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How We Teach Reading in District 65

District 65 is on a journey towards a vision of equitable Literacy instruction, aiming to equip every child with the ability to fluently read and comprehend rich and complex texts. Learning to read is not only essential to finding success both in school and society beyond, but also in becoming critical and active citizens of the world and unlocking the joy that powerful reading can bring. We believe that every student has the cognitive capacity to learn how to read and has the human right to learn how to make sense of text. To reach this vision, we pledge to uphold the following 6 components:

  • Making sure students learn how to read by securing foundational skills by 3rd grade
  • Growing knowledge of the world and expanding the vocabulary children bring with them
  • Deepening understanding of what is read through regular reading of complex texts
  • Opportunities to engage in evidence-based writing
  • Use of culturally responsive practices in the classroom
  • Leveraging families as partners

Core Literacy Components and Practices

Teaching and learning in District 65’s literacy program revolve around a workshop approach for the distinct literacy components below:

Building Decoding Skills and Word Recognition in Primary Grades: This means that grades K-2 will focus heavily on how to “crack the alphabetic code” of speech to letter sounds in monolingual classrooms.  In dual language classrooms, students will work on the code in both English and Spanish.  Kids must first learn to decode/sound out words before they can understand the meaning of text.

Phonemic Awareness (in English): This is the ability to discern the individual sounds of our spoken language by both identifying and manipulating those sounds orally. When teaching students to learn how to read in English, research has indicated that phonemic awareness is a driving factor in the ability to connect written letters and words to sounds heard.

Explicit and Systematic Phonics Instruction: In early grades, we have an increasing emphasis on learning  a progressing continuum of simple to complex phonics skills. In the Intermediate grades (Gr. 3-5), intentional word study will continue through a progression of grammar and morphology (word parts).

Decodable Readers: Our early readers (K-2) will be working with texts with words that align with the phonics and word patterns they are explicitly learning in class. Decodable readers help connect the isolated skills learned during phonics to the rich context of an actual text. Early readers need text-based practice with the phonics skills they are learning. At times, your primary students may be bringing home decodable passages or books for practice applying skills they’re learning in class.

Fluency: Fluency is the ability to read a passage of text with rate and expression to allow the brain the cognitive space to be able to make sense of the language on a page. As readers become increasingly automatic at decoding the words on a page of text, their reading of a passage will become smoother and faster. Their phrasing and expression also indicates sense-making of the series of words on a page.   Fluency is an essential and explicitly taught reading skill that ties the work of word recognition to the language comprehension strand of Scarborough’s Reading Rope. 
Focus on Growing College & Career Ready Readers: In District 65, our Literacy instruction focuses on three key practices to help ensure our graduates are set up to be prepared for high school and beyond: 1. Regular practice with complex text and its academic language, 2. Grounding reading, writing, and speaking in evidence from both literary and informational texts, & 3. Building knowledge through content rich nonfiction.

Working with Texts of Grade-level Complexity or Beyond: Read-aloud and shared reading paired with discussion to build students knowledge, vocabulary, and understanding of text meaning, using texts of grade-level complexity or beyond (read aloud).

Grounding Reading, Writing, and Speaking in Text  Evidence from both Literary and Informational Text: Writing, Reading comprehension, and knowledge acquisition  are intricately connected.   Readers comprehension improves when they write about what they read and are able to ground their writing in evidence from the texts they’re reading.  As students’ knowledge about a topic increases and reading comprehension increases, so does the quality of writing.  Through structured and focused Writing instruction, students produce narrative, opinion/argumentative, and expository writing that is rooted in the knowledge they gained while reading.

Building Knowledge through Content Rich Nonfiction: A growing body of research shows the connection between a person’s background knowledge and vocabulary on their comprehension of a text. By engaging in topic centered units of study, knowledge and vocabulary are intentionally taught and spiraled to support students’ ability to read increasingly complex texts.  Knowledge is built through reading a balance of both Literary and Informational texts.

Volume of Engaged Reading Beyond Instruction: Additional reading (small group, independent, or shared) within the ELA block and across all content areas to support all aspects of reading, including engagement and motivation, using texts at a variety of levels.

Joyful, Relevant Instruction: Equitable instruction supports students to crack the alphabet code and engage in content based learning to produce skilled readers. Equitable instruction allows for meaning making, and provides mirrors, windows, and sliding doors for students.  It develops a love of reading and writing, and equips students with the skills to be “code breakers, text users, text critics and meaning makers (Zaretta Hammond).”