This piece was originally written in Irish as part of a 'Gaeilge Pedagogy' module whilst studying for the Professional Masters in Education.
The Primary Language Curriculum (NCCA, 2019) helps teachers to support language learning and literacy in their classrooms. It supports a communicative approach where oral language, reading and writing are taught in an integrated way in order to develop children's literacy. As a strand of literacy, the aim of reading in the classroom is to help children develop the skills they need to read effectively. Effective teachers use a variety of teaching methods in order to develop independent and confident readers.
This piece will discuss the recommendations provided in the document 'A Balanced Approach to Literacy Development in the Early Years', created by the National Educational Psychological Service (2017). It will focus on using a reading lesson to develop children's vocabulary, reading comprehension and fluency in Irish.
Vocabulary development is the enrichment of word knowledge and understanding, and it is evident that reading plays a key role in vocabulary development. In the early years, listening and speaking are especially important in promoting vocabulary growth. Graves (2006) states that young children learn new words from discussing texts, listening to the teacher reading out loud and following direct instructions from their teacher. Vocabulary development has a significant impact on a child's life, as it affects their reading ability across all subjects and as well as their lives outside of the classroom (Jalongo and Sobolak 2011).
Therefore, it is important to use different teaching methods to positively influence vocabulary development. Reading aloud is a method recommended by the NEPS document. Through reading aloud, teachers introduce children to new words. It also ensures that new vocabulary is introduced through meaningful contexts. Reading aloud creates an interactive reading experience, which is an important part of the communicative approach, as the teacher can stop to highlight and discuss individual words.
Although we sometimes read alone, we communicate about what we read to others all the time. As such, talking to the children about what they're reading provides many possibilities in the classroom. This is part of the communicative approach, as it is more 'real' and provides further context than teaching grammar or vocabulary in isolation.
Knowledge of words is crucial to understanding a text, and there is a strong correlation between vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. Reading a variety of materials facilitates children to develop a richer vocabulary.
Children with a richer vocabulary have a better understanding of the texts they read. As their reading comprehension increases, their vocabulary knowledge improves. Conversely, children with poor vocabulary knowledge can struggle with reading comprehension. Therefore, the teaching of comprehension strategies is central to the teaching of reading.
The learning outcomes and major stages of progress can be found in the Primary Language Curriculum (NCCA, 2019). They set out the levels of achievement in understanding that would be expected of most children.
Teachers need to demonstrate different comprehension strategies when teaching reading. Good readers use pre-reading strategies such as text scanning, and use post-reading strategies as a summary. When conducting a reading lesson, teachers should divide it into pre-reading, during reading and post-reading. By doing this, the teacher can create relevant activities for each stage which can be used to enhance children's understanding. They also provide opportunities for teachers to be able to demonstrate reading strategies to children (Pardo, 2004).
The NEPS document recommends that teachers should teach children reading comprehension strategies, and then gradually give the children responsibility. Strategies should be introduced and mastered individually. Over time the child should develop a repertoire of strategies. Then they can draw independently on these strategies when they are engaging in reading. This is in line with the communicative approach, as learners are placed at the heart of the process and the teacher moves to the role of facilitator.
According to Mc Kenna & Stahl (2009), the three main components of reading fluency are accurate word recognition, automatic word recognition and rhythm and intonation. Automatic word recognition is important for comprehension as decoding requires mental energy. This can result in children have less mental energy to use for comprehension.
Children need to listen to fluent readers, in order to become fluent in reading. This means that teachers must regularly read aloud to the children. Reading aloud is an opportunity for the teacher to model fluency, through reading with meaning and expression.
Children also need to be encouraged to read a variety of reading materials, if they are to become fluent readers. If a child is struggling with reading, the NEPS document suggests that assisted reading is an effective method. One of the most common forms of assisted reading are group reading or choral reading.
Printed materials also support the development of reading fluency, so it is recommended that teachers have many prints in the classroom environment and on classroom walls (DES, 2009).
It is clear that oral language, reading and writing are intertwined. They all play an important role in the development of reading skills - successful language learners are enthusiastic readers. There are many strategies that teachers can use in reading lessons, but it is not enough just to teach children to read. Teachers must also ensure that children are provided with meaningful texts that they will engage with. As such, the communicative approach must be at the heart of every language lesson.
CNCM, (2019). Curaclam Teanga na Bunscoile. [Online]. Available at: https://curriculumonline.ie/getmedia/fc8c86b9-9c77-46a7-a7d8-a7b9abfb2013/PLCDocument_Irish.pdf
DES, (2009). Effective literacy and numeracy practices in DEIS schools. [online] Available at: https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Inspection-Reports-Publications/Evaluation-Reports-Guidelines/insp_deis_effective_literacy_and_numeracy_09_pdf.pdf [Accessed 11 Nov. 2020].
Graves, M. F. (2006) The Vocabulary Book: Learning and Instruction. Newark DE: International Reading Association.
Jalongo, M and Sobolak, M. (2011) Supporting Young Children’s Vocabulary Growth: The
Challenges, the Benefits, and Evidence-Based Strategies. Early Childhood Education Journal 38 : 421–429.
McKenna, M.C. and Stahl, K. A. D. (2009) Assessment for Reading Instruction (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford.
Pardo, L. (2004).What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Comprehension. In The Reading Teacher. 272-281.
NEPS, (2017). Cur chuige Cothromaithe i Leith na Litearthachta i mBunranganna na Bunscoile. [Online]. Available at: https://www.education.ie/ga/Scoileanna-Col%C3%A1ist%C3%AD/Seirbh%C3%ADs%C3%AD/An-tSeirbh%C3%ADs-N%C3%A1isi%C3%BAnta-S%C3%ADceola%C3%ADochta-Oideachais-NEPS-/neps_balanced_approach_literacy_resource_ir.pdf