Primary Prevention in Classroom Reading Instruction

Article excerpt

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA, 2004) contains an enormously important provision-the provision that up to 15% of funds can be used for prevention. The possibility of preventing learning difficulties before they start and of eliminating the need that a student fail before funds for intervention become available are intuitively appealing ideas. Now the challenge is to make prevention at the classroom level successful for all children. The focus in this article is on beginning reading instruction in primary-grade classrooms, with particular attention to (a) evidence-based practices that promote classroom reading success, and (b) the criteria for selecting core reading materials that address the needs of a diverse group of students.

Evidence-Based Practices in Classroom Reading Consensus Reports of Crucial Elements

Consensus documents are available that describe the components of effective reading instruction (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD], 2000; National Research Council [NRC]), 1998. These components are

* Phonemic awareness and phonemic decoding skills.

* Fluency in word recognition and text processing,

* Construction of meaning.

* Vocabulary.

* Spelling.

* Writing.

These components are the same whether one is discussing classroom reading instruction or instruction for children at risk for reading problems. with the difference being that children at risk for reading disabilities need more explicit and more intense instruction in these elements (Foorman & Torgesen, 2001). Most of these components of effective instruction have been incorporated into the technical assistance for Reading First, the primary-grade portion of No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001). However, the language arts components of the crucial elements-vocabulary, spelling, and writing-art? neglected in many states' and districts' implementations of Reading First, to the detriment of children's later reading comprehension (Dickinson. McCabe, Anastasopoulos. PeisiiLT-Feinbtrg, & Poes, 2003; Mehta, Foorman, Branum-Martin, & Taylor, 2005).

Empirical Investigations of Instructional Practices

Instructional practices exist in a set of nested relations: students nested within classrooms and classrooms nested within schools. At the school level, many researchers have noted characteristics of schools with outstanding achievement (e.g., Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Denton, Foorman, & Mathes, 2003; Hoffman, 1991; Puma et al., 1997; Shavelson & Berliner, 1988; Taylor. Pearson, Clark, & Walpole. 2000; Weber, 1971): positive social climate, strong instructional leadership, increased amount of time available for reading instruction, high expectations and strong accountability, continuous monitoring ni student achievement, ongoing professional development based on effective reading strategies, and integral parental involvement. Characteristics of ineffective schools have also been noted. Seven ways in which ineffective schools differed from their demographically matched peers are described by the National Research Council (1998):

(1) they were not academically focused; (2) 'lie school's daily schedule was not an accurate guide to academic time usage; (3) resources often worked at crosspurposes instructionally; (4) principals seemed uninterested in curricula; (5) principals were relatively passive in the recruitment of new teachers, in the selection of professional development topics and opportunities fur the teachers, and in the performance of teacher évaluations; (6} libraries and other media resources were rarely used to their full potential; and (7) few systems of public reward for students' academic excellence were in place, (p. 130)

At the teacher level, effective classrooms have more lime on instructional activities and more engaged students (Fisher et al., 1980; Stallings, 1980); more small-group instruction; good classroom management; and more active instruction (Anderson. …