A Core Reading Program (a.k.a. the basal reading series) typically provides a rich assortment of text and instructional tools. It often offers differentiated texts and lessons and text for those on, above, and below-level.

However, despite these positives, teachers have to acknowledge the pitfalls as well. Most programs contain too much material to all be accomplished in the time allotted. And many of the lessons only vaguely explain how to teach students the skills and strategies.

An elementary teacher’s focus should be on implementing the basal program with fidelity. This means following a scope and sequence of the reading program while allowing your collection of data to guide you in meeting students’ needs. If you plan each week of lessons following these four (4) steps, you will make more informed decisions.

STEP 1: Narrow down suggested skills and strategies outlined within the whole-class lessons. Check both the scope and sequence and the data of this year’s class to determine which ones to teach.

  • Skills include specific items to identify or use when reading (e.g., details, characters, expository text structure, graphic features, etc.).
  • Strategies include thinking or processing the text (e.g., visualizing, predicting, evaluating, cross-checking visual and meaning cue, etc.).

STEP 2: Consider the passage in the student text to be the anchor text. Use it to introduce and model concepts, skills, and strategies. Prepare for the all-class lesson.

  • Determine how long the text will take to read.
  • Jot down your initial thoughts, questions, and reactions while reading the text.
  • Review the think-aloud questions provided in the basal; determine which ones lend themselves to the strategy you will focus on for this lesson.

STEP 3: Plan how you will teach students to execute this skill or strategy. You are NOT telling students what to do; you are teaching them how to do it. Remember that reading is invisible, so the more concrete and explicit you can make your instruction, the easier it will be for them to grasp the concept. Find ways to break down the moves of a reader who employs this skill/strategy.

STEP 4: Determine how students will access the text. NOTE: This is rooted in how much support your readers will need to think and comprehend the passage.

  • Will you read the entire text aloud?
  • Will the class read the first portion together and the rest independently?
  • Will students read with a partner?
  • Will the class read the first portion together and YOU read with the strugglers in a small group?
  • Will you provide level texts to be read in small-group time?
  • Will all students read differentiated texts, trying out the skill/strategy independently?

The key is to utilize your basal program like a smorgasbord. Publishing companies provide numerous opportunities to teach every possible skill/strategy in a school year. But it is the teacher’s job to decide what to put on the students’ plates and when.

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