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What the Science of Reading Tells Us

21 percent of American adults, roughly 45 million people, fall within the illiteracy classification. Yet according to the Kentucky Department of Education, only 49 percent of educational organizations effectively prepare teachers for literacy instruction.Research on the Science of Reading has proven that targeted small-group instruction has the ability to accelerate learning for students who are not yet reading at grade level. Targeted small group instruction identifies individual student needs and creates small groups based on a student's greatest area of opportunity to grow in phonics, blending, or comprehension.  

Getting Started with Targeted Small Group Instruction

According to Kerry Hempenstall, author of Read About It: Scientific Evidence for Effective Teaching of Reading, 35% of students learn to read only with intensive intervention, and an additional 20-30% of students learning to read find reading a seriously difficult task requiring exemplary instruction (intense and over a long period of time). 

Small group instruction has been used to support struggling readers for decades. Recent research suggests that a skill-based approach to creating small groups can accelerate growth in literacy skills. 

Many educators have transitioned from leveled reading groups to targeted small groups that focus on supporting growth in:

  • Phonics: A small-group structure that supports students who need to be retaught a word recognition concept that they were unable to internalize during a whole group phonics lesson. 
  • Blending: A small-group structure that allows students to practice both accuracy and comprehension. 
  • Comprehension: A small-group structure for students who have 98 percent accuracy when reading a text, but often struggle to answer literal and inferential questions about the text.

Controlled Versus Non-Controlled Texts in Small Group Instruction

Teachers can use a variety of books for targeted small-group reading instruction based on the skill area of focus including:

  • Targeted phonics: controlled text (aligned to decodable)
  • Targeted comprehension: non-controlled text (at, below, or above grade-level text)
  • Blended small groups (controlled, at, below, or above grade-level text)

Controlled texts are a series of short stories that typically follow the sequence of phonics skills taught in a particular phonics program. A controlled text is only controlled if the concepts have been taught to students before the text is introduced. Controlled texts are an excellent resource for beginning and struggling readers. They are extremely effective for helping students gain confidence in reading while also building fluency.

In a non-controlled text, the sentences include phonetically irregular words and patterns that students have not yet learned. Non-controlled texts are extremely helpful in providing students with authentic literature in which they can practice the multiple-word recognition and comprehension concepts they've learned.


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