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Top Ten Synthesis

ONE: Identification of Fluency Problems

“If teachers and school leaders are truly committed to leaving no child behind in reading,

then they must actively pursue the goal of reading fluency in elementary and middle school

classrooms” (​On Developing Readers​ 41). I was surprised to learn that fluency tends to be

overused when it comes to labeling students’ reading challenges. Fluency is not a component of

proficient reading; rather, it is the ultimate outcome of proficient reading. Therefore, fluency

interventions are not helpful in many instances. Instead, students should be assessed for their

ability to accurately decode words, their automaticity, and their prosody. In most instances, there

is an underlying issue with one or more of these three areas instead of with the generalized end

goal of fluency. Learning this has made me take pause when trying to identify a student’s

reading challenge. If we don’t get to the root of the issue, are we ever really helping that child

succeed? I cannot expect my students to show growth if I am not accurately addressing their

specific needs.

TWO: Impact of Scripted Programs

“The classrooms of the most effective teachers were characterized by high academic

engagement… How we teach phonics has not been demonstrated to have a huge effect on

achievement, but how we orchestrate classrooms has shown that effect” (​Best Practices in

Literacy Instruction ​193). I count myself as lucky to teach in an environment where I am not

required to use scripted programs. However, the research on the impact of scripted phonics

programs indicated to me that they are not necessarily a bad thing; it’s similar to the idea of

following the ​letter​ of the law versus the ​spirit​ of the law. Research has shown that students do

need systematic processes when learning phonics, but that the program cannot take the place of a

highly qualified and effective teacher. For me, this research reminds me that I should incorporate

strategies from a program but not rely on it so heavily that I neglect the individual needs of my

students and the overall goal of fostering engaged, motivated readers.

THREE: Effective Comprehension Instruction

“Most important, though, our conversation made the text important to us, gave it a place

in our lives, helped us think about matters that were of significance to us” (​Disrupting Thinking

76). As we learned about the research behind teaching comprehension strategies to students, I

reflected on my previous ways of “teaching” comprehension. I mostly created anticipation

guides and gave reading checks. I definitely realized that I needed to turn my instruction into

more of a conversation and less of an assessment. I loved the “Book, Head, Heart, Questions”

strategy in ​Disrupting Thinking​ to get students to make deeper connections with what they’ve

read. Afterall, if a student struggles with comprehension, an assessment (whether formative or

summative) is just going to increase his/her anxiety. Throughout this semester, I have started

making literature instruction more student-centered by turning it into a conversation (whether

whole group, small group, or partners). I’ve already seen so much more motivation from my

reluctant readers to want to know what is going to happen next because they’ve made rich

connections to the characters and/or plot of a text! I’m also able to ask guiding questions

throughout our discussions that allow me to see whether or not students are grasping the

material. I’ve noticed overall improvement on assessments because students have been more

engaged in our discussions throughout the unit.

FOUR: Effective Vocabulary Instruction

“All of us are vocabulary teachers… Our obligation to the students is not just to be

vocabulary teachers but to be the best vocabulary teachers that we can be” (​Best Practices​ 215).

Vocabulary is an area where I thought I had ​finally​ figured out how to best serve my eighth grade

language arts students after eight years of trying new strategies nearly every year, but then we

covered the most recent, research-based approaches to vocabulary instruction. Students should

have choice over the words, only certain words should be assessed, words should be referenced

often, and students should have multiple exposures to the words used in different contexts. By

following these strategies, I’m giving my students an opportunity to develop rich vocabularies

and greatly improve their abilities to comprehend complex texts. It’s not just about teaching

vocabulary in isolation, either. While it’s been a challenge for me to narrow lists down and let

students have choice, I’ve been more intentional about using rich language in our class

discussions in order to help them build word consciousness and promote academic language.

FIVE: Incorporation of Complex Texts

“You’re looking for text that is ​accessible​, ​engaging​, and ​complex​: ​accessible​ because if

you introduce new, hard thinking work using new, hard texts, kids will struggle on all fronts;

engaging​ because if students are engaged, they’re willing to work hard; and ​complex​ so that if

they do the work, it pays off-- they gain new insights and epiphanies” (​On Developing Readers

67). I appreciate that the research behind incorporating complex texts into the classroom

encourages teachers to provide ALL students with access to complex texts-- including struggling

readers. However, teachers must relinquish a bit of control here and let students have ​choice

over the books they are reading independently. Incorporating complex texts should teach

students strategy without compromising their motivation to read. Therefore, students should be

exposed to high quality complex texts as often as possible with teacher guidance and support,

and then encouraged to read what most interests him/her independently. By evaluating book

choice according to purpose, teachers are exposing students to a variety of texts and making

them more comfortable with applying reading strategies independently. I’m currently doing a

choice book project with my readers who tend to struggle, and their book selections have been

incredibly high quality and complex because the content interests them greatly. They are willing

to apply strategies learned in class because they are motivated to learn more about a particular

theme or subject.

SIX: Incorporation of Visual Notetaking

“I believe that the critical thinkers we so desperately need will emerge from classrooms

where teachers have eschewed the coverage approach in favor of fostering deep thinking…” (​On

Developing Readers​ 54). Visual notetaking is all about student interaction with material.

Recently, my students started reading ​To Kill a Mockingbird.​ Instead of having them annotate

chapter one, I asked them to create visual notes. We talked through some of the basics of visual

notetaking, and they set off to complete the assignment for homework. When they returned the

next day, our conversation was the most enriching literary discussion we have had all year.

Students were able to justify their sketches through returning to the text for support, they

collaborated to appropriately challenge one another’s ideas, and ultimately they showed that they

had made rich connections to the text. Research shows that teachers foster critical thinking when

students are able to connect deeply with text. Ultimately, visual notetaking is another way to

assess comprehension and increase student engagement. It’s an added benefit that we remember

65% more with visuals! It’s definitely a strategy I will continue to use with my students based on

the impact is has had so far.

SEVEN: Reduction of Test-Centric Literacy Instruction

“We hope that students will develop the habits of looking closely at the text, considering

carefully the impact it has upon them, and reflecting on the obligation all of that thought incurs.

We hope that they will see reading as an opportunity to change, not just as idle amusement or a

chance to collect facts and data” (​Disrupting Thinking​ 153-154). I am incredibly thankful to no

longer work in a school that places emphasis and undue stress on standardized tests. Test-centric

literacy instruction encourages a surface-level approach to reading. Students are required to read

seemingly meaningless passages and answer multiple choice questions. I remember having to do

this often when I taught in public school; we would spend weeks with EOG practice packets.

Students can’t learn about their world through these types of lessons. They often cannot even

relate to the characters or plotlines of these passages. By taking emphasis off of test preparation

and placing value on allowing students to read high quality, complex, and engaging texts as often

as possible, comprehension increases and therefore students are able to apply their skills on tests

as a result. “All students deserve instruction that helps them experience reading comprehension

as a rich and complex practice of constructing, critiquing, and responding to meaning in texts”

(“Dangers of Test Preparation” 1). It had never occurred to me that test-centric literacy

instruction a social justice issue before reading the research, but that understanding now

motivates me to lobby for change in all schools moving forward instead of simply feeling

grateful for my current situation.

EIGHT: Knowledge of Literacy Education Research

“The ultimate purpose of literacy research is to deepen understanding of and thus

improve literacy education” (“10 Things” 11). It seems that everything we learned this semester

related back to the importance of understanding the research behind our teaching strategies.

While so many programs and practices advertise themselves as “research proven” or “research

based”, it was enlightening to learn what that these titles are often misused. It was also very

interesting to explore the research behind a program of my choice. If our goal as educators is to

improve literacy education, then we have to be prepared to defend our curriculum choices with

an appropriate understanding of research; we have to be willing to explore many different studies

and ask a lot of questions. I learned that so much of the research is relative to an individual

school community, and it cannot often be applied with a “one size fits all” approach. Because I

have a lot of autonomy when it comes to the curriculum decisions at my school, I will be

utilizing my understanding of research to choose strategies that have been tested and proven to

most align with my school’s demographic.

NINE: Incorporation of WOW Books


“By dedicating reading time, recommending books, exposing students to a variety of

texts and authors, and validating their reading choices, I’ve seen students’ interest and

motivation to read increase” (​On Developing Readers​ 63-64). One of the most rewarding

activities this semester was the WOW books project. This project allowed me to read a multitude

of new texts that I am now able to incorporate into my classroom instruction and recommend to

students. Students saw me reading during planning periods, they asked me about titles I had

chosen, and I even incorporated a few read alouds during class time, which they loved! This

project reinvigorated my love of reading and validated the research related to the connection

between book choice and student motivation. I want to challenge the staggering statistics that

indicate students gradually stop reading as they grow up. I’m going to continue to find, read, and

recommend new, engaging texts that peak the interests of my students in order to help foster

lifelong readers.

TEN: Gradual Release of Responsibility

“Each instructional context-- read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent

reading-- serves a distinct purpose and contributes to accelerating students’ proficiency in

increasingly difficult texts” (​Who’s Doing the Work? 1​ 42-143). After reading ​Who’s Doing the

Work? I​ now understand that read aloud, shared reading, and guided reading do not stop once

students leave the fifth grade. My eighth graders read several complex texts throughout the year,

and I was doing them a disservice by assuming that they would be able to appropriately and

accurately grapple with these types of texts independently. Because of the research presented in

my Action Book Club book, I have now started to intentionally incorporate the gradual release of

responsibility within my lesson plans to help students make sense of the new material. Afterall, I

want to develop students who appreciate and can make sense of complex texts. Because of my

intentional implementation of these strategies, my students will leave middle school with a

strong tool kit so that they are prepared to tackle the rigor of upper school, college, and beyond.

They will learn to trust in their own abilities, and their reliance on both myself and their future

teachers to understand the text they are given will be minimal at most.


Beers, K., & Probst, R. E. (2017). ​Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters.​ New York:

Scholastic Inc.

Burkins, J., & Yaris, K. (2016). ​Who’s doing the work? How to say less so readers can do more.​

Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Davis, D. S., & Vehabovic, N. The Dangers of Test Preparation: What Students Learn (and Don't

Learn) About Reading Comprehension From Test-Centric Literacy Instruction. ​The

Reading Teacher​.

Duke, N. K., & Martin, N. M. (2011). 10 Things Every Literacy Educator Should Know About

Research. ​The Reading Teacher​, ​65​(1), 9–22.

Gambrell, L., & Morrow, L. (Eds.). (2015). ​Best Practices in Literacy Instruction.​ New York:

The Guilford Press.

Scherer, M. (Ed.). (2016). ​On Developing Readers.​ Alexandria, VA: ASCD.