is time consuming and demands persistent awareness by the teacher.  Responding to the individual needs of your students requires making continual adjustments to your lesson planning and literacy instruction.  Personally, I have found this to be incredibly challenging due to the numerous demands I encounter as a teacher each and every day.  How can teachers successfully implement responsive and balanced literacy instruction when they are faced with so many other demands on their time and energy?  Another challenge that many teachers experience is lacking supportive and encouraging administrators who fail to recognize best instructional practices.  When this is the case, it often makes it more difficult for the teacher to implement what she knows to be best literacy practices within her classroom due to mandated curriculum constraints and inadequate professional development opportunities.  Despite the challenges that may arise from creating a balance in literacy instruction within the classroom, using this type of instructional approach undoubtedly leads to invaluable growth in literacy achievement for all students. 



Best Practices in Literacy Instruction

 Chapters 4 & 14 


            These two chapters were two of my favorite chapters we've read so far because they relate to my topic of interest - struggling readers and differentiating instruction.  I've had many struggling readers in my classroom throughout the past four years, and my desire to learn more about how to help them is what prompted me to return to school and pursue my certification as a reading specialist.  Not only do I desperately want to learn more about how to help them learn how to read fluently and comprehend what they are reading, but perhaps even more so I want to learn how to inspire their confidence and instill a love of literacy within them.  Clearly, all children deserve "access to high-quality classroom instruction regardless of their label or participation in a special program" (Allington & Baker, 2007, p. 85).  However, the authors point out that school funds are often not allocated for the purchase of valuable classroom instructional materials, nor are these funds provided for professional development opportunities that enable teachers to learn how to differentiate and meet the variety of literacy needs that are found within the walls of a single classroom.  How can teachers learn how to become "exemplary" without being provided opportunities to grow and expand their knowledge and understanding of best literacy practices? 


            I was incredibly blessed to teach next door to a "Georgia" my first year of teaching.  This particular teacher knew that in order to be effective, literacy instruction had to include the explicit modeling of reading/writing strategies and skills.  She had also mastered the idea of personalizing instruction through her use of daily reading/writing conferences, as well as guided reading and word work groups.  Her students had personalized spelling lists based on the words they consistently misspelled in their writing, and they each had their very own personal writing dictionaries to assist them when editing their writing pieces.  She was so insightful in her awareness that students need to be provided with a large variety of books to choose from that are within their instructional levels so that students of varying reading abilities can all achieve literacy success.  It goes without saying that these are the types of teachers I am continuously striving to become, although I am finding it more and more difficult when facing the many struggles that teachers must deal with on a daily basis (i.e. unrealistic curricular demands, lack of administrative support in teaching with best practices, lack of high-quality instructional materials, etc).


            I also loved reading about Joyce and her vision to support classroom teachers in providing higher-quality reading instruction.  I believe that her program is so successful due to the ongoing collaboration that occurs between Joyce and the classroom teacher.  As the saying goes, two heads are better than one, and in the case of helping a struggling reader, I find this to be especially true.  It is so important to have communication between the classroom teachers and the “expert” specialists so that the children who are struggling are receiving the absolute best instruction possible.


            It was encouraging to read that the author of Chapter 14 viewed assessment “as an integral part of selecting and designing instructional interventions based upon informed decision making” (Reutzel, 2007, p. 316).  Without using data from formal and informal assessments, how can anyone differentiate instruction and hope to meet the variety of learning needs within their classroom?  Although I was familiar with most of the information in this chapter due to my experience as a teacher, it was nonetheless helpful to remind myself about the different types of assessments, as well as the many different types of small groups that are typically used within literacy instruction.  I agree with the author that small-group differentiated literacy instruction can only begin after teachers have built a sense of community through whole-class literacy experiences.  I feel that differentiating instruction can seem very overwhelming due to the amount of preparation and energy it requires on the part of the teacher, but in my opinion the benefits to the children far outweigh the demands.  The risk of not differentiating for your students, especially for the ones who struggle the most, is too great to even consider.



Best Practices in Literacy Instruction

Chapter 7


          While reading Chapter 7, the process of teaching phonological awareness and phonics to students was clarified for me.  As a third grade teacher, I often feel farther removed from the type of phonemic awareness and phonics instruction that was discussed in this chapter, primarily because the focus in third grade is more on reading to learn rather than learning to read.  With that being said, there are always many students who come to teachers in the upper elementary grades who are still learning to read, and for these students the continuation of phonemic awareness and phonics instruction is critical.  I've noticed that I spend a significant amount of time teaching my students strategies for recognizing prefixes, suffixes, and root words to assist them with multisyllabic word decoding, and far less time providing explicit and systematic phonics instruction.  This is an area that I certainly need to grow in as a teacher.


          I loved the ideas and lessons that were presented throughout this chapter for developing phonemic awareness and teaching a variety of phonics approaches.  Even in third grade, I am always surprised that the majority of my class still uses invented spelling in their writing.  Stretching out words is something that I have to model daily with my students, especially the ones who are perfectionists and would rather have me just give them the correct spelling of the word.  During the two years that I taught second grade, I spent five to ten minutes every day teaching Making Words lessons.  My students absolutely loved making words, and it was always a race to see who would discover the "secret" word first!  I also loved reading about the Using Words You Know lessons, and I plan on implementing more Word Detective activities into the content area subjects I teach (math, social studies, and science).


          I also found it interesting that "there is no significant difference in effectiveness among the kinds of systematic phonics instruction" (Cunningham, 2007, p. 161).  Many of the chapters in Best Practices have emphasized the importance of using a variety of instructional methods, in addition to finding the instructional approach that best aligns with the philosophy of the classroom teacher who is delivering the instruction.  Much of my research pertaining to effective teaching strategies for struggling readers has highlighted this importance as well.  It makes sense that teachers should have the opportunity to use instructional techniques and methods that support their personal philosophies, because then there is likely to be higher quality implementation and sustainability over the long term.



Best Practices in Literacy Instruction

Chapter 8


          Chapter 8 was another one of my favorite chapters in Best Practices because vocabulary instruction is one of the areas I am continuously looking for new ways to grow.  Although some of the ideas in this chapter for enhancing vocabulary levels in students were ones I have previously learned about, I also learned about many new instructional practices that I am looking forward to implementing in my own classroom.  One of the ideas that I loved most from this chapter was the "New and Interesting Words" poster that one of the classrooms was found having displayed in the study of word learning in middle elementary grades (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982).  What an easy and simple idea that can be so motivating and engaging for the students!  In the past, I have had my students create personal writing dictionaries, but I've never placed emphasis on adding new vocabulary words to these dictionaries.  Rather, I used them as more of a helpful spelling tool.  This is something I'd like to implement somewhat differently in the future.


          Another idea I absolutely loved reading about was the use of wuzzles or word puzzles.  One of the teachers on my team motivated me a few years ago to incorporate wuzzles into my language arts instruction at least once a week.  At first, the kids become easily frustrated (especially the gifted students who usually know the answer immediately) since these wuzzles require higher level thinking skills and are not obvious at first glance.  However, as time goes on, the kids know what to expect and are ready for the challenge!  When reading about how the use of graphic organizers and semantic webs help make word meanings visible, I was reminded of the many times I've had my students create webs for the new vocabulary words we are learning about, especially new words in the content areas of math, science, and social studies.  Here is an example of a concept defintion map (similar to the example in Figure 8.4 of this chapter) that I have used to introduce new vocabulary words in my classroom.


          I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Angela's classroom, the fourth-grade teacher described in the "Best Practices in Action" section of this chapter.  The idea of displaying a "New Words We Like" poster that is filled with words students have encountered in their reading and writing helps the children take ownership of the new vocabulary they are learning about.  I also loved the idea of introducing a word of the week every Monday morning, and I immediately started thinking about ways that I could try to incorporate our word of the week into our normal lessons and activities.  Having her students choose a wonderful word from the chapter book Angela reads aloud to her class at the end of each day is also a great idea because, once again, she is allowing her students to take ownership of the new words they discover by encouraging them to add it to their wonderful word lists.  I strive to create the same types of meaningful vocabulary building experiences in my own classroom, and the ideas in this chapter provided me with wonderful ways to make my vocabulary instruction much more enjoyable, authentic, and effective for my students.



Best Practices in Literacy Instruction

Chapter 9


          I always love learning new strategies on how to better incorporate fluency instruction into my classroom, so I enjoyed reading this chapter very much.  As a third grade teacher, the development of fluency is a central focus of my reading instruction.  It is crucial that students develop appropriate levels of fluency prior to leaving third grade because the level of text difficulty students encounter after third grade become increasingly challenging, and the lengths of the texts they are expected to read become longer and longer.  When I was in elementary school, I do not remember experiencing repeated readings of texts or having the opportunity to perform a Reader's Theatre in front of an actual audience.  Although I was fortunate enough to develop fluency despite the use of authentic and meaningful activities such as those listed above, the process certainly would have been much more enjoyable for me if I was given the opportunity to participate in the activities described in this chapter!


          The Reading-While-Listening strategy is one that I have used before with my students, but I have never utilized this strategy in quite the same way it was described in this chapter.  When previously using this strategy, I did not require my students to read the story to me once they believed they were able to read it fluently.  Instead, I continued to let them choose a different story to listen to each time.  After reading the description of this strategy in this chapter, I can appreciate how much more my students would benefit if I required them to repeatedly listen to and read along with the stories and allowed them to move on to a new story only after they felt confident in their ability to read it fluently.  Another way I have tried to incorporate fluency instruction into my literacy instruction is by having students tape record themselves as they read a story aloud.  Often I would have them record themselves reading an unfamiliar text they had never read before, and then after they felt they had mastered the story, they could then record themselves immediately after the previous recording.  This provided a very authentic way for students to hear the difference in their overall fluency and expression before and after repeatedly reading the text, and students were able to take the tape home so their parents could hear the difference as well.


          I also enjoyed reading about the Paired Repeated Reading and Authentic Repeated Reading strategies.  I have tried incorporating partner reading in my classroom before, but I have never been very consistent or successful in doing so.  The guidelines that were provided for this strategy were specific and helped me visualize the structure of what paired repeated readings can look like in a classroom, so I am looking forward to implementing this more in the future.  I am a huge fan of Reader's Theatre, and I am constantly trying to find ways of incorporating performances into my classroom.  I've found that when students are given the chance to rehearse for an upcoming performance, they are more engaged and motivated because they truly have an authentic purpose for repeatedly reading the script.  I only remember performing a speech for an audience once when I was in the fifth grade, but would you believe that to this day I still remember some of the words from that speech?  I can only imagine how many times I must have read that speech if I can still remember parts of it!  Talk about developing some serious fluency!


          When reading the section related to assessing fluency, I was pleased to see that the authors emphasized the fact that students need to be reminded frequently that the goal of reading is to comprehend the text, rather than how quickly we are able to read it.  When teachers are taking the time to model fluent reading, in addition to providing feedback and support to their students, they are setting the stage for their students to experience growth in their fluency development.



Best Practices in Literacy Instruction

Chapter 10


          Teaching comprehension strategies is so important, and I was pleased to read about all the research that has been dedicated to determining the best practices in teaching the process of comprehension.  These strategies were not something that I was taught by my teachers in elementary school, nor did I learn about them in my undergraduate coursework as I was preparing to become a teacher.  If only I had taken a class that required us to read this book!  Now that I have been teaching a few years, I have learned how to use purposeful think-alouds as you introduce and model each comprehension strategy to students.  I have also learned that students will not understand that reading is an active process unless we show them!  This takes lots of modeling and constant reminders, but once you begin to see students automatically using these comprehension processes as they read, it makes all of the preparation and planning that takes place on the part of the teacher seem worthwhile.


          The use of charts, post-it notes, and bookmarks are all excellent strategies to help students recognize their own comprehension processes and record them at the moment each process is being used.  As students become more proficient and active in their comprehension, they will no longer need the use of these strategies because they will have learned how to automatically work through the comprehension process in order to gain meaning from the text.  Reading this chapter reminded me of a book I read during my first year of teaching - Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller.  Although her book focuses on teaching comprehension in the primary grades, I feel that she does a great job of explicitly describing what think alouds should look like and sound like.  She also discusses how effective the use of post-it notes and graphic organizers are in helping students learn how to self-regulate their own comprehension processes.


          I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read the section concerning what comprehension strategies instruction is not.  Rather than having students complete worksheets after reading a text, students should be recording their processes as they read.  This makes so much sense, and yet I've seen many classrooms that continue to follow a more traditional, worksheet-driven reading curriculum.  How do we eliminate this type of teaching when so many teachers and school districts continue to view this as an acceptable instructional practice?  Throughout the years, I have also had multiple parents question my use of post-it notes as tools for teaching reading comprehension.  As a result, I am also curious about how we can change parent perceptions so that they can begin to understand why we are utilizing items such as post-it notes and bookmarks as opposed to worksheets within our reading instruction.




Gambrell, L.B., Morrow, L.M., & Pressley, M. (Eds.). (2007). Best practices in literacy instruction (3rd Edition). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

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