Boosting Literacy with 5-Factor Approach

Tips for Teaching Early Literacy Skills

Early literacy skills are important to children’s overall success in learning to read, success in school and even their success in life. Literacy is more than the ability to read and write—it’s about being able to engage with text and interpret and translate the text into ideas. By 2nd grade, students with strong vocabularies may know 8,000 more words than their peers with weaker vocabularies. Research also shows that if students don’t read proficiently by 3rd grade, odds are they will not catch up to their peers; unfortunately this is the case for a significant portion of students. Right now, nearly 25% of 3rd graders in Minnesota fail to reach basic levels of literacy (that’s roughly 15,000 children each year). Closing the literacy gap is a priority across the nation.

How the PRESS Project can Help

At the University-based Minnesota Center for Reading Research (MCRR), we conduct research on reading and its instruction to help more students achieve literacy. We also support K-12 students in a variety of ways, including fostering early literacy since it’s hard for children to catch up once they have fallen behind. One of our recent projects is the Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites (or PRESS), in which MCRR is partnering with the Target Corporation to provide literacy resources to six Minnesota schools. Conceived in early 2011, it began at the end of this past August. The three-year PRESS projects aims to have all students from the six schools reading proficiently by the end of the third grade. We hope to extend the model to others schools across the nation in years to come.

The 5-Factor Approach to Reading Instruction

To achieve our goals through PRESS, we use the same approach to instruction as recommended by the National Reading Panel (NRP). Formed in 1997, the NRP concluded (in the most comprehensive evidenced-based review of research on how children learn reading) that the best approach to instruction incorporates five factors for success:

  1. Phonemic awareness: teaching children to break apart and manipulate the sounds in words
  2. Phonics: blending letters of the alphabet together to form words
  3. Fluency: defined as speed, accuracy and proper expression
  4. Vocabulary: loosely defined as “word knowledge”
  5. Comprehension: regarded as the essence of reading. It’s really our goal because it allows children to get meaning from texts.

With PRESS, quality core instruction is enhanced through a focus on individual student needs. For instance, at Pillsbury Elementary in Minneapolis (a multilingual school with students from a variety of social backgrounds) we have developed a pre-screening process to identify students at the beginning of the school year who are most at-risk for falling behind. We then support these students through individualized interventions that include weekly progress check-ins and resources for their teachers and literacy coaches.

At the heart of MCRR is research collaboration between the University of Minnesota and schools locally and nationwide. We share our knowledge, but also gain important feedback from our contacts within the schools to learn which methods are working the best and how we can improve our support. Reading instruction is truly a team effort.

Looking for a classroom resource?
Schools and teachers can download our Intervention Protocols for the five key factors. This guide includes helpful tips and recommendations such as the order to teach sounds, selecting which words to teach and the benefits of read-aloud experiences for young children.

Over the next few weeks we’ll share more info on student interventions and how teachers and parents can motivate kids to read. You can subscribe to our blog to receive the latest post directly to your inbox.

–Matt Burns and Lori Helman, Co-Directors of the Minnesota Center for Reading Research (MCRR)

Lori Helman

About the Author

Lori Helman, Ph.D.

  • MCRR Co-Director
  • College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • University of Minnesota
  • Associate professor of literacy education
Matthew Burns

About the Author

Matthew Burns, Ph.D.

  • MCRR Co-Director
  • College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
  • Educational Psychology
  • University of Minnesota
  • Professor of educational psychology

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College of Education and Human Development

104 Burton Hall, 178 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN, 55455

P: 612-626-9252

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