Structured Literacy is a meeting of research and classroom teaching approaches that is highly effective in teaching all students to read and spell thoughtfully (Spear-Swerling, 2018) by delineating how to teach carefully and clearly by:
1. Following a clear, carefully orchestrated sequence of literacy skills while directly teaching letters and their sounds, syllable types and morphemes, as well as vocabulary.
2. Cycling back and forth, reviewing learned skills frequently.
3. Maintaining a dialogue between teacher and students.
4. Using carefully selected examples and non-examples while teaching.
5. Having students practice what they learn by reading decodable texts.
6. Providing prompt, precise feedback to students.
Let’s now define some of the key terms used in Structured Literacy. Lessons where you will learn how to implement these ideas are referenced after each definition.
Explicit means concepts are taught clearly and directly by the teacher because students should not be expected to infer them simply from exposure or incidental learning (Archer & Hughes, 2011). The Teacher Student Dialogues in each lesson provide clear, student-friendly definitions and dialogues to teach every concept.
Systematic and sequential means that skills and concepts are taught in a logical order, with important, prerequisite skills taught first (Torgesen, 2006). The order of lessons in this book is based upon the structure and history of the English language, with Anglo-Saxon consonants and vowels taught in Section II followed by one-syllable spelling patterns in Section III. In Section IV Anglo Saxon syllable types are presented, as well as Anglo-Saxon inflectional and derivational suffixes. These lessons are followed by Latin prefixes, suffixes, and root syllables, as well as Greek combining forms.
Cumulative practice and ongoing review of previously learned skills ensure that students will retain these skills and develop automaticity. A regular check on how much students have retained over time is essential and should take place on a recurring basis. Creating a record keeping document that is filled out for each student, or group of students, so previously taught concepts can be reviewed and readily recalled is an excellent way to accomplish this. A copy of that kind of document appearing in Appendix A can be added to or rearranged based upon your literacy scope and sequence.
Each lesson should incorporate review activities, and games designed to practice three, four, or five different spelling patterns can be played. Spelling rules written on cards to be used during these games may be shuffled through randomly while students are asked to name several words that exemplify the rule on the card. Spelling quizzes afford opportunities to evaluate students’ knowledge of spelling patterns and provide feedback about their work. In each lesson, games and word lists—as well as other published resources—are provided.
A high degree of student-teacher interaction means that considerable time be spent in direct teaching (Archer & Hughes, 2011). With dialogue as the heart of each lesson, instructors are given simple, direct, relevant questions to use so students can think about words and ideas while developing hypotheses and testing out these ideas. Students must be actively involved in the learning experiences by answering questions, sorting words, explaining their thinking aloud, summarizing concepts, and self-evaluating to demonstrate their acquisition of the information taught.
Teaching that includes carefully chosen examples and non-examples emphasizes and promotes active learning. Each lesson provides specific examples and non-examples of words that illustrate the reading and spelling principle taught in that lesson.
Because the English language has “many exemplary regularities” (Perfetti, 2003), the lessons in this book guide teachers through a specific sequence in order to teach the regular patterns inherent in the consonant letter/sound relationships of single and multi-syllable patterns. Kearns and Whaley add the sage advice to “Teach the simplest, consistent patterns, and hide the rest” until the students build stamina and confidence in thinking about reading and spelling words (Kearns & Whaley, 2019).
Decodable texts are stories and articles that have a minimal number of words that have not been explicitly taught to the learner. One of the leading organizations in the United States supporting and training teachers with Structured Literacy practices is The Reading League. All of its publications are valuable resources for literacy teachers. See Appendix F for a list of decodable texts to use with students of all ages recently compiled by the Reading League.
Prompt and corrective feedback directs the teacher to use feedback that teaches students to self-correct. If a student makes a mistake in the course of their work, guiding them with corrective feedback will build their self-correction skills.
Initially, the teacher must evaluate the mistake the student makes by asking themselves why the student would give that answer; what he or she is possibly thinking; and what might be correct about the mistake that the student has made.
In the next step the teacher enters a dialogue with the student, asking her to explain her answer and her thinking process—essentially to “think aloud.” Indeed, she may actually have been thinking of something entirely different than what the teacher imagined. Giving the student specific feedback about what was correct in her answer, re-teaching the missing or misconstrued concept, and finally crafting a question with alternate answers so the student can correct her mistake provides a framework for the student to learn how to self-correct going forward. Here is an example of such an interaction:
The teacher asks Sally to spell the word cake, and she writes kake:
• The teacher postulates that Sally doesn’t remember the “c” rule.
• The teacher gives Sally information about all the right sounds in the word and that the letters are in the correct order in the word she spelled.
• The teacher then asks Sally what spelling rules she applied to this word.
• Sally might reply that because there was a “k” at the end of this word, she would use a “k” for the for beginning sound and that the vowel is a vowel plus E.
This dialogue alerts the teacher to the fact that she needs to re-teach the C rule and ask Sally how that pattern applies to this word:
• There are two ways to spell the k sound in the beginning of a word “c” and “k,” with the most frequent way to spell the k sound being with a “c” if the vowel is not “i, e, or y.”
• When asked “What are the vowels in this word?” Sally answers “a” and “e.”
• “Given those vowels, what is the most probable way to spell the k sound in the beginning of the word cake, “c” or “k”?
• The answer is “c.”
Formative assessment, which means monitoring student’s assimilation of new information, can be done in many productive ways. You can ask students to explain concepts in their own words to give examples of the concepts you are teaching or have them use a spelling rule during a game. An explanation of the reason for their choice, rather than just answering a question or filling in a blank, will tell you more about what is going on in their heads. Creating a rule book in which they can write the definition for a new rule is another useful strategy for ascertaining what the student has understood, and what they may be confusing.