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Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop

Word Study and Fluency Examine the Topic | Word Study and Fluency

Consider Other Points of View

In this section, you will expand your understanding of word study by comparing the ideas from the workshop video with passages from various publications. Read and respond to the ideas presented as they relate to your own teaching practices.



Phonics skills are an essential component of early literacy instruction. The controversies surrounding phonics instruction are not whether we should teach phonics but how to teach phonics. Read the following quote from Dr. Paratore and part of the International Reading Association’s position statement on phonics.

For me it’s…a given that teachers need to have a shared scope and sequence of some sort. I want some sense that there is, indeed, a shared curriculum… Now, having said that, there are differences in children. It doesn’t mean that I offer the same lesson to every child. But it does mean that I have some way of knowing who needs what and I offer that.

Jeanne R. Paratore, Boston University

Teaching phonics, like all teaching, involves making decisions about what is best for children. Rather than engage in debates about whether phonics should or should not be taught, effective teachers of reading and writing ask when, how, how much, and under what circumstances phonics should be taught. Programs that constrain teachers from using their professional judgment in making instructional decisions about what is best in phonics instruction for students simply get in the way of good teaching practices… When phonics instruction is linked to children’s reading and writing, they are more likely to become strategic and independent in their use of phonics than when phonics instruction is drilled and practiced in isolation.

The Role of Phonics in Reading Instruction: A Position Statement of the International Reading Association (1998)

How do the above quote and passage reflect the role of the teacher, student, text, and word study curriculum in phonics instruction? Now, think about these same factors when reading the next passage from Put Reading First. Does a prescribed scope and sequence change these roles? How?

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction makes a bigger contribution to children’s growth in reading than instruction that provides non-systematic or no phonics instruction. How do systematic programs of phonics instruction differ from non-systematic programs? The hallmark of programs of systematic phonics instruction is the direct teaching of a set of letter-sound relationships in a clearly defined sequence. The set includes the major sound-symbol relationships of both consonants and vowels… The programs also provide materials that give children substantial practice in applying knowledge of these relationships as they read and write. These materials include books or stories that contain a large number of words that children can decode by using the letter-sound relationships they have learned and are learning.

Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA). Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children To Read, 13. Jessup, Md.: National Institute for Literacy at ED Pubs, 2001.

Think about Dr. Paratore’s statement and the passages from publications on planning and implementing phonics instruction. Consider these questions:

  • What are the common ideas expressed in Dr. Paratore’s statement and the two reading selections from the written publications?
  • How do the ideas presented in each differ?
  • How do the classroom excerpts reflect these statements?
  • What do you think? Which statement most closely reflects your understanding and/or teaching of phonics?

Assignment: Submit your written responses.


Fluency is an important factor in learning to read. Students practice what they have learned in different literacy activities to become more fluent readers. Read the following passages on fluency instruction. Compare and contrast the ideas presented.

One way to develop automatic decoding skills is to spend a lot of time reading. There is ample evidence that one of the major differences between poor and good readers is the difference in the quantity of total time they have spent reading…Clearly, the research literature strongly suggests that the total amount of reading done in the beginning stages has a powerful effect on the development of reading skills. …Increasing the amount of reading students do is important, because as words are encountered repeatedly, there are a number of beneficial outcomes, such as improvements in word recognition, speed, ease of reading, and comprehension.

Samuels, S. J. “Reading Fluency: Its Development and Assessment.” In Farstrup, A. E., and S. J. Samuels, eds. What Research Has To Say About Reading Instruction, 172-174. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, 2002.

What are the activities that support reading fluency in learning to read? Is independent reading time enough? Read the next passage and think about factors that promote reading fluency in beginning readers.

Reading fluency growth is greatest when students are working directly with you. Therefore, you should use most of your allocated reading instruction time for direct teaching of reading skills and strategies. Although silent, independent reading may be a way to increase fluency and reading achievement, it should not be used in place of direct instruction in reading. Direct instruction is especially important for readers who are struggling. Readers who have not yet attained fluency are not likely to make effective and efficient use of silent, independent reading time. For these students, independent reading takes time away from needed reading instruction.

Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA). Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children To Read, 29. Jessup, Md.: National Institute for Literacy at ED Pubs, 2001.

Consider these questions:

  • What is the major idea of each reading selection?
  • How do these ideas differ? How are they the same?
  • What do you think? Which statement most closely reflects your understanding of fluency development? Why?
  • What classroom practices do you implement to develop reading fluency? How do they relate to the research?

Assignment: Submit your written responses.

Analyze Your Teaching

In this section, you will analyze your own teaching practices and share your knowledge with teachers of other grade levels.

Review what you have learned about emergent literacy, phonics, and fluency in Dr. Paratore’s lecture and in your readings. Spend five to ten minutes writing about a word study lesson you have taught. Consider these questions as you analyze this lesson:

  • What skill or strategy was the focus of the lesson?
  • What texts/materials were used?
  • How did you develop oral language and print knowledge in the lesson?
  • How did you address individual student needs? How did students practice the skill following the lesson?
  • How did instruction reflect the research principles presented in the lecture?

Share your analysis with teachers of other grade levels. This will allow you to examine the developmental nature and logical continuum of word study instruction in grades K-2. Then consider these questions:

  • How did the lessons advance students’ learning of letters, sounds, and words?
  • How were the lessons appropriate to the age/grade level of the students?
  • How did the lessons differ based on the age/grade level of the students?
  • What skills or knowledge did students need before engaging in this lesson?

Assignment: Submit your Word Study lesson.

View Debate

In this section, you will watch the workshop participants debate over explicit instruction. The questions that follow will help frame your own response of the issue.

The workshop participants analyzed a word study lesson, and responded to it, based on their own teaching experiences and the principles from the research. In the ensuing discussion, the controversies surrounding phonics instruction emerge, especially with respect to planned, explicit instruction versus “opportunistic” instruction. Use the video image below to locate where to begin viewing.

Video Segment – Workshop Participants’ Debate

Find this segment approximately 45 minutes and 50 seconds after the beginning of the video. Watch for about 11 1/2 minutes.

In response to the formal lesson plan, second-grade teacher, Meynardo Gutierrez initiates this discussion by stating, “Actually, the beauty of Language Experience… is that you don’t have to set up anything particular for them to learn at a particular time. You just do it, right then and there.”

Dr. Paratore replies, “An opportunistic approach to phonics instruction privileges some children and leaves others behind. And the ones it leaves behind are the ones who depend on teachers to learn.”

  • What do you think? With whom do you agree?
  • Should phonics instruction be planned or should it occur as needed when children are reading?
  • In what situations would you agree with Meynardo?
  • In what situations would you agree with Dr. Paratore?
  • What do you conclude based on this discussion?

Series Directory

Teaching Reading: K-2 Workshop


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2003.
  • ISBN: 1-57680-681-2