School Features That Support Effective Instruction

Elementary teacher talking with student at classroom desk

Effective school reading programs in schools share certain characteristics, from sound methods and materials to quality professional development and administrative practices. Learn about eight features of research-based school reading programs.

Many factors contribute to the overall success of a beginning reading program. These factors require a total school effort and cannot be accomplished without the support of the school administrators. The following is a list of those classroom and campus features that support a successful reading program.

1. Careful use of instructional time

  • While language arts practice occurs throughout the entire school day, significant time must be protected for and dedicated to reading and language arts instruction. Many campuses dedicate a substantial amount of time each morning for reading and language arts instruction (e.g., 90 minutes or more). Some children need additional assistance and are provided instruction that is based on their specific needs.
  • Language and concept development activities are an important part of the classroom curriculum.
  • Language arts instruction includes daily reading aloud and discussion of high-quality literature, both fiction and nonfiction.
  • Systematic instruction in reading begins as early as kindergarten and continues throughout the primary grades. This careful, consistent instruction is based on thoughtful evaluation of data obtained from classroom observations, formal and informal assessments, and samples of student work.

2. Effective instructional practices

  • Teachers organize flexible and purposeful groups that are based on children's instructional needs.
  • Membership in these groups changes as the children progress or as they experience difficulty.
  • Teachers provide instruction that involves both frequent interactions with children and constructive feedback.
  • Children read at an appropriate level in their programs of instruction, and teachers adjust their instructional practices according to how well and how quickly the children progress.
  • In first- and second-grade classrooms, children who are having difficulty learning to read are provided with additional reading instruction in a small group or tutoring setting. In addition, before-school or after-school sessions and summer school classes are provided for all children who need extra help. Such instruction is coordinated with the programs the children are engaged in during the regular school day and based on continual and thoughtful analysis of each child's progress and needs as a reader and writer.

3. Sound instructional materials

Research-based criteria are used to select the instructional materials that provide the structure for the classroom reading program. These criteria establish the need for systematic instruction and sufficient practice in a number of aspects of beginning reading. These aspects include the following:

  • Phonemic awareness:
    Children learn how to divide spoken words into individual sounds and to blend spoken sounds into words.
  • Alphabetic knowledge:
    Children learn to recognize, name, and write letters.
  • Alphabetic principle:
    Children learn that sounds can be represented by letters, and to recognize the most useful sound-letter relationships.
  • Decoding strategies:
    Children learn blending and other decoding strategies that permit them to sound out new words and identify them quickly.
  • Spelling and writing:
    Children write using their knowledge of printed letters and the sounds they represent. Because knowledge of letter-sound patterns contributes to reading success, spelling instruction is coordinated with the program of reading instruction. Knowledge of and practice in correct spellings also contributes to more effective writing.
  • Manageable, decodable text:
    Children read words, sentences, and stories that contain the sound-letter relationships they are learning, as well as some "sight" words. Because fluent reading is essential to comprehension, children should practice both oral and silent reading. Children should have easy access to an array of storybooks and other reading materials that they can read on their own and with others.
  • Vocabulary acquisition:
    The meanings of unfamiliar words are taught and discussed. Students also acquire word meanings through wide reading.
  • Comprehension and understanding:
    Students discuss the meanings of everything they are learning to read — words, sentences, and stories — with each other and with their teachers and their tutors. They learn comprehension strategies as they engage in story time discussion, journal keeping, wide reading, and purposeful writing.
  • Language activities:
    Children expand their speaking and listening skills, their background and vocabulary knowledge in formal and informal activities as they engage in story time discussion, journal keeping, wide reading, and purposeful writing.

4. Reading opportunities

As children develop as readers, they eagerly read books they can comprehend, learn from, and enjoy. Students must have access to classroom and school libraries that contain a large and varied book collection that encourages the development of the following:

  • Wide reading:
    As children become fluent readers, they read increasingly challenging literature, both fiction and nonfiction, of greater complexity and difficulty. They read daily with partners, in groups, and independently at school and at home.
  • Classroom discussions:
    Teachers and students engage in meaningful discussions that focus on interpretations of and reflective thinking about what they (and others) are reading and writing. They learn to support their interpretations by relying on the text.
  • Comprehension strategies:
    As they read various kinds of books and other materials, students learn and practice comprehension strategies, sometimes on their own and sometimes with direct help from their teachers.

5. A variety of assessment tools

Teachers and administrators, who regard assessment as informative, select and administer assessments according to the needs of individual students. They conduct ongoing evaluations of student progress to help them plan instruction. Parents, teachers, and administrators are kept abreast of every child's reading progress based on such assessment and evaluations. Children who reveal serious problems in reading often need further assessment. However, the following assessment and evaluations should be used with all children:

  • Screening assessments:
    During kindergarten and first grade, every student is screened for phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge, and understanding of basic language concepts.
  • Informal assessments:
    On a regular basis, children are informally assessed to determine if they are making adequate progress. These assessments can include measures of reading rate and accuracy and story retellings. These assessments are used as a basis for adjusting instruction to the needs of each child.
  • End-of-year assessments:
    Every student is assessed at the end of the school year to inform parents, teachers, and campus and district administrators about student progress. These assessments are used to make plans to meet the needs of children and of the campus in the following year.

6. A positive campus climate

Administrators and staff create campuses that are welcoming to their students and their families and that contribute to students' successful progress as readers. Some aspects of positive campus climate include:

  • Attractive environment:
    Buildings and classrooms are clean, neat, and inviting.
  • Book rich environment:
    Lots of books are in evidence (and in use) in classroom libraries, and the school library.
  • Student work:
    Children's written work is displayed in the halls and in the classrooms.
  • Positive staff:
    The staff is friendly and respectful of every student and is committed to a program of continuous student development from one grade level to the next and to stimulating family involvement.
  • Curricular decisions:
    Effective practices are maintained and often improved; new ideas are discussed, evaluated, and integrated with existing practice.
  • Student attitudes:
    Students are proud of their accomplishments and respectful of teachers and of other students.

7. Professional development

  • Teachers take part in frequent, relevant and continuous professional development that focuses on the implementation of good classroom reading instruction that meets the needs of all students.
  • Teachers have time to work with and to consult each other, to visit each other's classrooms, and to make instructional decisions that improve the coordination of instruction from one grade level to the next.
  • Teachers are given time to practice instructional strategies and are supported throughout the school year.
  • Lead or master teachers are available to coach new and less experienced teachers.

8. Sound administrative practices

  • Administrators work to determine that all of the resources of the campus, including staff time, are allocated to meet the goal of successful reading instruction for every student.
  • Administrators either assure or designate responsibility for instructional leadership that includes monitoring students' progress in each classroom and providing help when students are not making sufficient progress.
  • In the professional development process, administrators help teachers focus on the performance of their students.
  • In their words and in their actions, administrators consistently support the components of effective reading instruction.


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