The California experience in teaching reading has been advisory.
As such the Department of Education offers guidance in the development
and implementation of a balanced, comprehensive reading program
in grades one through eight that include "systematic, explicit
phonics, spelling, and basic computational skills."
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Board
of Education, and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing express
their commitment to reading instruction that conforms to Statetate
educational policy. The advisory is one of a number of state efforts
designed to improved reading performance of California's students.
There is sufficient guidance now available from research about how
children best learn to read and about how successful reading programs
work to ensure that virtually every child will learn to read well,
at least by the end of third grade. This advisory is offered in
support of that goal.
The advisory contains two sections. Part I, "The Reading Program,"
focuses on the essential components of a complete program of early
reading instruction, with specific guidance in systematic, explicit
skills instruction and other essential components of an early reading
program; classroom diagnosis; program assessment; and early intervention
strategies, including family-school partnerships that support student
learning and home learning. Grade-level expectations and examples
of classroom activities are also included in this part of the advisory.
Part II, "Instructional Guidance and Support," addresses
the planning necessary to support classroom implementation, including
the development of local standards and ongoing professional development.
Components of a Balanced and Comprehensive Reading Program--From
Research to Practice
The Reading Task Force report called for a balanced and comprehensive
approach to early reading instruction that includes both teacher-directed
skills instruction and the activities and strategies most often
associated with literature-based, integrated language arts instruction.
Specifically, on page 2 of its introduction to Every Child a
Reader, the Reading Task Force states: "It was determined
that a balanced and comprehensive approach to reading must have:
- a strong literature, language, and comprehension program that
includes a balance of oral and written language;
- an organized, explicit skills program that includes phonemic
awareness (sounds in words), phonics, and decoding skills to
address the needs of the emergent reader;
- ongoing diagnosis that informs teaching and assessment that
ensures accountability; and
- a powerful early intervention program that provides individual
tutoring for children at risk of reading failure."
This program advisory suggests that explicit skills instruction
be part of a broader language-rich program consistent with the best
practices of literature-based language arts instruction and the
English--Language Arts Framework, which is currently under
revision. Any changes made to improve or enhance reading instruction
and practice should be informed by current research while conforming
to relevant statutes.
To be complete and balanced and to meet the literacy needs of all
students, including English language learners and students with
special needs, any early reading program must include the following
instructional components: phonemic awareness; letter names and shapes;
systematic, explicit phonics; spelling; vocabulary development;
comprehension and higher-order thinking; and appropriate instructional
Phonemic awareness is the understanding that spoken words and syllables
are themselves made up of sequences of elementary speech sounds.
This understanding is essential for learning to read an alphabetic
language because it is these elementary sounds or phonemes that
letters represent. Without phonemic awareness, phonics can make
no sense, and the spellings of words can be learned only by rote.
In the early stages of its development, phonemic awareness does
not involve written letters or words and is, therefore, not synonymous
with phonics. In later stages, however, work on phonemic awareness
and phonics appears to be mutually reinforcing.
Research has shown repeatedly that phonemic awareness is a powerful
predictor of success in learning to read. Research findings include
As children become proficient in spoken language, they learn to
attend to its meaning rather than its sounds. For that reason, acquiring
phonemic awareness is difficult for many. However, research demonstrates
that phonemic awareness can be fostered through language activities
that encourage active exploration and manipulation of sounds and
that doing so significantly accelerates both reading and writing
growth for all children. Research also indicates that all young
readers benefit from explicit assistance with phonemic awareness;
at least one-fifth of them depend critically on it. Children should
be diagnosed in mid-kindergarten to determine if they are adequately
progressing and, if not, given more intensive phonemic awareness
training. The discovery of the nature and enabling importance of
phonemic awareness is said to be the single greatest breakthrough
in reading pedagogy in this century (Adams, 1990).
- Phonemic awareness is more highly related to learning to read
than tests of general intelligence, reading readiness, and listening
comprehension (Stanovich, 1986, 1993).
- The lack of phonemic awareness is the most powerful determinant
of the likelihood of failure to learn to read because of its
importance in learning the English alphabetic system or in learning
how print represents spoken words. If children cannot hear and
manipulate the sounds in spoken words, they have an extremely
difficult time learning how to map those sounds to letters and
letter patterns&151;the essence of decoding (Adams, 1990).
- Phonemic awareness is the most important core and causal factor
separating normal and disabled readers (Share and Stanovich,
- Phonemic awareness is equally important in learning to spell.
(Ehri, 1992; Treiman, 1993).
Support for phonemic awareness development should occur in prekindergarten,
kindergarten, and first grade (Yopp, 1992), including the abilities
- attend to the separate words of sentences (e.g., rhyming songs,
- break up words into syllables (e.g., clapping syllables);
- detect and generate rhymes;
- engage in alliterative language play (e.g., listening for
or generating words that begin with a specific initial phoneme);
- blend phonemes to make words (e.g., /b/-/a/-/t/= bat);
- make new words by substituting one phoneme for another (e.g.,
change the /h/ in "hot" to /p/);
- identify the middle and final phonemes of words; and
- segment words into phonemes (e.g., dog = /d/-/o/-/g/).
Letter Names and Shapes
Familiarity with the letters of the alphabet is another powerful
predictor of early reading success. Until children can quickly recognize
letters, they cannot begin to appreciate that all words are made
of sequences and patterns of letters. Until children can comfortably
discriminate the shape of one letter from another, there is no point
in teaching letter-sound pairings. Encouraging young children to
produce temporary spellings is a powerful means of developing phonemic
awareness; yet children will not write willingly until they can
form the letters with adequate ease and to their own satisfaction.
Knowledge of the letter names is important, too, for it is shown
to be a major means by which children recall or generate the sounds
of letters in their independent reading and writing.
Because the names and shapes of the letters in English are very
similar to one another, their learning is best fostered through
numerous guided and playful exposures to the alphabet. Across the
prekindergarten and kindergarten years, teachers should create many
opportunities to engage their students with the names, shapes, and
formation of the letters of the alphabet.
Systematic, Explicit Phonics
This term refers to an organized program where letter-sound correspondences
for letters and letter clusters are directly taught; blended; practiced
in words, word lists, and word families; and practiced initially
in text with a high percentage of decodable words linked to the
phonics lesson. Teachers should provide prompt and explicit feedback.
In reading for meaning, skillful readers move their eyes through
text left to right, line by line, and word by word. With the exception
of short function words, such as a, on, of,
and any, they almost never skip or guess. Instead, they fixate
on very nearly each and every word of text. Further, during the
fraction of a second that they do so, they take in--and must take
in--all of its letters, translating them to speech sounds on their
way to evoking the word's meaning.
These word recognition processes are far too rapid and automatic
for skillful readers to be aware of them. Nevertheless, their reality
has been broadly confirmed through a variety of technologically
sophisticated research methods with mature readers, including eye-movement
recordings and brain-imaging techniques.
In terms of instruction, these findings carry a critical implication.
To become skillful readers, children must learn how to decode words
instantly and effortlessly. It is for this reason that children
must be taught initially to examine the letters and letter patterns
of every new word while reading. Similarly, while practicing phonetic
decoding, children must not be taught to skip new words or guess
their meaning. While the interpretation of text depends integrally
on context, the recognition of its words should not. Research reveals
that only poor and disabled readers rely on context for word identification
(Stanovich, 1980). Conversely, poorly developed knowledge of spellings
and spelling-sound correspondences is found to be the most frequent,
debilitating, and pervasive cause of reading difficulty (Bruck,
1990; Perfetti, 1985; Rack, Snowling, and Olson, 1992; Vellutino,
1991). Young readers must develop fast, accurate decoding skills;
and research verifies that they are much more likely to do so if
they receive a good program of phonics instruction.
The role of effective phonics instruction is to help children understand,
apply, and learn the alphabetic principle and conventions of written
language. Phonics instruction is not about rote drill involving
a comprehensive list of spelling-sound correspondences and phonics
rules. The most effective phonics instruction is explicit--that
is, taking care to clarify key points and principles for students.
In addition, it is systematic--that is, it gradually builds from
basic elements to more subtle and complex patterns. The goal is
to convey the logic of the system and to invite its extension to
new words that the children will encounter on their own. Teaching
phonics opportunistically by pointing out spelling-sound connections
only as they arise does not have the same impact on learning.
Research shows that children are naturally inclined to view words
as holistic patterns, rather like pictures. The drawback to this
approach is that learning to recognize one word as a picture offers
no advantage toward learning to recognize the next. Toward developing
children's word recognition abilities, it follows that among the
first and most critical challenges is that of persuading children
to go beyond this tendency.
By its very nature, phonics instruction encourages children to examine
all the letters of each new word, left to right. Conversely, by
linking speech sounds to the letters, it enables students to use
their oral knowledge of a word to remember the word's spelling.
In addition, it provides a strategy by which students can identify
previously unseen words on their own as they read.
Initial phonics instruction is best conducted with a relatively
small set of consonants and short vowels. These spelling-sound relationships
should be developed progressively. By using this limited set of
letters to build as many familiar words as possible, students can
be convinced of the utility of phonics and shown that every letter
matters. Most commonly, initial lessons should focus on short words
that adhere to the basic left-to-right principle of sounding and
blending, such as fat and fit. Once children have
learned to sound out such basic short-vowel patterns, lessons should
be extended to include the most common other vowel spellings. Importantly,
research demonstrates that for children who understand how the alphabetic
principle works, it is relatively easy for them to add new letter-sound
pairs to the working set.
Research shows that it is important for children to practice the
phonics they have learned. It is therefore essential that the initial
books that children attempt to read on their own be composed of
decodable text. More details on this subject are provided in the
section entitled "Appropriate Instructional Materials."
Not all words are amenable to decoding. Whether irregular or not,
those short words of extremely high frequency, such as the,
of, are, and you, should be familiarized at
the outset. Text cannot be written without these very high frequency
words. Further, because so many of them are irregularly spelled,
they should be recognized at a glance so that the student's attention
is not diverted from decoding. A workable number of these words
should be firmly established in kindergarten and early first grade
by directing attention to them in big book and writing activities.
As other irregular words are added along the way, it is worth noting
their peculiarities as well as their phonetic regularities. This
practice serves at once to make them more memorable and to protect
the rest of the system from their waywardness.
Context has been shown to have a powerful effect on students' comprehension
of words and sentences. The use of syntactic (grammar) and semantic
(meaning) levels of language has been found to be helpful in a number
of ways. Sometimes a reader will use context cues when learning
decoding skills. Context is also useful to resolve ambiguity (e.g.,
in the two pronunciations of the word read). A third use
is to suggest a possible meaning when a word is unknown to the reader
(e.g., the meaning of facade when the reader does not know
that facade means the front or face of a building). Finally,
context helps accelerate reading rate. Large quantities of a variety
of genres (e.g., novel, biography, short story, play, poem, article)
of fiction and nonfiction materials must be read each year by each
child beginning in grade one. Fluency with text is the ultimate
key to the door of comprehension and higher-order thinking.
The best instruction provides a strong relationship between what
children learn in phonics and what they read. A high proportion
of the words in the earliest selections children read should be
decodable (i.e., conform to the phonics they have already been taught;
Becoming a Nation of Readers, 1984). After children have
demonstrated initial levels of phonemic awareness, both phonemic
awareness and phonics can be taught simultaneously. At this point
it is also essential that both phonemic awareness and phonics be
mutually reinforced in the context of integrated, shared reading
and writing activities.
Good spelling is much more than a literary nicety. Poorly developed
spelling knowledge is shown to hinder children's writing, to disrupt
their reading fluency, and to obstruct their vocabulary development
(Adams, Treiman, and Pressley, 1996; Read, 1986). Although it is
appropriate to encourage beginners to use temporary or invented
spellings to express their thoughts in print, programmatic instruction
in correct spellings should begin in first grade and continue across
the school years. In addition, and increasingly across the school
years, children should be expected to attend to the correctness
of their spellings in their writing.
Children's temporary spellings are a direct reflection of their
own knowledge and understanding of how words actually are spelled.
As such, they are also an invaluable medium for diagnosing difficulties
and evaluating progress. For example, children who scribble need
support with print awareness and letter knowledge.
By engaging students in thinking actively and reflectively about
the sounds of words and their spellings, exercise in temporary spelling
lays a strong cognitive foundation for both formal spelling and
phonics. It does not, however, eliminate the need for learning how
to spell correctly. Consistent with this, research demonstrates
that combining ample early support of temporary spelling with systematic,
formal spelling instruction results in more rapid growth in both
correct spelling and word recognition than does either approach
alone (Shefelbine, 1995).
Regular and active attention to spelling in the classroom serves
to increase the willingness and productivity with which all students
write. Because the first challenge is to develop the children's
phonemic awareness and knowledge of basic letter-sound correspondences,
such activities should begin with short, regular words, such as
pot, pat, and pan. As the principal goal of
these early sessions is to develop the kind of thinking on which
good spelling depends, they should be playful and exploratory. Beyond
challenging the children to produce the spellings in focus, the
lessons should be designed to model the process of generating and
troubleshooting one's spellings and to provide instructive feedback
on specific difficulties.
Gradually, the focus of these instructional activities should be
extended to more complex spelling patterns and words. Moving pattern
by pattern from basics through consonant blends, long vowel spellings,
inflections, and so on, the primary goal is to instill the larger
logic and regularities of the system and its conventions. The early
exploratory lessons will evolve seamlessly into formal spelling
In later grades, such instruction should extend to spellings and
meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and word roots. Leading children
to notice such patterns across many different examples makes it
easier for them to learn the particular words in study. At the same
time, it supports their ability to look for and use such spelling
patterns and word analysis strategies beyond the lesson in their
own reading and writing.
The primary goal of spelling instruction, as with phonics, is to
alert children to patterns, to how words are put together, and to
conventions and correctness. Spelling lists and quizzes should be
purposeful and support and reinforce reading and writing instruction.
Extensive reading and writing, including opportunities to edit for
final publication, for real purposes and audiences, play an indispensable
role in mastering spelling.
Written language places far greater demands on people's vocabulary
knowledge than does casual spoken language. Indeed, more advanced
texts depend so heavily on precise wording to build meaning and
message that, from the middle grades on, students' reading comprehension
can be closely estimated by measures of their vocabulary. Students
will be able to learn from these texts only if they approach them
with most of the vocabulary they require.
In fact, learning to read brings with it special opportunities as
well as special needs for expanding one's vocabulary. Thus, research
indicates that of the roughly 3,000 new words that the average student
learns per year, the majority are learned by encountering them in
text. However, the number of new words that children can learn from
text depends on how much they read, and the amount that children
read ranges enormously. As documented by research, the ninetieth
percentile fifth grader reads about 200 times more text per year
than the tenth percentile reader does (Nagy, Herman, and Anderson,
In the interest of vocabulary development, then, all children should
be read to as much as possible. Yet this cannot be the whole solution.
First, children need to be encouraged to attend to the meanings
of new words they encounter in text. Second, the ability to understand
and remember the meanings of new words depends quite strongly on
how well developed one's vocabulary is already.
Beginning in kindergarten, vocabulary growth should be actively
supported in the classroom. Vocabulary instruction is shown to be
most effective when explicit information about the words' definitions
is complemented by attention to their usages and shades of meaning
across contexts. It is useful to organize vocabulary studies structurally,
in terms of roots and affixes, or topically (e.g., science, transportation,
weather, or math words). In addition, children should be asked to
create glossaries of the new words they encounter in their reading.
Bear in mind that the ultimate goal of such instruction is no more
to teach new words than to teach children to learn them on their
Comprehension and Higher-Order Thinking
When we read effortlessly and accurately, we are able to construct
meaning at two levels. The first level works with the words of the
text and gives us back a literal understanding of what the author
has written. Yet productive reading involves far more than literal
comprehension. The priority issues while reading should include
the following questions: Why am I reading this and how does this
information relate to my reasons for so doing? What is the author's
point of view? What are the underlying assumptions? Do I understand
what the author is saying and why? Do I know where the author is
headed? Is the text internally consistent? Is it consistent with
what I already know and believe or have learned elsewhere? If not,
where does it depart and what do I think about the discrepancy?
It is the second level of meaning construction that yields this
sort of reflective, purposeful understanding.
The productivity of students' higher-order comprehension processes
is limited by their vocabulary and reading fluency in two ways.
First, these higher-order processes are necessarily thought-intensive.
They require analytic, evaluative, and reflective access to local
and long-term memory.
Yet active attention is limited. To the extent that readers struggle
with the words, they necessarily lose track of meaning. Second,
it is the wording or explicitly given information in the text that
constitutes the basic data with which the higher-order comprehension
processes must work. When readers skip or fail to understand the
words of the text, comprehension suffers.
In the interest of developing students' reading comprehension, the
students should be given many opportunities for open discussion
of both the highlights and difficulties of text. Because the grammatical
structures of written text are more varied and complex than those
of casual, oral language, regular exploration and explicit instruction
on formal syntax are also warranted. Research shows, too, that children's
reflective control of text can be improved through direct instruction
in comprehension strategies. These sorts of discussions and activities
should be conducted throughout a range of literary genres, both
fiction and nonfiction. Beginning in kindergarten, they should be
a regular part of the language arts curriculum throughout the children's
Even so, the single most valuable activity for developing children's
comprehension is reading itself. The amount of reading that children
do is shown to predict the growth in reading comprehension across
the elementary school years even after controlling for entry-level
differences. It predicts the quantity as well as the language, vocabulary,
and structure of students' writing. It also predicts the richness
of their oral storytelling. Among older students and adults, it
predicts receptive vocabulary, verbal fluency, content-area achievement,
and all manner of general knowledge even when other measures of
school ability, general intelligence, age, education, and reading
comprehension itself are taken out of the equation (Anderson et
al., 1984; Adams, Treiman, and Pressley, 1996; Stanovich, 1993).
Through reading, students encounter new words, new language, and
new facts. Beyond that, however, they encounter thoughts and modes
of thinking that might never arise in their face-to-face worlds.
In the interest of their own greatest potential and fulfillment,
all students should be encouraged to read as frequently, broadly,
and thoughtfully as possible.
Appropriate Instructional Materials
A balanced, comprehensive early literacy program must embrace a
variety of reading materials. To illustrate the range, these may
include environmental print, student compositions, classroom anthologies,
trade books (e.g., literature books that are not part of a traditional
textbook series), chapter books, core works of fiction and nonfiction,
magazines, newspapers, reference materials, and technology. Whatever
the nature of the material, however, the mode in which it is read
can be roughly divided into three categories: read-alouds, instructional
reading, and independent reading. Beyond its content, the instructional
value of any given text depends jointly on the developmental level
of the students and the mode in which the text is to be read.
Reading aloud to students is important at every age. Its principal
purpose is not to replace the time spent reading independently but
rather to open their literary worlds by helping them to learn about
what they are yet to learn. In view of this purpose, materials that
are most appropriate for read-alouds are materials that, while capturing
the students' interests, are also still beyond their ability to
read and digest on their own. Thus, whereas illustrated storybooks
are most suitable for kindergartners, longer stories and even well-chosen
novels are within reach by the end of first grade. Choose stories,
chapter books, and poems; but also choose reference books and news
clippings; math, science, and history; biographies; jokes and brainteasers.
Use read-aloud sessions as a means of helping students to explore
genre, language, and information. The goal is to whet their appetites,
open their curiosity, kindle their knowledge, and show them the
For preschoolers and kindergartners, the most appropriate materials
for teaching concepts about print and sight words are big books,
especially those with predictable or familiar texts (Clay, 1993;
Holdaway, 1979). Encouraging children to match the wording to the
text in these materials is invaluable in fostering their print awareness
and syntactic growth. Big books with repeated word patterns are
also good resources for helping children learn to recognize very
high frequency words.
Across the later grades, materials selected for instructional reading
sessions are to be read by students but with help by adults. The
purpose of these sessions is to be proactive; they are forums for
stretching the students, for showing them--with adult guidance and
feedback--how to handle new textual challenges. In general, the
most appropriate materials for instructional sessions should be
just a bit more difficult than what the students can read competently
on their own. Bear in mind that texts can be difficult in many different
ways--in wording, language, concept or information, genre, story
structure, or message. As a rule of thumb, if a text is hard in
one way, it should best be manageable in all others. In that way,
the students have the best chance of appreciating and coming to
terms with the lesson, rather than losing interest or getting lost.
When English language learners begin to learn to read in English,
either as their first reading experience or after learning to read
in their home language, they can be most successful learning to
read what they can already say and understand. As with all other
learners, decodable texts should be used to provide these early
readers practice in becoming fluent and accurate decoders. Reading
decodable and patterned texts, however, must be preceded by sufficient
oral language development relative to those texts to ensure success
in reading with such materials.
The goal of all reading sessions is to support students' interest
and capacity for independent reading. Research strongly asserts
that from the beginning of first grade and in tandem with basic
phonics instruction, the most appropriate materials for independent
reading are decodable texts. Toward creating a solid foundation
for learning to read, most new words in these texts should be wholly
decodable on the basis of the phonics that students have been taught.
Sight words should be familiarized ahead of time so that they will
not divert this purpose. As soon as children can read such basic
decodable texts with reasonable comfort and fluency, they can move
on to less controlled texts such as trade books. Some students will
be ready to do so sooner than others. However, by having an ample
supply of decodable texts and easy-to-read materials, it is possible
to ensure that all students are productively engaged.
To encourage optimal progress with the use of any of these early
reading materials, teachers need to be aware of the difficulty level
of the text relative to a child's reading level. A book is said
to be at a child's independent level if 95--100 percent of the words
can be read correctly. Instructional level books can be read with
a 90--94 percent level of accuracy. Frustration level reading involves
text read by a child at the 89 percent accuracy level or below.
Regardless of how well a child already reads, high error rates are
negatively correlated with growth; low error rates are positively
linked with growth. A text that is too difficult, then, not only
serves to undermine a child's confidence and will but also diminishes
An effective program depends equally on establishing time and expectation
for independent reading. In the beginning, partner or small-group
reading may work better than asking children to use their time well
on their own. When sending materials home with beginners, teachers
should encourage the parents to share-read (e.g., every other sentence
or paragraph) with their children. Remember, too, that for all materials
to be read by children, rereading is of enormous benefit. Returning
to a text after several days or even weeks is a very good tactic
for young readers (Clay, 1991). Research shows that rereadings result
in marked improvements not just in children's speed, accuracy, and
expression but also in their comprehension and linguistic growth.
Rereadings bring not only the opportunity for fluency and the learning
thus fostered but also a chance to revisit and reflect on the meaning,
message, and language of a text. Finally, because classroom time
is limited and because literacy growth depends so strongly on the
amount of reading children do, all students in every grade should
be required to read every day outside of school.
Expectations and Examples of Classroom Practices
As districts consider making changes to address the essential components
of a powerful reading program, careful planning needs to occur to
ensure appropriate progression across the grade spans. Examples
of grade-level expectations and learning activities to support student
learning in these areas are included below; these examples are intended
to be illustrative, providing districts insights into concepts that
should be addressed at each grade level. More detailed information
regarding grade-level expectations is provided in the appendix to
the Reading Task Force report entitled "Sample Reading Curriculum
Timeline: Preschool Through Eighth Grade," which is reprinted
on pages 26--32 of this publication.
In order to meet the individual needs of all learners, each classroom
should provide a balance of grouping types. Children are organized
in whole groups, small groups, pairs, or as individuals for guided
process reading and writing, shared reading, skills instruction,
and independent reading and writing. In addition to planning their
programs carefully, districts need to ensure that all teachers understand
the importance of flexible grouping in the teaching of reading.
It is usually not efficient or effective for teachers to teach reading
across the span of skill levels represented in an entire class of
students. Flexible grouping helps teachers match instruction to
the widely differing skill levels typically found in a classroom.
Flexible groups are skill based and temporary, allowing instruction
to align as much as possible with the skill level of those children
in the group; children who learn at a faster or slower rate move
to a different group as needed.
Grade-level expectations. Before entering kindergarten,
virtually every child should:
Learning Activities. At the prekindergarten level,
language arts skills and understandings are developed primarily
through a variety of interactive activities, such as painting, drawing,
building with blocks, singing, dancing, and dramatic play. Children
are read picture books and simple storybooks every day at school,
and parents are encouraged to read to their children at home. Activities
provide playful yet explicit exposure to letter names and the alphabet.
Examples of learning activities for this age group include:
- recognize print in the environment;
- distinguish separate words;
- recognize rhyming words;
- know some letter names and shapes, including the letters in
the child's name;
- begin to demonstrate reading-like behaviors, such as pretending
to read and write;
- begin to demonstrate understanding of picture books and simple
- retell stories, make predictions, and connect stories to background
experiences in a teacher-guided group format.
- singing nursery rhymes and songs, including playful songs
which substitute sounds in words and play with word parts;
- using language in play, such as playing house or pretending
to write a grocery list;
- playing rhyming games (singing songs and reciting poems or
- playing with magnetic letters or letter blocks; and
- having guided discussion of read-alouds and other shared experiences.
Grade-level expectations. At the end of kindergarten,
virtually every child should:
Learning activities. At the kindergarten level, language
arts skills and understandings are still developed primarily through
a variety of interactive language activities. Students are immersed
in a print-rich environment. Activities capitalize on children's
natural curiosity and sense of playfulness; they provide extensive
exposure to the alphabet and promote phonemic awareness. Children
are read to every day, both at school and at home, and are exposed
to a wide range of materials, including picture books, storybooks,
poems, and expository text. Students also have daily writing opportunities.
Examples of learning activities for this age group include:
- have mastered all of the concepts about print, including the
names and shapes of most of the letters of the alphabet;
- demonstrate phonemic awareness through activities such as
rhyming, clapping syllables, substituting sounds, and blending
- recognize upper and lower case letters;
- know how to read his/her own and others' names and common
environmental print in the classroom;
- read some high-frequency words;
- read the first few levels of decodable readers for kindergarten;
- write independently at the alphabetic stage of development;
- retell in simple terms stories that have been read to him/her
as well as make simple
evaluations and interpretations of their content; and
- connect, with the teacher's help, what is read to him/her
with real experiences.
- playing games that identify words that do not belong and singing
songs and reciting texts that play with phonemes or that substitute
words and word parts in a rhyming pattern;
- using physical responses, such as clapping, tapping, and body
movements, to demonstrate syllabication or patterns in songs,
stories, or words;
- sorting letters or identifying prominent letters in words;
- having guided discussion of read-alouds and other shared experiences;
- singing and reciting verses;
- staging class performances of stories and nursery rhymes;
- "reading" predictable books independently;
- tracing letters in sand; making letters out of clay; playing
with letter blocks, magnetic letters, and pocket charts;
- writing in journals and dictating stories;
- discussing word meanings, ideas, books, and experiences; and
- using a language experience approach to reading activities.
Grade-level expectations. At the end of first grade,
virtually every child should:
Learning activities. At the first-grade level, students
continue to be immersed in a print-rich environment. Children are
read to and practice their own reading on a daily basis. Students
have daily writing opportunities. Activities include play with language
and are structured so as to promote phonemic awareness, letter recognition,
and comprehension. Direct, explicit phonics instruction is provided,
and formal spelling instruction should be introduced late in the
year. Examples of learning activities for this age group include:
- demonstrate phonemic awareness and knowledge of how print
- demonstrate fluent and accurate decoding skills with grade-level
- read independently grade-level materials that contain the
most common sight words and employ knowledge of most consonants,
short vowels, and the silent "e" rule;
- use conventional spelling for simple, regularly spelled words
as well as temporary spelling for more complex words;
- identify all letter names and shapes;
- retell stories he/she has read with a beginning, middle, and
- relate parts of stories to his/her own experience and tell
about the parts liked best and why; and
- make predictions about what is read to him/her or what he/she
- separating words into separate sounds;
- providing multiple opportunities first to read decodable text
and eventually to read predictable text and easy trade books;
- participating in daily word play in which small groups of
students construct words by changing the beginning, middle,
or ending of more complex words;
- blending letters when learning common spelling and sound patterns;
- decoding big words by decoding smaller words or word parts
- writing in stories or recording observations, using conventional
spelling for simple, regularly spelled words as well as temporary
spelling for more complex words;
- maintaining a reading log of leveled books read independently,
showing reading of increasingly complex text;
- writing captions for pictures;
- making storyboards or other graphic organizers with others
that show the setting, characters, and events in a story;
- engaging in shared, guided, and independent reading and writing;
- using a language experience approach to reading activities;
- having guided discussions focused on comprehension and thinking.
Grade-level expectations. At the end of second grade,
virtually every child should:
- read grade-level materials independently;
- demonstrate mastery of most phonics elements (e.g., consonants,
vowels, blends, clusters, syllables, common phonics rules);
- use conventional spelling in his/her own writing for high-frequency
words and words with regular spelling patterns;
- connect readings to experiences or knowledge; and
- ask test-like questions about what has been read, clarify
new terms in context, confirm predictions, summarize, interpret,
and analyze the content in simple terms.
Learning activities. At the second-grade level, students
continue to be immersed in a print-rich environment. Direct, explicit
phonics instruction and formal spelling instruction are provided.
Children are read to and read independently every day. Students
have daily writing opportunities, and activities are structured
to promote reading comprehension. Examples of learning activities
for this age group include:
- changing or deleting the beginning, middle, and ending sounds
of words in a pocket chart to make new words;
- decoding more complex words in a shared reading;
- writing an imaginative story or a letter, using conventional
- maintaining a reading log of books read independently, showing
reading of increasingly complex texts;
- engaging in word studies and maintaining word logs for spelling
and vocabulary development;
- participating in shared, guided, and independent reading and
- participating in a choral reading performance for parents
or other students; and
- participating in discussions and writing that develop comprehension
and thinking skills.
Grade-level expectations. At the end of third grade,
virtually every child should:
Learning activities. At the third-grade level, students
should continue to be immersed in a print-rich environment. Children
are read to and read independently every day in school and at home.
Students have daily writing opportunities. Direct, explicit phonics
instruction and formal spelling instruction are provided. Activities
are also structured to promote reading comprehension. Examples of
learning activities for this age group include:
- read independently grade-level fiction and nonfiction materials
with literal and inferential comprehension;
- develop a knowledge of common spelling patterns, roots, and
- use conventional spelling and conventions of print (paragraphs,
- question; clarify new words; make predictions and answer "if-then"
questions; summarize reading passages; and answer questions
that require analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of grade-level
fiction and nonfiction material; and
- support answers to questions about the reading by drawing
on background knowledge and upon literal and inferential information
from the text.
- reading aloud to a partner with rhythm, pace, and intonation
that sounds like natural speech;
- maintaining a reading log of books read independently, showing
reading of increasingly complex texts;
- writing a report based upon reading about a topic in several
sources that includes appropriate facts and uses conventional
spelling and conventions of print (paragraphs, end-sentence
- engaging in word studies and maintaining word logs for spelling
and vocabulary development;
- doing process writing for different purposes and audiences
that develops higher-order thinking; and
- participating in guided and independent discussions that promote
effective comprehension strategies and higher-order thinking.
In Recommendation 2 of its report, the Reading Task Force stated
that schools and school districts should provide every teacher with
a variety of assessment tools and strategies necessary to inform
daily instruction. Student skills can be assessed with a list that
begins with single letters and progresses to words ordered in complexity.
Text used for the assessment of fluency and comprehension should
be ordered with respect to difficulty as well. By assessing these
measures three or four times a year with children in kindergarten
through grade 2, teachers can detect which children are falling
behind in classroom instruction and are candidates for early intervention.
Other useful tools include:
- screening assessments (e.g., for phonemic awareness, language
proficiency in English or other home languages, concepts about
print, and writing);
- checklists (especially in kindergarten for areas such as concepts
about print, phonemic awareness, letter knowledge and phonics,
and attitudes toward reading and writing);
- "running records" for assessing reading accuracy,
analyzing student errors, and establishing reading level;
- scoring guides for writing (including benchmarks indicating
- records of amount of reading or writing accomplished in terms
of pages, minutes, words, stories, books, and so forth;
- individual and group-administered tests, including unit tests
that accompany adopted reading programs, quick assessments,
reading inventories, and annual norm-referenced assessments;
- comprehensive assessments, such as the California Learning
- collections of student work (rated on rubrics that include
benchmarks indicating "competence").
Such assessments might be conducted more frequently for children
who are struggling and are considered below grade level and less
frequently for those achieving at higher levels. In addition, the
results of such assessments can be used in at least two ways. One
obvious use is to guide instruction by determining what a given
child has not yet learned. Over time, information viewed in this
way will form the basis for a teacher's decision to seek interventions
beyond the classroom to accelerate a child's development to a level
comparable to his/her peers. A second and equally important use
of diagnostic information is to determine what a child already knows
so that it might be explicitly reinforced whenever possible. Using
information in this way guides the teacher to strengthen the skill
or concept and to build a student's confidence and awareness of
what he/she knows and can do. In short, "diagnosis" as
used in this document refers to ways to collect and use information
on students' strengths and their weaknesses for the purposes of
both classroom instruction as well as decisions for providing early
Although the program features outlined above might be research based,
balanced, and comprehensive, it is a significant challenge for a
single teacher to ensure the success of every child in reading through
the classroom experiences. Children arrive at school with literacy
experiences that range from zero to 2000 hours. Some also speak
multiple languages and all bring a variety of different background
experiences with them. Given these realities, it is going to take
the school, community, and parents working together to achieve success
in reading and thinking for every child in California.
The Reading Task Force recognized this need in Recommendation 3:
Schools must have an effective, rigorous, proven intervention
program as part of their comprehensive literacy plan for instruction,
with an emphasis on early intervention for children by mid-first
The first level of intervention is the classroom with a powerful
program of rich language and instruction. Diagnostic information
collected daily, weekly, and monthly by the teacher will indicate
which children are beginning to struggle and lag behind their peers.
Except for phonemic awareness screening and intervention in kindergarten,
early intervention in reading will usually begin in the first grade.
Differential treatment of children by the teacher should be a first
response. Providing extra help for the lowest-performing students
can be done in several ways. Examples of in-class interventions
include organizing one-on-one and small-group work by the teacher,
collecting diagnostic information more frequently, providing guided
reading instruction five times a week for some children and two
or three times for others working on level, and enlisting extra
tutorial help from instructional aides and cross-age tutors, parents,
or community members.
A second level of intervention occurs outside of class. Participation
in such intervention often is preceded by more formal diagnostic
measures and assessments conducted by specialists or by a Student
Study Team process. Such help always involves parents as partners
to the degree they can participate. Home activities should include
extra reading, writing, and high-quality conversations with parents
and older siblings. Categorical programs and the funds associated
with them also represent a source of support for in-class supplemental
help, pullout, before-and after-school, intersession, and summer
programs. Summer programs and intersessions provide a particularly
strong opportunity for more intensive instruction for the lowest-achieving
students to allow them to proceed with their group or class into
the next level.
The most effective interventions typically have the following characteristics:
- They are applied as early as possible in a child's educational
career, but not before there has been an opportunity for effective
classroom instruction to be tried first.
- They involve well-trained specialists.
- They are more intense than the typical classroom experience,
providing personalized, assessment-based instruction; more time
and practice on selected skills, concepts, and strategies; and
smaller adult-student ratios.
- They are effective as gap-closing strategies for low achievers.
- They are short lived, consistently applied, and finite in
duration. For example, one strategy might be designed to last
for 20 days, another for 15 weeks, and yet another for 60 sessions.
Finally, it is important to review special education placement within
the school. As the Reading Task Force report indicated, "Too
many students placed in special education have reading problems
that could have been prevented. Before students with reading problems
are referred for special education, a series of in-class or out-of-class
short-term interventions, such as tutoring, should be utilized.
Special education resources can then focus on those students who
truly have long-term, ongoing special needs" (p. 6). It is
critical that special education students receive the same powerful
instruction as other students receive. In addition, special education
students must be given more time and opportunities to practice.
To meet the intent of the Reading Task Force, school communities
will need to focus on the performance of individual children as
opposed to just raising grade-level school averages. The most successful
communities have been relentless in their commitment to every student
meeting high, clearly articulated reading expectations at each grade
level, and certainly no later than by the end of grade three. In
fact, there is good evidence to suggest that a child's entire educational
career depends on just this kind of approach.
Guidance and Support
Increasingly, state and national reports call for improved results
for students by setting high standards and adopting clear accountability
measures. The Reading Task Force endorsed the Education Commission
of the States' report, Rising to the Challenge (1995), which
recommended that California establish statewide standards for kindergarten
through twelfth grade, build a new statewide assessment system around
those standards, and develop an accountability process that emphasizes
local responsibility for improving student achievement.
Assembly Bill 265 (Chapter 975, Statutes of 1995) calls for such
standards and statewide assessment. Until those standards are available,
however, and until they are adopted by the State Board of Education
(by January 1, 1998, as required in AB 265), districts are encouraged
to adopt their own grade-level content and performance standards
in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, with the goal of having
every student reading independently and comprehending fully no later
than the end of third grade. As a resource for establishing local
standards, districts may want to use the "Draft Interim
Content and Performance Standards," generated by the
network of Challenge districts.
In-service training within school districts in California is often
scheduled around the instructional materials adoption in a subject
area each year. Any district following this model would offer in-service
training in reading and writing once every seven or eight years.
With such a design and with the turnover of teachers in a district,
an individual might easily work for five or six years in a district
and not have any in-service training in reading. Professional development
in literacy should occur to some extent every year in all school
districts in relation to reading in the content areas as well as
to beginning reading as a foundation for learning.
Summer and intersession programs provide excellent teacher training
opportunities. Workshops can be coupled with in-classroom coaching
experiences that provide guided practice, foster teacher expertise,
and accelerate student learning. With this model, teacher coaches
can be trained and in turn become lead teachers and peer coaches
during the regular school year.
As training is designed, attention needs to be given to areas of
beginning reading in which the research base for successful practices
is becoming clearer. As described in the first part of this advisory,
new research is being completed regularly. Valid findings need to
be incorporated into professional development activities to inform
teachers and contribute as soon as possible to program development
and student learning. Topics that should be emphasized include phonemic
awareness; systematic, explicit phonics; beginning writing; spelling;
and comprehension and higher-order thinking. Teachers should understand
these components of a balanced, comprehensive reading program and
learn how these components work together to enhance learning.
Effective professional development includes:
- collaborative planning that involves teachers, administrators,
and parents in the process;
- long-term, in-depth, sustained activities;
- a variety of strategies, including coaching or mentoring for
teachers and administrators to help them apply what they have
- opportunities to reflect on and analyze individual professional
practices through model lessons, collegial support discussions,
visits to promising programs, and so forth; and
- discussions of research findings through book clubs and teacher
research or study groups.
Teachers, teacher educators, and curriculum specialists are involved
in or have access to a variety of statewide opportunities for staff
development on early literacy based on the above characteristics.
A classroom teacher's most immediate source of help, however, would
be from effective local teachers, mentors, specialists, and district
leaders in curriculum and instruction.
Changes in any program must be carefully and collaboratively planned
and supported with appropriate materials as well as training. A
two- or three-year design for full program implementation will likely
be most successful. Teachers and specialists, like all learners,
should not be asked to accommodate tremendous change in a single
year, for example. However, if extensive professional development
in literacy education is part of every academic year, with time
allotted to study, discuss, think, try, revise and coach, then solid,
well-grounded changes in teacher strategies and the instructional
program can occur quickly, easily, and effectively.
Obviously, a redirection of available funds must also occur to support
such program improvement efforts. Besides the targeting of professional
development, new and/or redirected funds must also be considered
for upgrading the quantity and quality of instructional materials
adopted for classroom use and for the school library. The Reading
Task Force, for example, recommended a standard of at least 1,500
titles in each classroom.
This program advisory was developed to give structure, organization,
and direction to educators and other key individuals to develop
a balanced and comprehensive reading program in the schools. It
is crucial that the children of California be provided with the
most effective instructional methods and materials possible and
then be held to high standards of achievement. It is also crucial
that the teachers and instructional leaders of California be provided
with the most effective professional development programs and appropriate
follow-up support and be held accountable for their teaching of
reading and writing through a variety of assessment measures. Instruction
must be based on appropriate diagnosis that can inform teaching,
with a wide repertoire of tools and techniques. Interventions must
be at the earliest point possible and be proven in their effectiveness.
As a state, we must not be willing to settle for partial accomplishment
of our goals. We must provide a balanced and comprehensive reading
and writing program in our schools so that every child will be ensured
success as an effective reader, writer and thinker. This is our
goal, this is our mandate, and every possible resource must be directed
toward this work. For the children of California to succeed in literacy,
the teachers of California must be effective. Parents, community,
and the entire state must be part of the effort and contribute their
support to the teachers and children in our schools. We are in this
process together, for the children.
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