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I got distracted yesterday by piglets, but I wanted to follow up on my post about phonics learning.

One of the quotes from the full article that you may not have seen:


In 2000, a panel of experts was convened by the federal government to evaluate the evidence on reading instruction. One of the takeaways from the National Reading Panel’s report was that explicitly teaching about the sounds in words, and how those sounds matched up to written letters, would help children learn to read. This finding drove policy changes in the early 2000s, most notably the introduction of Reading First, a federally funded program that emphasized phonemic awareness and phonics instruction.

The program had mixed results, leading to some improvements in children’s word-reading ability, but not in their reading comprehension. In its wake, many schools and teacher education programs adopted a model called balanced literacy—aiming to balance foundational skills instruction with more focus on stories, comprehension, and developing a love of reading.

But in 2018, reporter Emily Hanford of APM Reports brought to light that in many balanced literacy classrooms, students were not receiving systematic, explicit instruction in phonics—how written letters match up to spoken sounds—and were being encouraged to use other strategies to guess at words. Without this foundational instruction, many students never figure out how to decode the printed words on the page.


In other words, students who learned phonetic reading were learning to decode the squiggles on the page into sounds and words. But too many students who learned the *technicalities* of reading weren't then moving forward to comprehension--to grasping the MEANING of the sentences in front of them. So, in a pendulum swing (because human beings do love pendulum swings), curricula developers turned their focus away from phonics and towards comprehension...and left phonics in the dust. Meaning that students then lacked the basic skills to even READ the sentences, which has to come before comprehension.

There's a basic truth about reading here that I've often taught in workshops, but isn't always understood. Here it is:

There are three levels of reading.

INSTRUCTIONAL LEVEL: The student is encountering lots of unfamiliar words and having to sound them out. She needs a lot of direct parent/teacher help to get through the sentences--so, "instructional" means that the student is still be instructed in HOW to read. Students who are working on texts at an instructional level can often sound out entire sentences and have no idea what those sentences actually mean, because they're thinking about the words, not about the overall meaning.

ON LEVEL: The reader can operate independently with occasional help, rarely needs assistance in sounding out words, and can comprehend the meaning of the sentences (because all of the student's attention isn't going into the technical sounding out of the words).

BELOW LEVEL: Easy reading that has no unfamiliar or strange words.

It is IMPERATIVE that elementary students have assignments in all three kinds of reading simultaneously.

Instructional: to increase vocabulary and decoding skills, but the focus in instructional reading should be JUST on reading. Comprehension comes second.

On level: is where actual comprehension and learning happens. History, literature, science, etc. should all be "on level" reading. You can't expect a child to absorb information if the material they're being offered is actually instructional level. Brains can rarely do two difficult things at the same time if one of them is new.

Below level: This is often neglected! Third graders should be allowed lots of time to read first grade books for fun, and so on. This is great practice, reinforces both decoding and comprehensive skills, increases speed (this becomes more important as they're given more material to cover), and reminds them that reading is supposed to be FUN.

I think that classrooms too often got stuck on using "instructional" reading for content learning, and teachers got frustrated that students couldn't retain the information. Recognizing that kids need to read on three levels simultaneously helps to address most of the concerns in this article.
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2 days ago

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I think, too, students weren’t making progress in comprehension because they lacked background knowledge. Kids definitely need phonics and they also need a rich curriculum of science and history and geography and art and music. It’s too bad phonics somehow got blamed for poor comprehension, instead of the real culprit.

I think we should also extrapolate from this—if kids are reading to learn content, it’s usually best presented below their level, so that their effort is out toward context instead of reading skills. If they’re reading to practice/improve reading, obviously that should be at/just above. I think this applies at much higher levels than we think because, Vygotsky.

The Knowledge Gap is a great read on the comprehension piece- it also helps when kids can use decodables for practice, but also have access to audio- either on their own audio or read to- and on grade level or above so the comprehension and vocab is building, but not being held back by their decoding level.

I don’t think I can agree that “reading is supposed to be FUN.” I certainly believe that reading should be an ENJOYABLE experience and that “fun” can be an outcome. I was fortunate enough to have a father and grandfather, both of whom were self educated. Both read voraciously. Neither had much formal education but both were strong believers in reading and read to me daily when I was a youngster. They introduced me to our local public library and its librarians when I was a small child. Through all this I came to understand that life was made larger through reading. Sometimes this was fun, sometimes not but reading was always an enjoyable experience.

Before COVID-19 I served as a reading companion (tutor) in the local elementary school. I was trained that we do not use phonics -at all. Stressed me out. I agree the pendulum swung too far in the opposite side. I would encourage my students to read and then re-read so they could basically tell me the story the third time. For every grade level instructional book we finished I would often reward them with a subject specific “fun” book to read. It was no small feat. I miss it.

Sentence diagraming was taught in my elementary education during the early 50's and have served me well throughout my life.

I am soooo in my head on this one! Came into teaching in the hey day of balanced literacy and my own path to reading was in the whole language craze. I’m a math coach now, so haven’t kept up with reading research, but Science of Reading is something I’m looking more into. I don’t disagree with anything I’m reading here, either. Any easily digestible resources for a mama who would like to learn more?

So good!!! So true!!!! And the reason for many of the issues that students have such poor ability to even read simple sentences 😞.

I suspect that teaching reading in a school environment (20 plus kids) is an entirely different beast than teaching reading at home. And I’m not sure it makes sense to try to apply successes in one to the other. I’m pretty sure all three of my kids would have learned to read regardless of whatever instruction we had at home, but if they had been in a class, the story would have been different.

I used phonetic instruction (Teach…100 Easy Lessons .., Phonics Pathways, and The Ordinary Parent’s Guide…) in teaching my children to read. I was baffled when each one went through a ‘guess the word’ phase. I queried myself, “They know the sounds the letters and combinations make, why are they guessing like they did not receive this instruction?” I have a hypothesis as to why, but was wondering if any others have had a similar experience?

This is so helpful! My little reader is struggling a bit. (Covid learning year last year). He’s chugging along but this helps me offer the “right” reading resources at home this year (back in PS).

All About Reading is a curriculum that covers phonics, comprehension, and literary concepts like poetry, stanza, onomatopoeia, synonyms, homophones, etc.

Vicki Davitz Carney

June Bishop

Ah, the old “I got distracted by piglets” excuse.

Very informative.

Can't like this enough. SPOT ON.

Very good article! I call the student “below level” fiction reads “Junk Food Books.” They are fun, delicious, and fast… and you don’t get a lot of nutrients out of them. Then I tell them about my favorite Junk Food books: fairytales. It is the Wendy’s of the book world, and Mom does it too: light escapism! Yet we have our serious books as well: things we want to learn. Adults today, if they read at all, rarely expand from the junk food diet. My oldest has two books on his nightstand: the junk food and the serious, and he knows the role each serves for him.

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So I have a few more thoughts on reading and phonics but I'll have to post them tomorrow because THIS JUST HAPPENED ON THE FARM. Eight pure Mangalitsa piglets born to our farm sow Katerina! ... See MoreSee Less

3 days ago

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I don't have piglets but I have 13 puppies who are now 2 1/2 weeks old. 😃

They’re adorable!!! My daughter is very concerned about the one not getting to eat. 😅

So cute! And so vibrant for just being born! Looking healthy from these inexperienced eyes!

So great! Do they forage? We’re in a farm in Bend, OR and wondered if the high desert would suit. They’re so cool. Love the heritage breeds! 💗

So cute! Baby animals are so fun.

Love this‼️ 🧡 Nothing like little piglets to bring a smile to my face.

Oh. My. Goodness. I can’t stand the cuteness.

Their coat patterns! 🥰 I just love piglets! So very cute. 😊

Absolutely precious🐽!💖🐽💖🐽💖🐽💖🐽💖🐽💖🐽💖🐽💖

Adorable!! Congratulations

Such pretty colors!


Who knew such little piglets could make such big sounds?


Lila! 💓

Could there be anything cuter?

That's going to be awesome bacon soon

They’re DARLING!!

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