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Literacy Partners

5 Foundational Reading Skills To Set Your Students Up for Success

The first few weeks of school buzz with a nearly palpable energy as students settle in from the summer and embark on a new school year. We commit ourselves to building a positive, inviting classroom community and spend as much time as possible getting to know our students as learners and people. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming thinking about just how much there is to learn in order to help each of our students grow!

For those of us teaching in the upper grades, our reading program often doesn’t include explicit phonics instruction. Knowing how and when to assess our students’ foundational skills is essential to supporting their development as readers.

If you’re considering how to support the wide range of readers in upper grades or just need a foundational skills refresher, this article will give you lots of tips and ideas to get the year off to a running start.

Here are some simple but essential ways to meet your students where they are. This advice will help you get to know your students as readers and immediately start cultivating their love of reading.

What are Foundational Reading Skills?

We all want to accelerate our students’ reading skills. While it can be challenging to know where to start to encourage your readers, we suggest taking a close look at your students’ grasp on the core elements of reading so you can better pinpoint their individual needs.

A Quick Rundown of the Science: 

So, what are foundational skills? Foundational skills are the building blocks of successful reading. We want students to fully comprehend the texts they encounter, and it can feel daunting to help students tackle the many complexities of reading. When we think about what allows for strong reading comprehension, it can help to visualize Dr. Hollis Scarborough’s model of the Reading Rope, which conveys how the different “strands” of reading work together.

Essentially, reading comprehension takes both word recognition (the ability to transform print into spoken language) and language comprehension (the ability to understand spoken language). Even for our upper-grade students, determining which aspect affects their reading comprehension can be helpful.

Source: https://www.azed.gov/scienceofreading/scarbreadingrope

To break it down even further, we can consider these five reading skills:

  1. Print concepts:  Concepts about how books (in English) work.
  2. Phonological Awareness: Recognizing and manipulating the spoken parts of sentences and words (oral language). For instance, phonological awareness activities include identifying rhymes or clapping the syllables in a word.
  3. Phonemic Awareness: A subcategory of phonological awareness, the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. For example, breaking a word into individual phonemes or deleting a phoneme from a word and replacing it with a different phoneme (Say ram. Now change the /m/ to /t/).
  4. Phonics and Word Recognition: Ability to recognize and manipulate the spoken parts of language and the written symbols that represent them. For instance, identifying letter names and letter sounds.
  5. Fluency: Reading texts with accuracy, automaticity, and prosody to support comprehension.

Getting to Know Your Readers Through Assessment

This is a lot to consider, especially when you have a whole class of new students in front of you! Starting with an assessment of their handle on foundational skills can give you insight into where to start! Here are some assessments we recommend using throughout the first few weeks of the school year.

  1. Concepts about print
  2. Letter/sound identification
  3. Phonological awareness: rhyming, blending/segmenting, manipulating
  4. Informal assessment – observations, reading logs, interviews
  5. Word reading – low-frequency words, nonsense words
  6. Reading life/interest surveys
  7. Running records – decodable/leveled, accuracy, fluency, comprehension

Pro Tip: Think about parts and times of the year you need to look at this info.

You may not use all of these assessments for all of your students, depending on your grade level and key observations. Be intentional and think about which data will leverage your teaching the most. Your school site may have specific assessments in place — we also recommend the TCRWP List of Featured Assessments to help you get started.

What’s next?

We all know the real work begins once you know the readers in front of you.

Determine trends:

  • What do you need to teach to your whole class?
  • What can you teach in small groups or conferences?

Set up systems:

Organize your library: 

  • Get the right books in your readers’ hands by showing them how your library is organized. Here are some tips for effective book shopping.
  • Consider grouping texts by genre, topic, or theme so students don’t identify themselves just as a reading level.
  • Consider multi-criteria texts and decide when to use decodable vs. leveled texts.

Support student choice: 

Supporting students’ reading and fostering a love of books is meaningful work. And when we know our students and center their individual needs, we can maximize their growth and make reading a natural activity they’ll enjoy. At the core of a vibrant reading culture is an understanding of what makes reading comprehension tick, and with those tools in hand, you can create a literacy-rich environment for all of your learners.

Book Recommendations 

Take your learning to the next level with these book recommendations.

Shifting the Balance by Jan Miller Burkins and Kari Yates

The Reading Strategies Book 2.0 by Jennifer Serravallo

Reading Conferences by Jennifer Serravallo and Katie Wood Ray

Teaching Phonics and Word Study in the Intermediate Grades by Wiley Blevins

When Readers Struggle by Gay Su Pinnell and Irene C. Fountas

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