5 Principles of Reading Instruction

The overarching principle of reading instruction (actually, all instruction) is to meet the students where they are. What this means is to tailor the learning experience to the individual child, to recognize how students differ, and to modify the instruction according to what will work for each student. Each student is unique. Here are a few ways that students differ:

  • ability in the various reading components,
  • interests and hobbies,
  • prior experiences (both in school and out of school),
  • expectations of self and teachers,
  • relationships with others, and
  • attitudes about reading and learning.

When instruction matches students’ unique characteristics, students learn at a high rate. When it does not, however, it does not promote nearly the achievement gains that students are capable of. This is the number one reason I do not promote any type of “canned” or pre-programmed reading program. Simply, designers of these programs cannot predict what activities, reading selections, or expectations will work with any particular student.

To teach reading, you have to design instructional opportunities that work for specific students, not the perfectly average child. The instruction has to meet students where they are.

This has implications for how we teach reading. With our reading programs, I have always espoused five principles:

  1. Students can only learn the next step;
  2. Students need a reason to learn;
  3. Assessment and instruction are inseparable;
  4. Learning together is better than learning alone; and
  5. The approach to instruction is more important than the instructional program.

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