Creating the conditions necessary for all children to learn to read is quite a simple matter. Over the next 5 weeks I will outline my top 5 tips for maximising reading success for all children.
Tip Number 1 – Teach Explicitly Every Day
This week we will explore the idea of explicit instruction. For some teachers, the term ‘explicit instruction’ conjures up images of miserable students sitting in static rows listening to a grumpy teacher while their souls die a little bit each day. It is important to recognise that how we feel about different types of teaching, probably depends on what kind of learner we are and on our personality.
For me, explicit instruction gives children confidence and helps them feel supported. I hate not having a GPS or some kind of map when I’m on a journey. Kids are no different. They want to know where they are going, how long it will take to get there, what route is being taken and what will happen when they arrive. Explicit Instruction gives them that knowledge.
What is Explicit Instruction?
At its most basic, explicit instruction involves teaching children things before you ask them to do them. It means that you know what you need to teach, your children know what they need to learn and you support learning through an I do, we do, you do model. I have previously shared a graphic of the explicit teaching model we use here in the Northern Territory. It is a fantastic and highly effective way to teach a whole range of skills and knowledge.
You start by building the field for student, developing the necessary background knowledge that they will need to successfully navigate the learning experience. This is more than a simple ‘what do you know about?’ before you move swiftly into asking them to think about the new content you are teaching.
I recently bought a copy of “Explicit Direct Instruction for the English Learner” by John Hollingsworth and Silvia Ybarra. This book is full of really simple to use techniques to support learners. The first major ‘A-ha’ moment I had was when I read words to the effect of, “Don’t ask children questions about things you haven’t taught them yet”. I was floored by this simple and obvious advice that I had been missing for years! The book describes the effect of asking traditional ‘background knowledge questions’. You ask the students “What is erosion?” 4 kids put their hands up. One knows the answer, the other three are having wild guess. If you ask the child who knows the answer they will answer correctly. You nod and say “very good” and then plough into your lesson. Most of your class is now disengaged from the topic, right from the start and you wonder why teaching is like pulling teeth!
I can’t recommend Explicit Direction Instruction and Explicit Direction Instructions for the English Learner highly enough. One of my teachers read my book from cover to cover and came back to me explaining how it had ‘blown her mind’. She said, “After 20 years of teaching I am wondering why nobody ever told me this stuff before”. This teacher implemented some of the techniques and started seeing changes in engagement and performance from her students straight away.
The idea of explicit teaching in reading instruction is not only supported in research, but by the results of classrooms across the country. Explicit instruction does not mean:
- Boring, dry lessons where children want to run screaming from the room
- That children never have choice, never talk and never use their creativity
- That teachers have no creativity or freedom to be themselves.
Instead, here is what explicit instruction is:
- One technique in your kit back of teaching strategies
- Using a gradual release of responsibility model where you support students in learning skills and developing knowledge until they can do it by themselves.
- Fully explaining and demonstrating a concept of skills before asking a student to do it themselves.
- Step by step guidance for as long as students need it.
Here is a terrific video about explicit instruction
In reading instruction, explicit instruction might look like this:
This is exactly the approach that we have taken at mine and many other schools in the NT, with terrific results. Our group of disadvantaged, rowdy children with low levels of literacy have embraced the certainty and security of explicit teaching in literacy. They know what they need learn, how they are going to learn and know that we are there with them every step of the way. A year into the explicit instruction journey, we now have children who know what they need to achieve. They are excited to learn and feel proud of their achievements. Explicit instruction makes children feel safe. It says, “You are not along in this learning. You can trust me to be there for you”.
So how can you bring a bit more explicit instruction into your teaching?
- Know who your learners are and what their needs are and match instruction accordingly. In a previous post I outlined several possible assessments that you might use to assess reading in your classroom.
- Know what you want your children to achieve in every learning experience you give them. It is important to understand that your literacy rotations will not teach your children to read. Obviously, opportunities to practice skills and apply knowledge are important, but in order to teach these YOU have to be the one to do the teaching. Children will not teach themselves.
- STOP asking questions of children about things you haven’t taught them yet. Teach first and then question.
- Recognise that teaching knowledge is incredibly important. If you are learning as much through the learning process as your students, that’s a problem.
My next tip to maximise reading success is
“Have a Set Sequence of knowledge and skills in mind”.
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