RtI and the Common Core: A golden opportunity, not just one more thing to do! Part 1

By Joanne Allain & Nancy Eberhardt

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is upon us—oh no! I guess we will have to put Response to Intervention (RtI) aside to make room for the focus and resources needed to implement the Common Core. Budgets are tight; something has to go. RtI or MTSS (Multitier System of Supports) will take care of itself. Does this sound familiar?

The reality is that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will replace and/or enhance individual state standards and change grade-level instruction in scope, sequence, and methodology. In order to implement the new standards and the assessments that will accompany them, districts have begun to shift the focus of professional development to Common Core.

CCSS professional development is essential because teachers must be trained on the changes that will be expected of them. What seems to be missing from both the CCSS professional development and implementation planning, however, is seizing the opportunity to address the Common Core State Standards within the framework of RtI. This approach pits these initiatives as competing rather than complementary.

The following quotes from RtI and CCSS experts point out the interconnectedness between the two initiatives.

In the article Response to Intervention—The Promise and the Peril, the Council for Exceptional Children maintains that “It (RtI) has the ability to transform how we educate students—all students. With RtI, students may get the support they need as soon as they show signs that they are having difficulty learning, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.”

Let’s pair the previous statement with the “promise” of the Common Core State Standards from the webinar by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO): “These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards-based reforms. It is time to recognize that these standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep.”

Both initiatives urge educators to take the next step. RtI urges educators to meet the needs of all students—including those who are proficient and advanced. The implementation of CCSS urges educators to extend student learning of content and skills in Tier I to an application level. The common goal: increased rigor for all students.

The necessity and value of combining initiatives is further corroborated when we take into account what the CCSS do NOT define, yet the developers feel are important enough to identify as valuable instructional factors. Consider this list, provided by the NGA Center and the CCSSO, of things that the standards do not define:

  • How teachers should teach
  • All that can or should be taught
  • The nature of advanced work beyond the core
  • The interventions needed for students well below grade level
  • The full range of support for English language learners and students with special needs
  • Everything needed to be college and career ready

These instructional factors already exist within an RtI framework. They are, in fact, the heart and soul of RtI. Rather than viewing these initiatives—CCSS and RtI—as separate silos, we should view RtI as the structure within which to implement CCSS. How? The Common Core State Standards define what we should be teaching in Tier I; the other tiers in an RtI system exist to provide intervention when students need additional support.

In The New Meaning of Educational Change (2001), Michael Fullan stated: “Teachers and others know enough now, if they didn’t 20 years ago, not to take change seriously unless the central administrators demonstrate through actions that they should.”

If we push RtI to the side and treat CCSS as unrelated to RtI, educators will take that as a signal that RtI (MTSS) is one more reform that has fallen into the abyss.

Instead, let’s follow the example of those states, districts, and schools that have recognized the value of RtI and the importance of incorporating CCSS into RtI plans.  When citing in Wisconsin Response to Intervention: A Guiding Document the significant changes anticipated by the implementation of CCSS, Tony Evers, Ph.D., the state superintendent of Wisconsin in 2010, stated: “These initiatives are not separate of RtI; they are integrated in my vision of a high-quality RtI system.”

If we are to serve all students and prepare them for a 21st Century future, can we do anything less?

In our next blog, we will expand on how RtI and CCSS are complementary, not competing, initiatives.

Joanne Allain

Joanne Allain, M.A., is a national educational consultant specializing in the effective implementation of literacy intervention at the secondary level. She is author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention and a member of the National Council of LANGUAGE! Trainers.

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 co-author, on LANGUAGE! (Editions 2 – 4). Most recently, she co-authored 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 | 5 Comments

Data or Philosophy: Choose a Master!

If all students learn differently, teaching approaches must differ too

By Joanne Allain

Since my first day of teaching, educators have agreed on one thing: All children learn differently. It seems logical, then, that we would also agree that a variety of approaches and philosophies are necessary to reach all students. Unfortunately, when educators focus more on designing the instruction they prefer than on the needs of the children receiving the instruction, logic is not always part of the equation. Curious how “all children learn differently” quickly turns into “all children must learn the way I teach.

Historically, teaching reading has been fraught with disagreements about content, emphasis, and approach. Should we instruct explicitly or implicitly? Should we employ whole group or small group or both? Should we teach from whole to parts or parts to whole? Should we spend more or less time on decoding? Do we really need to teach spelling? Do students really need explicit skill instruction to comprehend text? Does explicit skill instruction destroy the love of reading or make text accessible for more students? Will surrounding students with more books and more time really do the trick for all of them? Whichever the philosophical approach, we tend to apply it like a blanket over all children in a state, district, or school. The unintended and undesirable outcome: Children who do not respond to a specific approach are often considered to be at risk of failure.

Enter Response to Instruction/Intervention (RtI), a promising system designed to use data (not philosophy) to identify the best instruction and intervention for individual students. RtI seeks to label the need and not the child. It is widely recognized as having the potential to address the needs of all, not just some, by ensuring that students receive excellent first instruction (i.e., Tier I) as well as any additional services required to perform at or above grade level.

Across the country, district and school RtI teams engage in data analysis using sophisticated problem-solving methods to determine the needs of the students under their care. What happens next? Does the team choose instruction and intervention that meets the instructional needs of the student regardless of philosophy? Or, is the team restricted to a specific paradigm of reading instruction adopted by the state, district, or school? Can we say we are fulfilling the intent of RtI if we disregard the findings from data in favor of a philosophy of instruction that most likely contributed to poor student performance?

Let’s look at some scenarios and ask ourselves—Should we continue within the existing instructional approach (philosophy) or use another approach that would meet the needs of the students in front of us?

  • If proficient and advanced students demonstrate that they have mastered content, do they need extensive explicit instruction? Do we persist with more samples to complete or move to more in-depth tasks?
  • If the majority of students in a classroom perform below grade level with an instructional approach based on implicit skill acquisition and cooperative groups, do we continue these methods? Do we continue to refer students to intervention (Tiers II and III) or make the initial instruction (Tier I) more explicit, with adjustments in pacing and gradual release?
  • If many students require Tier II intervention for spelling, do we adjust our first instruction to include focused, explicit spelling instruction? Or, do we lament the poor spelling skills of children and continue to schedule more Tier II sessions?

Clearly, no one has found the perfect answer for all children. If they had, the nation’s reading scores would be better, and states would not be struggling with the requirements of No Child Left Behind. We have to ask ourselves a fundamental question: If we agree that all children learn differently, why do we continue to gravitate toward teaching them all in the same way?  

If we embrace RtI as the framework we use to educate our students, then we must also unequivocally select data over philosophy as the driving force behind our instructional choices. It is time to put the “reading wars” aside and act on the reality that all students learn differently and, therefore, we cannot limit what we offer to one philosophy. We must strive to match the right philosophy (approach) with students’ needs in order to reach all of the students all of the time.

Joanne Allain, M.A., serves as a national consultant and founder of 3T Literacy Group, where she specializes in the planning and implementation of RtI systems. She is the author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention: A Planning Guide for Middle and High School (2007) and Logistics of Literacy Intervention: An RtI Planning Guide for Elementary Schools (2008) and coauthor with Nancy Eberhardt of RtI: The Forgotten Tier (2012). Joanne can be contacted at or

About Joanne Allain

Books by Joanne Allain: Logistics Of Literacy Intervention

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

First Rule of Reading: Keep Your Eyes on the Words

By Linda Farrell

I’ve worked with hundreds of struggling readers ages 5 to 81. Almost all students I meet who have decoding weaknesses share a common behavior. Can you guess what it is? They look up from the page before they finish reading a word or sentence.

Many just glance at the word and guess what it is as they look at me for approval. Others may look at the word more carefully, yet they still look at me for approval after they say what they think the word is. A few look at the word before staring at the ceiling or somewhere in space while they try to figure out what the word is. Every elementary school teacher and every reading interventionist I meet recognizes these behaviors and can associate them with specific students.

Teachers often ask how to help their struggling readers. My first response is, “Make sure all students keep their eyes on the words the entire time they read.” I also suggest that teachers avoid saying things like “good job” or “nice work” when the student looks up for approval. The only time a student should look up from the page when reading is to say, “I need help with that word.” In that case, the teacher either helps the student sound out the word or gives the word if it is too difficult for the student to decode.

Many teachers tell us they need to give students, especially struggling readers, positive feedback for the student’s self-esteem and confidence. At first blush that seems reasonable because beginning and struggling readers want to know if they read correctly, and teachers want students to feel good about reading. In reality, teachers are training students to rely on them for affirmation rather than helping students develop confidence in their emerging skills. Instead of saying “good job” or “nice work” when a student looks up, the teacher can reinforce the importance of looking at the words by saying, “Remember to keep your eyes on the words when you read. I’ll let you know when I need to help you.”

Recently I was in a school to work with students, and the reading coach was with me all day. I started with four students in a low second-grade reading group who were working on phonics at the silent “e” level. These students had scored between 28 and 42 words-correct-per-minute on mid-year DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency (benchmark is 68). Their accuracy ranged from 76 to 91 percent. They were reading decodable text focusing on words with silent “e.” All four students had the habit of looking up for approval at the end of each sentence. And, not surprisingly, all four often misread the final words in the sentence. I had them practice keeping their eyes on the words for all four or five sentences that were on the page. Their habit of looking up was not easy to change. By the end of 25 minutes, albeit with conscious effort on the students’ part, all four were keeping their heads down and their eyes on the words while they read. Just this small change in behavior noticeably increased their accuracy.

The reading coach and I spent the afternoon working one-on-one with four third-grade and fourth-grade students who had the lowest reading scores in their grade. They were all receiving decoding intervention. We assessed the students’ decoding skills by having them read words in isolation. None of the students did more than glance at words and look up before saying the word, and none read more than 18 of 30 decodable and high-frequency words accurately. It was apparent that these students weren’t looking at the words long enough to apply any decoding strategies. We worked with each student for about 20 minutes, reviewing the short vowel sounds and encouraging them to keep their eyes on the words. After this short time, they were all able to read with greater accuracy and more confidence. None had fully overcome their habit of taking their eyes off the words before finishing reading, but all were catching themselves every time they did look up.

Early in the day, the reading coach remarked that she was surprised at my “fixation” on teaching students to look at the words until they finished reading. At the end of the day, she told me she fully understood why I was such a zealot about insisting students keep their eyes on the page. Yes, I am fixated on having students look at the words when they read because we can only read when we look at the words.

I implore all kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade teachers—as well as reading interventionists—to teach students to keep their eyes on the words so that they do not have to later struggle with breaking a habit that hampers effective, efficient reading. After all, the first step good readers take is to look at the words they are reading. In my experience, many struggling readers have difficulties partly because they never mastered this first step.

Linda Farrell is a founding partner of 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 and has coauthored several publications and videos on effective reading assessment and instruction, including Teaching Reading Essentials (2006), DIBELS: A Practical Manual (2006), and Colleague in the Classroom (2003). She can be reached at

About Linda Farrell

Books by Lindar Farrell: Teaching Reading EssentialsDIBELS: The Practical ManualColleague in the Classroom

Categories: Assessment, Literacy | 10 Comments

“SEMple” Teaching Practices That Create Meaningful Literacy Instruction

By Pat Sekel, Ph.D.

Much research has been published recently focusing on best teaching practices, in particular those supporting literacy. What is the underlying theme in all this rigorous investigation on thousands of different kinds of learners? Research has found three key elements that, when combined, will engage 100 percent of learners, with zero downtime, achieving better than a 98 percent success rate. How can this be accomplished? It’s “SEMple.” Let me explain …

Studies have found that teachers who teach in a Structured, Explicit, Multisensory manner—or teach “SEMply”—will produce these types of results with students (Archer & Hughes, 2011; McIntyre & Pickering, 1995). But, what does this actually look like in the classroom? For this high level of success to take place, the teacher must take responsibility for student learning, not make excuses if students fail to master new material.

The S in SEMply represents Structured. Structured teaching involves presenting material methodically and teaching information in a sequential manner. Students practice applying procedures  and routines until they can be used unconsciously when reading or spelling an unknown word.  For example, if students are taught to identify syllable types or to quickly ‘scoop’ words into syllables when they encounter an unfamiliar word, working memory can be spent on decoding the word rather than   panicking over how to first attack it.

English is a highly structured language, with spelling at least 86 percent regular when one knows the rules and patterns (Cox & Waites, 1986). Teaching students the most regularly used sounds and spelling patterns in a systematic manner, rather than relying on  “teachable moments,” will enable students to read more words more quickly. Teachers who study the English language understand the importance of teaching the six syllable types as well as how etymology plays a role in reading. Instruction should be delivered “in order” from easier to more complex skills: single sounds to digraphs, short vowels to vowel teams, single-syllable to multisyllabic words.

In the primary grades, students begin reading single-syllable words whose etymology are primarily Anglo-Saxon (e.g., cow, green, milk, arm, me, sit, why). By the time students transition to the intermediate grades, the words are longer and more abstract, reflecting their Latin and French heritage (e.g., ingredient, fascinate, magazine, critique, direct). Additional Greek combining forms (e.g., television, chemistry, theme, gymnastics) can further tax intermediate readers’ decoding and comprehension ability, if they didn’t secure their decoding skills in the primary grades. These words are not only longer, but also more abstract in nature.

E is for Explicit instruction, which is absolutely necessary in teaching content that students could not otherwise discover (Archer & Hughes, 2011).Students are guided through the new learning that is broken down into incremental steps; they are provided with clear explanations and scaffolds  to support their learning. As a new concept is presented, the teacher builds on previous learning and knowledge, taking students from the known to the unknown. “Teach, don’t test,” must be teachers’ call to action for more active learning to occur.

One technique is to incorporate “pregnant pauses” in presentations, allowing time for students to fill in answers in teachers’ statements, rather than expecting students to know the answer after a single presentation of information. An example could be, “Yesterday, we discovered the alphabet had how many letters? It has (pregnant pause) 26!” As the teacher reminds students of their previous learning and students are encouraged to fill in the answer with her, she is simultaneously writing “26” on the board.

During the direct teaching phase, the teacher provides demonstrations and explanations, with enough independent practice for students to achieve mastery. When students demonstrate success, less teacher guidance is required, and task difficulty can increase. Teachers must use precise terms in explaining a concept to students. Demonstrations for students that include examples as well as nonexamples help to sharpen the parameters of concepts (e.g., Brophy & Good, 1986).

Distributed practice over time cements learning rather than cramming in a concept within a short window of time and not resurfacing the learning again for another semester or so. Tie points together and remind students of what they know to “warm up their brains” before presenting new learning. This resurfacing of information helps remind students of what they have learned, and helps them feel secure that the teacher will organize and connect the new information coming in for them.

M is the final letter in the acronym. Multisensory instruction by definition involves engaging at least two senses simultaneously. The key word is simultaneously. Teachers may think that rotating senses during a presentation of new information is multisensory, when in fact this is directing instruction toward one sense. To more fully engage students for longer periods and to create more successful learners, students must see and do, hear and see—or multiple combinations thereof—to deepen understanding of new learning. Some examples in the classroom could be teachers who value writing on the board simultaneously while providing directions, naming letters of words as they write them on the board, displaying a completed project while discussing the parts necessary for completion, or explaining how to work a math problem on the board while the students complete the same problem at their desks. When students have a weaker learning modality, teaching in a multisensory fashion ensures that at least one of the student’s learning senses will be targeted.

Teaching in a Systematic, Explicit, and Multisensory manner will ensure 100 percent student engagement with zero downtime and, most importantly, 98 percent student success in learning. It’s really that SEMple.

Pat Sekel, Ph.D., CALT, QI, has more than 30 years of experience in public and private schools. She has worked as a qualified instructor, certified academic language therapist, special educator, and speech pathologist. Sekel is twice past president of the Austin branch of The International Dyslexia Association and has served in other capacities at the national level of IDA. She is a national LETRS trainer and coauthor of The New Herman Method, an Orton-Gillingham-based, multisensory intervention for reading, handwriting, and spelling.

About Pat Sekel

Books by Pat Sekel: The New Herman Method

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Metalinguistic Awareness, Comprehension, and The Common Core State Standards

By Susan M. Ebbers

Coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), the Common Core State Standards have swept the nation; nearly every state has sanctioned the call for students to read more complex texts. In response, publishers are rapidly preparing more challenging texts, referring to the exemplars listed in Appendix B of the Standards, including works by Sophocles, Alexis de Tocqueville and Fyodor Dostoevsky. These types of texts will be Waterloo for some students, and the battle begins in kindergarten with a call to understand—and hopefully enjoy—As I was Going to St. Ives. How can teachers help readers meet this challenge? In part, the solution lies in developing metacognitive insights and abilities—including metalinguistic awareness.

Metalinguistic awareness requires a keener than normal conscious, declarative awareness of language. We demonstrate this type of metacognition when weremove language from context in order to reflect on it and manipulate it. Metalinguistic awareness is an important ingredient in learning to read, spell and understand words (Donaldson, 1978). Moreover, as Nagy suggests, it explains a portion of the otherwise unexplained variance in comprehension scores, when other important variables have been controlled (2007). Boosting metalinguistic awareness has significant effect on reading comprehension (Cain, 2007; Zipke, 2007, 2011; Zipke, Ehri, & Cairns, 2009). English Language Learners benefit from metalinguistic awareness lessons, too, including metamorphological instruction (Carlo et al., 2004; Ginsberg, Honda, O’Neil, 2011; Kuo & Anderson, 2006; Ramirez, Chen, Geva, & Kiefer, 2010).

Metalinguistic awareness is a cognitive dynamo. At maximum potential, it includes increased awareness of phonemes and syllables and rhymes/rimes, of meaning-bearing morphemes, words, and phrases, of syntax, word referents, and appositives, of denotations, connotations, and lexical ambiguities, of homonyms, synonyms, and antonyms, of slang, dialect, and jargon, of academic language and figurative devices like metaphor, imagery, personification, and more. Writ large, metalinguistic awareness envelopes every atom of language.

Researchers have long proclaimed the critical role of phonological awareness (PA) in helping children blend and segment sounds in words. In the past decade, two more types of metalinguistic insight have surfaced repeatedly in reading research journals: morphological awareness (MA) and orthographic awareness (OA). If a student grows in MA, s/he becomes increasingly aware that words sharing the same base or root are similar in form and meaning. For example, the child notices similarities across painted, painter, paintings, painterly, and repaint, at the same time realizing that pain –while somewhat similar in form—is not related to this morphological family.  MA also includes knowledge of common suffixes and prefixes.

If a student grows in OA, s/he becomes more aware of the English system of writing, realizing that something “just looks wrong” when presented with “illegal” spellings, such as words beginning with ck or words containing three identical vowels in a row, as in *seeer. As this insight matures, students gradually realize that foreign loan words allow the inclusion of spellings not aligned with English orthography, as in beau, hoi polloi, and faux pas.

Recently, Berninger, Abbott, Nagy, and Carlisle (2010) conducted a longitudinal study spanning first grade to sixth grade in two cohorts (N = 241 students), investigating growth curves for three types of metalinguistic awareness: MA, OA, and PA. They found that PA and receptive OA grew from first to third grade and then tapered off or reached a plateau, for most students. Expressive OA continued to grow a bit after third grade. Meanwhile, MA grew rapidly from first to third grade and then continued to grow, but less rapidly, through sixth grade. Furthermore, MA influenced word knowledge: Vocabulary knowledge was significantly related to how well the student understood that derivational suffixes influence the grammatical category of the word—for example, that instrument is not grammatically the same as instrumentalist or instrumentally, even though there is semantic overlap. Reading comprehension is partially explained by growth in MA (Kuo & Anderson, 2006; Nagy, Berninger, & Abbott, 2006).

As educators, we promote metalinguistic awareness by making explicit salient aspects of the targeted linguistic concept—the logic behind understanding multiple-meaning words, drawing an inference, or grasping how compound words convey meaning morphologically, for example. We promote keener consciousness when we point out how any detail of language works, making our thoughts transparent in a think-aloud with visual modeling, or when we ask students to explain their reasoning—and we give them feedback. If we exploit metalinguistic insight, we influence word reading, spelling, and vocabulary while moving the ball towards the end goal: comprehension. Thus, we might heed the clarion call of linguist Bill Nagy (2007): “Vocabulary instruction needs to be more explicitly metalinguistic, that is word consciousness is an obligatory, not an optional, component” (p. 54).

What about the brave new Common Core? Do they mention the term metalinguistic in the English Language Arts Standards? Alas, no. However, Appendix A circles loosely around the topic (NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010):

The reader brings to the act of reading his or her cognitive capabilities (attention, memory, critical analytic ability, inferencing, visualization); motivation (a purpose for reading, interest in the content, self-efficacy as a reader); knowledge (vocabulary and topic knowledge, linguistic and discourse knowledge, knowledge of comprehension strategies); and experiences.

In another section of the document, metacognitive strategies are mentioned. The Standards, and the forthcoming standards-aligned assessments, are fairly agnostic to instructional methods—they do not care HOW we teach—only that students learn. Professional discretion is encouraged; teachers and administrators decide how to address the Standards, including how to develop metacognitive insight, as indicated in Key Design Considerations:

By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies [formatting added] that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.

By integrating the two excerpts above, one might (might) infer that the National Governors Association did indeed include metalinguistic development in the Common Core. I only wish they had been more deliberate about it. Perhaps educators can assign a portion of their discretionary non-standards-aligned time to this goal. Without conscious awareness of language, second graders may be frustrated by The Jumblies (Edward Lear). Indeed, if lessons do not include an explicit focus on metalinguistic awareness, we could be sending our schools to sea—in a sieve.


Susan M. Ebbers, a former teacher and principal, authored several supplemental materials published by Cambium Learning, including Vocabulary through Morphemes, Daily Oral Vocabulary Exercises (with coauthor Jill Carroll), Power Readers, and Supercharged Readers. She is a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, investigating various aspects of metalinguistic awareness, and the publisher of Vocabulogic (visit

About Susan M. Ebbers

Books by Susan M. Ebbers: Vocabulary Through MorphemesPower ReadersSupercharged ReadersDaily Oral Vocabulary Exercises (DOVE)

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | 3 Comments

Nothing Less for Our Children

By Lucy Hart Paulson

After a recent training on developing early literacy skills, an early childhood educator shared this comment:

“The information I received in my educational training was not specific in literacy instruction. I feel early childhood educators lack the knowledge base to teach these skills. Even for teachers who have been trained, their opinions vary drastically as to the most appropriate way to teach these concepts.”

You can sense the level of frustration and concern this teacher felt with the depth of knowledge needed to help young children learn the early literacy skills vital to their development. The content was not provided at a preservice level in college, and there is a general lack of understanding of how to use evidence-based practice in early childhood settings. Within the field, early childhood educators hold a wide range of instructional beliefs and practices.

The Evidence:

  • A significant body of research has established the foundational skills of early literacy in oral language, phonological awareness, and print knowledge. Developmental sequences for what children learn within each of these areas have been identified in the preschool years that lead to success in early reading in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.
  • As identified by the National Reading Panel (NRP) in 2000, the two best predictive indicators of successful reading in second grade for children transitioning from preschool and entering kindergarten include phoneme awareness of sounds in words and letter knowledge.
  • Teaching preschool children how to segment and blend phonemes in words has been determined to be twice as effective as the same instruction with children in kindergarten with much larger effect sizes for reading outcomes (NRP subgroups, 2000, chp. 2, pg. 24).
  • From a developmental perspective, letter-name knowledge generally occurs before letter-sound knowledge (Neuman, 2000). The skills that are needed for letter-sound understanding reside in letter-name knowledge and phoneme or sound sensitivity. Letter-name knowledge often serves as a bridge to letter-sound knowledge.
  • Preschool children can successfully learn these skills when they are intentionally and explicitly taught (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; NRP, 2000).
  • Knowing what the target skills are in each of the early literacy foundations and having an assessment plan to assess them early to then provide needed instruction are components of high-quality early childhood settings.
  • Young children are capable of learning a lot; and we have, at times, underestimated their abilities.
  • Children who learn to be competent readers and writers are more likely to experience success in school and beyond with positive societal and economic impacts.
  • The activities used to teach these skills can be fun, engaging, effective, and developmentally appropriate.

Historic Practices in Early Childhood Education:

  • The scope and sequence of curricula broadly used in early childhood educational settings, such as those implemented in many Head Start programs, have not been designed to systematically, intentionally, and explicitly teach the early literacy skills that provide the foundation for early reading and writing.
  • There is a strong focus within early childhood settings on creating language- and literacy-rich environments designed to follow children’s leads and respond to their interests.
  • Skill development is more likely to be embedded into everyday classroom routines and activities through exploration and play.
  • Intentional and explicit instruction is considered by some not to follow developmentally appropriate practice (DAP).

Characteristics of High-Quality Early Childhood Settings:

  • Teachers are well-trained in understanding the developmental sequences and age expectations of the skills young children learn in building their early literacy foundations.
  • An ongoing assessment process is in place to identify what children know and to monitor their progress.
  • An evidence-based curriculum is in use with a scope and sequence that result in developmentally appropriate learning outcomes of the skills that children need to acquire.
  • There is a balance between teacher-directed and child-directed activities.
  • Developmentally appropriate practices are used.


Supporting Early Childhood Educators:

Developmentally  appropriate practice includes teaching approaches that consider (NAEYC, 2009):

  • Knowledge of the sequences of child development, learning to set achievable and challenging goals for literacy learning, and planning and using teaching strategies that vary with age and experience of learners
  • An ongoing assessment procedure that identifies individual children’s progress in literacy in order to plan successive lessons or to adapt instruction when children do not make expected progress or are at advanced levels
  • An understanding of social and cultural contexts that affect how children make sense of their learning experiences in relation to what they already know and are able to do

Early childhood educators are dedicated professionals who make a significant difference in the lives of the children in their care. Providing these professionals with the knowledge of early literacy foundations and the support to use evidence-based assessment and instruction strategies should be standard practice in all educational settings, beginning with preservice opportunities, continuing and ongoing in-service experiences, and follow-along coaching in the settings where young children are learning. Our children deserve nothing less.

Lucy Hart Paulson, Ed.D., CCC-SLP, is a literacy specialist with years of experience working with young children and their families in public school, Head Start, private, and university settings. She is on the faculty of the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at the University of Montana, sharing responsibilities for teaching, supervising, research, and service. Lucy is the lead author of Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) for Early Childhood Educators; Building Early Literacy and Language Skills (BELLS), a resource and activity guide for young children; and Good Talking Words, a social communication skills program for preschool and kindergarten classes.

About Lucy Hart Paulson

Books by Lucy Hart Paulson: LETRS Second EditionLETRS for Early Childhood EducatorsGood Talking WordsBuilding Early Literacy and Language Skills (BELLS)

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

It Takes a Village

By Sopris Learning

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to teach one. At Sopris, one of our key objectives for the 2011–2012 school year is to build a community of educators online that reaches across borders and boardrooms to explore the issues that are important to increasing student achievement—across the board.

With most of the country adopting Common Core State Standards, we find ourselves in an environment where educators are putting progress above politics and agreeing to work together to establish common ground on which to build—or rebuild—a successful K–12 education system. Districts and states across the nation have used the principles of response to intervention (RtI) to create their own multitier systems of supports (MTSS) for increasing student outcomes.

Within this framework of unity, we believe that educators can learn from one another’s successes with evidence-based academic and behavioral interventions. Educators and administrators are reaching out to one another on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets to find professional support and practical strategies that translate into success in the classroom.

In addition to connecting educators, researchers, and authors on Facebook and Twitter, Sopris is launching a blog that will provide a forum for discussion around today’s education issues titled EdView360. We will hear first from Sopris’ own Stevan Kukic, Ph.D., about the “end of an ARRA” and whether this economic boost has actually stimulated positive, sustainable change. Kukic is a past president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), formerly served as Utah’s state director of At-Risk and Special Education Services, and has been instrumental in MTSS efforts across the country.

We hope you will tune in to EdView360 to hear from Kukic and other education leaders who will share their opinions, experiences, frustrations, inspirations, and big-picture insights on a variety of topics that are important to you and, ultimately, your students.

We look forward to hearing your viewpoints as well and fostering an open forum of communication and collaboration toward a common goal—empowering all students to rise to their full learning potential. You work hard 365 days a year, and we hope that your efforts come full circle this fall! Best wishes for a successful school year!

Written by Kathy Lee Strickland, marketing editor for Sopris, a member of Cambium Learning Group. She earned her Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, has worked as a newspaper and magazine editor, and has taught at the high school and adjunct university levels.

Categories: Assessment, Family, Funding, Literacy, Math, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

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