State Reading Goal
A primary state goal for reading, and cornerstone of Governor McGreevey’s education reform initiative, is that "Students will read well and independently by the end of the third grade." In order to accomplish this goal, the language arts committee has placed a strong emphasis on developing performance benchmarks in grades K-12 that reflect both a state and national perspective on reading achievement. Teachers and parents can assist students in achieving these proficiencies by recognizing that learning extends beyond the classroom door to everyday experiences related to self, others, and the world.
The following set of beliefs about students, teaching, and the language arts learning process were established as the underlying framework for standards revisions. A "balanced and comprehensive approach" to instruction is essential in all language arts programs, and classrooms should provide students with:
Differentiated instructional strategies to address individual learning styles and diverse student needs;
Exposure to and experience with many literary genres through reaction, reflection, and introspection;
Instructional skills and strategies, including direct and explicit instruction; modeling of skills/strategies for students, and opportunities for students to be a teacher to others, that ready students to become competent readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and viewers;
Instruction delivered in meaningful contexts so that students preserve the learning for future use or transfer to other learning;
"Active learning" in which students are engaged in active questioning, active listening, authentic activities, and the learning process;
Explicit teaching of skills as a means of supporting mastery of standard English conventions, comprehension strategies, and communication skills;
Acquisition of reading and literacy skills in all content areas to support learning;
Development of self-help strategies that are practiced across all disciplines;
Connections to prior knowledge as a necessary component of new learning and retention;
Immersion in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing strands that leads to deeper and wider understanding;
Use of textual resources, especially those linked to current technologies, as an integral part of a language arts literacy program;
Experiences using technology as a tool for learning, especially as it applies to research and data retrieval;
Time to practice learned skills and reflect on one’s work as an important part of the learning process;
Activities encouraging problem-solving and inquiry skills as critical attributes to learning; and
Explicit and systematic instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary development.
The language arts classroom should be purposeful, stimulating to the senses, and engaging for all types of learners, including varied activities for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. Classroom organization should include some form of team and partner work and provide an environment that is responsive to students’ personal and academic goals.
Brain research clearly shows implications for student learning when there are links to the arts, like classical music, and the real world. For example, having young children recite the alphabet with a song enables the learner to remember and retain the information longer. Language arts classrooms should be alive with authentic learning opportunities that motivate and incorporate the arts.
The language arts standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 1996 and the revised standards continue to be aligned with national standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association. Achieve, Inc., reviewed New Jersey’s 1996 standards in language arts literacy and provided recommendations for improvement. They suggested that the standards provide more clarity and specificity by including benchmarking at more grade levels. In addition, New Jersey standards should reflect sufficient rigor and complexity from grade level to grade level. Achieve recommended that attention be given to the primary grades and integration of phonics instruction in the context of meaningful reading and writing tasks. Achieve’s recommendations are reflected in the revised standards.
The revised standards are also influenced by the research of the National Reading Panel (2000). There are five dimensions in early reading, plus a child’s motivation to read, that must be developed so that young students become proficient readers. A comprehensive and balanced elementary literacy program should include the following areas:
Explicit and systematic phonics;
Vocabulary development; and
The child’s motivation.
The reading standard (3.1) incorporates these literacy components throughout the grades and takes into consideration individual learning differences and student motivation. Specific to reading, speaking, and listening standards are oral language, decoding, comprehension, vocabulary development, and phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness, a child’s ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words, contributes to early, emergent reading development. Since phonemic awareness is mastered by most students prior to the third grade, these skills are included only at the K-2 grade level. With regard to phonics, even though there are different approaches to teaching phonics, research findings indicate that comprehensive phonics programs should incorporate explicit and systematic phonics instruction. Phonics programs should provide ample opportunities for children to apply what they are learning about letters and sounds to the reading of words, sentences, and stories. Effective instruction in the early grades includes providing students with a variety of literary genres, including decodable books that contain specific letter-sound words they are learning. Hence, students understand that there is a predictable relationship between sounds and letters in spoken and written language, and in the language found in their favorite books.
The expectation for reading at all grade levels is that students will read widely. It is important for all students, including students with disabilities and second language learners, to have multiple opportunities to participate in read-alouds, shared and individual reading of high quality materials. Guided repeated oral reading is an effective way of helping students improve their comprehension and fluency skills. Many studies have found that students who become fluent readers read a great deal (National Reading Panel, 2000). Good readers read and comprehend text using similar strategies. Effective strategies used by successful readers at all grade levels include:
Drawing from prior knowledge to make meaning from print;
Creating visual images in one’s mind to enhance understanding;
Monitoring one’s own reading and checking for understanding;
Asking questions to identify key points in text and remembering them;
Making conscious inferences about important information presented;
Synthesizing new information with existing understanding about a topic;
Summarizing and understanding how different parts of text are related; and
Evaluating and forming opinions about ideas presented.
In the language arts classroom, the role of writing is an integral part of reading instruction and offers a means for readers to extend and clarify their ideas. Students need many opportunities to write each day. Through writing workshops, students learn specific writing strategies and produce their own authentic writings. It is important that students at all grade levels write a range of pieces, including narrative, persuasive, informational, fiction, and poetry. In addition, there should be a seamless integration of word processing activities into a program of reading and writing instruction. Technology can be used as an effective tool for literacy tasks, and can facilitate reading comprehension and provide individualized instruction in areas like vocabulary development, phonemic awareness, and word processing.