This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
How to Level Up Phonics Instruction for Older Students
There are literally thousands of resources for teaching primary students foundational reading skills. I love that they are getting more and more based in scientific research each day. But what about the students who have been taught basic phonemic awareness and basic phonics, but still struggle? According to Nancy Young’s The Ladder of Reading, 5% of kids learn to read effortlessly and 35% of kids learn to read relatively easily. But, 40-50 % of students require code-based, systematic, explicit instruction. And, 10-15% require explicit code-based instruction with many repetitions.
Let’s talk about the students who require intense phonics instruction into their intermediate years. What does phonics instruction look like beyond second grade and single syllable words? How do you bridge decoding (reading) with encoding (spelling)? How do you connect phonics to REAL reading? And, most importantly, how do you remediate and keep progressing with the kids who need advanced phonics instruction?
Last year we wrote a series called BIG Kids Need Phonics Too! You can read about the 7 basic steps to teaching older kids the phonics.
This post will be a deeper dive into what a week of advanced phonics and reading remediation looks like in intermediate grades.
After analyzing Middle-of-the-Year data, these are the trends that were seen with our 4th and 5th grade students currently receiving reading intervention:
- With explicit, direct instruction, advanced phonemic awareness growth was high! (PAST)
- Students’ accuracy was increasing on our standardized, diagnostic assessment! (Dibles)
- Students’ overall comprehension scores were going up! (MAZE and Renaissance STAR)
The Opportunities for Improvement:
- Miscue analysis showed that many errors were made with 3+ syllable words.
- Complex sentence structure on more advanced passages were impeding fluency. Students were not tuning into advanced punctuation and phrasing.
- Students were struggling with words that had more advanced morphological elements.
After meeting with classroom teachers, the following objectives were created for 3rd quarter.
- Focus on direct instruction of syllable division with 3+ syllable words while continuing our phonetic scope and sequence
- Teach advanced sentence structures to aid fluency and comprehension
- Provide remedial and intense morphology to ensure students know grade level (and below) prefixes, roots, and suffixes
Our work was cut out for us!
I have always said that there is power in the transparent. Show kids exactly where they are, set goals for where they need to be, and then, explain the exact steps they will need to take to get there. So, after winter break, I showed kids their own data. Privately, and in an empowering way, I told them about their reading strengths. I showed them how far they had come, and I showed them what was still making reading feel laborious. This single strategy has proven over and over again, the most powerful.
Kids will WORK for you if they trust you and understand what work needs to take place for their success. So, we got to work.
Week 1 Objectives:
- Comprehend content-related novel at group’s instructional reading level. (Treasure Island for 4th and Escape by Night for 5th)
- Continue using our Phonics Program and follow our scope and sequence by decoding and encoding unpredictable vowel team, ea. Focus on 3+ syllable /ea/ words. (I reviewed syllable division and the schwa which is often found in multisyllabic words. I also previewed the chapters to find 3+ syllable words in the novel that I could pre-teach.)
- Begin fluently reading sentences with varied sentence structure. Week 1: transitional words in the beginning of a sentence.
This is what our weekly lessons entailed:
Monday warm-up activity. The first section are all three syllable words with the ea vowel team.
The second section includes three syllable words that will be seen in this chapter of the novel.
I then introduced transitional words and phrases and modeled how to read this sentence structure. I taught that the comma indicates the natural pause we use when we speak. As we read the chapter, I pointed out other sentences in the text that had transitional phrases in the beginning.
Tuesday, we discussed the prefixes: un, over and the suffixes -ing, -able, and -ly. All of these should have been review and not new learning, but explicit instruction was given. We read the word lists again and found two words that had a prefix, base, and suffix to complete the graphic organizer. I also had several sentences from the text that had transitional phrases for us to read together and discuss. I modeled ways to read each sentence with prosody, phrasing, and expression. Find out more about morphology instruction here.
Wednesday, I had students get in pairs and scan one page of the days chapter and search for words that had the ea vowel team, prefixes/suffixes, and interesting or tricky 3+syllable words. Students spent about 5 minutes sharing out, and I collected these words on the board. We read this list chorally before beginning the chapter.
Thursday, students completely a word matrix for warm-up. They practiced writing their own sentences with transitional openers tuning in to punctuation.
Friday, I had students read aloud, and I used their reading as an informal, formative assessment to see if students were accurately decoding 3+ syllable words and fluently reading transitional phrases. (Students are never required to read aloud in front of their peers. By this point in the year, most will volunteer because we are a small, safe group with established relationships. Students can always pass on independent, oral reading say, “pick it up all.” Then, we choral read and I read with the child independently at another time.)
The 6 week intervention cycle was completed following the same routine. You can see each week’s objectives below.
Some additional thoughts:
Teaching all 5 components of reading is the most powerful and effective if based in REAL, authentic content. Notice that I didn’t have a ton of grammar or morphology worksheets. I have connected my phonics pattern to our novel. Students will still do additional phonics word work, read a connected fluency passage, and continue our multisensory practice and review routine, but everything bridges decoding, encoding, and content. You can get a free sample of our weekly phonics units in Reading Rev’s Free Resource Library.
I also didn’t abandon vocabulary and comprehension! I am using reciprocal teaching to constantly bring attention to the fab four comprehension skills: prediction, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing. We are using clunk strategies to identifying the meaning of unknown words in context.
This was an ambitious 6 weeks! We continually reviewed the previously taught concepts.
Teaching does not happen in a vacuum. In these 6 weeks, we had: 2 snow days, 2 holidays, 3 days of subs due to teacher illness, and numerous student absences. It’s real life, but even with all of that, most of our students great progress.
Structured, systematic teaching can reap tremendous benefits to older kids too! It does not have to feel primary and babyish. It can be rigorous and purposeful while meeting the needs of your striving readers!