The Video

5 Big Ideas of Teaching Literacy

In 1997 the United States Congress formed a National Reading Panel to review research on how children learn to read and which teaching methods are most effective. The National Reading Panel reviewed over 100,000 reading studies to determine the most effective evidence-based methods for teaching children to read. Their final report states the best approach incorporates explicit instruction in five fundamental literacy skills:

We explain to our teachers that the 5 Big Ideas is the destination we want our pupils to reach by the end of P3. We structure our lessons to ensure that pupils get opportunities every day to demonstrate their competence in these 5 skill sets and regularly assess their progress toward this destination.

See Big Ideas in Beginning Reading: Overview. University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning. 2009 for a summary of the panel’s findings.

Our Approach

We use an integrated approach to teach reading and writing. If our destination is competence in the 5 Big Ideas, then our approach is like the road we have chosen to travel in order to get there.

Our approach integrates the best ideas of both top-down (whole language) and bottom-up (phonics) literacy instruction. We agree that meaning is crucial to language instruction. That is why we begin each day’s literacy instruction with the teacher and children reading a story together. We call this 30-minute lesson Story Reading Time.

We continue our top-down approach with Creative Writing Time where pupils write their own stories related to the key word and theme for the week.

The third 30-minute lesson of the day is Word Building Time. This is our opportunity to use a bottom-up approach to reading and writing. Starting with a keyword and key letter, pupils practice blending and segmenting letters and syllables. They also work on their letter formation skills and practice spelling.

3 Teaching Strategies

If the 5 Big Ideas is the destination and an integrated approach is our highway, then these three fundamental teaching strategies are our modes of transport. They can be summarized as follows:

Scientific research on the brain has taught us a lot about the teaching/learning process. Experiments on learning and retention have demonstrated that:

  • We remember only about 20% of the information we receive only through hearing.
  • We remember about 40% of the information we both see and hear.
  • We remember 80% or more of the information we see, hear and interact with in a meaningful way.

In designing our lesson plans we’ve tried to ensure that children are as actively engaged as possible given that class sizes in many of our schools are over 100 pupils.

In our model, the teacher always demonstrates for children how to do all the steps in a task they will be expected to perform (I do).

Next, the teacher asks the pupils to do the task with her (We do).

Finally, the teacher asks the pupils (as a group or individually) to perform the task on their own (You do).

Our daily and weekly lesson format is designed such that pupils begin the week with a simple reading or writing task to accomplish. As the lesson unfolds over the course of the day and the week, the teacher continues to add complexity to the original task introduced on the first day.

By the end of the week, the pupils are able to comfortably accomplish a much more complex reading or writing task.

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