The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 2 - Page 29


Differentiation of lists is key to helping students learn and apply spelling strategies. One way to manage the differentiation of lists is to have the class focus on one, grade level feature (such as consonant blends in grades 2-6). The chart following this article provides a typical scope and sequence for word features. Start by choosing 10-12 words for a pretest (a good resource for getting started is Reading Rockets: Depending on how a student scores, assign words that are on the list, or choose slightly harder words for those needing challenged (but still show the same word feature) or slightly easier words for students who miss most or all of the list. Be sure they can read any word assigned to them. During the week have them use them in word sorting, writing, play games, and practice the words with a buddy.

Of course, vocabulary is also developing. Research tells us students must learn about 20 new words per day…so finding multiple ways to introduce and explicitly teach words is crucial. Examination of words based on relationships is the most powerful way to increase vocabulary and spelling knowledge. Words related in meaning are related in spelling. Teaching students decoding and application of etymological knowledge when reading and writing gives them independent power over their word learning. A useful activity for looking at a large group of words is to have students create word webs. These can be meaning based (start with a word like “big” and ask them to record all the words they can that are either have the same or opposite meaning). Or, these can be from the same word family (such as all the words that have “graph” in them: autograph, graphic, biography, and so on). The more connections across words we can help students make, the more likely they are to remember them in the long run.


Helping students become successful readers entails a multiple, differentiated approach to teaching. First, read alouds are essential at any age. Several key learnings points occur during a read aloud: (1) teachers can model what “good” readers do, (2) students can enjoy hearing text above their independent reading level, (3) opportunities arise to discuss vocabulary, text features, and scaffold critical thinking, (4) listening skills improve, (5) an in-common text for upcoming units of study can be shared, and (6) we show the fun and joy of reading.

Next, shared reading allows students to participate in a supported reading activity. Words or sentences can be read by the teacher and then repeated by students or students can take turns assisting in the read aloud. Knowing the skills of a particular reader is key for the teacher to allow them to participate where they can be successful, thus further building confidence. This time offers an opportunity for formative assessment in such areas as decoding and navigating text.

Third, small group instruction is vital to “move the needle” on what students can do independently. Through formative assessments, teachers know what skills are still stumbling blocks for students, thus allowing for differentiation of group instruction. Under the teacher’s watchful eye, students can develop and solidify new skills. In many classrooms, the small instructional groups are ever changing as students’ in common needs are identified and instructed. Older students enjoy literature circles, where they direct their own discussions, decide what to read, choose what role they will take on (such as discussion leader, wordsmith, or investigator), and develop a community of readers.


Providing Instructional Equity Through a Balanced Literacy Approach

Mary Jo Fresch