This paper describes the main
features of Reading First: (1) the five major reading skills; (2) three kinds
of curricula; (3) four kinds of assessments; (4) systematic and explicit
instruction; (5) scientific validation of all aspects of instruction (the first
four items in this list); and (6) reading as a school-wide endeavor.
Concise View of Reading: Five Major Skills, or Big Ideas
Reading First provides educators with
a clear picture of reading. Proficient
reading consists of five major skills.
When these skills are taught in a logically progressive sequence, early
skills help students to learn and use the later-taught skills—leading to
accurate, rapid reading with comprehension and enjoyment. Below are brief definitions of each of the
five main skills. Statements in italics
are from the IDEA website, at http://reading.uoregon.edu/big_ideas/trial_bi_index.php
Awareness: A person hear and manipulates sounds in words. There are
about a dozen ways to hear and manipulate sounds in words. These ways are best taught from easier to harder. For example,
a. Identify words that sound the same
and different. run,
b. Rhyme. can, man, fan, rrr__
c. Count the number of words in a
The dog sat by the cat = 6 words
d. Count the number of sounds (phonemes)
in a word.
e. Blend sounds into words. rrrruuuunnn à run
f. Segment words into sounds. Run à rrruuunnn
sat = /s/a/t/ = 3 sounds
g. Segment words by identifying the first, last, and middle (medial) sounds.
“What is the first sound in rrrruuuunnn?”
h. Identify what word it would be if one
sound were removed (phoneme deletion). “Listen… sssaaaat. Take out the ssss. What word now?...”
i. Identify what a word would be if a
sound were replaced with another. “Listen….
Take away the ssss and put in fff. What word now?...”
it is not necessary to teach all of these examples of phonemic awareness. The most important are blending, segmenting,
awareness helps students learn to read and do other literacy skills. How? A
student who hears and manipulates the sounds
(phonemes) in words, can more easily: (1) remember which sound goes with which
letter; (2) sound out words [cat. k/aaaa/t.]; (3) spell [How do you spell
cat. kaaaat . /k/ is c. /a/ is a.
/t/ is t.” ]; and (4) detect and correct errors
in reading and spelling. See http://reading.uoregon.edu/big_ideas/pa/index.php
for more information on phonemic
2. Alphabetic Principle: (a)
Associating sounds with letters and (b) using these sounds to decode (“recognize”)
words. Notice that the alphabetic
principle (sometimes called phonics) has two skill-parts.
a. The student says the correct sounds in
response to single
letters (m), consonant blends (st, bl),
digraphs (sh, ph,
ck, tch, wh) and diphthongs (ai, ou);
for example m says /m/, ck says /k/, and ai says /ae/.
b. When the student sees an unfamiliar
word (rim) in a story book, the student uses letter-sound knowledge to sound
out or decode the word—-perhaps letter by letter (“Sound it out.”) and then
quickly (“Say it fast.”).
“The bike has a bent rrrriiiimmm….rim.”
Using the alphabetic principle (shown above), the student knows
exactly what the word says.
In contrast, students who are not taught phonics in a systematic way, or who are not taught
to use phonics
knowledge as the first and most reliable strategy for identifying words, have
to guess or “predict”
what words say using “context cues,” such as pictures or what seems to fit the
meaning of a sentence, as shown below.
Instead of reading “The bike has a bent rim,” the student guesses
“The bike has a be…be..bell…belt….ri…ri…rip. The bike has a belt rip.”
Often, these mis-taught students never learn to read
skillfully. That is why Reading First stresses systematic and explicit
instruction in the alphabetic principle.
Read more at http://reading.uoregon.edu/au/index.php
3. Fluency with Text: The effortless, automatic reading of words
in connected text. Fluency is reading with accuracy and speed. Fluency is important
both for enjoyment and comprehension. If a person
struggles with words (gu…qu…guil…quil…) ,
the person will also struggle to figure out the meaning
of sentences. In fact, dysfluent
readers spend so much time and effort trying to figure out
what the separate words say, they can barely pay attention to the
meaning of the sentence. “The ju..jur….jury
found her gu..qu…guil…quil…”)
In other words, they
learn very little from reading.
To help students read connected text
(e.g., story passages) accurately and quickly, it is important to:
a. Teach students to decode separate
words (regular and irregular) accurately and quickly—which means (1) using
knowledge of letter-sound correspondence
(not guessing); and
(2) blending the sounds into words.
students to self-correct.
practice reading words enough times that it is almost automatic; that is, the
words become “sight words.” Note: sight words are
not words a student memorizes. The student still
knows how to decode them letter by letter.
Rather, the student has read the words so
often that decoding takes only an
practice reading text with which students are already accurate, encouraging
them to read faster and faster without making errors
(i.e., more words correct per
minute, or wcpm).
e. Work on
fluency (accurate and fast) at all levels of text---(1) saying sounds fast; (2) blending sounds into words fast
awareness); (3) reading words fast;
(4) reading word lists fast; (5) reading sentences (starting with two words)
fast; (6) reading paragraphs
fast; (7) reading larger chunks
Read more about fluency here. http://reading.uoregon.edu/flu/
4. Vocabulary: Say the meaning of (receptive vocabulary)
and using (expressive vocabulary) words to acquire and convey meaning. The three reading skills above—(1) phonemic
awareness, (2) the alphabetic principle (letter-sound correspondence and the
strategy for sounding out or decoding words), and (3) fluency—have to do with
the mechanics of reading. The last two
skills—vocabulary and comprehension—have to do with making
sense of the written word.
Vocabulary and comprehension cannot
be taken for granted. Students need to be taught how to get and express the meaning of words and
passages. This is especially important
for students of low socioeconomic status.
These students are read to less often, hear fewer vocabulary words, and
therefore understand and use far fewer words than children born to working
class or professional class families.
Following are some of the more
important methods of vocabulary instruction.
1. Read storybooks to children.
2. Provide direct
instruction of new
vocabulary words by selecting important
words in a story; giving explanations, or definitions of the words; and giving
students many chances to discuss and use the new words.
3. Teach older students to use morphemic
analysis (analysis of word parts) to determine meaning.
For example, “Bisect. Bi means two.
Sect means divide. So, bisect means divide into two parts.”
4. Teach contextual
analysis--inferring the meaning of a word from
the context in which it occurs. “The fan’s oscillations cooled everyone in
the room…Sometimes fans move back and forth. If everyone was cooled, it probably means the
fan blew on everyone. So, oscillate
probably means to move back and forth.”
You can find more on vocabulary here. http://reading.uoregon.edu/voc/
5. Comprehension: The complex cognitive process involving the
intentional interaction between reader and text to convey meaning. In other
words, sentences don’t tell you what they mean.
You have to interact with the text—for example, asking questions,
checking to see if the text gives answers, rereading, connecting one sentence
with a later sentence to get the flow of the argument or the flow of events in
comprehension strategies are learned best when they are taught explicitly. This kind of
instruction includes the following.
1. Set comprehension
objectives; for example,
students will answer specific literal (who, what, when), inferential (why), and evaluative (can you think of a
better way…?) questions.
2. Focus on main
ideas in a story or informational text.
vocabulary words important for
comprehending the material.
4. Read (with students) the material in manageable
chunks, and ask literal,
inferential, and evaluative questions on each chunk.
5. Use a KWL
strategy: have students think about and discuss
what I know; what I want to know; and what I learned.
You can learn more about comprehension here. http://reading.uoregon.edu/comp
A Comprehensive Set of Curriculum
set of curriculum materials (program) is adequate for teaching all five main
reading skills to all beginning readers.
A set of materials will have one or more of the following weaknesses.
1. The scope
and sequence (what is taught
and in what order) does not adequately cover all five skills. For example, there is too little
instruction on phonemic awareness, or some of the skills are taught in the
2. The materials are
designed for the average student, and do not provide the sort of instruction needed by
students (1) who enter with (for example) a small vocabulary, or little
phonemic awareness, or little knowledge of letter-sound correspondence; or (2)
students with specific difficulties learning to read.
For example, a student knows how to sound out words, but the student
needs five seconds to do it. As a
result, the student can’t keep pace as the teacher points to words on the board
and asks the class to read each one quickly.
comprehensive reading curriculum will have more than one set of materials. Reading First recommends three kinds of
curriculum materials, or what is sometimes called the “three-tier
model”--which you can read about at the following
Here are the
three kinds of programs.
1. Core curriculum. A core reading
program should: (1) cover virtually all five main reading skills; (2) be
designed so that it will be useful for almost all beginning readers; and (3) be
well-designed, in terms of sequencing of skills, practice, and building simpler
skills into more complex wholes, to name a few features. The University of Oregon’s
core reading program is the primary instructional tool that teachers use to
teach children to learn to read and ensure they reach reading levels that meet
or exceed grade-level standards. A core program should address the
instructional needs of the majority of students in a respective school or
district…Adoption of a core does not imply that other materials and strategies
are not used to provide a rich, comprehensive program of instruction. The core
program, however, should serve as the primary reading program for the school
and the expectation is that all teachers within and between the primary grades
will use the core program as the base of reading instruction. Such programs may
or may not be commercial textbook series…Teaching reading is far more complex
than most professionals and laypersons realize. The demands of the phonologic,
alphabetic, semantic, and syntactic systems of written language require a
careful schedule and sequence of prioritized objectives, explicit strategies,
and scaffolds that support students' initial learning and transfer of knowledge
and skills to other contexts. The requirements of curriculum construction and
instructional design that effectively move children through the "learning
to read" stage to the "reading to learn" stage are simply too
important to leave to the judgment of individuals. The better the core
addresses instructional priorities, the less teachers
will need to supplement and modify instruction for the majority of learners. [http://reading.uoregon.edu/curricula/core_program.php]
for evaluating core reading programs, and reviews of many core programs, can be
found here. http://reading.uoregon.edu/curricula/index.php
2. Supplementary Curricula. Supplementary
curricula or programs are used to in two ways.
First, they fill gaps in a core reading program. For example, a
core program may have too little instruction on rhyming (one aspect of phonemic
awareness), or it may have too few storybooks connected to its instruction on
decoding and vocabulary. Therefore, a
school or district would purchase or create materials to give the additional
Second, a core program may not
provide the amount of highly focused instruction some students need on
certain skills. For example, some students enter school with
a vocabulary so small that they don’t know what the stories are about. Therefore, a school or district might use a
supplementary program for accelerating these students’ vocabulary development.
Caution. It is important to
select core and supplementary materials that are compatible, or at least to train teachers to make them
compatible. For example, a core program
might tell teachers properly and exactly how to correct errors when students
misread words in connected text. For
example, the word is “made” but a student reads “mad.” “He m….mmm…mad
Teacher. “That word is made. What word?”
Student. “m a d e”
Teacher. “What word?”
made. Please start the sentence again,
supplementary materials might not tell teachers how to correct reading errors,
or may suggest a different method (format).
This will confuse students. So, the school
either has to use core and supplemental materials that correct errors the same
way, or the school has to decide that teachers will apply to all supplementary
materials the error correction format used in the core program.
3. Intervention Curricula. Intervention
programs are designed to meet the needs of students with so little background
knowledge or so much difficulty learning to read that they need specially
designed instruction and special, additional time for instruction. For example, diagnostic assessment may show
that some kindergartners are falling behind, perhaps because their phonemic
awareness skills are still so weak. Or,
some third graders struggle to comprehend text because they are still weak on
basic comprehension skills. In both
cases, students would get extra time for interventions, using materials that
focus on their skill weaknesses.
Caution. As before, it is
important that core and intervention materials are compatible; e.g., both teach
the same comprehension strategies. In
addition, teachers must ensure that what students learn during
intervention instruction is transferred to general (core) reading instruction. For example,
teachers must ensure that students are taught to use their new phonemic awareness and comprehension skills when
they are with the rest of the class reading storybooks in the core
materials. Otherwise, intervention instruction
will have no benefits.
You can read more about supplementary and intervention
programs at the following websites.
Four Kinds of Assessments
One of the basic ideas in Reading First is that instruction
should be a rational process. Teachers need solid information on the skills
students bring and do not bring to reading instruction, on the progress they
are making during instruction, and how much progress they made during the
year. Without this information, teachers
can’t successfully: (1) assign students to proper reading groups and to
properly trained teachers; (2) decide if the core program is adequate or if
students need supplemental or intervention instruction (and on exactly which
skills); or (3) decide at the end of the year if students are ready to move to
the next year/level of a core program.
Therefore, Reading First advocates four kinds of assessments. Each has a different function.
Screening Assessment. Screening
assessment is done when students enter a beginning reading program or at the
start of the year. The function is to
determine whether a student has the entry skills (e.g., knowledge of the
alphabet, phonemic awareness, and vocabulary) that are likely to make
instruction in the core program alone adequate, or whether the student has
specific skill deficits and learning difficulties that require supplemental
and/or intervention instruction.
Progress Monitoring. Progress is
monitored on skills worked on. These
assessments might be done, for example, every month to see if or how students’
skill at decoding (sounding out) words is improving or if or how much fluency
(measured as words correct per minute, wcpm) is
increasing. Again, this information
would be used to make instructional decisions.
Perhaps a student should be moved to a reading group that is progressing
more quickly. Or a student might get
extra practice at decoding so the student reads connected text more accurately
and quickly. Or, a student’s progress
may be so slow that intervention instruction is called for. However, before that is done, more
information is needed—supplied by diagnostic assessment, discussed later.
Progress monitoring also says
something about the quality of a curriculum and/or the
quality of instruction delivered by teachers. For example,
2. Students in Ms.
Black’s class make excellent progress in the core program, but students in Ms.
Winter’s class do not. This suggests
that Ms. Winter may not be using the core properly. For example, Ms. Winter may not correct
errors, or she may go to the next lesson before students master skills in the
present one. In this case, Ms. Winter’s
teaching must be assessed. The
inventory, here, shows how to assess teachers’ reading instruction. http://people.uncw.edu/kozloffm/inventory.doc
may show that a student has little
knowledge of phonemic awareness. Does
this mean the student is not read to and talked with enough at home, or does it
mean the student can’t easily hear the differences between one word and
another? Likewise, progress monitoring
may show that a student is not picking up skill at sounding out words. Does this mean the student’s knowledge of
letter-sound relationships (s says /s/) is weak (and therefore the student
can’t say and blend the separate sounds in many words), or could it be the
student knows letter-sound relationships but has a hard time retrieving
and then using this knowledge
quickly enough to keep up with the pace of instruction? Clearly, making the right instructional
decision requires answers to these questions, which are supplied by diagnostic
Outcome Assessment. Outcome
assessment determines how much students have learned at the end of a semester
or year. This information is used to
evaluate: (1) the quality of the core, supplemental, and intervention
materials; (2) the quality of instruction; (3) student motivation, attention,
and participation; and (4) students’ specific reading difficulties—leading to
decisions about curricula (keep, change, modify), instruction (ways to improve
and how to assist teachers), and classroom management.
Assessment instruments should:
(1) provide valid information (information on the skills that need to be
measured); (2) be appropriate for students’ age and grade level; (3) be reliable (different users would get about the same data with the
same students); (4) be relatively easy to use; and (5) provide objective
information (e.g., 100 correct words per
minute) rather than impressions (“Sally reads pretty accurately and
quickly”). Therefore, it’s wise to
select instruments with a solid track record.
Sources below describe and evaluate many assessment instruments.
The most respected scientific research in
education and psychology shows clearly that instruction yields higher and
faster achievement in more students (with and without learning difficulties)
when instruction is systematic and explicit.
Here are some resources you might examine.
what does systematic and explicit mean?
Systematic means that:
1. Instruction is given in a planned, logically progressive sequence
of things to be taught. For example,
certain letter-sounds (a, s, i, m, r) are taught before other letter-sounds (b,
n, y, sh) because they are easier to learn and are used
2. Instruction is guided and assessed with clearly defined objectives for
everything taught. Objectives are stated
in terms of what students will do.
Good objective. Students are given two minutes to read the
assigned passage from “The bear and the
hare.” They read the passage at a rate of at least 100 words correct per
Poor objective. Students read story books quickly and get
most words right.
3. Instruction is focused precisely on the thing (knowledge unit) to be learned, as
specified by the objective. For example,
if students are to read a passage at 100 wcpm, then
that is exactly what the teacher focuses on during the ten minute fluency exercise during lessons. She does not work on fluency, vocabulary, and
comprehension at the same time.
4. Instruction provides planned practice to strengthen all of the skills worked on.
5. Instruction provides planned work on new examples (e.g., words, text) to foster
application or generalization of previously taught knowledge.
6. Instruction includes assessments designed and used in a timely fashion to monitor the
different phases of instruction, or mastery: acquisition, fluency,
generalization, retention, and independence.
1. The teacher reveals in an obvious and clear
way to students the knowledge she is trying to communicate. She does this through demonstrations (modeling) and running
commentary to students. For example,
“I’ll show you how to sound out this
word. [man is
written on the board.] Listen. I do NOT
stop between the sounds. [Teacher
touches under each letter as she says the sound.] mmmmaaaannn. Now, I’ll say it fast. [Teacher slides her finger under the word.] man.”
2. The teacher ensures student attention to important
features of an example or demonstration.
“Look [points to the word ate] here is a vowel, then a consonant, and
then an e at the end [name]. So, we do
NOT say the e at the end.”
is an example of instruction that is not
explicit. It is implicit—or buried in the
The teacher holds up a big book that
has a paragraph from a story. She reads the words slowly. Occasionally she
points to the letter r and says rrr. She expects that this will be enough for
students to get the connection between the letter and the sound. Of course, many students do not get it.
contrast, explicit instruction would
have the teacher hold up the big book and say,
“New sound. This sound (points to the
letter r in ran) is rrr. Say it with me…
And this sound (points to r in car) is rrr. Say it with me… And this sound (points to r
in barn) is rrr.
Let’s see if you remember our new sound.
What sound is this? (points to r in ran)… What sound is this? (points to r in
barn)… What sound is this? (points to r in car)…. Now I’ll read the story.
(Teacher points to each r as she reads and has students say rrr and then read the whole word.)
you can imagine, this explicit instruction of letter-sound correspondence is
more likely to teach most students quickly.
This is one of the most important
contributions of Reading First. Every
curriculum or program, every teaching method (e.g., how to correct errors), and
every assessment instrument must be:
1. Valid (does what it is supposed to do) and
reliable (works much the same way in
the hands of different people).
on scientific research. For example,
the sequence for teaching phonemic awareness (beginning with identifying words
that sound alike vs. different, and ending with replacing a phoneme and saying
the new word) in a core program must be based on solid scientific research that
says this is an effective sequence.
tested to ensure that it is valid and reliable and effective before it is used.
will be more confident, and certainly will be more effective, if all of their
teaching methods and materials are known to work. The following websites have more information
on scientific validation.
is a School-wide Endeavor
If teachers in different grade levels
and classes use different curricula, different assessments, different rules for
interpreting assessment data and for making instructional decisions, and
different teaching methods, their students are not likely to benefit as much
from reading instruction as they would if reading were a coordinated
school-wide activity. Therefore, schools
1. Develop a school mission that stresses the importance of reading, sets high but
realistic achievement goals for each year, and assumes primary responsibility
for students’ achievement.
different curricula and assessment instruments (using materials at the
websites listed above), and select the ones that have been shown to be most
the right teachers for the right jobs.
It is essential that the best teachers teach students in the early
stages of reading and teach students who are behind or who need interventions.
specialists to coordinate testing, collect assessment information, order
curricula, obtain outside consultation and training, and provide technical
assistance to teachers.
principals and other administrators who know the five reading skills; know
what explicit and systematic instruction looks like; know what effective
reading instruction looks like; know what to ask job applicants to ensure that
they get skilled teachers; know the criteria that define adequate curricula;
and have the strength to require teachers to use curricula faithfully and to
improve their teaching as needed.
6. Provide professional
development on all aspects of Reading First, as well as timely ongoing
is the website for an instrument that lays out the skills teachers need. It can also be used as a guide for
assessment, professional development, and ongoing assistance.
materials on school-wide implementation include the following.
The six features of Reading First
discussed above amount to an integrated approach
1. There are five main reading skills: phonemic awareness, the alphabetic principle
(letter-sound correspondence and using this knowledge to decode words), fluency
(accuracy and speed), vocabulary, and comprehension.
2. Three kinds of curricula ensure that virtually
all children learn to read: core programs, supplementary programs, and
intervention programs—with placement determined by assessment information.
are four kinds of assessments: screening, diagnostic, progress monitoring, and
outcome. These provide information used
to make decisions about students’ curriculum and instructional needs, the
quality of curricula used, and the quality of instruction.
4. The wisest course is to teach all skills
systematically (in a planned, logical sequence) and explicitly (the teacher
clearly demonstrates knowledge).
5. All of the above are based on the rules and
procedures of scientific research to ensure validity, reliability, and
6. All of the above are part of a coordinated,
school-wide effort that includes clear mission, strong leadership, assignments
based on expertise, and professional development.