Most reading problems can be prevented by providing effective instruction and intervention in preschool and primary school. Basically, reading experts agree that for pupils to learn to read well, effective reading classroom instruction should address the domains of phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
Effective educators teach reading skills, strategies and concepts to improve students’ reading capabilities. Skills are things students learn to do, strategies are routines or plans of action that can be used to accomplish a goal, and concepts are ideas that learners and teachers must have at the back of their minds as they push a reading agenda. They comprise of background knowledge related to reading and the topics they are reading about.
Even with an effective early grade reading intervention, reading difficulties will continue to linger in the upper grades and even in high school. This means that in higher grades, there will continue to be students in the later grades who will require intervention to support their reading development. For schools, this therefore calls for a system of screening to identify struggling readers to continue beyond the early grades through high school. Historically and in general practice, once students move into the higher grades, they graduate from learning to read to reading to learn.
One of the challenges facing English reading instruction in Kenya is the multilingual characteristics of the learners. This means as pupils learn to read, they are also learning to speak the language. Therefore, meeting the needs of diverse readers at different levels of language competence is a huge task. Further, there is no homogenous reading competence class. Learners are mostly at different reading competence levels all of the time. Teachers I have interacted with confess, that in a single classroom, you may find fluent readers whom they share classroom model reading with; emerging readers who are typically developing readers; and virtually non-readers who struggle to read material at their level, or even at lower grades. Teachers will solve this problem by providing differentiated instruction. This means that teachers will carry out diagnostic assessments to identify students’ strengths and needs and therefore providing instruction to target those needs. This means teachers must implement reading instruction in small groups and whole class formats.
For an effective reading intervention strategy, teachers must provide explicit and systematic instruction with lots of practice. Students with learning difficulties benefit from explicit instruction in decoding skills and strategies, fluency through model reading by the teacher of peer student, learning new vocabulary and coaching in comprehension strategies.
Teaching reading involves lots of demonstrations in terms of modelling, giving students opportunities to practice the skills with teacher’s feedback and support, then providing the students with opportunities for independent practice for perfection. These provide systematic instruction, that is clearly sequenced, leaving no gaps in the students’ learning.
By: Rabasa Onyango, iMlango Literacy Advisor and Stephen Kiprono, iMlango Regional Coordinator for Uasin Gishu