CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 11. . . .November 12, 2010
The 3 Habits of Highly Successful Reading Teachers: A Quick and Easy Approach to Helping All Students Succeed.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2009.
93 pp., pbk., $24.95.
Review by Betty Klassen.
Learning to read is the first major academic event a student will encounter at school. Not only is reading an essential skill, the experience of learning to read has an enormous impact on future performance and confidence. When the experience is unsuccessful, students are often left believing that they are incapable. Their confidence is shattered and their motivation and drive disappears. They associate the difficulty they encounter when learning to read with all learning. . . . . In order to read, one needs to be able to decipher the code. Between 20% and 30% of our students struggle to do this. Too many read poorly or can barely read; these students lag farther and farther behind their peers. It is this group of students for which this book was written. When the 3 Habits are used, the number of students we fail can be reduced to zero.
What helps struggling students usually helps all students; the program has proven to accelerate the reading process of all children. Whether you teach Junior Kindergarten, where the reading process is just beginning, or Grade 8, where one of your students is unable or struggles to read, the 3 Habits will be a benefit to you.
The focus of The 3 Habits of Highly Successful Reading Teachers is on empowering students to see themselves as readers, to focus on every small success, and to not draw attention to those who struggle and are reading below grade level. That is the first Habit teachers need to develop, to ensure that their tone, their words, and their body language all convey the message that their students are readers. This is reinforced by numerous examples, suggested scripts, and by cautioning teachers to remove negative phrases from their speech, not to say, "No, that was wrong, try that again," but instead, "You know that word. Here it is. Let's read from here."
Megan Milani's passion for teaching children to read is evident throughout the pages of her book which describes a "quick and easy" method for how to teach all children to read. Milani, a Reading Specialist and former Reading Recovery teacher, outlines these three habits in a clear and step-by-step way so that classroom teachers and resource teachers can use this program.
Habit 2 consists of three components that need to be taught on a daily basis: chanting of high-frequency word lists, learning the letter sounds, and learning three reading strategies. The high-frequency word lists are adapted from the Dolch (1948) word lists into 5 levels of "Power Words." Making a game out of rhythmically chanting the word lists and the letter sounds is referred to as "reading" and not memorization, although that is what is really happening. Every opportunity to get students to think of themselves as readers is maximized.
Teachers are instructed to make explicit what the students are or are not doing so that they know what their job is and how to be successful at it. Milani's program ideally starts in Junior Kindergarten, where students have not yet learned bad strategies such as freezing and guessing. She has chosen three strategies to teach students in addition to learning and transferring their knowledge of the high-frequency words:
1. Say the first sound, and go back.
2. Sound it out.
3. Skip it, and then go back.
Tips for teaching each strategy and scripted prompts are provided. Milani acknowledges there are many other strategies, but states that these three will help children decode most of the words they will encounter.
Habit 3 is using every spare minute you can to effectively assess your students. The Reading Check assessment method is adapted from Marie Clay's Running Record assessment. The analysis informs teachers of where student weakness lies in transferring high-frequency words, identifying letter sounds and using reading strategies. It should guide instruction and identify with the student the "exact small step he or she needs to work on." Clear examples of recording errors and analyzing them are provided. This chapter also includes information on diagnostic assessment of students, a guide to recording and scoring assessments, as well as reproducible sheets.
The next chapter, "Implementing the Habits," asks teachers to reflect on their practice and "fine-tune" their use of these 3 Habits. There is also a discussion of how to utilize all the available supports: resource teachers, home and community volunteers, and reading buddies. A sample of a letter that could be sent home and ideas for a literacy night to inform and "teach" parents how to support their children as readers are included.
The final chapter looks at the use of the Habits in various grades. Ideally this program starts in kindergarten so students never have the opportunity to fall behind and reach the conclusion that they are not successful readers. The pace of the program is determined by the student who is the furthest behind. The teacher stays on list 1 until all students have mastered it in a whole class setting. Differentiation happens in guided reading groups. Milani recommends the "Rule of 5" stating that, if you have 5 or more students who do not know the letter sounds, review them as a whole class, and if there are less than 5 students, review the letter sounds within daily small-group work. This is a "learning-to-read" program, so it is most applicable up to grade 3, except in the case of ESL students where it is useful in small group work in higher grades. Milani recommends it for older students as one-on-one instruction.
A strength of this book is that it clearly and explicitly focuses on teaching students the necessary skills to learn to read, so, for example, they learn letter sounds, but not the names of the letters to start. They chant high-frequency words in a fun and light-hearted way for only a minute or so each day. Frequent assessment identifies the next step with the student, ensures they are reading books at their instructional level and moves them along as they are ready.
The 3 Habits does not require buying an expensive learn-to-read program, and consequently it leaves more money for buying leveled reading books and good quality literature. Milani has written a book that clearly outlines steps for classroom teachers to follow to teach students to read. It is based on her classroom experience but not actual research studies. Readers need to be mindful of the fact that her experience includes education to become a Reading Specialist and experience as a Reading Recovery teacher. Most classroom teachers do not have this extensive background knowledge and experience as they teach their students to read. This book would make an excellent resource for classroom and resource teachers to read, follow, reflect, and re-read, but teaching students to read is often not "quick and easy" as the title states, and becoming excellent teachers of reading is also not a "quick and easy" process.
It would be interesting to read of research studies done using this teaching method. In a recent study Scanlon et al. (2008)[i] concluded that what the teacher knows and does as s/he teaches a student how to read is more important to student achievement that the program the teacher may use. Milani's claim of a 100% success rate will hopefully lead many teachers and researchers to explore this method further.
Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
[i] Scalon, D.M., Gelzheiser, L.M., Vellutino, F.R., Schatschneider, C., & Sweeney, J.M. (2008). Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties: Professional development for classroom teachers versus direct interventions for children. Learning and Individual Differences, 18(3), 346-359.
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