Are you making these common mistakes when teaching reading in K-2?
Do you remember elementary school?
Despite the fact that it was (ahem) years ago, I have a pretty vivid picture of the first day of fourth grade. Our teacher held up our new-to-us reading books and our brand new workbooks, and he told us sternly …
“Now, DON’T go home and read all the stories in your new reading book. Wait until I assign them to you.”
But I couldn’t help myself! As soon as I got home I shut myself in my bedroom and read all the stories, cover to cover – probably before supper.
I felt SO GUILTY.
But the truth is, it was the only joy I got out of reading class all year.
If anyone asked me about school, I was quick to tell them that reading was my least favorite subject. After all, it was so boring! We just took turns reading around the table … and followed that up with mind-numbing workbook pages.
The funny thing is that while reading was my least favorite subject in school, the thing I loved to do most outside of school – was read.
I guess you could say I became a life-long reader in spite of my education. Can you say the same thing?
One thing I know for sure – all of us want better for our students. Let’s make sure we’re avoiding these ten common mistakes!
Mistake #1 – Putting too heavy an emphasis on phonics
I realize it’s probably a mistake to put this one first. I run the risk of all of you clicking away, never to return again.
Stick with me here.
I absolutely believe phonics teaching is important. Certainly the hundreds of free phonics printables on this site attest to htat. In fact, I think it’s wise to teach an explicit phonics lesson every day.
But phonics is not the complete picture of learning to read. When we teach kids to sound out words, they need to understand what they’re reading. If they don’t, they’re not reading.
They’re word calling.
We want our readers to acquire a variety of reading strategies. We want them to combine meaning, language, structure, and phonics to make sense of what they read.
Mistake # 2 – Waiting to teach comprehension
Now I know that those simple little books that we give our beginning readers don’t offer much in the way of teaching comprehension.
But we still need to teach it.
I’ve always disliked that saying … “In K-2 students learn to read, but in 3rd grade they start reading to learn.” No, no, no – they read to learn from the very beginning.
If the only reading material we give our students is phonetic readers that make little sense, they’ll learn that reading isn’t supposed to make sense; they’ll think that reading is just pushing out those words they see on a page.
We don’t need to toss those phonics readers, but we need to give our students a variety of reading material – including leveled books that actually give information or tell a story.
Another way to focus on comprehension is through shared reading and quality, interactive read-alouds.
Mistake #3 – Relying too heavily on the basal
The basal is the published reading program, often called the core reading program. If you use a basal reading program, there’s no judgment here. In fact, you’re in good company! About 75% of schools and teachers use a basal reading program.
The basal is a collection of reading selections, support materials, and assessments held together by one or more giant teacher’s manuals.
It comes with a lot of material.
A quality basal can be a very helpful guide for new teachers or teachers moving to a new grade level – and even for experienced teachers.
The textbook designers do not know your class. The basal program simply cannot differentiate for your students, not even with the above level and below grade level book it may offer for each story.
Don’t buy into the illusion that if you follow the basal program exactly, you won’t need anything else.
The basal is not a cookbook. It’s just a guide.
Don’t let it be your whole program. Use your professional judgment to know when to follow lesson plans, delete some of them, supplement, and modify.
Mistake #4 – We spend too much time teaching the whole group.
Whole group teaching is important. It’s when we teach on-grade level material to the whole class.
We teach phonics explicitly, we demonstrate reading strategies, we model how to read fluently with expression – and so much more.
But we accelerate our students’ learning by teaching them in small, needs-based groups. And we meet our readers exactly where they are when we hold individual reading conferences.
Mistake #5 – Not giving our students enough time to read on their own
Too often we spend most of our reading time teaching students about reading instead of giving them time to read.
We get better at something by doing it. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to have daily blocks of time for our young readers to practice.
Mistake #6 – We keep our students busy instead of having them do meaningful literacy activities.
It’s important to differentiate by teaching students in small, needs-based groups and one-on-one. But what’s the rest of the class doing?
Do you know why I think this is?
I think it’s because we’re exhausted. Switching out learning centers day after day, week after week, month after month, is burning both us – and our laminators – out. What we really need is authentic, meaningful literacy activities that don’t require hours and hours of prep every weekend. (You can get started with these ideas!)
Mistake #7 – We don’t use assessment to inform our instruction.
Let’s talk traditional assessment: Read the story. Answer the questions. Take a test at the end of the unit. Get a report card grade.
Checking on understanding is important. But assessment is so much more. We can give a variety of informal assessments to see what our learners know from day to day – and adjust our teaching based on what we learn.
(My favorite free assessment tool is the running record! Learn more about it here.)
Mistake #8 – We think we can find the perfect method for teaching reading.
Teachers have been looking for the perfect reading curriculum – and publishers have been trying to create it – for decades.
But we haven’t found one because it doesn’t and won’t exist.
Here’s a quote I love from Debbie Miller: “There really isn’t one right way to teach children to read. Our hope is that you’ll find your way. What systems and structures for teaching and learning do you believe will work best for you and the children you teach?”
Mistake #9 – We forget our ultimate goal.
We get caught up in reading skills and strategies. We get so overcome with checking things off our list and moving children through reading levels, that we forget that our ultimate goal is twofold.
Yes, we want our students to be proficient readers. But we also want them to become life-long readers.
Mistake #10 – We wear ourselves out.
I’m with you here – in fact, I can’t tell you how many late nights I spent at school (not to mention all those hours on the weekends) my first few years of teaching reading.
I knew I needed a different approach if I was going to meet the needs of all my first and second grade readers. But I felt like a hamster on a wheel – running, running, running … and getting nowhere.
Since I spent all my spare time trying to find the solution to meeting a group of diverse readers, I wore myself out. I couldn’t bring my best energy and self to the classroom because I wasn’t getting enough sleep!
I want better for you.
That’s why I teamed up with my colleague, Becky Spence of This Reading Mama, to create a comprehensive online course for K-2 reading teachers.
It’s called Teaching Every Reader.
When you join us, you will …
- Pinpoint exactly what your students need to learn with our easy-to-use assessments.
- Accelerate student learning through small, needs-based groups.
- Meet students exactly where they are through dynamic one-on-one conferences.
- Keep the rest of the class learning with year-long, easily-differentiated centers.
- Save hours (and hours!) of time with over 100 brand-new, low prep student activities.
Best of all … you’ll stop teaching to the middle, and start teaching everyone.