Six Skills

To read well, students only need to learn six skills. They are

  • Oral Language,
  • Phonemic Awareness,
  • Phonics,
  • Fluency,
  • Vocabulary, and
  • Comprehension.

Each of these skills has several components, and they get more challenging as students get older. But, really, that is all they need to learn. I will walk you through each skill, help you understand what it is and what it looks like in practice, and then I will show you how to help children learn them.

If you create the right environment for learning, if you provide weekly instruction in these skills, if you use proven strategies to help students learn them, and if you address students’ interests and reading levels, you will help your students make huge gains in their reading ability.

What We Did

During the last three years, my colleagues and I at the Three Rivers Education Foundation put this theory to the test. We ran a reading intervention program that served more than 17,000 students in grades Kindergarten through 12th grade. Using a small-group format, our reading tutors provided up to 32 hours of instruction over one school semester, about 16 weeks. They conducted two sessions per week, each roughly 45 minutes to 1-1/2 hours long. All students took a pretest and posttest that determined their reading grade level.

Basically, we ran a program that used the conclusions of the National Reading Panel. The panel members looked at the research, and we put their findings into practice. Then we studied our results. And what did we learn from our results?

Our Results

First, students made gains that far, far exceeded their prior growth. We looked at how much growth students were making before they began our program. It was pretty low, especially compared to the progress they made when we served them. Following the approach in this book, students made about four times the growth than before we served them.

Second, students who received weekly instruction in all six skills did better than students who did not. Same number of instructional hours. Same session lengths. Same types of instructional activities. Very different results.

1.53 grade-level increase: students who received instruction in all six skills every week

0.68 grade-level increase: students who did not receive instruction in all six skills every week

Actually, most teachers would be pretty happy if their students made 0.68 grade-level increases in one semester, which is more than a 1/2-year growth in less than 1/2 year. But what if those students could make more than twice the growth in the same time? Even better!

The results for grades Kindergarten through 5th grade looked like this:

All of the tutors provided instruction in all six skills (some every week and some not), and they all used instructional strategies you will find in this book. That’s why even the “non-compliant” tutors got better than expected results.

You Can Do It, Too!

Were the tutors top teachers? No. Most were classroom teachers, many were teachers’ aids (education assistants), and the smallest percentage was reading specialists. I am sure some of the teachers were great teachers, and I am equally sure that some were average performers.

Were the students the top students? No. They were in the program for a reason. Overall, about 2% or 3% were on grade level at the beginning, but the rest were behind the grade-level expectations. On average, students began about 2 grade levels behind. Younger students not as much, and older students much, much more.

So how did we manage to get those amazing results? And how can you help students make similar huge gains in reading? That is what this book will teach you.