Outstanding Teachers

Probably the single most important factor in a child’s initial reading instruction is his or her teacher. No books, no curriculum, no computer can replace the enormous value of good human-to-human teaching.

What are the characteristics of excellent teaching?

One recent observational and survey study examined the literacy instruction of 123 primary teachers who were described as “outstanding” by their schools.

One thing these teachers had in common was an effective and deliberate plan to offer instruction that meets the diverse needs of their students. In their classrooms, they made it a point to

  • create a literate environment in which the children have access to a variety of reading and writing materials;

  • present intentional instruction for reading and writing, using trade books and other literature and providing practice using games and activities separate from connected text;

  • carefully choose instructional-level text from a variety of materials, with a reliance on literature, big books, and linking reading and writing activities;

  • create multiple opportunities for sustained reading practice in a variety of formats, such as choral, individual, and partner reading;

  • adjust the intensity of instruction to meet the needs of individual students;

  • encourage children to consciously monitor their understanding; and

  • competently manage activities, behavior, and classroom resources.

In reciprocal teaching, teachers give children practice in four strategies: predicting, questioning, summarizing, and clarifying. Children and adults take turns leading discussions about the text. The goal is not only to practice the strategies, but ultimately to come to conclusions about the meaning of the passage read. In the reciprocal teaching model, the text has content that can spur discussions. It is also centered on themes that, over time, build children’s knowledge of a topic. When they are first learning these techniques, teachers give a lot of guidance.

Reciprocal teaching has been studied mainly for its effects on high-risk children—with positive results. First and second grade students have shown significant improvement in listening comprehension, as well as fewer referrals to special education and remedial programs. In addition, teachers reported that children who previously appeared to have a disability functioned quite well during the reciprocal teaching sessions.

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