Using theatrical reading is really useful. In it, several characters with emotional charges intervene. The teacher reads in front of the students and points out the emotions present in the characters. She assigns different characters to the students, and they practice the reading several times.
A variant of this is radio reading (reading in a radio show, or pretending to be reading in one), or using the students as models of it. Record their readings, and then listen to them, evaluating and practicing again.
Good readers have a good reading comprehension and fluency.
There are three aspects to comprehension: literal, interpretative and evaluative. To improve reading comprehension, it’s necessary to work on the three components, and even to work mainly on the last two. In Spain, teachers work mainly with literal reading or memorization. Besides, to understand the texts, students need to be taught a series of strategies. Reading fluency involves three aspects too: precision (capability to automatically recognize words within a text and phonemes within words), rhythm (the speed of reading), and expressivity. To improve comprehension and fluency, you have to use a methodology where the adult first serves as a model, and then practices with the students, guiding them. Then, the adult should guide individual practices. Next are some examples on practical lessons on how to improve reading, covering both fluency and comprehension.
Objective: teaching the summarizing strategy (summarizing what’s important).
- Indicating the goal we have for the session. We point out the importance of being capable of summarizing in few words everything the author wants to say. We mention several advantages: studying better, understanding messages on the Internet, newspaper, movies…
- Previewing: “It’s been said that many stories teach us important aspects of life so that we can be happier, fairer, and help each other… Do you know any story that teaches a lesson?” Comment on the stories briefly. “The story we’ll read today has a nice message, and we’ll try to figure out what the message is, because this message is the main idea. Discovering it helps us understand everything we read, and allows us to summarize it in few words. We’ll notice the title, “Story of the Light Worm without Light”. What does it mean? Are there worms with light? Are there worms without light? What’s the name of the worms that glow? What’s the story about? We’ll create a hypothesis… I think this story talks about a firefly who, for some reason, has no light anymore.”
- The adult reads the story, serving as a model. He makes stops whenever there are new words, and explains them. Then, he divides the text in three and several students read it, trying to imitate the adult in his rhythm and expressions.
Research strongly reject that the “you read first, then you follow” methodology, dividing the text in parts, improves the fluency of students who have a difficulty improving it.
To achieve an improvement in fluency, you need the students to imitate a model after they hear it.
- a) The teacher reads the text. It can also be played as a recording, stopping to repeat phrases or to point out words (this works especially well for students who are bad readers or dyslexic). While the model reading is being done, the unknown vocabulary is explained, and the adult can clarify things in the reading.
- b) The students read and repeat the phrases the teacher read. The teacher and the students can take turns reading different paragraphs. This technique is used a lot with students who have problems reading.
- c) They can also read in pairs. You ask the students to evaluate the fluency of the model or the fluency of their classmates. This makes them aware of the reading processes and motivates them to improve.
- d) Another technique is to use chorus reading. The adult reads, and the whole class reads with him.
- E) Sometimes, the models can be students who have trained in the reading of a text at home.
The following factors are involved with the learning of reading and writing:
- It refers to the phonologic and semantic code the student has. In other words, it’s their verbal language, vocabulary and ability to divide phrases into words, words into syllables, syllables into letters, associate and construct rhymes, say words that start with a specific letter, etc. With children, it’s necessary to work all of these aspects, because they reduce and prevent reading and writing difficulties. Speaking, vocabulary and metalinguistic abilities programs should be introduced to improve their skills, and their teaching should be the absolute priority.
- Motor skills. They affect writing, so when it comes to children, it’s good to do activities that improve them (cutting paper, coloring, etc.)
- The methodology used in teaching. You must carefully follow the steps to teach letters. In children with risk of problems on linguistic codes, attitude, motor skills, reasoning, etc., using the wrong methodology can cause important reading and writing problems.
Any reading and writing problem can be solved in due time. From 4th grade, the reeducation is difficult, and in following grades, the reading and writing problem could become irreversible.
- Verbal reproduction of the sound we’re trying to teach. Teaching the sound (phonologic code). The adult is the model.
- Production of the sound from the students.
- The adult teaches the grapheme. First he’s a model and shows how to start, follow and ends. This has to be repeated many times, and reviewing often (Motor skills)
- Guided learning of the grapheme by the students. Don’t move to the next step until you’re sure they acquired the right sound production and the phoneme’s motor skill.
- From this point on, we introduce activities where the students copy the phoneme.
- When they do those activities well, we go to dictation. Here, we check to see if they acquired the model.
- We go to synthesis exercises. We form syllables mixing the phoneme and the graph learned with the vowels. We review the phoneme’s motor skills, and teach where it starts, where it goes and how to connect it to the vowel.
- We do all the metalinguistic activities: verbal synthesis exercises about the learned phoneme, we switch the vowels, mix them, see the changes they produce in reading, etc. All of these exercises are oral.
- We go to a different phoneme and repeat the process. When doing the metalinguistic activities, we introduce other learned phonemes at the end.
- We do many review activities while the students learn more phonemes. It’s important to do metalinguistic verbal exercises with the letters learned.
- We form words with the categories we worked on, joining the reading and writing processes.
- We divide the words into syllables and corresponding graphemes.
- Form words from given syllables and letters
- Differentiation between words that vary because of a letter or syllable and the association with their corresponding meanings.
- Write phrases with increased complexity, from given words.
- It’s important to do the following oral language exercises at the same time, because they help the student improve his phonological skills: segmenting phrases into words, recognition of the number of words that compose the phrase, omission of a word at the end of a phrase, inversion of words in a phrase… Do the same exercise with words and syllables.
A fluent reading is a reading with precision, rhythm and expressivity. Any program to improve reading fluency has to work on these three aspects. Up to the 4th grade, reading comprehension and fluency are positively correlated. This means that students with good fluency have a good understanding of what they’re reading. From 4th grade onwards, this correlation starts being less intense, and can even become negative in high school. So, starting from 4th grade, there are children whose reading fluency can be adequate and whose reading comprehension can be inadequate, and the other way around.
This procedure is similar to the one used by athletes. They train by repeating an exercise to improve their time or technique, and they repeat it over and over. It’s proven that reading the same text four or five times helps produce the basic effects of the improvement of reading fluency. This is tedious. To motivate them, it’s good to explain to the students what happens in their brain when they read, and how it can be improved. You teach them to evaluate reading (precision, rhythm, expressivity and comprehension), and the adult practices with them. Once this dominated, you introduce the repeated reading strategy. It’s really useful for the students to read something to their relatives, and to ask all of them to sign it.
- Selection and handing out of the text
- Repeated readings of the text in front of other people like relatives or friends, who sign after the reading.
- Another way is to hand out a text and a number of words per minute they need to read, and ask them to keep reading the text until they achieve that goal.
Usually, the tests used only evaluate about the reliability and validity. For school centers, it’s more useful to use “informal reading inventories” where we can evaluate the students’ precision, rhythm, expression and comprehension, so that we can improve it and create a program at the center. To manage this, we need the following:
1 Select several passages from texts organized by difficulty by grade (from 1st to 6th grade and then 7th to 10th grade). To accomplish this, we select some texts arranged by difficulty. A group of experts evaluates and comments on the selection. It’s better if the texts are narrations at first, and then from 4th grade onwards, they can be exposition texts too. The evaluation is more precise if we also include a list of 20 words. About half of them should be words of frequent use, and the other half should be uncommon words, and some pseudo-words.
2- You define the aspects to evaluate about fluency and comprehension, and you go through a registration procedure so the teacher finds it easier to register the students’ reading (omissions, additions, substitution, inversions, repetitions, syllabication, lack of intonation and pauses, speed and comprehension).
3- You establish the evaluation criteria to determine the students’ reading level. This is fundamental to improve it, because it lets you adapt the texts and activities according to the students’ level, and then it lets you evaluate their improvement and even create flexible groups or group work according to their levels. You can use three levels:
- a) Independent level: the student is capable of doing it alone and without help.
- b) Instructive level: the student needs help from the teacher.
- C) Frustration level: the student’s reading is inferior to what’s expected for his age.
As an example, a girl reads 100% of the words right, so she would be in the first level. If she fails in about two to five percent of words, she would be in the second level, etc. These percentages can be modified according to the teacher’s opinion.