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Teaching Reading K-2: A Library of Classroom Practices

Promoting Readers As Leaders

In Valerie Kostandos's first-grade classroom, students are readers, writers, and leaders who manage their daily routines.

Valerie Kostandos’s First-Grade Class

“What I would like my students to get by the end of this year is to become independent readers and writers — to want to take risks and to reflect on their own work. To know what they need and what they’re really good at, and how to be with others.”
Valerie Kostandos

Video Summary

In Valerie Kostandos’s first-grade classroom, students are readers, writers, and leaders who manage their daily routines. Whether taking attendance or lunch count, or helping another student reflect on a book, Ms. Kostandos’s students are encouraged to become independent learners. Ms. Kostandos’s varied instruction — at the whole-group, small-group, and individual level — supports both academic and social development. Throughout the day, Ms. Kostandos helps students think clearly about the purpose for each activity.

Ms. Kostandos’s literacy lessons demonstrate the following:

  • Confidence in students’ ability to assume responsibility and monitor their learning
  • Routines and management practices that help students develop leadership skills
  • A collaborative learning environment
  • Explicit and purposeful teaching and learning
  • Ongoing assessment to guide instruction
  • Student self-assessment and metacognitive awareness

Literacy Teaching Practices
See section in Lens on Literacy

  • Shared Reading
  • Guided Reading

“I think it is important that all kids get in that role of being the leaders. If we give them a challenge, they rise to it. They feel so empowered… and that carries over when they write and when they read. They have the sense that they can do it…. What is hard is trying to stay back and not jump in.”
Valerie Kostandos

The Teacher and the Class

For Valerie Kostandos, a first-grade teacher at the Decius Beebe School in Melrose, Massachusetts, a good teacher knows when to teach and when not to teach. In her student-centered classroom, stepping back and allowing her students to lead the class — and their own learning — is essential to fostering independence, self-awareness, and good reading and writing skills.

Ms. Kostandos believes that the goals and expectations of classroom activities and lessons should be made clear to students. “I think it’s important that kids have a purpose to what they’re learning — a reason why they’re learning it. We talk about that a lot: ‘why are we spending time on this?'” Explicit teaching, according to Ms. Kostandos, helps students to reflect on their own learning process, and to develop good judgment about when they can work on their own and when they need help.

Trained as a reading specialist, Ms. Kostandos says she tries to keep up with the latest techniques in teaching literacy. “It’s important as a teacher to pick and choose what feels really right — because there is so much out there.” She draws on the work of Irene Gaskins and Patricia Cunningham for her explicit phonics instruction and Marie Clay for her assessment of students. She is also influenced by First Steps, the literacy program adopted by her district, which stresses a release of responsibility to students. She is the school’s First Steps tutor.

Before Viewing

The following activities prepare you to observe this classroom video, whether alone or with a group. Taking notes on the Observational Checklist while you watch will help you focus on important aspects of teaching and learning in the classroom. You may also use the KWL chart to record your thoughts before and after watching the video.


1. Prepare To Record Your Observations

Print out copies of the Observational Checklist (PDF) and Key Questions (PDF) to record your observations, reactions, and further questions throughout your viewing.


2. Review Important Terms

Review the definitions of the Literacy Teaching Practices (see section in Lens on Literacy):

  • Read-aloud
  • Shared reading
  • Guided reading
  • Independent reading
  • Interactive writing
  • Independent writing

Review the definitions of the Essential Components of Literacy Development:

  • Oral language
  • Phonological awareness
  • Word study
  • Vocabulary/Concepts
  • Word identification/Phonics
  • Comprehension
  • Composition
  • Fluency/Automaticity

3. Create a Know-Wonder-Learned Chart

Print out a copy of the KWL Chart (PDF) to record what you already know and what you would like to learn about teaching reading and writing in kindergarten. Groups can use the KWL chart to generate discussion and questions to consider while viewing.

First Impressions

1.  Watch the Video

On your first viewing, use the Observational Checklist to note how Charmon Evans implements the Essential Components of Literacy Development, particularly word study. Note her attention to building whole-word identification skills and phonics knowledge.


2. Review What You Saw

After watching the video, review the Observational Checklist and reflect on what you saw. How do the practices you just watched compare to your own? Think about your classroom and the needs of your students. How are they different from or similar to what you saw in the video?

As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.


Relate the Key Question to Sheila Owen’s Classroom

How are reading and writing connected in this classroom?

Why does Ms. Evans choose more advanced literature than the students read on their own during her read-aloud with the entire class? What do you think about the range of responses to the writing assignment about predicting the events of the book? What is gained by connecting reading and writing in a first-grade classroom in this way?

How does the classroom environment encourage students to gain independence as readers and writers?

Ms. Evans says that she wants all of her students to feel a sense of independence and to take responsibility for their own learning. How does Ms. Evans use the tub activities to build on previous learning and encourage students’ choice and independence as readers and writers?

Elements of Classroom Environment
See section in Lens on Literacy

  • Physical Space
  • Materials and Tools
  • Techniques and Management
  • Tone and Atmosphere

Looking Closer

Take a second look at Ms. Kostandos’s classroom to deepen your understanding of specific literacy strategies. Use the video images below to locate where to begin viewing.

1. Shared Reading: Video Segment

Find this segment 4 minutes after the beginning of the video. Watch for 6 minutes and 42 seconds.

In this shared reading activity, Ms. Kostandos introduces a story from the Basal Reading anthology, prompting students to recall another story by the same author. Following this text-to-text connection, she leads the class through a series of steps — a focused picture walk, making predictions, discussing how illustrations convey mood — to prepare them for reading independently or in a small group with her.

  • How does Ms. Kostandos guide her students to interact with the text and with each other?
  • Note how Ms. Kostandos combines explicit modeling, guided practice, questioning, and scaffolding as students get ready to read. How does she encourage them to be responsible for determining how they will read the text?
  • Ms. Kostandos demonstrates how shared reading — often thought to be a practice directed to the whole class — can also be used with a small group. How does she use small-group shared reading to reinforce lessons introduced earlier to the whole group? How does she re-integrate the two groups and help individual students demonstrate their learning and teach each other?


2. Guided Reading: Video Segment

Find this segment 19 minutes and 3 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for 4 minutes and 7 seconds.

In this video segment, Ms. Kostandos conducts two guided-reading groups at different levels. The first group reads The Carrot Seed, a book carefully selected because of the students’ work in science. After listening to a brief introduction, the second guided-reading group begins reading another book in quiet voices, clearly familiar with the routine, as Ms. Kostandos listens to individual students, occasionally providing a strategic prompt.

  • As you watch these two guided-reading lessons, use your Observational Checklist (PDF) to note how Ms. Kostandos addresses different Essential Components of Literacy. What kinds of questions and prompts does she use to elicit students’ comprehension and to build their vocabulary and awareness of their own reading strategies? How does she assess each student’s reading process using a partial running record?


3. Read-Aloud: Video Segments

Find the first segment 23 minutes and 21 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for 1 minute. Find the second segment 54 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for 1 minute and 28 seconds.

In these video segments, students are responsible for running their classroom, managing their learning, and reflecting on their behavior.

  • What do you notice about Ms. Kostandos’s language, her instruction, and the organization of classroom routines that encourage self-directed behavior?

Summing Up

Review your Observational Checklist and other notes such as your KWL chart.

  • What surprised or interested you?
  • What did you find that affirmed what you already knew or had been doing?
  • What new approaches or ideas will you try?
  • What questions do you have?
  • After watching the video, do you think differently about your own practices? About the students you teach? About how young students develop literacy?

As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

Making Connections

Here are some opportunities to apply and extend what you’ve seen.

1. Read This Article

Compare this article on assessment with what you observed in Ms. Kostandos’s classroom:

Noticing and Responding to Learners (PDF)
West, K. “Noticing and Responding to Learners: Literacy Evaluation and Instruction in the Primary Grades.” The Reading Teacher 51, no. 7 (April 1998): 550-559.

Copyright © 1998 by the International Reading Association. All rights reserved.

2.Watch These Videos

View the other first-grade videos in the Teaching Reading library, “Students Making Choices,” “Assessment-Driven Instruction,” and “Connecting Skills to Text,” to see a variety of approaches to guided reading.

View “Students Making Choices” and “Assessment-Driven Instruction” to compare the ways in which other first-grade teachers conduct shared reading. Make a list of steps and techniques for shared reading used in the different classrooms.

For more information, see Students Making ChoicesAssessment-Driven Instruction and Connecting Skills to Text

3. Take It Back to the Classroom

Identify one element or strategy from Ms. Kostandos’s lesson that you would like to try in your classroom. List supports or resources that you would need to implement it. Use the Classroom Strategy Planner (PDF). If you are participating in a study group, share what happened when you tried out the new strategy. Or keep a reflective journal of your experience, focusing on the benefits for you and your students.

Selected Resources

Resources Used By Ms. Kostandos

Allington, Richard. What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs. Boston, Mass.: Allyn & Bacon Publisher, 2000.

Atwell, Nancie. In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning. Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1998.

Clay, M. An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1993.

Cunningham, P., and D. Hall. Making Words. Torrance, Calif.: Good Apple Publishers, 1994.

Fletcher, Ralph. What a Writer Needs. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1993.

Gaskins, I. W., et al. “Procedures for Word Learning: Making Discoveries About Words.” The Reading Teacher 50 (1996): 312-327.

Holdaway, Don. Stability and Change in Literacy Learning. London, Ontario: Althouse Press, 1983.

Pinnell, G. S., I. C. Fountas, and M. E. Giacobbe. Word Matters: Teaching Phonics and Spelling in the Reading/ Writing Classroom. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1998.

Curwin, Richard L., and Allen N. Mendler. Discipline with Dignity. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, September 1999.

Smith, Frank. Reading Without Nonsense. New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press, 1997.

Krauss, Ruth. The Carrot Seed. New York, N.Y.: Harperfestival, 1993.

Kafka, Sherry. I Need A Friend. New York, N.Y.: Putnam Publishing Group Library, 1971.

Mueller, Virginia. A Halloween Mask for Monster. New York, N.Y.: Viking Press (Penguin Putnam Inc.), 1988.

Mueller, Virginia. Monster Can’t Sleep. New York, N.Y.: Viking Press (Penguin Putnam Inc.), 1988.

Mueller, Virginia. A Playhouse for Monster. Morton Grove, Ill.: Albert Whitman & Co., 1985.

Mueller, Virginia. Monster and the Baby. Morton Grove, Ill.: Albert Whitman & Co., 1985.

Shaw, Nancy. Sheep Out to Eat. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995.

Shaw, Nancy. Sheep in a Jeep. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.


Additional Resources

Books and Articles:

Avery, C. …And with a Light Touch: Learning About Reading, Writing and Teaching with First Graders. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1993.

Dahl, K. L., et al. Rethinking Phonics: Making the Best Teaching Decisions. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2001.

Dahl, K. L., and P. L. Scharer. “Phonics Teaching and Learning in Whole Language Classrooms: New Evidence from Research.” The Reading Teacher 53, no. 7 (2000).

Gaskins, I.W., et al. “Procedures for Word Learning: Making Discoveries About Words.” The Reading Teacher 50, no. 4 (1997).

Morrow, L.M., et al. “Characteristics of Exemplary First-Grade Literacy Instruction.” The Reading Teacher 52, no. 5 (1999).

Moustafa, M., and E. Maldonado-Colon. “Whole-to-Parts Phonics Instruction: Building on What Children Know to Help Them Know More.” The Reading Teacher52, no.5 (1999).

Price, D. P. “Explicit Instruction at the Point of Use.” Language Arts76, no. 1 (1998).


Web Sites:

International Reading Association

National Council of Teachers of English

National Association of Education of Young Children

Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Ability (CIERA)