Reading Stages: What's the focus?

Do you know what to focus on with the readers in your classroom? Reading develops in stages, and there are certain reading behaviors look for. Check out this post to learn what they are.

Imagine this scenario. A new student enters your classroom on day ten of a new school year. You have finished all of your beginning of the year assessments (naturally),  and you have to put your reader into a group. You will repeat the assessments with your student when you have time, but you need to make a quick decision. How do you determine the placement? Think about this key question...

As a reading specialist, the most important part of my job is to be a kid watcher. By that, I mean that you need to observe to see what your student knows and consistently demonstrates, what he/she is confusing, and what he/she is lacking. For instruction, we teach what the student is confusing. 

Reading develops in stages for all students, and if we target the focus skills of each stage, we move our students steadily along the continuum. It is the goal of kid watching to pinpoint the student's reading stage. 

Emergent Readers
Reading Behaviors:
Readers at this stage are learning letters and sounds. They are developing a concept of word (the ability to match spoken words to the print on the page). Their writing will be random letters or squiggles and gradually transition to beginning sounds and then to beginning and some ending sounds. They do have a sense of book reading (top to bottom, left to right). They will “read” the pictures initially.The typical age for this stage is prekindergarten-kindergarten 
(F&P A-C).
The Focus:
At this stage, we target letter and sound recognition, simple sightwords, writing, and reading to the child. Model how to match print to the words you say with short chants, 4 line poems, and big books with single sentences per page and controlled vocabulary. Have the child read words he/she may know as you read. Practice rhyming with short vowel words and work toward identifying beginning sounds followed by ending sounds and short vowels. With emergent readers, we practice counting sounds (or phonemes) in short words like c/a/t or d/o/g. Later, when your child has an understanding of letter names and sounds, this will help him/her with spelling. Another great activity to do with emergent readers is “read” patterned books such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Repeated practice builds confidence and memory of the words.

Beginning Readers
Reading Behaviors:
Readers at this stage know letter names and sounds and have a concept of word. They are writing with beginning and perhaps some ending sounds at the beginning, but will transition to sentence writing. They know some sightwords. As they move through this stage, they begin to read in phrases and observe punctuation. Beginning readers are at the letter name spelling stage. They learn beginning/ending sounds, followed by short vowels, digraphs and beginning blends, and end with ending blends or nasal sounds. The typical age for this stage is kindergarten to first grade
(F&P D-G).
The Focus
For readers at this stage, developing an understanding of phonics rules and sounds and fluency are the focus. Beginning readers need lots of practice making, comparing, and sorting words. As mentioned earlier, beginning readers learn to spell short vowel words with beginning and ending consonants first, then with consonant digraphs (th, sh, ch) and blends, and finally move to words with ending blends. Sightword work is really important too because this helps the children build automaticity. At first, use simple books with controlled vocabulary (a few sightwords and short vowel words only) and short poems. Gradually, as more sightwords are learned and decoding skills develop, move to longer books such as the Biscuit or Puppy Mudge series.

Transitional Readers
Reading Behaviors:
Readers at this stage are gaining fluency, but they are not completely fluent yet. They know 100 sightwords and are spelling words with short vowels, blends, and digraphs. They have not mastered long vowel patterns yet in their spelling, but they are learning them. These students are beginning to read some silently and pointing is no longer desired as it slows the reader down. However, these readers do go back to pointing when text becomes challenging. They are moving into beginning chapter books at this level and rely less on pictures. 
The typical age for this stage is first to third grade (F&P H-M).
The Focus:
At this stage, the focus is heavily on building fluency and decoding strategies.  The student is recognizing more words automatically, has expression, and the rate is building. Strategies to build fluency include repeated reading of familiar text, reading of independent level material (one grade below instructional level…not grade level necessarily), reading of poetry and reader’s theatre, and word study at the child’s spelling level (Within Word Stage-long vowel patterns, r controlled words, and ambiguous vowels. Children at this level still benefit by having an adult read to them. Another way to work on fluency is to record the child’s reading with your phone or ipod. Play it back and rerecord to see how it improved. 

Instructional Readers
Reading Behaviors:
These readers are fluent and read silently most of the time. They prefer silent reading to oral reading because oral reading slows them down. The focus for these readers is on comprehension, vocabulary development, and writing. They have specific likes and dislikes in what they read for pleasure, and they love to talk about what they’ve read. They are spelling multi-syllabic words and use a combination of context and phonetic clues for decoding unfamiliar words. Writing at this stage is becoming more elaborate and contains multiple paragraphs that stick to a central idea. The typical age for this stage is third grade and up (F&P N-Z)
The Focus:
Because the goal of reading at this stage is on meaning, it’s important for the reader to be actively engaged in what he/she is reading. Using sticky notes or underlining important points is highly recommended. In school, we use graphic organizers, highlighting, note-taking, and writing in response to reading to build comprehension. Discussion is extremely important at this stage, and we dig for deeper understanding with writing. 
Now What?
Remember that student? Well, he's spelling words with long and short vowel patterns, but is confusing ambiguous vowels. His favorite books are Henry and Mudge and the Mercy Watson series, and he's able to construct a paragraph with five to six sentences about dogs that contains varied sentences. Where would you call his level? Where do you begin? The answer...Late Transitional Reader. Try the child at level L or M and adjust based on fluency and accuracy rates. 

For a cheat sheet to keep you focused during guided reading, click HERE, and remember, your initial starting point will change as more assessments are used to guide instruction. 
Pin for Later:
Do you know what to focus on with new readers in your classroom? Reading develops in stages, and there are certain reading behaviors we can look for. Check out this post to learn the signs for each stage.

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