The Intersection

How to Reach High Need Students Through Reading, Writing, Comprehension, and Vocabulary

October 3, 2012


More than 780 million of the world’s adults (nearly two-thirds of whom are women) do not know how to read or write, and between 94 and 115 million children lack access to education. The International Reading Association is a global network of individuals and institutions committed to promoting reading by continuously advancing the quality of literacy instruction and research worldwide. To advance this work, every year we host an International Literacy Day – which focuses attention on worldwide literacy needs.

In the United States by 2014-2015, 87 percent of our nation’s students will be taught to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – and for many, the new standards will represent a huge leap in what they are expected to know and be able to do in English language arts/literacy (as well as mathematics).  Given the upcoming shift to the new standards, part of this year’s celebration of International Literacy Day focused on the CCSS. IRA President Carrice Cummins provided comments during an event at the Library of Congress that focused on how the CCSS will need to be implemented in order to help high need students.

The following are several points from her presentation at the Library of Congress.

  1. Reading more challenging and complex text is good for all students.  While the CCSS raises the levels of text complexity for grades 2-12, kindergarten and first grade teachers should also be encouraged to examine the complexity of the material being provided.  Reading difficult text aloud at lower grades initiates the development of oral language and comprehension skills so we should not back off from presenting this to our younger students or our high need students. Teachers must provide instructional scaffolding that allows all students to enjoy and benefit from exposure to a wide range of rich texts of varied levels of challenge.
  2. Writing is finally considered to be an equal partner to reading. The CCSS asks students to write for more and more purposes and represents an important change from current practice.  However, the problem is that teachers have tended to focus primarily on reading achievement as a measure of success and now many are not comfortable teaching writing at this level of intensity.  Teachers must begin making the shift to using writing as a means of students clarifying their thinking, digging deeper into text, and responding to text in a variety of formats.
  3. Comprehension should focus on reading for meaning and purpose. Teachers will need to recognize that the same approach is needed for teaching both literature and informational text. Helping students understand what the text says (meaning), as well as, how it was said (structure).   Teachers must provide explicit instruction utilizing metacognitive strategies and high levels of engagement to help students reach this high level of critical reading, especially students who already struggle with reading.
  4. Vocabulary development must be emphasized as a critical component to comprehension and student achievement.  All students need instruction in words and their relationship to other words as well as word-solving strategies. However, teachers of children living in poverty must provide aggressive assistance in order to help them build their vocabularies throughout the day and in all disciplines.

There are of course many other elements of the standards that teachers need to understand and the International Reading Association has commissioned a CCSS committee to develop a set of basic principles to help teachers and school leaders better interpret and ultimately turn the standards into effective instruction. Please visit for more information about the work that is underway.

Rich Long is government relations director at the International Reading Association.

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