Most educators are familiar with the idea that children learn to read from kindergarten to second grade and then read to learn from third grade onwards. Not surprisingly, this transition is when children can begin to experience challenges in reading due to gaps in their reading skills that only increase as texts become more complex and as students need to use those skills in multiple content areas. Empowering students with explicit instruction on literacy skills and then supporting them to practice those skills at a pace and rigor that is most appropriate for them is essential for students to approach mastery of complex texts. It is also essential to equity as it provides all students with clear, targeted literacy skills of focus and personalized support so that every student can become an adept reader, writer, and critical thinker.
Student-centered literacy instruction is a skills-rich and text-robust approach to teaching literacy that emphasizes student choice and ownership of their reading, writing, speaking, and listening at all grade levels and subject areas. The use of structured phonics undergirds the acquisition of language in the early grades at a pace and through a process that is most appropriate to individual student needs and can also be used to identify and fill gaps in student reading in all grades. A student-centered approach to literacy instruction includes opportunities for students to read complex, engaging texts through exposure to a variety of texts that span socially relevant topics, cultures, and themes; to select the tools or skills they will use as they read texts; and to choose how to demonstrate their understanding of the texts or topics. It also supports students to acquire the skills to analyze those complex texts in writing while using textual evidence to support their claims. Additionally, students are provided with the tools and protocols to engage in rich, text-based, student-driven discussions, which includes building students' listening skills through self and peer reflection and feedback.
Why It's Important
Educators agree that literacy instruction across disciplines and grade levels is critically important. They also recognize that literacy rates across the country are low (according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP in 2017, 68% of 4th grade students and 76% of 8th grade students nationally performed at or above a basic achievement level in reading), and that for many school leaders, improving student literacy is a top priority. Compounding upon that, the philosophies and methods that teachers use to develop literacy practices is varied, resulting often a lack of a unified plan for literacy improvement in a district. Research has shown (Davis, 2010) that a student-centered approach to literacy instruction which focuses on student choice, collaboration, and student ownership improves students' engagement in literary activities. Additionally, research shows that a socially relevant, student-driven reading program can lead to significant gains in student standardized test scores (Lacy 2019). At BetterLesson, we firmly believe that strong literacy instruction across content areas must be rooted in student-centered critical thinking, reading, and writing practices to prepare students for college and careers.
What Success Looks Like
Student-centered literacy instruction should be included in all grade levels and content areas. In classrooms where literacy instruction is student-centered, students are:
making meaning of a variety of texts, from print to media, through close reading, making personal connections, and analysis.
demonstrating their comprehension and analysis of texts by citing evidence to support a point of view in writing or speaking.
sharing their understanding of a text or topic by using a variety of writing forms, and engaging in self and peer assessment, reflection, and feedback on their writing.
using a systematic daily phonics program, especially in the elementary grades, coupled with plenty of time reading authentic texts.
engaging in student-led partner, small group, or whole class evidence-based discussions about a variety of texts or topics.
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