5 Essential Components of Reading Instruction – Reading Essentials #16

5 Essential Components of Reading InstructionWhen your child first learns to read, it may seem like magic, but there’s actually a science to the process of reading acquisition. Knowing about the fundamentals of reading instruction can help you support your child as he or she begins the journey to becoming a reading superstar!

The National Reading Panel, convened by Congress to assess approaches used in the teaching of reading, published a report in 2001 with their conclusions related to reading acquisition. Their research and findings remain the foundation on which most literacy programs are based today. In its final report, the Panel highlighted five main areas essential to the development of reading skills. These areas are:

  • Phonemic Awareness: The ability to recognize and manipulate sounds within words
  • Phonics: Understanding the relationship between written letters/words and their sounds
  • Vocabulary: Identifying and comprehending words through reading, writing, and oral expression
  • Fluency: The ability to read orally at a rapid pace, with accuracy and appropriate phrasing
  • Comprehension: Arriving at meaning through reading

Since the publication of the panel’s findings, public and private schools across the country have integrated these essential elements of reading instruction into their elementary curricula. Even so, there are many things you can do at home to reinforce these skills and support your child’s reading acquisition. Consider the following:

Phonemic Awareness:

  • Play rhyming games with your child. For instance, take turns thinking of words that rhyme with “cat.”
  • Allow your child to experiment with changing the beginnings of words. For example, using magnetic or wooden letters, let your child change the first letter of the word “rug” to make as many other words as she can such as “hug, “bug,” etc.
  • Clap out the syllables in words.


  • Make up songs about the different letter sounds.
  • Ask your child to locate things in the house that begin with certain sounds/letters.


  • Talk to your child using the same vocabulary you would with an adult. Take the time to explain the meanings of words she doesn’t recognize.
  • Introduce your child to educational television programming like PBS Kids’ Word Girl.
  • Invite your child to read vocabulary-rich children’s books such as those in the Fancy Nancy series.


  • Choose decodable books featuring simple words your child can blend as well as sight words that she’s memorized. Then, practice, practice, practice! Reading a book all by herself will be incentive enough for her to keeping putting in the effort to learn more sounds and words!
  • Keep reading to your child, just as you did before she began to read on her own. She’ll pick up on the expression and intonation in your reading and eventually integrate it into her own.


  • Purchase some books with accompanying audio and let your child read along with the CD or MP3.
  • Read to your child every day, and keep enforcing that stories are fun, even though learning to read them can be hard sometimes! This will give your child the incentive to read and understand books on her own!

Keep reinforcing these fundamental skills through fun activities, and instead of getting discouraged, your child’s excitement about reading independently will continue to grow! To help you along the way, we’ll be posting a series of articles in the coming weeks devoted to each individual skill, so stay tuned!

Phonics vs. Whole-Language Learning: Why Not Both? – Reading Essentials #13

Phonics vs. Whole Language Learning: Why Not Both?Educators have long debated whether phonics-based or whole language-based instruction leads to the most effective reading instruction.

Those who argue for a phonics-based “bottom up” approach point to the importance of auditory skills and phonological awareness in reading development. Knowing basic phonetic rules helps children learn to sound out words they might otherwise not know.

Those in favor of whole language, or a “top down” approach, see phonics instruction as perhaps slowing the process down, and argue that beginning readers should focus on meaning and vocabulary in a literacy rich environment, learning to recognize entire words as whole units.

Today, however, there seems to be consensus that no single approach is best for every child. The International Reading Association has stated that effective phonics instruction is important as part of a complete reading and language arts program. It is necessary, but it isn’t the only piece.

Most educators now use a district-mandated language arts curriculum that incorporates a balance between the two strategies, understanding that phonics instruction can be beneficial for learning letter sounds and for deciphering new words. Then, as developing readers become more proficient, instruction can rely less on phonics and more on whole word recognition. A variety of strategies are taught and children are exposed to many forms of literature.

Keep in mind that if your child is struggling with learning to read, any supplemental help you get should include both phonics and whole word instruction. Online reading programs like Red Apple Reading, for example, teach reading with a combination of phonics, sight words, and word family lessons. In this way your child is getting a balance of both phonics and whole language instruction, increasing the likelihood for reading success.

As your child becomes comfortable with sight words, you can encourage the transition toward whole word reading. Once your child has the phonics skills to attempt to sound out longer words, he or she will quickly discover that most words are not phonetically regular! This can lead to frustration–but can be an opportunity to introduce alternate reading strategies, such as:

  • Guessing words from context: If your child encounters an unknown word ask him to make a guess about the word, based on what would “make sense.” For example, if you are reading a book called “I Like Toys,” and the first sentence is “I have a (toy),” and your child cannot sound out the word toy, remind him of the title of the story. You can also give a phonics “hint” by pointing to the “t” at the beginning of the word and making the /t/ sound. With the beginning sound and a prompt to think about what word would make sense, a child will most likely be able to produce the correct word.
  • Looking at pictures: Using the same example, if your child was stuck on the word “toy,” you could point to the picture accompanying the text and ask your child to guess based on what is illustrated.
  • Skipping and returning: In the example sentence, if a child knew or guessed the words “I,” “a,” and “toy,” but was stuck on the word “have,” you could suggest a “skipping and returning” strategy. Tell your child to skip the word “have” and read the rest of the sentence. Then return and look at the sentence as a whole, reading it as “I /h/— a toy.”  Then ask your child what word would make sense.

As your child encounters more new words through reading, the words will become increasingly familiar, and will soon be read automatically. This will enable your child to read more complex text and longer and more complicated words.

What are your thoughts on the best strategies for teaching reading? We’d love to hear from you.

Common Core ELA Standards: What Are They and Will They Help?

As you may be well aware of, the state of public education in America paints a grim picture of our children’s futures in a global marketplace. Despite continual efforts by the federal government, school organizations, and of course, the blood, sweat, and tears of the many talented and dedicated teachers who instruct our youngsters day after day, our country is falling dangerously behind when it comes to academics. Need proof? The facts speak for themselves.

Shocking Statistics About America’s Broken Education System

According to Edu-Nova

  • The U.S. ranks 14th in reading amongst industrialized countries.
  • Approximately 30% of high school students drop out without receiving a diploma.
  • We spend twice as much per student on education as we did in 1971, yet reading and math skills are no better now than they were then.
  • Two-thirds of high school Honor students struggle in college.
Are Common Core State Standards the Solution?
We all know that the problem exists, and many efforts have been made to solve it, the most recent of which is the Common Core State Standards. If you haven’t already heard, these new state standards are part of a state-led initiative to better prepare our students for college and the work force and to ensure that all students receive the same high-quality education, no matter where in the U.S. they live. The new standards build upon the existing state standards as well as international standards adopted by top-performing countries. The National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), coordinators of the initiative, hope that by adopting the standards, states can do a better job of preparing students for a future in a highly competitive world. 

Not All States are On Board
The Common Core Standards are not mandatory, and though the vast majority of states have adopted them, there are a few that have yet to do so. 
Common Core State Standards InitiativeStates That Have Yet to Adopt the Common Core Standards:
*Minnesota elected to adopt only the ELA standards, not the Math.
For now, these states will continue teaching toward their own individual set of state standards, for better or for worse. 

Common Core ELA Standards
Unlike traditional state standards, the Common Core State Standards address only English Language Arts and Math, not all core subjects. The coordinators chose these two content areas because of their direct impact on learning across the curriculum. The ELA standards place special emphasis on the areas of reading, writing, speaking, listening, language, media, and technology.
Some of the key points the ELA standards address include:

Key Points in Reading
  • The use of increasingly complex reading material from grade to grade
  • Practice reading a variety of different types of text, not just fiction and traditional literature
  • Mandatory exposure to certain “critical” texts including classic mythology, Shakespeare, and American literature and documents (i.e. The Declaration of Independence)
Key Points in Writing
  • Instruction and practice in writing logical, support-based arguments, beginning in early grades
  • Use of research-based writing, increasing in depth from grade to grade
  • Exposure to sample texts demonstrating proficient writing in a variety of different genres
While the uniform nature of the Common Core Standards will no doubt level the field for students within the U.S., it’s yet to be seen whether or not this latest educational initiative will help our students compete on a global scale. 

For more information about the new standards, visit the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s website.

Summer is Here—Now What? 3 Must-Try Summer Learning Strategies

Summer is in full swing for most of the country by now. If your child is anything like mine, he’s slept in late, has a nice tan going, and has already had a ton of outdoor fun. What you may not realize though, is that while your little one is engaged in all of these summer festivities, he may actually be moving backwards academically. 

The Summer Slide and How it Affects Your Child

I know what you’re thinking—your child’s brilliant; he’ll catch up next year, right? Not so fast! The summer slide affects even the best of students. What’s the summer slide?, you might ask. Well it’s not an amusement park attraction, unfortunately. “Summer slide” is a term that many educators use to refer to the loss of learning that students experience during the summer. A 2011 report released by the RAND Corporation revealed that on average, students lose about a month’s worth of instruction during those long, lazy days of summer.

What To Do About the Summer Slide

Can you prevent the summer slide? Absolutely! Will your kids hate you for it? Not necessarily. There are some ways that you can sneak in learning without your kid feeling like she’s being forced to “study” and robbed of her much-deserved summer fun. Here’s how:

  • Encourage Reading

Reading can and should be fun, and therefore, makes an ideal summer learning activity. No matter how old your child is, there’s likely a summer program just right for her at your local public library. Lure your youngster in by signing up for some fun activities like puppet shows, movie nights, and scavenger hunts, for instance.

As you’re wrapping things up, make sure to encourage your child to check out a few books on the way out. Then, you’ll have a reason to return with her in a couple of weeks when the books are due! As your child makes her book selections, be sure that the titles are equally engaging and challenging. While there is plenty of “brain candy” out there, your youngster will only benefit if the text is on or above her reading level. 

Choosing appropriate reading material will help your child increase her vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension skills while simultaneously providing some much-needed summer entertainment.

If you’re short on time and just can’t make it to the library, there are lots of other reading resources out there that, thanks to technology, you can access instantly without even having to leave the house. Try some storybook sites like Storyline Online and Children’s Storybooks Online
In addition, if you’re lucky enough to have an e-reader like a Kindle, Nook, or iPad, you have access to hundreds of interactive storybooks and educational games that can help your child practice reading skills in a way that he’ll find fun and engaging!
Looking for more incentives to keep your child’s nose in a book this summer? Check out Scholastic’s Summer Challenge and Book Adventure, online summer reading programs that allows kids to log their reading minutes and win prizes.


  • Assign Summer Research Projects

Not the traditional variety, of course. There’s just one rule for summer research—it must be fun! Short on ideas? Consider having your child research potential vacation activities and create an agenda based on his findings. If your child uses a safe social media site like Edmodo, for instance, have him poll his classmates and create charts and graphs that represent favorite class books, summer activities, or movies.


  • Explore Your World

The temperate summer days provide the perfect opportunity to get outdoors with your child and explore the world around you. Outdoor activities not only provide some beneficial physical activity, but with a little planning, they can also be highly educational. By interacting with the world around you, you’ll inevitably be sneaking in some science education as well. Need some ideas? Check out these fun summer science projects that you and your child can do together.

What are your favorite summer learning activities? Share your ideas in the comments section!

Yay Summer! or Not… Traditional vs. Year-Round School Calendars & Their Impact on Learning

It’s July and summer is in full swing for many families: vacation, pool time, BBQs, beach trips, summer movies, keeping pests out of the garden (or is it just me?). But I was surprised when a Facebook teacher friend posted about going back to work this week, with students starting school on July 5th. Seriously? Summer has just begun! My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to do a little research.


First I confirmed that both calendar systems have 180 days of academic instruction. Year-round schedules can look very different depending on whether a school has multiple tracks or not. Both sides seem to have research and statistics to support their views, and support is strong for both.


An estimated 10% of American children now attend school year-round. I noticed a recent trend toward calling year-round a “balanced schedule,” and some school districts are now pushing for more than 180 days in the school year.

Balanced Calendar
In summary, there appears to be very little difference in achievement between the two calendars overall, and most parents seem to be resigned to whatever system is in place locally. What do you think? Any preference?
Please leave your comments below. Here are some pros and cons of each for you to chew on:


Year-Round – Pros:   (aka multi-track)
  • 3-4 weeks off instead of 2-3 months = better skills retention
  • breaks often land near traditional holidays when parents get time off from work
  • short-term childcare often easier to find
  • eliminates need for summer enrichment programs many families can’t afford
  • more vacation options available for families
  • multi-track system helps relieve overcrowding in schools
  • remediation given at different times in academic year (intersession), giving more timely help to struggling students
  • teacher and student stress lessened with regular breaks throughout the year
  • may benefit achievement of disadvantaged students
Year-Round – Cons:
  • teachers and students may have to switch classrooms during the year
  • limited space availability makes remediation difficult in multi-track schools
  • additional storage space needed for teachers who are off-track
  • longer year and more demanding for custodians, cafeteria, maintenance, and administration
  • parents may have difficulty scheduling childcare for multiple children
  • limits time for teachers to update skills and earn advanced degrees
Traditional – Pros:  
  • it’s what most of us grew up with (read as: “people are afraid of change”)
  • allows time for children to have authentic experiences outside of the classroom
  • more summer camps and summer activities available to students
  • more family time away from demands of school
  • teachers get a real break from teaching and lesson planning
Traditional – Cons:
  • nayre.org reports 2.6 months of learning lost during summer months (though there are plenty of reports that refute this claim)
  • finding appropriate childcare can be difficult with many people going on vacation
  • more time spent on review of previous year’s material at beginning of school year
  • teachers get less time to reflect on teaching and students’ best learning styles
  • remediation offered in summer is often too little, too late
Beaumont has a modified traditional schedule, which  appears to be a compromise with less summer time off (7-8 weeks) and longer holiday breaks within the school year. My daughter gets plenty of time for camp, a family vacation, and some time to relax, read, and play her favorite computer games. And come the middle of August, I am ready for her to head back to school. Enough said.


Information compiled from sources including: schoolyear.info and nayre.org