|The purpose of this program advisory is to provide
guidance in the development and implementation of a balanced,
comprehensive reading program in prekindergarten through grade three. The
document is in direct response to the recommendations outlined in the
report of the Superintendent's Reading Task Force, Every Child a Reader
(September, 1995). It is also designed to support two new statutes, known
as the "ABC" bills (Assembly Bill 170, Chapter 765, Statutes of 1995, and
Assembly Bill 1504, Chapter 764, Statutes of 1995), which require, in
part, that the State Board of Education adopt materials in grades one
through eight that include "systematic, explicit phonics, spelling, and
basic computational skills." The advisory amplifies both the
recommendations of the Reading Task Force report as well as the new
requirements in law and is offered as a policy statement rather than as a
The audience for this program advisory includes staff developers, reading
specialists, principals, district and county leaders in curriculum and
instruction, college and university teacher educators, teachers, parents,
community members, and publishers.
With this program advisory, the State Superintendent of Public
Instruction, the State Board of Education, and the Commission on Teacher
Credentialing express their commitment to reading instruction that
conforms to the Reading Task Force report, the new statutes, and sound
educational policy. The advisory is one of a number of state efforts
designed to initiate a turnaround in the reading performance of
The content of the document serves as the basis for all California
Department of Education efforts related to early literacy and supersedes
previous Department guidance related to this topic. Furthermore, it is the
State Board's desire that the advisory form the basis for all elementary
school and school district plans and activities involving reading, such as
those related to Title I, school-based coordination, child development,
English language learners, and the statewide REACH project.
There is sufficient guidance now available from research about how
children best learn to read and about how successful reading programs work
to ensure that virtually every child will learn to read well, at least by
the end of third grade. This advisory is offered in support of that goal.
The advisory contains two sections. Part I, "The Reading Program," focuses
on the essential components of a complete program of early reading
instruction, with specific guidance in systematic, explicit skills
instruction and other essential components of an early reading program;
classroom diagnosis; program assessment; and early intervention
strategies, including family-school partnerships that support student
learning and home learning. Grade-level expectations and examples of
classroom activities are also included in this part of the advisory.
Part II, "Instructional Guidance and Support," addresses the planning
necessary to support classroom implementation, including the development
of local standards and ongoing professional development.
Essential Components of a Balanced and Comprehensive Reading Program--From
Research to Practice
The Reading Task Force report called for a balanced and comprehensive
approach to early reading instruction that includes both teacher-directed
skills instruction and the activities and strategies most often associated
with literature-based, integrated language arts instruction. Specifically,
on page 2 of its introduction to Every Child a Reader, the Reading
Task Force states: "It was determined that a balanced and comprehensive
approach to reading must have:
- a strong literature, language, and comprehension program that
includes a balance of oral and written language;
- an organized, explicit skills program that includes phonemic
awareness (sounds in words), phonics, and decoding skills to address the
needs of the emergent reader;
- ongoing diagnosis that informs teaching and assessment that
ensures accountability; and
- a powerful early intervention program that provides individual
tutoring for children at risk of reading failure."
[Karl Note: "Balanced" here
means using "whole word" concepts mixed in with "phonics concepts," and
also means failure of the teaching process. Here is a professional
critique of the "balanced" concept:
Appearances can be deceiving,
however, and painless solutions are often wrong. Unfortunately, many who
pledge allegiance to balanced reading continue to misunderstand reading
development and to deliver poorly conceived, ineffective instruction. In
fact, despite numerous claims by people in the field, the deep division
between reading science and whole-language ideology(1)
has not been bridged. Probably it cannot and should not be. In my view,
a marriage of these perspectives is neither possible nor desirable. It
is too easy for practitioners, while endorsing “balance,” to continue
teaching whole language without ever understanding the most important
research findings about reading or incorporating those findings into
their classroom practice. Wrong-headed ideas about reading continue to
characterize textbooks, reading course syllabi, classroom instructional
materials, state language-arts standards, and policy documents. (source)]
This program advisory suggests that explicit skills instruction be
part of a broader language-rich program consistent with the best practices
of literature-based language arts instruction and the English--Language
Arts Framework, which is currently under revision. Any changes made to
improve or enhance reading instruction and practice should be informed by
current research while conforming to relevant statutes.
To be complete and balanced and to meet the literacy needs of all
students, including English language learners and students with special
needs, any early reading program must include the following instructional
components: phonemic awareness; letter names and shapes; systematic,
explicit phonics; spelling; vocabulary development; comprehension and
higher-order thinking; and appropriate instructional materials.
Phonemic awareness is the understanding that spoken words and syllables
are themselves made up of sequences of elementary speech sounds. This
understanding is essential for learning to read an alphabetic language
because it is these elementary sounds or phonemes that letters represent.
Without phonemic awareness, phonics can make no sense, and the spellings
of words can be learned only by rote.
In the early stages of its development, phonemic awareness does not
involve written letters or words and is, therefore, not synonymous with
phonics. In later stages, however, work on phonemic awareness and phonics
appears to be mutually reinforcing.
Research has shown repeatedly that phonemic awareness is a powerful
predictor of success in learning to read. Research findings include the
- Phonemic awareness is more highly related to learning to read
than tests of general intelligence, reading readiness, and listening
comprehension (Stanovich, 1986, 1993).
- The lack of phonemic awareness is the most powerful determinant
of the likelihood of failure to learn to read because of its importance
in learning the English alphabetic system or in learning how print
represents spoken words. If children cannot hear and manipulate the
sounds in spoken words, they have an extremely difficult time learning
how to map those sounds to letters and letter patterns&151;the essence
of decoding (Adams, 1990).
- Phonemic awareness is the most important core and causal factor
separating normal and disabled readers (Share and Stanovich, 1995).
- Phonemic awareness is equally important in learning to spell. (Ehri,
1992; Treiman, 1993).
As children become proficient in spoken language, they learn to
attend to its meaning rather than its sounds. For that reason, acquiring
phonemic awareness is difficult for many. However, research demonstrates
that phonemic awareness can be fostered through language activities that
encourage active exploration and manipulation of sounds and that doing so
significantly accelerates both reading and writing growth for all
children. Research also indicates that all young readers benefit from
explicit assistance with phonemic awareness; at least one-fifth of them
depend critically on it. Children should be diagnosed in mid-kindergarten
to determine if they are adequately progressing and, if not, given more
intensive phonemic awareness training. The discovery of the nature and
enabling importance of phonemic awareness is said to be the single
greatest breakthrough in reading pedagogy in this century (Adams, 1990).
Support for phonemic awareness development should occur in prekindergarten,
kindergarten, and first grade (Yopp, 1992), including the abilities to:
- attend to the separate words of sentences (e.g., rhyming songs,
- break up words into syllables (e.g., clapping syllables);
- detect and generate rhymes;
- engage in alliterative language play (e.g., listening for or
generating words that begin with a specific initial phoneme);
- blend phonemes to make words (e.g., /b/-/a/-/t/= bat);
- make new words by substituting one phoneme for another (e.g.,
change the /h/ in "hot" to /p/);
- identify the middle and final phonemes of words; and
- segment words into phonemes (e.g., dog = /d/-/o/-/g/).
Letter Names and Shapes
Familiarity with the letters of the alphabet is another powerful predictor
of early reading success. Until children can quickly recognize letters,
they cannot begin to appreciate that all words are made of sequences and
patterns of letters. Until children can comfortably discriminate the shape
of one letter from another, there is no point in teaching letter-sound
pairings. Encouraging young children to produce temporary spellings is a
powerful means of developing phonemic awareness; yet children will not
write willingly until they can form the letters with adequate ease and to
their own satisfaction. Knowledge of the letter names is important, too,
for it is shown to be a major means by which children recall or generate
the sounds of letters in their independent reading and writing.
Because the names and shapes of the letters in English are very similar to
one another, their learning is best fostered through numerous guided and
playful exposures to the alphabet. Across the prekindergarten and
kindergarten years, teachers should create many opportunities to engage
their students with the names, shapes, and formation of the letters of the
Systematic, Explicit Phonics
This term refers to an organized program where letter-sound
correspondences for letters and letter clusters are directly taught;
blended; practiced in words, word lists, and word families; and practiced
initially in text with a high percentage of decodable words linked to the
phonics lesson. Teachers should provide prompt and explicit feedback.
In reading for meaning, skillful readers move their eyes through text left
to right, line by line, and word by word. With the exception of short
function words, such as a, on, of, and any,
they almost never skip or guess. Instead, they fixate on very nearly each
and every word of text. Further, during the fraction of a second that they
do so, they take in--and must take in--all of its letters, translating
them to speech sounds on their way to evoking the word's meaning.
These word recognition processes are far too rapid and automatic for
skillful readers to be aware of them. Nevertheless, their reality has been
broadly confirmed through a variety of technologically sophisticated
research methods with mature readers, including eye-movement recordings
and brain-imaging techniques.
In terms of instruction, these findings carry a critical implication. To
become skillful readers, children must learn how to decode words instantly
and effortlessly. It is for this reason that children must be taught
initially to examine the letters and letter patterns of every new word
while reading. Similarly, while practicing phonetic decoding, children
must not be taught to skip new words or guess their meaning. While the
interpretation of text depends integrally on context, the recognition of
its words should not. Research reveals that only poor and disabled readers
rely on context for word identification (Stanovich, 1980). Conversely,
poorly developed knowledge of spellings and spelling-sound correspondences
is found to be the most frequent, debilitating, and pervasive cause of
reading difficulty (Bruck, 1990; Perfetti, 1985; Rack, Snowling, and
Olson, 1992; Vellutino, 1991). Young readers must develop fast, accurate
decoding skills; and research verifies that they are much more likely to
do so if they receive a good program of phonics instruction.
The role of effective phonics instruction is to help children understand,
apply, and learn the alphabetic principle and conventions of written
language. Phonics instruction is not about rote drill involving a
comprehensive list of spelling-sound correspondences and phonics rules.
The most effective phonics instruction is explicit--that is, taking care
to clarify key points and principles for students. In addition, it is
systematic--that is, it gradually builds from basic elements to more
subtle and complex patterns. The goal is to convey the logic of the system
and to invite its extension to new words that the children will encounter
on their own. Teaching phonics opportunistically by pointing out
spelling-sound connections only as they arise does not have the same
impact on learning.
Research shows that children are naturally inclined to view words as
holistic patterns, rather like pictures. The drawback to this approach is
that learning to recognize one word as a picture offers no advantage
toward learning to recognize the next. Toward developing children's word
recognition abilities, it follows that among the first and most critical
challenges is that of persuading children to go beyond this tendency.
By its very nature, phonics instruction encourages children to examine all
the letters of each new word, left to right. Conversely, by linking speech
sounds to the letters, it enables students to use their oral knowledge of
a word to remember the word's spelling. In addition, it provides a
strategy by which students can identify previously unseen words on their
own as they read.
Initial phonics instruction is best conducted with a relatively small set
of consonants and short vowels. These spelling-sound relationships should
be developed progressively. By using this limited set of letters to build
as many familiar words as possible, students can be convinced of the
utility of phonics and shown that every letter matters. Most commonly,
initial lessons should focus on short words that adhere to the basic
left-to-right principle of sounding and blending, such as fat and
fit. Once children have learned to sound out such basic short-vowel
patterns, lessons should be extended to include the most common other
vowel spellings. Importantly, research demonstrates that for children who
understand how the alphabetic principle works, it is relatively easy for
them to add new letter-sound pairs to the working set.
Research shows that it is important for children to practice the phonics
they have learned. It is therefore essential that the initial books that
children attempt to read on their own be composed of decodable text. More
details on this subject are provided in the section entitled "Appropriate
Not all words are amenable to decoding. Whether irregular or not, those
short words of extremely high frequency, such as the, of,
are, and you, should be familiarized at the outset. Text cannot
be written without these very high frequency words. Further, because so
many of them are irregularly spelled, they should be recognized at a
glance so that the student's attention is not diverted from decoding. A
workable number of these words should be firmly established in
kindergarten and early first grade by directing attention to them in big
book and writing activities. As other irregular words are added along the
way, it is worth noting their peculiarities as well as their phonetic
regularities. This practice serves at once to make them more memorable and
to protect the rest of the system from their waywardness.
Context has been shown to have a powerful effect on students'
comprehension of words and sentences. The use of syntactic (grammar) and
semantic (meaning) levels of language has been found to be helpful in a
number of ways. Sometimes a reader will use context cues when learning
decoding skills. Context is also useful to resolve ambiguity (e.g., in the
two pronunciations of the word read). A third use is to suggest a
possible meaning when a word is unknown to the reader (e.g., the meaning
of facade when the reader does not know that facade means
the front or face of a building). Finally, context helps accelerate
reading rate. Large quantities of a variety of genres (e.g., novel,
biography, short story, play, poem, article) of fiction and nonfiction
materials must be read each year by each child beginning in grade one.
Fluency with text is the ultimate key to the door of comprehension and
The best instruction provides a strong relationship between what children
learn in phonics and what they read. A high proportion of the words in the
earliest selections children read should be decodable (i.e., conform to
the phonics they have already been taught; Becoming a Nation of
Readers, 1984). After children have demonstrated initial levels of
phonemic awareness, both phonemic awareness and phonics can be taught
simultaneously. At this point it is also essential that both phonemic
awareness and phonics be mutually reinforced in the context of integrated,
shared reading and writing activities.
Good spelling is much more than a literary nicety. Poorly developed
spelling knowledge is shown to hinder children's writing, to disrupt their
reading fluency, and to obstruct their vocabulary development (Adams,
Treiman, and Pressley, 1996; Read, 1986). Although it is appropriate to
encourage beginners to use temporary or invented spellings to express
their thoughts in print, programmatic instruction in correct spellings
should begin in first grade and continue across the school years. In
addition, and increasingly across the school years, children should be
expected to attend to the correctness of their spellings in their writing.
Children's temporary spellings are a direct reflection of their own
knowledge and understanding of how words actually are spelled. As such,
they are also an invaluable medium for diagnosing difficulties and
evaluating progress. For example, children who scribble need support with
print awareness and letter knowledge.
By engaging students in thinking actively and reflectively about the
sounds of words and their spellings, exercise in temporary spelling lays a
strong cognitive foundation for both formal spelling and phonics. It does
not, however, eliminate the need for learning how to spell correctly.
Consistent with this, research demonstrates that combining ample early
support of temporary spelling with systematic, formal spelling instruction
results in more rapid growth in both correct spelling and word recognition
than does either approach alone (Shefelbine, 1995).
Regular and active attention to spelling in the classroom serves to
increase the willingness and productivity with which all students write.
Because the first challenge is to develop the children's phonemic
awareness and knowledge of basic letter-sound correspondences, such
activities should begin with short, regular words, such as pot,
pat, and pan. As the principal goal of these early sessions is
to develop the kind of thinking on which good spelling depends, they
should be playful and exploratory. Beyond challenging the children to
produce the spellings in focus, the lessons should be designed to model
the process of generating and troubleshooting one's spellings and to
provide instructive feedback on specific difficulties.
Gradually, the focus of these instructional activities should be extended
to more complex spelling patterns and words. Moving pattern by pattern
from basics through consonant blends, long vowel spellings, inflections,
and so on, the primary goal is to instill the larger logic and
regularities of the system and its conventions. The early exploratory
lessons will evolve seamlessly into formal spelling instruction.
In later grades, such instruction should extend to spellings and meanings
of prefixes, suffixes, and word roots. Leading children to notice such
patterns across many different examples makes it easier for them to learn
the particular words in study. At the same time, it supports their ability
to look for and use such spelling patterns and word analysis strategies
beyond the lesson in their own reading and writing.
The primary goal of spelling instruction, as with phonics, is to alert
children to patterns, to how words are put together, and to conventions
and correctness. Spelling lists and quizzes should be purposeful and
support and reinforce reading and writing instruction. Extensive reading
and writing, including opportunities to edit for final publication, for
real purposes and audiences, play an indispensable role in mastering
Written language places far greater demands on people's vocabulary
knowledge than does casual spoken language. Indeed, more advanced texts
depend so heavily on precise wording to build meaning and message that,
from the middle grades on, students' reading comprehension can be closely
estimated by measures of their vocabulary. Students will be able to learn
from these texts only if they approach them with most of the vocabulary
In fact, learning to read brings with it special opportunities as well as
special needs for expanding one's vocabulary. Thus, research indicates
that of the roughly 3,000 new words that the average student learns per
year, the majority are learned by encountering them in text. However, the
number of new words that children can learn from text depends on how much
they read, and the amount that children read ranges enormously. As
documented by research, the ninetieth percentile fifth grader reads about
200 times more text per year than the tenth percentile reader does (Nagy,
Herman, and Anderson, 1985).
In the interest of vocabulary development, then, all children should be
read to as much as possible. Yet this cannot be the whole solution. First,
children need to be encouraged to attend to the meanings of new words they
encounter in text. Second, the ability to understand and remember the
meanings of new words depends quite strongly on how well developed one's
vocabulary is already.
Beginning in kindergarten, vocabulary growth should be actively supported
in the classroom. Vocabulary instruction is shown to be most effective
when explicit information about the words' definitions is complemented by
attention to their usages and shades of meaning across contexts. It is
useful to organize vocabulary studies structurally, in terms of roots and
affixes, or topically (e.g., science, transportation, weather, or math
words). In addition, children should be asked to create glossaries of the
new words they encounter in their reading. Bear in mind that the ultimate
goal of such instruction is no more to teach new words than to teach
children to learn them on their own.
Comprehension and Higher-Order Thinking
When we read effortlessly and accurately, we are able to construct meaning
at two levels. The first level works with the words of the text and gives
us back a literal understanding of what the author has written. Yet
productive reading involves far more than literal comprehension. The
priority issues while reading should include the following questions: Why
am I reading this and how does this information relate to my reasons for
so doing? What is the author's point of view? What are the underlying
assumptions? Do I understand what the author is saying and why? Do I know
where the author is headed? Is the text internally consistent? Is it
consistent with what I already know and believe or have learned elsewhere?
If not, where does it depart and what do I think about the discrepancy? It
is the second level of meaning construction that yields this sort of
reflective, purposeful understanding.
The productivity of students' higher-order comprehension processes is
limited by their vocabulary and reading fluency in two ways. First, these
higher-order processes are necessarily thought-intensive. They require
analytic, evaluative, and reflective access to local and long-term memory.
Yet active attention is limited. To the extent that readers struggle with
the words, they necessarily lose track of meaning. Second, it is the
wording or explicitly given information in the text that constitutes the
basic data with which the higher-order comprehension processes must work.
When readers skip or fail to understand the words of the text,
In the interest of developing students' reading comprehension, the
students should be given many opportunities for open discussion of both
the highlights and difficulties of text. Because the grammatical
structures of written text are more varied and complex than those of
casual, oral language, regular exploration and explicit instruction on
formal syntax are also warranted. Research shows, too, that children's
reflective control of text can be improved through direct instruction in
comprehension strategies. These sorts of discussions and activities should
be conducted throughout a range of literary genres, both fiction and
nonfiction. Beginning in kindergarten, they should be a regular part of
the language arts curriculum throughout the children's school years.
Even so, the single most valuable activity for developing children's
comprehension is reading itself. The amount of reading that children do is
shown to predict the growth in reading comprehension across the elementary
school years even after controlling for entry-level differences. It
predicts the quantity as well as the language, vocabulary, and structure
of students' writing. It also predicts the richness of their oral
storytelling. Among older students and adults, it predicts receptive
vocabulary, verbal fluency, content-area achievement, and all manner of
general knowledge even when other measures of school ability, general
intelligence, age, education, and reading comprehension itself are taken
out of the equation (Anderson et al., 1984; Adams, Treiman, and Pressley,
1996; Stanovich, 1993). Through reading, students encounter new words, new
language, and new facts. Beyond that, however, they encounter thoughts and
modes of thinking that might never arise in their face-to-face worlds. In
the interest of their own greatest potential and fulfillment, all students
should be encouraged to read as frequently, broadly, and thoughtfully as
Appropriate Instructional Materials
A balanced, comprehensive early literacy program must embrace a variety of
reading materials. To illustrate the range, these may include
environmental print, student compositions, classroom anthologies, trade
books (e.g., literature books that are not part of a traditional textbook
series), chapter books, core works of fiction and nonfiction, magazines,
newspapers, reference materials, and technology. Whatever the nature of
the material, however, the mode in which it is read can be roughly divided
into three categories: read-alouds, instructional reading, and independent
reading. Beyond its content, the instructional value of any given text
depends jointly on the developmental level of the students and the mode in
which the text is to be read.
Reading aloud to students is important at every age. Its principal purpose
is not to replace the time spent reading independently but rather to open
their literary worlds by helping them to learn about what they are yet to
learn. In view of this purpose, materials that are most appropriate for
read-alouds are materials that, while capturing the students' interests,
are also still beyond their ability to read and digest on their own. Thus,
whereas illustrated storybooks are most suitable for kindergartners,
longer stories and even well-chosen novels are within reach by the end of
first grade. Choose stories, chapter books, and poems; but also choose
reference books and news clippings; math, science, and history;
biographies; jokes and brainteasers. Use read-aloud sessions as a means of
helping students to explore genre, language, and information. The goal is
to whet their appetites, open their curiosity, kindle their knowledge, and
show them the horizons.
For preschoolers and kindergartners, the most appropriate materials for
teaching concepts about print and sight words are big books, especially
those with predictable or familiar texts (Clay, 1993; Holdaway, 1979).
Encouraging children to match the wording to the text in these materials
is invaluable in fostering their print awareness and syntactic growth. Big
books with repeated word patterns are also good resources for helping
children learn to recognize very high frequency words.
Across the later grades, materials selected for instructional reading
sessions are to be read by students but with help by adults. The purpose
of these sessions is to be proactive; they are forums for stretching the
students, for showing them--with adult guidance and feedback--how to
handle new textual challenges. In general, the most appropriate materials
for instructional sessions should be just a bit more difficult than what
the students can read competently on their own. Bear in mind that texts
can be difficult in many different ways--in wording, language, concept or
information, genre, story structure, or message. As a rule of thumb, if a
text is hard in one way, it should best be manageable in all others. In
that way, the students have the best chance of appreciating and coming to
terms with the lesson, rather than losing interest or getting lost.
When English language learners begin to learn to read in English, either
as their first reading experience or after learning to read in their home
language, they can be most successful learning to read what they can
already say and understand. As with all other learners, decodable texts
should be used to provide these early readers practice in becoming fluent
and accurate decoders. Reading decodable and patterned texts, however,
must be preceded by sufficient oral language development relative to those
texts to ensure success in reading with such materials.
The goal of all reading sessions is to support students' interest and
capacity for independent reading. Research strongly asserts that from the
beginning of first grade and in tandem with basic phonics instruction, the
most appropriate materials for independent reading are decodable texts.
Toward creating a solid foundation for learning to read, most new words in
these texts should be wholly decodable on the basis of the phonics that
students have been taught. Sight words should be familiarized ahead of
time so that they will not divert this purpose. As soon as children can
read such basic decodable texts with reasonable comfort and fluency, they
can move on to less controlled texts such as trade books. Some students
will be ready to do so sooner than others. However, by having an ample
supply of decodable texts and easy-to-read materials, it is possible to
ensure that all students are productively engaged.
To encourage optimal progress with the use of any of these early reading
materials, teachers need to be aware of the difficulty level of the text
relative to a child's reading level. A book is said to be at a child's
independent level if 95--100 percent of the words can be read correctly.
Instructional level books can be read with a 90--94 percent level of
accuracy. Frustration level reading involves text read by a child at the
89 percent accuracy level or below. Regardless of how well a child already
reads, high error rates are negatively correlated with growth; low error
rates are positively linked with growth. A text that is too difficult,
then, not only serves to undermine a child's confidence and will but also
diminishes learning itself.
An effective program depends equally on establishing time and expectation
for independent reading. In the beginning, partner or small-group reading
may work better than asking children to use their time well on their own.
When sending materials home with beginners, teachers should encourage the
parents to share-read (e.g., every other sentence or paragraph) with their
children. Remember, too, that for all materials to be read by children,
rereading is of enormous benefit. Returning to a text after several days
or even weeks is a very good tactic for young readers (Clay, 1991).
Research shows that rereadings result in marked improvements not just in
children's speed, accuracy, and expression but also in their comprehension
and linguistic growth. Rereadings bring not only the opportunity for
fluency and the learning thus fostered but also a chance to revisit and
reflect on the meaning, message, and language of a text. Finally, because
classroom time is limited and because literacy growth depends so strongly
on the amount of reading children do, all students in every grade should
be required to read every day outside of school.
Grade-Level Expectations and Examples of Classroom Practices
As districts consider making changes to address the essential components
of a powerful reading program, careful planning needs to occur to ensure
appropriate progression across the grade spans. Examples of grade-level
expectations and learning activities to support student learning in these
areas are included below; these examples are intended to be illustrative,
providing districts insights into concepts that should be addressed at
each grade level. More detailed information regarding grade-level
expectations is provided in the appendix to the Reading Task Force report
entitled "Sample Reading Curriculum Timeline: Preschool Through Eighth
Grade," which is reprinted on pages 26--32 of this publication.
In order to meet the individual needs of all learners, each classroom
should provide a balance of grouping types. Children are organized in
whole groups, small groups, pairs, or as individuals for guided process
reading and writing, shared reading, skills instruction, and independent
reading and writing. In addition to planning their programs carefully,
districts need to ensure that all teachers understand the importance of
flexible grouping in the teaching of reading. It is usually not efficient
or effective for teachers to teach reading across the span of skill levels
represented in an entire class of students. Flexible grouping helps
teachers match instruction to the widely differing skill levels typically
found in a classroom. Flexible groups are skill based and temporary,
allowing instruction to align as much as possible with the skill level of
those children in the group; children who learn at a faster or slower rate
move to a different group as needed.
Grade-level expectations. Before entering kindergarten, virtually
every child should:
- recognize print in the environment;
- distinguish separate words;
- recognize rhyming words;
- know some letter names and shapes, including the letters in the
- begin to demonstrate reading-like behaviors, such as pretending
to read and write;
- begin to demonstrate understanding of picture books and simple
- retell stories, make predictions, and connect stories to
background experiences in a teacher-guided group format.
Learning Activities. At the prekindergarten level, language
arts skills and understandings are developed primarily through a variety
of interactive activities, such as painting, drawing, building with
blocks, singing, dancing, and dramatic play. Children are read picture
books and simple storybooks every day at school, and parents are
encouraged to read to their children at home. Activities provide playful
yet explicit exposure to letter names and the alphabet. Examples of
learning activities for this age group include:
- singing nursery rhymes and songs, including playful songs which
substitute sounds in words and play with word parts;
- using language in play, such as playing house or pretending to
write a grocery list;
- playing rhyming games (singing songs and reciting poems or other
- playing with magnetic letters or letter blocks; and
- having guided discussion of read-alouds and other shared
Grade-level expectations. At the end of kindergarten, virtually
every child should:
- have mastered all of the concepts about print, including the
names and shapes of most of the letters of the alphabet;
- demonstrate phonemic awareness through activities such as
rhyming, clapping syllables, substituting sounds, and blending phonemes;
- recognize upper and lower case letters;
- know how to read his/her own and others' names and common
environmental print in the classroom;
- read some high-frequency words;
- read the first few levels of decodable readers for kindergarten;
- write independently at the alphabetic stage of development;
- retell in simple terms stories that have been read to him/her as
well as make simple
evaluations and interpretations of their content; and
- connect, with the teacher's help, what is read to him/her with
Learning activities. At the kindergarten level, language arts
skills and understandings are still developed primarily through a variety
of interactive language activities. Students are immersed in a print-rich
environment. Activities capitalize on children's natural curiosity and
sense of playfulness; they provide extensive exposure to the alphabet and
promote phonemic awareness. Children are read to every day, both at school
and at home, and are exposed to a wide range of materials, including
picture books, storybooks, poems, and expository text. Students also have
daily writing opportunities. Examples of learning activities for this age
- playing games that identify words that do not belong and singing
songs and reciting texts that play with phonemes or that substitute
words and word parts in a rhyming pattern;
- using physical responses, such as clapping, tapping, and body
movements, to demonstrate syllabication or patterns in songs, stories,
- sorting letters or identifying prominent letters in words;
- having guided discussion of read-alouds and other shared
- singing and reciting verses;
- staging class performances of stories and nursery rhymes;
- "reading" predictable books independently;
- tracing letters in sand; making letters out of clay; playing with
letter blocks, magnetic letters, and pocket charts;
- writing in journals and dictating stories;
- discussing word meanings, ideas, books, and experiences; and
- using a language experience approach to reading activities.
Grade-level expectations. At the end of first grade, virtually
every child should:
- demonstrate phonemic awareness and knowledge of how print is
- demonstrate fluent and accurate decoding skills with grade-level
- read independently grade-level materials that contain the most
common sight words and employ knowledge of most consonants, short
vowels, and the silent "e" rule;
- use conventional spelling for simple, regularly spelled words as
well as temporary spelling for more complex words;
- identify all letter names and shapes;
- retell stories he/she has read with a beginning, middle, and end;
- relate parts of stories to his/her own experience and tell about
the parts liked best and why; and
- make predictions about what is read to him/her or what he/she has
Learning activities. At the first-grade level, students
continue to be immersed in a print-rich environment. Children are read to
and practice their own reading on a daily basis. Students have daily
writing opportunities. Activities include play with language and are
structured so as to promote phonemic awareness, letter recognition, and
comprehension. Direct, explicit phonics instruction is provided, and
formal spelling instruction should be introduced late in the year.
Examples of learning activities for this age group include:
- separating words into separate sounds;
- providing multiple opportunities first to read decodable text and
eventually to read predictable text and easy trade books;
- participating in daily word play in which small groups of
students construct words by changing the beginning, middle, or ending of
more complex words;
- blending letters when learning common spelling and sound
- decoding big words by decoding smaller words or word parts within
- writing in stories or recording observations, using conventional
spelling for simple, regularly spelled words as well as temporary
spelling for more complex words;
- maintaining a reading log of leveled books read independently,
showing reading of increasingly complex text;
- writing captions for pictures;
- making storyboards or other graphic organizers with others that
show the setting, characters, and events in a story;
- engaging in shared, guided, and independent reading and writing;
- using a language experience approach to reading activities; and
- having guided discussions focused on comprehension and thinking.
Grade-level expectations. At the end of second grade, virtually
every child should:
- read grade-level materials independently;
- demonstrate mastery of most phonics elements (e.g., consonants,
vowels, blends, clusters, syllables, common phonics rules);
- use conventional spelling in his/her own writing for
high-frequency words and words with regular spelling patterns;
- connect readings to experiences or knowledge; and
- ask test-like questions about what has been read, clarify new
terms in context, confirm predictions, summarize, interpret, and analyze
the content in simple terms.
Learning activities. At the second-grade level, students
continue to be immersed in a print-rich environment. Direct, explicit
phonics instruction and formal spelling instruction are provided. Children
are read to and read independently every day. Students have daily writing
opportunities, and activities are structured to promote reading
comprehension. Examples of learning activities for this age group include:
- changing or deleting the beginning, middle, and ending sounds of
words in a pocket chart to make new words;
- decoding more complex words in a shared reading;
- writing an imaginative story or a letter, using conventional
- maintaining a reading log of books read independently, showing
reading of increasingly complex texts;
- engaging in word studies and maintaining word logs for spelling
and vocabulary development;
- participating in shared, guided, and independent reading and
- participating in a choral reading performance for parents or
other students; and
- participating in discussions and writing that develop
comprehension and thinking skills.
Grade-level expectations. At the end of third grade, virtually
every child should:
- read independently grade-level fiction and nonfiction materials
with literal and inferential comprehension;
- develop a knowledge of common spelling patterns, roots, and
- use conventional spelling and conventions of print (paragraphs,
- question; clarify new words; make predictions and answer
"if-then" questions; summarize reading passages; and answer questions
that require analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of grade-level fiction
and nonfiction material; and
- support answers to questions about the reading by drawing on
background knowledge and upon literal and inferential information from
Learning activities. At the third-grade level, students
should continue to be immersed in a print-rich environment. Children are
read to and read independently every day in school and at home. Students
have daily writing opportunities. Direct, explicit phonics instruction and
formal spelling instruction are provided. Activities are also structured
to promote reading comprehension. Examples of learning activities for this
age group include:
- reading aloud to a partner with rhythm, pace, and intonation that
sounds like natural speech;
- maintaining a reading log of books read independently, showing
reading of increasingly complex texts;
- writing a report based upon reading about a topic in several
sources that includes appropriate facts and uses conventional spelling
and conventions of print (paragraphs, end-sentence punctuation);
- engaging in word studies and maintaining word logs for spelling
and vocabulary development;
- doing process writing for different purposes and audiences that
develops higher-order thinking; and
- participating in guided and independent discussions that promote
effective comprehension strategies and higher-order thinking.
In Recommendation 2 of its report, the Reading Task Force stated that
schools and school districts should provide every teacher with a variety
of assessment tools and strategies necessary to inform daily instruction.
Student skills can be assessed with a list that begins with single letters
and progresses to words ordered in complexity. Text used for the
assessment of fluency and comprehension should be ordered with respect to
difficulty as well. By assessing these measures three or four times a year
with children in kindergarten through grade 2, teachers can detect which
children are falling behind in classroom instruction and are candidates
for early intervention. Other useful tools include:
- screening assessments (e.g., for phonemic awareness, language
proficiency in English or other home languages, concepts about print,
- checklists (especially in kindergarten for areas such as concepts
about print, phonemic awareness, letter knowledge and phonics, and
attitudes toward reading and writing);
- "running records" for assessing reading accuracy, analyzing
student errors, and establishing reading level;
- scoring guides for writing (including benchmarks indicating
- records of amount of reading or writing accomplished in terms of
pages, minutes, words, stories, books, and so forth;
- individual and group-administered tests, including unit tests
that accompany adopted reading programs, quick assessments, reading
inventories, and annual norm-referenced assessments;
- comprehensive assessments, such as the California Learning
- collections of student work (rated on rubrics that include
benchmarks indicating "competence").
Such assessments might be conducted more frequently for children who
are struggling and are considered below grade level and less frequently
for those achieving at higher levels. In addition, the results of such
assessments can be used in at least two ways. One obvious use is to guide
instruction by determining what a given child has not yet learned. Over
time, information viewed in this way will form the basis for a teacher's
decision to seek interventions beyond the classroom to accelerate a
child's development to a level comparable to his/her peers. A second and
equally important use of diagnostic information is to determine what a
child already knows so that it might be explicitly reinforced whenever
possible. Using information in this way guides the teacher to strengthen
the skill or concept and to build a student's confidence and awareness of
what he/she knows and can do. In short, "diagnosis" as used in this
document refers to ways to collect and use information on students'
strengths and their weaknesses for the purposes of both classroom
instruction as well as decisions for providing early interventions.
Although the program features outlined above might be research based,
balanced, and comprehensive, it is a significant challenge for a single
teacher to ensure the success of every child in reading through the
classroom experiences. Children arrive at school with literacy experiences
that range from zero to 2000 hours. Some also speak multiple languages and
all bring a variety of different background experiences with them. Given
these realities, it is going to take the school, community, and parents
working together to achieve success in reading and thinking for every
child in California.
The Reading Task Force recognized this need in Recommendation 3:
Schools must have an effective, rigorous, proven intervention
program as part of their comprehensive literacy plan for instruction,
with an emphasis on early intervention for children by mid-first grade.
The first level of intervention is the classroom with a powerful
program of rich language and instruction. Diagnostic information collected
daily, weekly, and monthly by the teacher will indicate which children are
beginning to struggle and lag behind their peers. Except for phonemic
awareness screening and intervention in kindergarten, early intervention
in reading will usually begin in the first grade. Differential treatment
of children by the teacher should be a first response. Providing extra
help for the lowest-performing students can be done in several ways.
Examples of in-class interventions include organizing one-on-one and
small-group work by the teacher, collecting diagnostic information more
frequently, providing guided reading instruction five times a week for
some children and two or three times for others working on level, and
enlisting extra tutorial help from instructional aides and cross-age
tutors, parents, or community members.
A second level of intervention occurs outside of class. Participation in
such intervention often is preceded by more formal diagnostic measures and
assessments conducted by specialists or by a Student Study Team process.
Such help always involves parents as partners to the degree they can
participate. Home activities should include extra reading, writing, and
high-quality conversations with parents and older siblings. Categorical
programs and the funds associated with them also represent a source of
support for in-class supplemental help, pullout, before-and after-school,
intersession, and summer programs. Summer programs and intersessions
provide a particularly strong opportunity for more intensive instruction
for the lowest-achieving students to allow them to proceed with their
group or class into the next level.
The most effective interventions typically have the following
- They are applied as early as possible in a child's educational
career, but not before there has been an opportunity for effective
classroom instruction to be tried first.
- They involve well-trained specialists.
- They are more intense than the typical classroom experience,
providing personalized, assessment-based instruction; more time and
practice on selected skills, concepts, and strategies; and smaller
- They are effective as gap-closing strategies for low achievers.
- They are short lived, consistently applied, and finite in
duration. For example, one strategy might be designed to last for 20
days, another for 15 weeks, and yet another for 60 sessions.
Finally, it is important to review special education placement
within the school. As the Reading Task Force report indicated, "Too many
students placed in special education have reading problems that could have
been prevented. Before students with reading problems are referred for
special education, a series of in-class or out-of-class short-term
interventions, such as tutoring, should be utilized. Special education
resources can then focus on those students who truly have long-term,
ongoing special needs" (p. 6). It is critical that special education
students receive the same powerful instruction as other students receive.
In addition, special education students must be given more time and
opportunities to practice.
To meet the intent of the Reading Task Force, school communities will need
to focus on the performance of individual children as opposed to just
raising grade-level school averages. The most successful communities have
been relentless in their commitment to every student meeting high, clearly
articulated reading expectations at each grade level, and certainly no
later than by the end of grade three. In fact, there is good evidence to
suggest that a child's entire educational career depends on just this kind
Instructional Guidance and Support
Importance of Standards
Increasingly, state and national reports call for improved results for
students by setting high standards and adopting clear accountability
measures. The Reading Task Force endorsed the Education Commission of the
States' report, Rising to the Challenge (1995), which recommended
that California establish statewide standards for kindergarten through
twelfth grade, build a new statewide assessment system around those
standards, and develop an accountability process that emphasizes local
responsibility for improving student achievement.
Assembly Bill 265 (Chapter 975, Statutes of 1995) calls for such standards
and statewide assessment. Until those standards are available, however,
and until they are adopted by the State Board of Education (by January 1,
1998, as required in AB 265), districts are encouraged to adopt their own
grade-level content and performance standards in reading, writing,
speaking, and listening, with the goal of having every student reading
independently and comprehending fully no later than the end of third
grade. As a resource for establishing local standards, districts may want
to use the "Draft Interim Content and Performance Standards,"
generated by the network of Challenge districts.
[Note: Since Teaching Reading was published, the California State
Board of Education has adopted
content standards, which are available online.]
Similarly, in the absence of a statewide system of assessment and
accountability, local school boards are encouraged to adopt a local system
for tracking performance. More importantly, in recognition of the critical
role of the teacher, local boards and districts need to have in place
mechanisms for ongoing teacher support and training. This support and
training must be designed explicitly to address attainment of grade-level
standards by students as measured by the local accountability system.
In-service training within school districts in California is often
scheduled around the instructional materials adoption in a subject area
each year. Any district following this model would offer in-service
training in reading and writing once every seven or eight years. With such
a design and with the turnover of teachers in a district, an individual
might easily work for five or six years in a district and not have any
in-service training in reading. Professional development in literacy
should occur to some extent every year in all school districts in relation
to reading in the content areas as well as to beginning reading as a
foundation for learning.
Summer and intersession programs provide excellent teacher training
opportunities. Workshops can be coupled with in-classroom coaching
experiences that provide guided practice, foster teacher expertise, and
accelerate student learning. With this model, teacher coaches can be
trained and in turn become lead teachers and peer coaches during the
regular school year.
As training is designed, attention needs to be given to areas of beginning
reading in which the research base for successful practices is becoming
clearer. As described in the first part of this advisory, new research is
being completed regularly. Valid findings need to be incorporated into
professional development activities to inform teachers and contribute as
soon as possible to program development and student learning. Topics that
should be emphasized include phonemic awareness; systematic, explicit
phonics; beginning writing; spelling; and comprehension and higher-order
thinking. Teachers should understand these components of a balanced,
comprehensive reading program and learn how these components work together
to enhance learning.
Effective professional development includes:
- collaborative planning that involves teachers, administrators,
and parents in the process;
- long-term, in-depth, sustained activities;
- a variety of strategies, including coaching or mentoring for
teachers and administrators to help them apply what they have learned;
- opportunities to reflect on and analyze individual professional
practices through model lessons, collegial support discussions, visits
to promising programs, and so forth; and
- discussions of research findings through book clubs and teacher
research or study groups.
Teachers, teacher educators, and curriculum specialists are involved
in or have access to a variety of statewide opportunities for staff
development on early literacy based on the above characteristics. A
classroom teacher's most immediate source of help, however, would be from
effective local teachers, mentors, specialists, and district leaders in
curriculum and instruction.
Changes in any program must be carefully and collaboratively planned and
supported with appropriate materials as well as training. A two- or
three-year design for full program implementation will likely be most
successful. Teachers and specialists, like all learners, should not be
asked to accommodate tremendous change in a single year, for example.
However, if extensive professional development in literacy education is
part of every academic year, with time allotted to study, discuss, think,
try, revise and coach, then solid, well-grounded changes in teacher
strategies and the instructional program can occur quickly, easily, and
Obviously, a redirection of available funds must also occur to support
such program improvement efforts. Besides the targeting of professional
development, new and/or redirected funds must also be considered for
upgrading the quantity and quality of instructional materials adopted for
classroom use and for the school library. The Reading Task Force, for
example, recommended a standard of at least 1,500 titles in each
This program advisory was developed to give structure, organization, and
direction to educators and other key individuals to develop a balanced and
comprehensive reading program in the schools. It is crucial that the
children of California be provided with the most effective instructional
methods and materials possible and then be held to high standards of
achievement. It is also crucial that the teachers and instructional
leaders of California be provided with the most effective professional
development programs and appropriate follow-up support and be held
accountable for their teaching of reading and writing through a variety of
assessment measures. Instruction must be based on appropriate diagnosis
that can inform teaching, with a wide repertoire of tools and techniques.
Interventions must be at the earliest point possible and be proven in
As a state, we must not be willing to settle for partial accomplishment of
our goals. We must provide a balanced and comprehensive reading and
writing program in our schools so that every child will be ensured success
as an effective reader, writer and thinker. This is our goal, this is our
mandate, and every possible resource must be directed toward this work.
For the children of California to succeed in literacy, the teachers of
California must be effective. Parents, community, and the entire state
must be part of the effort and contribute their support to the teachers
and children in our schools. We are in this process together, for the
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