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  • How Kyrene is Doing Reading Right

    Posted by Curriculum & Assessment Team on 2/4/2020 1:00:00 PM

    Young boy reading book in rocking chair

    Many reading experts across the country agree that a lot of schools are not teaching reading in a way that is supported by research. Read this post by Kyrene’s Elementary English Language Arts (ELA) & Social Studies Coordinator, Dr. Raquel Ellis, about how we have a research-based reading approach.


    The literacy research community is currently having important conversations via social media about how reading is taught in classrooms. These discussions include people like Timothy Shanahan, Susan L. Hall, and Emily Hanford (all are great people to follow on Twitter, by the way). These exchanges can get a bit uncomfortable for educators like myself, especially since they often discuss how ineffective the teaching of English Language Arts is nationally. Curriculum leaders in other states have even gone as far to call reading curriculum and instruction a national “crisis” (Myracle, Kingsley, & McClellan, 2019).


    Every time I read what the experts are saying is happening in schools, I get really excited that this is not the case here in Kyrene (although I do get sad that not all students in our country have access to a place with strong curriculum). Since we have adopted new ELA curriculum in Spring 2017, our district has been working hard to ensure that we are following what is known about quality literacy instruction. Below are two areas that we have prioritized in our curriculum and professional development.


    Building background knowledge in history, the arts and science to support comprehension.

    It is not common knowledge, but what students already know about the topic they are reading about is the strongest predictor for their ability to understand that book, article, or passage. Therefore, starting in Kindergarten, Kyrene students read texts that teach them about the world. Our students read and write about people and places both in the U.S. and across the globe, allowing them to explore history, geography, and economics in tandem with developing language arts skills. They discuss contributions of different civilizations and how they have affected our lives today. Science units like plant life cycles, astronomy, animal classifications, geology, and chemical matter provide the foundational knowledge necessary to engage in hands on projects and/or research. Students also read fiction, including multiple versions of the same fairy tale, contemporary stories, and poems. We intentionally spend several weeks with a topic so students gain the knowledge and vocabulary to be successful in understanding future texts they read. Read more about the importance of background knowledge here.


    Systematic phonics instruction is happening daily in primary grades.

    The findings of the National Reading Panel made it clear that explicit phonics instruction needs to be delivered to our K-2 students in a clear and coherent way. As education journalist Emily Hanford has noted, most schools across the country struggle with this. Kyrene has made significant shifts in how we teach phonics over the past three years. In addition to the instructional block where we build students’ background knowledge, Kyrene K-2 students have 60 minutes of foundational skills instruction that develops students’ awareness of the sounds of the English language and the spellings for those sounds. Learning is cemented by reading and responding in writing to text that reinforces sound-spelling relationships. Spelling tests measure the sound-spelling relationships that were taught, rather than memorizing random lists of words. K-2 teachers follow a curricular sequence so learning builds upon what previous teachers have taught. They also follow consistent routines so students have continuity across their primary grades experience, making learning easier.

    Kyrene has so much to celebrate about how we have approached our reading curriculum and instruction. We look forward to sharing stories about the great things our teachers and students are discussing in the coming months.


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  • 5 Ways to Improve Reading Comprehension at Home

    Posted by Curriculum & Assessment Team on 1/6/2020 1:00:00 PM

    Students smiling at desk


    After learning about our English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, you may be interested in how you can support the reading comprehension of your student. Here are five easy strategies.


    1. Talk to students about what they are learning about in school.

    All Kyrene students are reading, discussing, and writing about a specific topic in their ELA classrooms. Here is a list of the ELA units of study for grades K-8. Ask students what they have learned about the topic; you will find yourself amazed about how much they know. This will foster vocabulary development, which is closely tied to reading comprehension.


    1. Find connected text/media to the topics taught in class and discuss the ideas learned.

    Use the Kyrene ELA units of study list to visit the library to find books related to the topics students are learning. Watching videos allows students to understand new information from a different medium. Discovery Education, BrainPop, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and PBS are great places to start. Even YouTube has many informative, student-friendly videos that are rich in content knowledge. Once you have found print and digital material to learn from, talk to the student about what was learned. Chances are that adults will learn something new as well!


    1. Do research about a topic the student is interested in.

    Additional reading and research does not have to be limited to what students are learning in school. Talk to the student about what interests them. Have the student brainstorm questions that they want to learn more about. Visit the library or search the internet and help them find answers to those questions. Have conversations about the information they are finding.


    1. Listen to audiobooks that are slightly more difficult than what a student could read themselves. 

    We have known for a while now that a child’s listening comprehension outpaces their reading comprehension until they are about 13 years old (Sticht & James, 1984). This means that children can listen to more difficult texts than what they would be able to read independently. We need to take advantage of this strength by allowing students to listen to harder texts; this will support them in their vocabulary development, as well as their reading fluency, another factor that influences strong reading comprehension.


    1. Find a book the student is interested in and read it with them. 

    It is important to encourage our children to read outside of school, so start with the topics and stories that interest them. To support their thinking and vocabulary, read the book with them. This will make the reading more enjoyable for the child as well as support the critical thinking necessary for strong comprehension of all texts.


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Last Modified on August 10, 2022