How Do We Define an Early Childhood Curriculum?

By Dr. Shirley Patterson

There are numerous approaches to early childhood education. Most, if not all, have a goal of enhancing school readiness, and the approach individual teachers use will most likely depend on their philosophical position on early learning.

Our views related to the purpose of a curriculum and the approaches we use can be envisioned on a continuum (Soler & Miller, 2003), with one end being child-directed input and the other more adult-directed input. The curriculum may become the object of discussion when different views or philosophies are expressed. What is the appropriate content and context for early learning in the classroom?  How will the curriculum be delivered?

Our vision for early childhood education is expressed through the curriculum we implement. I believe that high-quality, intentional curriculum can increase the achievement of children, particularly children from low-income homes (Klein & Knitzer, 2006).

What is an early childhood (EC) curriculum? Can you define your concept of a curriculum? Simple question—not so simple answer. If you ask this question to 10 people in the EC teaching profession, you might get 10 different answers. Some will say it is a framework for learning. Some will say it is a group of activities for children. Some will say it is a scope and sequence of goals/objectives. Is it any of these? Is it all of these? Does it matter that we can define it? I believe it does.

A lack of clarity in the definition leads to a lack of conceptualization of what an early childhood curriculum should be. For the teacher who arms her/himself with all the tools possible to provide the best instructional environment for young children, the curriculum is at the core of the program.

According to a 2009 joint position paper of the National Association for the Education of Young Children  (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS-SDE), “Curriculum is an organized framework that delineates the content children are to learn, the processes through which children achieve the identified curricular goals, what teachers do to help children achieve these goals, and the context in which teaching and learning occur.”

Here are three other definitions of curriculum:

  • “Planned and guided learning experiences and intended outcomes, formulated through the systematic reconstruction of knowledge and experiences under the auspices of the school, for the learners’ continuous and willful growth in personal social competence” (Tanner, 1980)
  • “A written document that systematically describes goals planned, objectives, content, learning activities, evaluation procedures and so forth” (Pratt, 1980)
  • “All of the experiences that individual learners have in a program of education whose purpose is to achieve broad goals and related specific objectives, which is planned in terms of a framework of theory and research or past and present professional practice” (Hass, 1987)

There are commonalities among these definitions. According to a number of curriculum definitions, whether teachers write their own curriculum or purchase a commercial curriculum, some common features apply. For example, a curriculum is planned, systematic, and organized. It provides a framework and guided learning with the content and context for learning. There are goals and objectives with intended learning outcomes. And, as noted from the national professional literature and guidance, we need accountability and outcome measurements. Curricula must align with state guidelines or early childhood standards, the Common Core State Standards, and/or professional organizations such as NAEYC.

It is clearly a large task to produce an early childhood curriculum that has all components, is developmentally appropriate, and moves children forward in preparation for kindergarten. When we can define “curriculum,” then we can describe what we want children to learn, how we intend to teach, the sequence of instruction, the goals or outcomes we desire/expect, and how we will measure them. It is a big job. What is your definition?

Shirley Patterson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and learning disabilities specialist.  She is a consultant in early language and literacy and a certified instructor for the The Emerging Language and Literacy Curriculum, which she coauthored with Ornes, McMillan, & Thomas.


Hoss, G. (1987). Curriculum planning: A new approach. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Klein, L. & Knitzer, J. (2006). Effective preschool curricula and teaching strategies. Pathways to Early School Success, Issue Brief No.2. Retrieved from

NAEYC & NAECS/SDE. (2009). Where we stand on curriculum, assessment, and program evaluation.  Retrieved from

Pratt, D. (1980). Curriculum: Design and development. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Soler, J. & Miller, L. (2003). The struggle for early childhood curricula: A comparison of the English Foundation Stage Curriculum, Te Wha’riki and Reggio Emilia.

Tanner, D. & Tanner, L. (1980). Curriculum development: Theory into practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Categories: General Education, Literacy | Leave a comment

‘Real Men’ Read

By Michelle George

About two years ago I was busily teaching a seventh grade English class. We were working on a writing assignment that I had every hope would be engaging, instructive, and maybe even fun. I was wrong.

One of my male students was particularly annoyed. As I was walking around the room, checking progress and encouraging my young writers, this reluctant scrivener brought me back to reality by muttering, “Real men don’t write or read.” Of course I was quick to inform him that they certainly do. In fact, many of the most famous and influential writers in the world have been men. He looked scornfully up at me and quipped, “Yeah, but they’re all dead.”

I didn’t have much to say to that, and for a good week or two afterward I kept mulling that conversation over in my mind. This future man truly believed that the written word was just “women’s work,” with no true value in his world. What to do?

After a few days of ruminating, I came up with an idea. I would assemble a group of muscle-bound, sweaty “real men” who actually do read. I knew a few … several, in fact. And I thought they might be willing to come and share their literary passion with my students. But as I looked over my class, I quickly realized that many of my students would never become that stereotypical “real man.” My class was composed of an array of fascinating characters. I had the bookish, the artistic, the athletic, the ladies’ man, the comedian … every type of boy imaginable. This reality made my search much more interesting.

Starting that year, I took the cold, gray month of February and labeled it “Real Men Read Month.” I invite all sorts of men, from all walks of life, to come into my classroom and share their passion for reading. We set aside each Wednesday of the month for classroom visits.

In January, I work with my students to write appropriate questions for the visitors and practice the seemingly archaic skills of a good audience. When the visitors come, we sit back and enjoy. So far we’ve had readers of fantasy, nonfiction fanatics, history buffs, self-taught experts, young poets, and novelists.

The best part is that, not only do my young students realize that real men do, in fact, read, but my “real men” also discover that junior high students really are rather intelligent and pleasant after all. Now that’s a great way to warm up a February.

Michelle S. George is a language arts middle school teacher in Orofino, Idaho. She has a B.A. in English and secondary certification in English, reading, and journalism. Michelle has been teaching seventh and eighth grade for 20 years, and still loves going to school—as a teacher and a student. She has published a variety of lesson plans and written several award-winning grants.

Categories: Family, Literacy | Leave a comment

How to Succeed at Differentiated Reading Instruction, Part II

 By Jill Jackson    

And they say teaching is easy. Whoever said that needs to be … talked to!

While teaching is by no means easy, we do need to focus on simplifying our practices down to what really matters and what really gets results. If you know me, you know I’m pretty bare bones in terms of what we need in order to make our students successful. And simplifying differentiated instruction practices is a great place to start!

In Part I of this blog post, we analyzed how to have immediate, massive, widespread success with differentiated instruction—without losing our marbles!  We looked at the Three Ps as a way to organize and execute our differentiated instruction plans:

1.       Placement

2.       Planning

3.       Performance


Refer back to last week’s blog for the nitty gritty of Placement.

Now, onward and upward—into Planning for differentiated instruction.

Once we have the right criteria to determine who needs to go into what group, we have to establish a purpose for the instruction in that group.

And here’s where we often get off track: we go too big! We have lofty goals like “increase fluency” or “build comprehension” or “increase vocabulary.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I want to do this for all kids, so what makes this group different? Plus, if you are attempting to do something so broad, how on earth will you measure whether you’ve been successful? How will you know what’s working and what needs to be altered … or dumped?

To cut through the differentiated instruction noise, you must get specific. Like, really, really specific. More specific than you think you need to be. In fact, think about what you want to accomplish and chop it in half. Then chop it in half again.

Let me give you an example:

Instead of “This group needs to improve comprehension,” my focus would be: “The kids in this group need to focus on retelling the who/what/when/where/why of new text after a first read. We will focus on stopping at the end of each chunk of text (narrative and informational) and retell the most important parts. By the end of four weeks, these students will be able to read a new piece of narrative text and informational text and correctly retell the most important parts.”

See how focused that is? I could get lost in wanting to “improve comprehension.” I could bring out 100 different story maps and 100 different games for asking questions, and 100 different reading techniques. But if, at the end of it all, the students haven’t learned how to do something specific, I have to question whether their time in my targeted small group was valuable to them.

Let me give you another example:

Instead of “This group needs to improve vocabulary knowledge,” my focus would be: “I will work with students to preview new text (narrative and informational) to look for unknown words. We will organize those words in a ‘need to tell’ list (where I will teach directly those words and their meanings) and a ‘need to figure out’ list, where we will use context clues. I will model how to use context clues for new words on two words every day, and then they will practice with at least two words after that.”

So … super focused is the name of the game! At the end of six weeks in that small group, I should be able to give kids a previously unseen piece of text at or about grade level, and they should be able to use context clues to uncover the meanings of those words. With anything less focused than that, I have no idea what we’ve accomplished—and that ends up biting me in the end.

Think you’re done? Not so fast! We’ve got to focus on the #1 thing that we have full control of and that has huge impact: Performance.

And I’m not talking about the students’ performance; I’m talking about yours/mine/ours!

I find that many times we are so focused on what kids are doing that we forget to plan for, execute, and reflect on our performance. Here is a short list of the items you need to consider during differentiated instruction:

·         Have I created a motivation system that keeps kids engaged and interested?

·         Do I have a solid small-group management and behavior system?

·         If someone were watching me, would they say that I have a swift pace that keeps kids interested?

·         Am I well-prepared and not wasting even a second of instructional time on teacher-prep tasks?

·         Am I confident in my content?

·         Do I enjoy the content? After all, excitement and enjoyment are contagious!

·         Do I finish the lessons in the time that I allotted, or am I chronically taking longer/shorter than planned?

·         Am I a great motivator of kids? Do they enjoy coming to my group?


The bottom line? Our performance is directly related to theirs!

The final analysis of how to massively improve performance during differentiated instruction? It’s all about getting the right kids in the right place (Placement). Then we’ve got to prepare the proper lessons to teach (Planning). Then our responsibility to our students is to analyze our own teaching (Performance).

Your homework? Why not video-tape your small-group instruction? OK, calm down; it’s for your eyes only! Then watch the video and analyze the above bulleted list to see if you can start by improving your performance. In fact, you don’t need anything else to get started on strengthening that area.

Jill Jackson is owner and managing director of Jackson Consulting, a full-service literacy consulting and school improvement company serving the nation’s lowest performing/high-poverty school districts. Come grab Jill’s free tools at, send her a tweet at, or post on her wall at



Categories: Family, General Education, Literacy | 4 Comments

How to Succeed at Differentiated Reading Instruction, Part 1

By Jill Jackson

It’s funny. I travel all over the country with my team, and we often hear from educators, “You know, things are different around here …”

They will share a story or a sticky spot, or a reason why something isn’t working. The real deal? The story, sticky spot, or reason is typically the same as the one we heard the week before in a totally different region!

What you are struggling with is probably very similar to what others are struggling with. We have spent a lot of time in recent years perfecting the art and science of implementing core reading programs in elementary schools and systematic, explicit interventions in K-12. Folks have done a fantastic job, and many who have never seen great success with struggling students are experiencing unprecedented results.

The really cool thing? Nothing has changed, except for the teaching. And that change has made all the difference in the world for students.

But where so many continue to struggle is when the instruction goes “off script.” In other words, when we have delivered the grade-level material, and students still need a leg up into or beyond that grade-level content. This “off script” teaching is differentiated instruction. We are diagnosing the needs of all kids (even the benchmark and advanced kids who get lost in the shuffle) and prescribing and delivering instruction in ways that a scripted program is limited.

Core instruction is made more powerful by daily differentiated instruction. We don’t lose our minds and get away from explicit instruction, but we do open our minds and look at what students need skill-wise, right here and right now.

Differentiated instruction is where our professional judgment and expertise come into play—big time. It takes highly skilled teachers to effectively prescribe and deliver small-group instruction that makes a difference in getting students up to benchmark.

So, let’s step back for a minute and look at where differentiated instruction typically gets off track. This helps us get on the right track!

It’s common that differentiated instruction that’s not working so well is suffering from a lack of focus in planning. The teacher is winging lessons or focusing on “teachable moments.” The time in the group is never-ending (I call this the “life sentence of small groups”—it’s never going to end!), and there is little to no monitoring of individual lessons and weekly check-outs to make sure that students are actually learning what the teacher is delivering. Just because kids are in a small group doesn’t mean that they’re learning the right stuff. Attendance doesn’t equal mastery. If it did, I wouldn’t need to write this blog post.

It’s common that differentiated instruction that’s not working so well is suffering from a lack of oomph. The teacher is struggling to gain and maintain behavior control or is having trouble keeping positive and highly motivating to kids. I understand that when you’re working with the most struggling kids, they often come with a host of (learned or masking) behaviors that can get in the way of instruction. And I get that they take lots of patience. But I also know that without oomph or verve or whatever adjective you want to use to describe a fun, swiftly moving lesson, kids lose interest—and the lessons flop. And then we sometimes start to blame the kids, which is not going to fix the problem … ever.

It’s common that differentiated instruction that’s not working so well is focused so much on filling a gap with a supplemental program that we forget it’s our jobs to teach the kids, not just teach the program. Those who know me know that I am a huge supporter of explicitly taught, research-based core and supplemental programs in reading. BUT one thing I can’t support is blind teaching of those programs. What does this look like/sound like? It sounds like this: “Well, I taught it, so I’m not quite sure why they didn’t learn it. It was all delivered right to them!” The real deal? It doesn’t matter what we’re teaching if they’re not picking it up. The effectiveness of our teaching in small groups is not accomplished by what we delivered, but by what they mastered. So this “I delivered it” thinking has to be altered.

So, how do we make sure that our differentiated instruction is first-class instruction, focused on what kids really need and resulting in kids hitting the benchmark at record rates?

It all comes down to the Three Ps:

1.       Placement

2.       Planning

3.       Performance

Let’s talk Placement first.

In a grade level or department, you must first establish what criteria you will use to determine who goes in what group. For example, will you use unit tests, diagnostic tests, weekly tests, or progress monitoring tests and benchmarks to determine who will go where? Will you use a combination of all of these data points? The criteria are essential in ensuring that we’re not grouping kids based on gut-checks.  When criteria are not set or are set teacher by teacher, kids are put into groups based on behaviors (issues or nonissues) and past performance (“She is a low student” or “Oh, no, he does not need to be in the low group; he’s higher than this test is showing”), rather than actual need right at this moment.

So, once we sort kids according to the criteria, we know that when we’re talking about “the strategic group,” for example, we’re talking about the same kids. This helps with planning and reflecting on the lesson and sorting the data in the end. We can get stuck on this process of sorting students into skill-need groups, but the party hasn’t even started! We’ve got to get on to designing the instruction!

When you place kids in a group by common criteria, you then have to make a decision about how long you want to keep them in that group before making any adjustments. I typically look at 4 to 6 weeks (not necessarily scientific, but a pretty reasonable, realistic period of time) as the length of time that students will for sure stay in that group before we analyze the data for re-sorting purposes.

I find that when we’re too eager to move kids, we end up moving them out of the group or up into another group based on one data point rather than looking at the trend of data for that student. Students will often end up back where they started because we didn’t build in time for skill maintenance.

I also encourage you to focus not only on growth, but also maintenance of growth and benchmark status. If the instruction is working, let it do its work and don’t rush students out of the group until the instruction has “stuck.” However, if you find that it’s taking all year for instruction to “stick,” then we’ve got another problem (refer back to the beginning of this blog!).

Once we have sorted our kids by the common criteria and chosen a re-sorting date so that they don’t get life sentences in small groups, we’re well on our way!

I really do recommend that you look at the setup to differentiated instruction before you look at what you’re teaching during that time; so much of the cleanup of our practices can be done in the Placement area. It’s a quick fix-up typically!

Your homework?

  • Meet with your grade-level/department colleagues and walk through your current criteria for small-group placement
  • Analyze if your criteria is teacher-by-teacher or if you have a common standard for who goes where
  • Start to look at all of your data points and analyze what data you currently have (and I’m sure you have PLENTY!) that will help you make future small-group instructional decisions

Up next for us? Join me next week as we uncover Step 2 (Planning) and Step 3 (Performance). We’re on our way to massively transforming our practice!

Jill Jackson is owner and managing director of Jackson Consulting, a full-service literacy consulting and school improvement company serving the nation’s lowest performing/high-poverty school districts. Come grab Jill’s free tools at, send her a tweet at, or post on her wall at

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | 1 Comment

Adolescent Literacy, Part 1: School-Wide Literacy Planning

By Joan Sedita


In recent years there has been a growing interest in adolescent literacy, especially as Americans become more concerned about the economic and civic health of the nation. Literacy skills are necessary more than ever to succeed in college and work, as well as to manage the everyday life demands of an increasingly more complex society and world economy. The best example of this focus is the tagline “college and career ready” from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

More middle and high school leaders are beginning to acknowledge that they must develop a school-wide approach to teaching literacy skills­ that includes two tiers of instruction. The first tier is content literacy instruction for all students that is delivered in regular classes, including history, science, math, and English/language arts. The second tier is literacy instruction for struggling readers that is delivered partly in regular content classes and partly in intervention settings (including extended English/language arts blocks and individual/small-group settings).

A school-wide approach to literacy instruction must involve all teachers in the delivery of reading and writing instruction, including content-area teachers and staff who work with special populations. This is a major tenet of the literacy CCSS. A successful school-wide plan must also have strong, committed leadership that provides ongoing support for literacy instruction.

A Literacy Planning Model

I have worked with numerous schools and districts to help develop literacy plans using a planning model that addresses six components:

1. Establishment of a literacy planning team

2. Assessment planning for screening, guiding instruction, and progress monitoring

3. Literacy instruction in the content classroom

4. Interventions for struggling readers that address phonics, word study, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills

5. Flexible scheduling to allow for grouping based on instructional needs

6. Professional development planning

A key first step is to assemble a literacy planning team that is representative of the major stakeholders who will have to implement the plan. Members of the team should include teachers of all subject areas, interventionists, parents, reading specialists, and administrators. It is important to recognize that literacy planning is a process, not an event. Like most school-wide initiatives, developing and executing a literacy plan will take time and sustained effort; literacy planning teams should be prepared for the process to take 1–3 years.

Once a planning team is assembled, the first step is to take stock of what is already in place in relation to the six components. This includes gathering information that answers questions such as:

  • What assessments are currently used to identify good and struggling readers?
  • What assessments are used to identify specific needs of individual struggling readers? What reading instruction is already taking place in content classrooms, and what professional development do content teachers and others need in order to effectively address all reading components?
  • What reading interventions and supplemental reading programs are currently offered for struggling readers?
  • What information and professional development do the teachers of struggling readers need?
  • Is the scheduling process flexible enough to accommodate different grouping patterns for struggling readers?

After information has been collected to answer these questions, the planning team can set and prioritize goals and action steps for each of the six components. Some action steps are like low-hanging fruit—easy to accomplish quickly and with minimal expense. Other action steps will take longer to address. A concrete plan for addressing the action steps throughout the coming year or two is essential to keep the process moving forward.

A literacy assessment plan is key to successfully implementing a school-wide literacy plan. Screening literacy assessments provide the data to determine which students are struggling, while diagnostic assessments help determine why they struggle, and progress monitoring assessments determine if instruction is working in both content classrooms (Tier I) and with supplemental instruction (Tier II)

The six planning components are interrelated. Action steps for one component need to be related to action steps for the other components. For example, decisions about both tiers of instruction should be based on assessment data, along with how to group students and schedule supplemental instruction. Plans for professional development should be made based on the needs of teachers and other members of the team.

Middle and high school administrators must make the acquisition of literacy skills a priority and provide adequate time in the school schedule for reading and writing instruction. They must also be willing to use flexible grouping patterns when scheduling students in order to implement a two-tiered model for delivering reading instruction in both content classes and intervention settings. Professional development for content teachers and specialists is also essential.

The time, effort, and expertise necessary to develop a school-wide plan for providing effective literacy instruction to all students present a challenge for most middle and high schools. The challenge is worth taking, as there is an urgent need to improve the reading, writing, and comprehension skills of these students.

Learn more about adolescent literacy, literacy planning, and literacy assessment models here.

Joan Sedita is a founding partner of Keys to Literacy, a literacy professional development organization that focuses on adolescent literacy. She is also author of The Key Comprehension Routine and The Key Vocabulary Routine.


Sedita, J. (2011). Adolescent literacy: Addressing the needs of students in grades 4-12. In J.R. Birsh (Ed). Multisensory teaching of basic language skills. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

About Joan Sedita

Books by Joan Sedita: Keys to Literacy

Categories: Family, Literacy | Leave a comment

Reading Fluency: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! Part Two

By Dr. Jan Hasbrouck

Definition of Fluency:

reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody, that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read

Reasonable? Appropriate? Suitable? 

The above definition, which Dr. Deb Glaser and I developed for our training manual Reading Fluency: Understanding and Teaching This Complex Skill(2012),states that reading fluency is comprised of reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody or expression. We conclude, along with most educators, that the performance standards for these three components of fluency should, in fact, vary depending on the demands of the task.

“Reasonably” Accurate

Poor accuracy leads to compromised comprehension and requires teacher attention to repair. However, precisely defined standards for reading accuracy have not been scientifically established. Some suggest that, for most reading tasks, we should aim for at least 95 percent accuracy (Rasinski, Reutzel, Chard, & Thompson, 2011).It may be that, for younger emerging readers, acceptable levels for accuracy should be even higher (perhaps 97 to 98%). However, there are circumstances where much higher—even nearly perfect—accuracy is necessary, such as reading the directions required to complete an important task. In other situations, such as recreational reading, the level of reading accuracy is essentially unimportant.

“Appropriate” Rate

Norms for Oral Reading Fluency (ORF)—as measured in words correct per minute (wcpm)—such as those created by Hasbrouck and Tindal (2006) have been established. Researchers generally agree that performance at the 50th percentile of these ORF norms can serve as a reasonable benchmark for determining an appropriate reading rate.

While there is ample empirical evidence that it is important, even essential, for students to maintain wcpm rates minimally at the 50th percentile, there is no research to suggest that pushing students to have wcpm scores above the 50th percentile has any benefit. It is preferable and more accurate to think about ORF scores like we think about blood pressure or body temperature or cholesterol levels: all three of these measures have established “norms,” and there are significant findings from medical research to indicate that it is important for healthy people to maintain their blood pressure, body temperature, and cholesterol at “average” or expected normative levels. Unlike I.Q. or athletic prowess, there is absolutely no benefit to having significantly higher (or lower) scores in these three areas! Likewise, ORF scores can serve as “indicators” of health and wellness, and scores at the “average” level are, in fact, optimal. While the data provided by Hasbrouck and Tindal demonstrate that there are students whose words correct per minute performance is above the 50th percentile, there is no research to confirm a benefit to these students in terms of higher levels of comprehension or motivation.

“Suitable” Prosody 

As with the other two components, there is no “one size fits all” for measuring optimal prosody or “expression.” There are times when we read—especially when reading silently—that expression is of little or no help to our understanding and enjoyment of the text. In silent reading, we simply want a reader to understand and attend to the diacritical markings of periods, commas, exclamation points, and quotation marks provided by the author to assist in the interpretation of the text. In oral reading, prosody is more fully evident. When oral reading sounds as effortless as speech, and mirrors the melodic features of spoken language, we can say that the reader is using suitable prosody.

Fluency Instruction and Intervention

In order to plan appropriate lessons to help develop students’ fluency or to provide intervention to students who are struggling, teachers must assess all the components (accuracy, rate, prosody) as well as the underlying mechanics of fluency (word and text fluency skills and comprehension fluency skills). Then, using the results of these assessments, teachers can plan instruction for students that is appropriate and effective.

Hasbrouck and Glaser (2011) suggest using the “AAA Rule” to guide fluency instruction: Make sure that the instruction emphasizes ACCURACY, AUTOMATICITY, and that students always ACCESS the meaning of what is being read.

Fluency is an essential, but not sufficient, component of successful and joyful reading. Professional educators must have an understanding of this complex skill to ensure that all students achieve solid levels of reading fluency.

Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is an educational consultant with Gibson, Hasbrouck & Associates; an author; and a researcher. She served as the executive consultant to the Washington State Reading Initiative and as an advisor to the Texas Reading Initiative. Dr. Hasbrouck worked as a reading specialist and literacy coach for 15 years before becoming a professor at the University of Oregon and later Texas A&M University. She is the author and coauthor of several assessment tools, research papers, and books, including The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success and The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches. 


Hasbrouck, J., & Glaser D. R. (2011). Reading fluency: Understanding and teaching this complex skill. Wellesley, MA: Gibson Hasbrouck & Associates,

Hasbrouck, J. E., & Tindal, G. (Spring 1992). Curriculum-based oral reading fluency norms for students in grades 2–5. Teaching Exceptional Children, 24 (3). pp. 41-44.

Rasinski, T. V., Reutzel, D. R., Chard, D., & Thompson, S. L. (2011). Reading fluency. In Kamil, M. L., Pearson, P. D., Moje, E. B., & Afflerbach, P. P. (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Volume VI, NY: Longman.

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Reading Fluency: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! Part One

By Dr. Jan Hasbrouck 

I started my career as a reading specialist nearly 40 years ago, initially teaching students who were struggling with reading at the elementary and middle school levels. I found that many of my students had learned the basics of decoding, and many even had sufficient vocabulary and background knowledge to understand what they were reading … but something was getting in their way.

In those days, teachers weren’t often using assessments to examine things such as accuracy and rate. But just by working closely with these students and observing them carefully, it was clear to me that the rate at which they were reading—and the many other components that we would now refer to as “fluency”—was often a major stumbling block.

Now, almost four decades later, we have learned so much about the process of learning to read, and specifically we know much, much more about the essential skill of reading fluency! This year, in a collaboration with my esteemed colleague Dr. Deb Glaser, I have finally had the chance to share some of what we now understand about fluency.

The following information is taken from a book Dr. Glaser and I cowrote titled Reading Fluency: Understanding and Teaching This Complex Skill.

Learning to read is like constructing a structure with blocks. Fluent readers have established a firm foundation for reading by integrating various component skills so well that the act of reading occurs without the reader having to intentionally will the skills into action. When these various skills are fully established, reading happens automatically.

What is reading fluency? Many questions surround the definition of fluency as a concept, in part because fluency has many subtle mechanics that are interdependent and therefore difficult to separate. We define fluency as:

Reasonably accurate reading, at an appropriate rate, with suitable prosody, that leads to accurate and deep comprehension and motivation to read.

Component #1: Accuracy

We purposefully listed accuracy first to underscore its crucial role. In order for a reader to understand what a text means, clearly that text first must be read with a certain level of accuracy. This may sound simplistic. However, to read text accurately a reader must read individual words accurately, which requires learning letters (graphemes) have associated sounds (phonemes) that need to be accurately identified and skillfully processed. Irregular words must also be read accurately. The recognition of common letter patterns as well the correct spellings of words also play roles in text accuracy. Then, of course, the correct meaning of words must be accessed. All this must happen simultaneously and automatically for a reader to be fluent.

Component #2: Rate

Rate is often mistakenly used as a synonym for fluency. Fluency is far more complex than rate alone! An all-too-common fallacy about rate is that “faster is better,” although most teachers likely know from their own experience that this cannot be true. Teachers know students who read quickly but still may not have good comprehension. Certainly, the rate at which text is decoded and recognized represents an important aspect of fluency. However, reading fast is not the same as reading fluently!  


Component #3: Prosody

Prosody is the technical term for what most teachers refer to as “good expression.” Prosody includes the pitch, tone, volume, emphasis, and rhythm in oral reading. Another aspect of prosody is how readers “chunk” words together into appropriate phrases. There is only minimal evidence that prosody influences reading comprehension. At this point, researchers in this field believe that prosody may be an outcome, rather than a contributor, to comprehension.

You may have noticed that we used some rather vague descriptors in our definition of fluency. Accuracy must be “reasonable.” Rate “appropriate.” And prosody “suitable.” What does that all mean? Stay tuned for my next EdView360 blog, Part 2.

Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is an educational consultant with Gibson, Hasbrouck & Associates, an author, and a researcher. She served as the executive consultant to the Washington State Reading Initiative and as an advisor to the Texas Reading Initiative. Dr. Hasbrouck worked as a reading specialist and literacy coach for 15 years before becoming a professor at the University of Oregon and later Texas A&M University. She is the author and coauthor of several assessment tools, research papers, and books, including The Reading Coach: A How-to Manual for Success and The Reading Coach 2: More Tools and Strategies for Student-Focused Coaches. 

About Jan Hasbrouck

Books by Jan Hasbrouck: The Reading Coach

Categories: Family, Literacy, Professional Developement | 2 Comments

Be a Paid Education Blogger! Enter Sopris Learning’s Blog Contest

By Sopris Learning

Sopris Learning is looking for passionate educators to share their views with an online community of colleagues through our EdView360 blog. Enter by blogging about your choice of three given topics and submitting of a short video explaining why we should hire YOU! The public will vote, and the winner will write for EdView360 at $100 per blog! Click Here for contest details.

Categories: Assessment, Family, Funding, General Education, Literacy, Math, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Helping Students Keep Their Eyes on the Words

By Linda Farrell

An almost universal habit that struggling readers exhibit is looking up from the page when reading. In my previous EdView360 post, I stressed the importance of teaching students to keep their eyes on the words when they read. I also noted that, when students stop looking up and start looking at the word in order to use decoding strategies, many show immediate improvement when reading.

A number of teachers responded to the blog. Many wrote that they had not noticed how often their students looked to them for approval or for help with reading. Several teachers asked what they could do to help their students change their habits so that they keep their eyes on the words when they read. This blog offers some suggestions.

Helping students change the “looking up” habit requires diligent attention and patience, patience, patience. It helps to understand the different reasons students look up so that we can respond in the most effective way.

Students look up from the page for three primary reasons:

1.    Students look to the teacher for approval. These students look directly at the teacher and wait for the teacher to say “good job” or something similar.

2.   Students look up to signal to the teacher that they don’t know the word or need help. These students also look directly at the teacher. In many classrooms, the teacher or another classmate tells the student the word.

3.   Students look up to think about what the word might be. These students are trying to pull the word from memory and generally look into space, not directly at anyone.

1.   Students Who Look Up for Approval

Looking up for approval is the easiest of the three behaviors to correct. Please don’t mistake “easiest of the three” to mean easy. As with any habit, this one can take time to change.

One respondent to the blog wrote about a technique we also use: “We emphasize maintaining focus on the word from beginning to end with a few simple techniques. For those students having difficulty breaking the habit, I’ve tried standing/sitting behind them while they read! Worked like a charm—it was very evident to the student how often they broke focus, how reliant they were on teacher approval and how self-sufficient they became so swiftly.”

Some students look up for approval just two or three words before they finish reading. Often, this causes them to misread one or more of the final words. To change this habit, every time a student looks up before finishing reading, the teacher reminds the student he or she looked up, and then has the student reread. The teacher has the student reread whether all the words were read correctly or not. Doing this each time a student looks up will foster the habit of keeping eyes on the page at all times. We have found that if we have the student reread only when words are misread, the habit doesn’t change nearly as fast, if at all.

Some students have a difficult time recognizing that they look up before finishing the sentence. In this case, the teacher can put a hand lightly on the student’s head and tell the student not to look up until the teacher takes the hand away. Another technique is to have the student say “period” when he or she comes to the end of the sentence, then tap a fist on the desk before looking up. We have used both these techniques successfully with a number of students.

2.  Students Who Look Up Because They Want the Teacher to Tell Them the Word

Students who look up because they want the teacher to tell them the word need to be reminded to keep their eyes on the word. The teacher can say, “Remember that you need to say ‘Word, please.’ Start from the beginning and say ‘Word, please’ when you come to any word you don’t know.”  Many students start by saying “Word, please,” but still look up as they say it. Teachers need to remind students to keep their eyes on the word, even after they ask for help, and then follow up by having the student repeat “Word, please” with eyes on the word.

After a student asks for help with a specific word, the teacher can elect to (1) have the student sound out the word if the spelling patterns are ones the student should know or (2) provide the word if the student is not expected to know how to read it.

3.   Students Who Look Up to Think About the Word

Students who look up to think about the word are perhaps the most difficult to train to keep their eyes on the page. These students generally have very poor decoding skills and strong language skills. Their experience has taught them that glancing at the word and thinking about possible words is easier and sometimes more successful for them than taking the time to decode the word.

Students who look up to think about the word are different from those who look up because they want teacher approval or want to be told the word. They think that they can “find the word in their heads.” Therefore, teachers need to ask these students to continue to look at the word as they try to read it. If they can’t read the word, they need to say “Word, please.”

Kindergarten and first grade teachers can keep the “looking up” habit from developing. First, they can teach that accuracy is critical when reading. All teachers can help students achieve accuracy by insisting that they look at words the entire time they read. When any student misreads a word, the teacher can stop the student at the end of the sentence or word list, and follow these steps:

  1. Tell the student the number of words read correctly (or say, “You read perfectly up to this word” as you point at the missed word).
  2. Ask the student to sound out the word if it is decodable or give the word if the student hasn’t learned its spelling patterns.
  3. Have the student read the sentence again (up to three times) until he or she reads the sentence accurately without looking up.

Teachers can also stop teaching strategies that encourage students to take their eyes off the word. These ineffective strategies include: “guess based on context,” “look at the first letter and think of a word that fits,” and “look at the picture.” We wish all educators understood that these strategies encourage the student to look away from the words as they consider how to guess what the word might be. No good reader looks away from the words when reading.

Linda Farrell is a founding partner at Readsters, an Alexandria, VA-based firm that helps schools implement research-based reading instruction. She is committed to helping struggling readers become strong readers and to helping strong readers achieve their full potential. Linda is a former English teacher who has coauthored several publications and videos on effective reading assessment and instruction, including Teaching Reading Essentials, DIBELS: A Practical Manual, and Colleague in the Classroom. She can be reached at

About Linda Farrell

Books By Linda Farrell: Teaching Reading EssentialsDIBELS: The Practical ManualColleague in the Classroom

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

RtI and the Common Core: Seizing the Golden Opportunity—Complementary, Not Competing, Initiatives Part 2

By Joanne Allain & Nancy Eberhardt

In our previous entry, we proposed that RtI and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiatives share a common goal: increased rigor for all students. The next step is to ensure that we seize the golden opportunity to use existing RtI structures and systems to facilitate the implementation of CCSS, the “new initiative on the block.”

Let’s take a look at a couple ways in which we can capitalize on the complementary aspects of these two initiatives.

Analyze and Improve Tier I

We know that without strong Tier I instruction, RtI will become a system of never-ending interventions rather than excellent first instruction. Given the importance of this strong foundation, a necessary component of a successful RtI system is to analyze and improve Tier I instruction. Part of that analysis will be to develop curriculum, instruction, and assessment based on the Common Core State Standards.

With a CCSS-based curriculum in place, assessment data will highlight student strengths and weaknesses. Through analysis of this Tier I data, the need for instructional adjustments will emerge. For example, if many students are referred to Tier II intervention in the primary grades for spelling deficits, then that instructional hole must be filled in Tier I to ensure that as many students as possible become proficient with first instruction. Assessment data based on the skills and concepts in the CCSS will help to identify opportunities to improve Tier I instruction.

For a comprehensive RtI system, the implementation of Common Core State Standards provides the impetus to focus on an effective Tier I to ensure that intervention isn’t a consequence of a weak foundation.  For emerging or fledgling RtI systems, the opportunity arises to integrate the new standards with the development of an RtI system designed to meet the needs of all students

Differentiate for All Students

In addition to using the CCSS as an opportunity to fine-tune Tier I content and instructional practices, we know that RtI requires that we serve all students within and beyond the parameters of the Tier I curriculum. In order to achieve this goal, we need to view the standards as having a range of accessibility and importance, much as students have a range of learning abilities and needs.

How students meet the CCSS expectations varies along a continuum according to a range of needs from concept development for students who also receive Tier II or Tier III intervention (what must they know) to enrichment (what could they know) (Allain and Eberhardt, 2011). As the following graphic illustrates, our response to instruction and intervention must consider the needs of the full range of learners.

Response to Instruction and Intervention

As we begin to implement the CCSS, we have an obligation to remember this full range of student needs. But, how do we do serve all learners with the Common Core? Let’s take a look at an example using a standard from the CCSS. The same standard can be addressed for all students but to different levels.

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.*

Must Know

Students who also receive intervention

Should Know

Students who are proficient or close to proficient

Could Know

Students who are advanced or could be advanced

Describe how multiple or conflicting motivations of one complex characterdevelop over the course of a text, interact with another character, and advance the plot or theme.  Use supplementary materials as necessary. Describe how multiple or conflicting motivations of complex characters develop over the course of the text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.  Use grade-level materials. Describe and analyze the relationship of multiple or conflicting motivations of a complex character and other characters in the development of plot and theme. Use grade-level and above-grade-level materials.

*Grade 9-10 Common Core State Standards:  English/Language Arts

Note that at each point along the continuum, the intent of the standard is addressed. We differentiate the variables—product and process, such as the level of analysis and the difficulty level of the reading material—but stay true to the focus of the standard. In this way, students who are receiving instruction to improve reading skills at another time of the day (e.g., during Tier II intervention) are still receiving the benefit of instruction in the CCSS—but with accommodations at their skill level.

What we see in this example is the fact that no matter what defines the goal of instruction—be it the CCSS, a purchased curriculum, or local goals and objectives—the need to differentiate instruction on this continuum from “must” to “could” will always exist. Frankly, it isn’t about having RtI or CCSS. It is about understanding and using the power of the structure of RtI to facilitate the implementation of CCSS.

An Opportunity to Change

If we continue to view each initiative—new or not—as a separate entity, we are playing out the common silo-esque approach to implementing innovation. Our observation is that, rather than integrating a new initiative into the existing structures so that it has a multiplier effect on impact and efficiency, we all too often view new needs or initiatives as a linear process. A linear process works from a “limited capacity” mind-set—as the next initiative comes online, another must be bumped out of line. Tragically, when we do this, we throw the baby out with the bath water. We can and must change this trend. The implementation of RtI and CCSS provides the golden opportunity to have these initiatives complement each other rather than compete for our limited resources.

See our previous blog for a discussion on RtI and CCSS.

Joanne Allain

Joanne Allain, M.A., works with states, districts, and schools across the country to develop, implement, and coach customized RtI systems. Her career experience at both the classroom and district level provides the perspective of a practitioner in real schools with real students. She is the author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention: A Planning Guide for Middle and High School and Logistics of Literacy Intervention: An RtI Planning Guide for Elementary Schools as well as coauthor of RtI: The Forgotten Tier.  You can contact Joanne at

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt works with districts and schools to implement RtI systems focusing on literacy instruction and intervention. Her career in education has included roles as a special education teacher, mainstreaming associate, and administrator. She also worked extensively, as editor and coauthor, on LANGUAGE! (Editions 2–4). Most recently, she coauthored RtI: The Forgotten Tier with Joanne Allain. Nancy can be contacted at

About Joanne Allain

Books by Joanne Allain: Logistics Of Literacy Intervention

Categories: Assessment, Literacy | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at