Keywords Literacy instruction · Reading instruction · Instructional texts · Primary grades Recently, scholars have called into question the overuse of leveled readers in elementary classrooms (Fisher & Frey, 2014; Hoﬀman, 2017; Routman, 2018; Shanahan, 2017).
As a coordinator of an M.Ed. in Literacy/Reading Specialist Certiﬁcation program in the United States, I have received messages from teachers, administrators, and reading special- ists who have expressed confusion and concern. Although the conversations vary, the primary questions raised include whether teachers should ever use leveled readers for instruc- tional purposes, and if teachers should incorporate grade level, complex texts into their reading instruction. Because the use of these materials is not mutually exclusive, the answer to both questions is, “yes!” Leveled readers are pub- lished materials designed speciﬁcally to support developing readers. These books are written with controlled text struc- ture, vocabulary, and picture support, and increase in diﬃ- culty and complexity as levels increase (Fountas & Pinnell, 2012b). Complex texts typically contain implicit messages, varied text structures, and robust vocabulary. It is important to consider how to integrate varied texts into daily reading instruction.
Experts in literacy instruction have long agreed that stu- dents beneﬁt from explicit instruction on the use of com- prehension strategies (Block & Pressley, 2001; Duke et al.,
2011; Williams, 2015). Research suggests that instruction following the Gradual Release of Responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) is the most eﬀective method for teaching comprehension strategies (Duke & Pearson, 2002; Shanahan, 2018) as well as other literacy skills (Webb et al., 2019). In this manuscript, I describe how the Gradual Release of Responsibility model of instruction relies on the integration of both leveled readers and grade level texts in the primary grades.
Gradual Release of Responsibility Model of Instruction
Teachers who apply the Gradual Release of Responsibility model of instruction (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983) typically begin by assessing students. It is important to discover the literacy competencies that students hold in order to eﬀec- tively plan instruction to meet learners’ needs and build on their strengths. Once the teacher determines that students will beneﬁt from instruction in a new strategy or skill, the Gradual Release of Responsibility model begins: the teacher demonstrates how to apply the strategy (or skill) in a modeled lesson. For example, the teacher may explicitly deﬁne the comprehension strategy, such as making infer- ences. They might say, “Good readers make inferences as they read. We make inferences when we use the words on the page and what we already know in our head, and then think about what the author is telling us.” To build on this
* Julie W. Ankrum email@example.com 1 Department of Professional Studies in Education, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA, USA
Early Childhood Education Journal
explanation, the teacher should model the strategy’s use by thinking aloud during an interactive read aloud. The fol- lowing excerpt of a read aloud of Chester’s Way (Henkes, 1988) provides one example: Teacher (reading from the book): Chester always had the same thing for breakfast-toast with jam and peanut butter. And he always carried a miniature ﬁrst-aid kit in his back pocket. Just in case.
Teacher (thinking aloud): Interesting! It sounds like Chester is pretty cautious; the words on the page told me he always eats the same food for breakfast. I used to be nervous about tasting new foods because I might not like them. Like Chester, I didn’t want to take any chances with my meals, so I was careful to eat what I liked! And we have a ﬁrst-aid kit with bandages in our classroom, in case somebody gets a scrape or cut. The author told us that Chester carries his ﬁrst-aid kid with him all the time…that is being really careful or cautious!
In this type of demonstration lesson, the teacher assumes full responsibility for reading the text, explain- ing the cognitive processes used to comprehend the text throughout the reading. Even preschool children ben- eﬁt from these direct explanations of cognitive strategies (DeBruin-Parecki & Squibb, 2011; Lenox, 2013; McGee & Schickedanz, 2007).
Later in the lesson, or in subsequent lessons, the teacher may invite students to apply the modeled strategy or skill with another text, while the teacher reads and provides verbal guidance. In the example of making inferences, the teacher may pause during the read aloud, and invite the students to describe an inference drawn from the text. For example, Teacher (reading from Chester’s Way (Henkes, 1988): Lilly had her own way of doing things. She wore band- aids all over her arms and legs, to look brave. She talked backwards to herself sometimes, so no one would know what she was saying. And she never left the house without one of her nifty disguises.
Teacher (thinking aloud). Wow! I think Kevin Hen- kes is telling us that Lilly is diﬀerent from Chester.
Turn and tell your partner what type of mouse you think Lilly is. Be sure to tell your partner what the book says about Lilly, and what you know in your head about Lilly’s actions.
As volunteers share examples with the class, the teacher provides feedback about the inferences, elaborating as needed. For example, Student: I think Lilly is brave because she wears band-aids.
Teacher: That is what the author said, isn’t it? “Lilly word band-aid all over her arms and legs to look brave.” Lilly also talked backwards and wore dis- guises; why do you think she does that?
Student: Maybe she is sneaky? I like to wear a mask when I play dress up, so I can sneak up on people.
Teacher: So nobody will know you are there and you can be sneaky! That could be why Lilly wears masks outside too!
Later, the teacher may release more responsibility to the learners by guiding and coaching individuals or small groups of students as they draw inferences while reading a teacher- selected or self-selected text.
The goal of teaching with the Gradual Release of Respon- sibility model is for students to apply the new strategy or skill independently, assuming full responsibility for the task, as they develop toward reading proﬁciency. Therefore, the teacher must provide ample time for independent practice.
For students who are able to read developmentally appropri- ate texts, the teacher provides a reminder to pay attention to their inferences as they read independently. Some teach- ers may even ask students to document their inferences in a notebook, to share with the class at a later time. Providing time for independent reading provides the opportunity for students to assume full responsibility for the task, and allows opportunities for the teacher to assess students’ application of strategies through individual conferences. It is important to note that new skills and strategies are not typically taught through the Gradual Release of Responsibility in a few simple lessons; this is a model of recursive instruction that cycles throughout the introduction and application of new skills and strategies across all content areas and text genres.
Many books commonly used for classroom read alouds are quite complex. Table 1 provides a brief list of popular com- plex texts. The term text complexity has become increasingly prevalent in the United States since the publication of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (National Gover- nors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Oﬃcers, 2010). The CCSS deﬁnes text complexity in terms of three concepts: quantitative meas- ures, qualitative measures, and considerations of reader and task. Quantitative measures include text features that are easily calculated by a computer, such as numbers of words in a text, sentence length, and word frequency. Qualitative measures of text complexity are not easily measured by a formula. Dimensions such as varying levels of meaning, text structure, clarity of language, and knowledge demands for content are included in the qualitative measures. The ﬁnal