Best Practices in Literacy Instruction
Pressley, M., Gambrell, L., Morrow, L. M. and Neuman, S. B.

A Summary by Becca

Over the past 75 years, education professionals have learned a lot about the process of reading. Great advancements in reading education have occurred because of this; even so, how to teach reading is currently very controversial. No matter what approach a teacher decides, he or she must have a well-researched method – not a method that “sounds like a good idea.”

Every teacher should know ten researched-based best practices in literacy:

  1. Teach reading for authentic meaning-making literacy experiences: for pleasure, to be informed and to perform a task.
  2. Use high-quality literature.
  3. Integrate a comprehensive word study/phonics program into reading/writing instruction.
  4. Use multiple texts that link and expand concepts.
  5. Balance teacher- and student-led discussions.
  6. Build a whole class community that emphasizes important concepts and builds background knowledge.
  7. Work with students in small groups while other students read and write about what they have read.
  8. Give students plenty of time to read in class.
  9. Give students direct instruction in decoding and comprehension strategies that promote independent reading. Balance direct instruction, guided instruction and independent learning.
  10. Use a variety of assessment techniques to form instruction.

Balance is key to any reading program. Some people will always say phonics is the answer and others will contend that whole language is the answer. Similarly, some will say that language arts need to be skill-driven and others will say language arts needs to be contextually driven. The truth is that both are important; there is no right answer for every class. Balance is key. The way that a teacher teaches reading should change with every class and with every student. There is no one right way to teach literacy.

The importance of schools not holding teachers accountable for student literacy learning was emphasized. If schools continue the accountability trend, professionals will be scared to be a teacher where it is needed most. The example of a doctor who wants to work in a disease-ridden, third world country was given. There is a small survival rate but the doctor thinks he can make a difference. If the doctor were to be held accountable for each of his or her patients’ life in a situation like this, he or she would be “out of business.” What is important is that the doctor does the best he can, no matter the situation. The same is true for teachers. If teachers are held accountable for student literacy, teachers will never want to work in places such as a ghetto in New York City. Statistically, those students need a good teacher more than the students in a higher socio-economic area, such as Port Jefferson, NY (Long Island) does. Nevertheless, the teacher if held accountable for literacy, would probably rather work at a school in Port Jefferson than a NYC ghetto.

It is very important for educators not to change their reading curriculum every time a new fad comes around. It is okay to add things to your current proven techniques, but not to completely forget the old and in with the new.

It is very important for administrative support when developing a literacy program. Without administrative support, there will never be school-wide literacy programs. These administrators need to be an example of unity and bring the school together.

Both teachers and administrators should join together to design a school-wide literacy program. When designing this program, it is very important to remember that it is not as important which test you use or which literacy program, but the fundamentals of each component that matter. Many experts now recommend school-based testing. This type of testing is often less formal. It can take the shape of observations, not merely tests. In looking at test results, raising the scores is not the most important thing. It is more important to figure out why the students are getting the test scores and improve their understanding.

The second part of the book dealt with strategies for a balanced early literacy program. By observing teachers, there was one thing that all of the effective literacy teachers had in common: Literacy Was Everywhere! It was used not just in assignments, but in daily classroom tasks. In addition, the effective teachers had a variety of techniques being used in their classrooms.

The Four Blocks Framework is a very effective way of teaching literacy in classrooms. This takes teaching literacy and makes it into four separate categories: (1) The Guided Reading Block, (2) The Self-Selected Reading Block, (3) The Writing Block and (4) The Words Block. Each of these categories is equally important to this technique.

Students need to own their reading. They need to know that it takes work and they need to be responsible for it.

In teaching writing, students need explicit writing instructions. The steps one teacher used were:

  1. Creating the writing assignment
  2. Planning the writing
  3. Writing
  4. Receiving feedback on written work
  5. Revising and edition.
  6. Finalizing the writing

There are six key components of sound writing instruction. I felt the most important one was “choice and authenticity in writing for a variety of purposes and audiences.”

Graphic organizers are very beneficial to students’ writing. This can help them plan their thoughts for their paper. It also helps the visual learners in that they will grow in their understanding.

There are four recommended ways to assess students in the classroom:

  1. Performance tasks and rubrics
  2. Portfolios
  3. Observational strategies: anecdotal records and developmental checklists
  4. Student-teacher conferences