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Reading Definitions  


Reading is a basic life skill.  It is a cornerstone for a child's success in school, and, indeed, throughout life. Without the ability to read well, opportunities for personal fulfillment and job success inevitably will be lost.  --Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading


Richard Anderson and the Commission on Reading define reading as the process of constructing meaning from written texts.  Skilled reading is


         constructive: learning to reason about written material using knowledge from everyday life and from disciplined fields of study;

         fluent: mastery of basic processes to the point where they are automatic so that attention is freed for the analysis of meaning;

         strategic: controlling one’s reading in relation to one’s purpose, the nature of the material and whether one is comprehending;

         motivated: able to sustain attention and learning that written material can be interesting and informative; and

         a lifelong pursuit: continuous practices, development, and refinement.


The U.S. Department of Education has stated that children are expected to learn to read in the primary grades, kindergarten through third, when most reading instruction is given.  By fourth grade, students are expected to read to learn.  The Department continues “Over time, learning becomes more complex, with heightened demands on students to use reading skills to analyze or to solve problems.  Good reading skills are required to study geography, do math, use computers, and conduct experiments.  Even motivated, hard-working students are severely hampered in their schoolwork if they cannot read well by the end of third grade.”

Students must become effective readers to meet the demands of literacy and learning for the 21st century.  Illinois children need and deserve an aggressive approach to ensure their right to read.



Some facts taken from research on reading and the sources of the information include:


§        Children's literacy development begins long before children start formal instruction in elementary school. (Allington & Cunningham, et al)

§        More than four in ten preschoolers, five in ten toddlers and six in ten babies are not read to regularly. (National Research Council)

§        Children benefit from experiences in early childhood that foster language development, cultivate a motivation to read, and establish a link between print and spoken words.  Later, students need to develop a clear understanding of the relationship between letters and sounds, and an ability to obtain meaning from what they read. (National Research Council)

§        Reading aloud to children helps them develop and improve literacy skills -- reading, writing, speaking, and listening. (Trelease)

§        Reading and writing are a developmental continuum rather than acquired skills. (Neuman & Roskos)

§        Children learn to read and write by being read to, reading simple text, and experimenting with writing. (Fountas & Pinnell)

§        Due to different brain signature, 20-40% of the population does not acquire phonemic awareness. (Grossen)

§        Certain abilities must be developed that work together to create strong reading skills (The Little Red Reading Book).  These core abilities include:

o       Phonemic awareness,

o       Alphabetic principle,

o       Sound-spelling correspondence,

o       Decoding ability,

o       Spelling, vocabulary and writing skills,

o       Comprehension skills.

§        Learners become engaged in literacy as they grow more strategic, motivated, knowledgeable and socially interactive.  (Alvermann & Guthrie)

§        Some researchers describe two levels of literacy: emergent into conventional.  More traditional researchers define three levels: early reader, transitional reader and fluent reader.

§        Reading and writing rely on a specific set of cognitive skills such as attention, memory, symbolic thinking, and self-regulation. (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

§        Children’s reading and writing abilities develop together. (Tierney & Shanahan)

§        All children need to have high-quality children's books as a part of their daily experience. (Burns, Griffin , & Snow)

§        Teaching with a flexible mix of research-based instructional methods, geared toward individual students, is more effective than strict adherence to any one approach. (National Research Council) 

§        A well-organized, comprehensive approach to the teaching of reading that includes systematic teaching of specific reading skills produces better readers. (The Little Red Reading Book)

§        Teachers need to understand the most up-to-date reading research and be able to implement it in their classrooms. (National Research Council)

§        Teachers must be able to identify reading difficulties in students early on and marshal appropriate interventions in response.  Young learners need continuing encouragement and individualized instruction to succeed.  (National Research Council)

§        Effective lessons must include opportunities for students to experiment, discuss, examine models, reflect, recognize patterns and create personal explanations.  (Brooks and Brooks)

§        For America ’s poorest children, the biggest obstacle to literacy may be the scarcity of books and appropriate reading material. (Needlman et al.)

§        Low literacy is strongly related to unemployment, poverty, and crime.  About 43 percent of those with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty, and 70 percent of the prison population falls into the two lowest levels of reading proficiency.  (National Institute for Literacy Fact Sheet)


What Works


In July 1997 the Illinois State Board of Education adopted the Illinois Learning Standards to define what Illinois citizens believe all students should know and be able to do.  State Goal 1--Read with understanding and fluency-- has three standards. 


As a result of their schooling, students will be able to


         apply word analysis and vocabulary skills to comprehend selections,

         apply reading strategies to improve understanding and fluency and

         comprehend a broad range of reading materials. 


The standards have the potential to draw teachers, families and communities together for purposes of sharing their best ideas and practices, adapting these practices based on the conditions affecting their students, and ensuring students can meet or exceed expectations.


In 1998 the ISBE identified the following 14 Best Practices in Reading :


         Teachers provide explicit instruction, build word knowledge, and directly teach skills and strategies for word analysis (phonemic awareness, phonics, word recognition, structural analysis, context clues, vocabulary) with and without use of text.

         Teachers routinely monitor and assess the reading levels and progress of individual students.  This ongoing evaluation directs and informs instruction.

         Teachers plan instruction considering three phases: before, during and after reading.

         Teachers routinely self-reflect and collaborate on instructional practices and student progress within school and/or district.

         Teachers facilitate conceptual knowledge of Illinois English Language Arts learning standards.

         Students have opportunities for sustained reading (oral and/or silent) every day to increase fluency and vocabulary.

         Students have broad reading and writing experiences (multiple genre and styles). Reading to students at all grade levels is part of this broad experience.

         Students have opportunities to read at their instructional level every day.

         Students have extensive opportunities to read for a variety of purposes and to apply what is read every day.   Students use discussion and writing to organize their thinking, and they reflect on what they read for specific purposes.

         Students are taught and given opportunities to apply the following comprehension strategies for constructing meaning: making and confirming predictions, visualizing, summarizing, drawing inferences, generating questions, making connections and self-monitoring.

         Students are taught and given opportunities to use cognitive strategies to synthesize, analyze, evaluate and make applications to authentic situations.

         Reading and writing are integrated and used as tools to support learning in all curricular content areas.

         Literacy-rich environments display words and print everywhere, provide opportunities and tools that engage students in reading and writing activities, and celebrate students’ reading and writing efforts.  Each classroom has an extensive collection of reading materials with a wide range of high-interest fiction and non-fiction books that motivate and supports reading and writing at a variety of levels.  The room design supports whole group, small group and individual instruction.

         Families, communities, and schools collaborate to support literacy development of students at home and school.


The Little Red Reading Book (ISBE, 1997) lists essential components of research-based programs for beginning reading instruction.  Children have opportunities to:


§        Expand their use and appreciation of oral language.

§        Expand their use and appreciation of printed language

§        Hear good stories and information books read aloud daily.

§        Understand and manipulate the building blocks of spoken language

§        Learn about and manipulate the building blocks of written language.

§        Learn the relationship between the sounds of spoken language and the letters of written language.

§        Learn decoding strategies.

§        Write and relate their writing to spelling and reading.

§        Practice accurate and fluent reading in decodable stories.

§        Develop new vocabulary through wide reading and direct vocabulary instruction.

§        Read and comprehend a wide assortment of books and other texts.

§        Learn and apply comprehension strategies as they reflect upon and think critically about what they have read.


Beyond the work done in Illinois , countless research studies pinpoint best practices in the teaching of reading.  Although listings vary in length, describe a multiplicity of practice, and cross over in content, this document highlights a few selective examples.


The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory advises teachers to address the literacy needs of emergent and early readers by:


§        Using developmentally appropriate literacy practices that acknowledge children’s development, interests, and literacy knowledge.

§        Reading to children daily and allowing them to take turns “reading” the material to each other.

§        Using a wide range of literacy materials in class including books, magazines and newspapers.

§        Taking time to listen to children to determine their interests, language skills, and areas of need.

§        Using children’s home cultures and languages as literacy resources.

§        Providing multiple re-readings of stories for pleasure and explorations.

§        Creating literacy-rich classroom environments.

§        Ensuring that the school provides appropriate writing materials for children.

§        Encouraging children to compose stories and informational articles in emergent forms and provide opportunities for children to read, share, and display their writing.

§        Providing writing experiences that allow the flexibility to use non-conventional forms of writing at first (invented or phonetic spelling) and over time move to conventional forms.

§        Providing balanced reading instruction as children begin to read conventionally to teach both skills and meaning and to meet the reading needs of individual children.

§        Sharing ideas with parents and caregivers on creating an optimal environment to support young children’s literacy development.

§        Participating in professional development activities to increase the understanding of emergent literacy and appropriate teaching practices.


The joint position (May 1998) of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends:


§        A comprehensive, consistent system of early childhood professional preparation and ongoing professional development;

§        Sufficient resources to ensure adequate ratios of qualified teachers to children and small groups for individualizing instruction;

§        Sufficient resources to ensure classrooms, schools and public libraries that include a wide range of high-quality children’s books, computer software, and multimedia resources at various levels of difficulty and reflecting various cultural and family backgrounds;

§        Policies that promote children’s continuous learning progress;

§        Appropriate assessment strategies that promote children’s learning and development;

§        Access to regular, ongoing health care for every child.


Patricia Cunningham and Richard Allington in Classrooms That Work: They Can All Read and Write (1994), describe these four components of a balanced reading and language arts classroom:


§        Guided Reading (30-35 minutes daily)

§        Self-Selected Reading (30-35 minutes daily)

§        Word Study (30-35 minutes daily)

§        Writing (25-30 minutes daily)


The International Reading Association has endorsed the Report on the NEA Task Force on Reading 2000.  The report states that a complete reading program


§        includes the development of language and thinking skills as well as phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, word recognition, comprehension, positive reading habits and attitudes, vocabulary, and a sense of the organization of texts such as stories, articles, and reports. All are essential to addressing all the components in the early stages of literacy learning.

§        addresses reading as one of several aspects of literacy. Others include listening, speaking, writing, using information from text, and responding thoughtfully and critically to text.

§        builds on the cultural and linguistic diversity that students bring to the classroom and enables all students to understand and appreciate cultural diversity.

§        provides for the reading success of all students, including those with special needs. Materials and instruction are adapted to accommodate those students.

§        involves all of the child's teachers, including parents, and resources in the community providing language development and models of the importance of reading.

§        provides teachers with the instructional and assessment tools to plan and deliver to each student the instructional activities that best support that individual's achieving a high level of reading proficiency.

§        aims to raise the achievement of all students. Therefore, it must be flexible in meeting the needs of all students.

§        acknowledges that reading, like all cognitive skills, is linked to the physical well-being of children. That well-being starts before birth with sound prenatal care and continues with healthcare for preschoolers as well as school-aged children.

§        is built on a wide range of significant research and thinking related to both the theory and practice of reading instruction. Significant research and thinking includes experimental studies, descriptive studies, case studies, meta-analyses of research, and reasonable, reflective writings on theory and best practice.

§        incorporates findings of research related to several factors in reading, not just a limited set of skills. Beginning readers, for example, need to learn about the structure of stories and sentences as well as word structure, which means that research in those areas is important.


Bonita Grossen in 30 years of Research: What We Now Know About How Children Learn to Read (1997) details seven key principles of effective reading instruction.  To prevent reading problems, teachers should:


§        Begin teaching phonemic awareness directly at an early age (kindergarten);

§        Teach each sound-spelling correspondence explicitly;

§        Teach frequent, highly regular sound-spelling relationships systematically;

§        Show children exactly how to sound out words;

§        Use connected, decodable text for children to practice the sound-spelling relationships they learn;

§        Use interesting stories to develop language comprehension;

§        Balance, but don’t mix.


At higher levels, developmental students should be taught a strategic approach to reading according to the following principals of reading outlined by David C. Caverly, Ph.D. 


§        The reader makes a contribution to the reading process.

§        Word recognition is necessary but not sufficient.

§        A strong correlation exists between vocabulary development and reading comprehension.  However, developing vocabulary does not necessarily improve reading comprehension.

§        Students’ interest in, motivation for, and attitude toward reading are vital for success.

§        Text is organized into super-ordinate, co-ordinate and sub-ordinate ideas.

§        Text has a variety of relationships that can be taught to improve comprehension.

§        Reading in a study situation is as much a strategic process as it is a comprehending process.

§        Good readers use metacognitive strategies to prepare for, monitor, and assess their progress.

§        Strategic reading must vary depending on the task demands.


In addition to the information contained in this document, the following books, publications, web sites, and references are useful resources in understanding the complexity of reading.






Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (Ciera)  (1-734-647-6940)

§        Every Child a Reader

National Association for the Education of Young Children  (1-800-424-2640)

§        Raising a Reader, Raising a Writer

U.S. Department of Education  (1-877-4ED-PUBS)  Free publications including:

§        Checkpoints for Progress in Reading and Writing for Families and Communities, and for Teachers and Learning Partners

§        Helping Your Child Become a Reader

§        On The Road to Reading : A Guide for Community Partners

§        Read*Write*Now! Poster, Tip Sheet and Basic Kit

§        Simple Things You Can Do to Help All Children Read Well and Independently by the End of Third Grade


Journals (to order visit www.reading.org)

§        The Reading Teacher

§        Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy

§        Reading Research Quarterly

§        Reading Online (www.readingonline.org)

§        Reading Today


Research-based Position Statements

§        Adolescent Literacy, 1999

§        Excellent Reading Teachers, 2000

§        High-Stakes Assessments in Reading , 1999

§        Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children, 1998

§        Phonemic Awareness and the Teaching of Reading , 1998

§        Providing Books and Other Print Materials for Classroom and School Libraries, 2000

§        Teaching All Children to Read: The Roles of the Reading Specialist, 2000

§        The Role of Phonics in Reading Instruction, 1997

§        Using Multiple Methods of Beginning Reading Instruction


Selected Books and Publications


§        Adams, Marilyn J., Foorman, Barbara R., Lundberg, Ingvar, Beeler, Terri. Phonemic Awareness in Young Children. 1998.

§        Allen, Janet. It’s Never Too Late: Leading Adolescents to Lifelong Literacy. 1995.

§        Allington, Richard A. Teaching Struggling Readers: Articles from The Reading Teacher. 1998.

§        Allington, Richard L. & Cunningham, Patricia M. Classrooms That Work. 1998.

§        Allington, Richard L. & Cunningham, Patricia M., Schools That Work. 1996.

§        Allington, Richard & Walmsley, Sean A.. No Quick Fix: Rethinking Literacy Programs in America ’s Elementary Schools. 1995.

§        Atwell, Nancie. In the Middle. 1998.

§        Barrentine. Reading Assessment: Principles and Practices for Elementary Teachers. 1999.

§        Bear, Donald R. et al. Words Their Way. 1999.

§        Beck, Isabel, L., McKeown, Margaret, Hamilton, Rebecca. Questioning the Author: An Approach for Enhancing Student Engagement with Text. 1997.

§        Beers, Kylene & Samuels, Barbara, editors. Into Focus: Understanding and Creating Middle School Readers. 1998.

§        Braunger, Jane, & Lewis, Jan Patricia. Building a Knowledge Base in Reading . 1997.

§        California Reading Task Force. Every Child a Reader. 1995.

§        Cunningham, Patricia M. Phonics They Use. 1995.

§        Edmondson, Jacqueline. America Reads: A Critical Policy Analysis. 2000.

§        Ericson, Lita & Juliebo, Moira Fraser. The Phonological Awareness Handbook for Kindergarten and Primary Teachers. 1998.

§        Fitzpatrick, Jo. Phonemic Awareness. 1997.

§        Grossen, Bonita. 30 Years of Research: What We Now Know about How Children Learn to Read. 1997.

§        Hinson, Bess. New Directions in Reading Instruction, Revised. 2000.

§        Honig, Bill. Teaching Our Children to Read: The Role of Skills in a Comprehensive Reading Program. 1996.

§        Johns, Jerry & Lenski, Susan D. Improving Reading : A Handbook of Strategies. 1997.

§        Keene, Ellin & Zimmerman, Susan. Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop. 1997.

§        Learning to Read, Comprehensive Reading Leadership Program. 1997.

§        Moore, David W. et al. Struggling Adolescent Readers: A Collection of Teaching Strategies. 2000.

§        Morretta, Teresa M. & Ambrosini, Michelle. Practical Approaches for Teaching Reading and Writing in Middle Schools. 2000.

§        Morrow, Lesley Mandel et al. Literacy Instruction in Half- and Whole-Day Kindergarten: Research to Practice. 1998.

§        Neuman, Susan B. & Roskos, Kathleen A.. Children Achieving: Best Practices in Early Literacy. 1998.

§        Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. 1998.

§        Raphael, Taffy. Literature Based Instruction: Reshaping the Curriculum. 1997.

§        Reading & Writing Grade by Grade: Primary Literacy Standards for Kindergarten through Third Grade. 1999.

§        Schulz, Armin R. Supporting Intermediate and Secondary Readers. 1998.

§        Spector, J.E., Phonemic Awareness Training: Application of Principles of Direct Instruction. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 1995.

§        Standards for Reading Professionals. 1998.

§        Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success. 1998.

§        Taberski, Sharon. On Solid Ground. 2000.

§        Texas Reading Initiative. Beginning Reading Instruction: Components and Features of a Research-Based Reading Program. 1997.

§        Zemelman, Steven, Harvey Daniels & Arthur Hyde. Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America ’s Schools. 1997.


Web Sites


30 Years of Research: What We Now Know About How Children Learn to Read  http://www.oregoneducation.org/reading/nichd.htm
America Reads  www.ed.gov/inits/americareads
Becoming a Nation of Readers  http://www.ncte.org/books/98/Anderson02700.html
Beginning to Read  www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/reading/ericE565.html
Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement  www.ciera.org
Center for the Study of Reading  http://w3.ed.uiuc.edu/BER/csr/csr.htm
The Compact for Reading Guide and School-Home Links Kit  www.ed.gov/pubs/CompactforReading
Critical Issue: Addressing the Literacy Needs of Emergent and Early Readers http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/content/cntareas/reading/li100.htm
Critical Issues Forum  http://set.lanl.gov/programs/cif/Resource/EdLinks.htm
Directed Reading -Thinking Activity  http://monster.educ.kent.edu/deafed/961007k.htm
International Reading Association  www.reading.org
IRA and NAEYC Policy Statement http://www.naeyc.org/about/position/psread2.htm
Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children  http://www.naeyc.org/about/position/psread0.htm
List of Standards for the English Language Arts, IRA/NCTE  http://www.ncte.org/standards/thelist.html
National Center for Literacy  http://www.nifl.gov
The National Research Council  http://www.nas.edu/
Pathways to School Improvement, North Central Regional Educational Laboratory http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/pathwayg.htm
Reading is Fundamental  http://www.si.edu/rif
Report of the NEA Task Force on Reading 2000  http://www.nea.org/readingmatters/expert/tfrfinal.pdf
Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success  http://www.nap.edu/books/0309064104/html/index.html
Teaching Reading in a Learning Assistance Center  http://www.schooledu.swt.edu/Dev.ed/Program/TeachRDG.html
Where to Find Inexpensive or Free Children’s Books  www.nwrel.org/learns/resources/startup/inexpensive.html


Additional References


         14 Best Practices in Reading . Illinois State Board of Education, 1998.

         The Illinois Learning Standards. Illinois State Board of Education. 1997.

         The Little Red Reading Book. Illinois State Board of Education. 1997.

         New Directions in Reading Instruction, Revised. International Reading Association. 2000.

         Start Early, Finish Strong: How to Help Every Child Become a Reader. U.S. Department of Education. 1999


(This information was assembled by an Educator in Residence)