English language arts (ELA) standards identify a set of foundational skills students must master in their progression to becoming skilled readers. These skills include alphabet recognition, concepts of print, phonological awareness, phonics, high-frequency words, and fluency.
To effectively teach foundational skills within the classroom, educators need access to engaging materials that offer the right level of challenge for students and provide ease of usability. Unfortunately, only 7 percent of K-5 teachers use one or more high-quality ELA material for their classroom instruction due to common roadblocks like long adoption cycles and costs associated with the materials. But that statistic may soon change.
The pandemic left a lasting, negative impact on the American education system. K-5 student test scores plummeted in math and reading nationwide this year, erasing two decades of progress. Now, many teachers, schools, and districts want to reassess their foundational skills instruction.
To start, teachers should follow these five tips:
1. Consider a new curriculum
Certain red flags signal that it’s time for a new foundational skills curriculum to support students.
- One-letter-a-week alphabet instruction: Children with low alphabet knowledge benefit from faster alphabet introductions because it allows more time for repeated exposure and more opportunities to practice and reteach letters as needed. Letter knowledge should also include letter-sound correspondence.
- Phonetic awareness neglect: Reading success depends on phonemic awareness, including isolating, segmenting, and blending phonemes. Children as young as preschool age can (and should) engage in phonemic awareness activities. Students do not need to master phonological awareness tasks to begin work in phonemic awareness.
- Little to no spelling of decodable words: Spelling helps students with orthographic word mapping. Students who succeed with spelling early are also more likely to develop into stronger readers. Spelling should be linked to phonics skills being taught, and there should be increased opportunities for students to write words with their new phonics skills.
- No connected decodable texts: Decodable texts provide an excellent opportunity to apply new phonetic patterns. Reading books with most of the phonetic elements taught supports fluency skills as well.
- Lacking a scope or sequence or a spiraled review cycle: Teachers need an opportunity to place students at their instructional points of need and educate them in a systematic way. An effective scope and sequence will also include a review cycle, as students need many exposures to new concepts and skills to affirm mastery.
These red flags indicate a need to reconsider a reading program because beginning readers require a solid foundation on which to build vocabulary and comprehension.
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