Senior Associate Julie Ryan brought her passion for literacy to the Florida Reading Association Conference in Orlando, Florida, October 21-23rd. Julie’s presence at the conference, named FRA-4 LTRC, was three-fold. She presented a 90-minute session on Teaching Overseas where participants showed great interest in learning about international schools. Julie also staffed the busy Search Associates table in the Exhibitors Hall. She did her best to attend some of the many excellent presentations.
Particularly compelling was Dr. Barbara Foorman’s session, Foundational Skills to Support a Solid Foundation in Reading for Understanding. Dr. Foorman, from the Regional Educational Laboratory, Southeast USA, made a series of recommendations based on recent research findings. In order to learn to read well, K-1 students should develop awareness of segments of sounds in speech and how they link to letters. This is called the Alphabetic Principle. Because 70% of English words are consistent for sounds, teachers should focus on those and use a good spelling program to address the inconsistencies of the other 30%. K-1 students should also be encouraged to try to spell words on their own; with development over time, they will use invented spelling less frequently. Grades 1-3 is the time to teach children to decode words, analyze word parts, and write and recognize words. The children should be reminded to use sound spelling patterns and resources around the room, such as a Word Wall.
By Grade 3, children should be checking for syllables as they write longer words. Use of personal dictionaries also helps children develop a spelling conscience and become more proficient at standard spelling. Dr. Foorman also emphasized the need for students in Grades 1-3 to practice reading “connected text” daily. This method, which builds students’ accuracy, fluency, and comprehension, prompts students to connect personally with characters and situations within the text, connect the text to another text, and connect the text to the real world. As well, young students should be developing academic language skills, such as inferential language, narrative language, and vocabulary knowledge.
Always, instructional level texts should challenge students but not to the point of frustration. As students practice reading orally, teachers should model ways in which they themselves would decipher difficult words: by looking for parts they already know; by sounding them out, if possible; and by seeing if their inferences make sense within the context of a sentence. Dr. Foorman also suggested groupings in which students could practice oral reading in order to build fluency and accuracy, for example, echo reading with a more experienced partner or alternated reading between teacher and student. Finally, she recommended making it clear to students when a word is challenging and to take the extra time to repeat, not only the word, but also the sentence. Teaching students to self-monitor their reading is vital.
You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the teacher out of the Senior Associate. Search Associates’ Julie Ryan, with her background as a Reading Specialist and many years as an Elementary Principal, is just as excited about reading and literacy as she ever was. She’ll bring to bear whatever she learns from attending conferences, such as the Florida Reading Association Conference, in her mission to match excellent educators with the best international schools.