Click play below to hear an overview on the 5 pillars of reading:
I recently hosted a workshop on how to create a literacy block that fits everything you need in it because that’s a common challenge for most literacy teachers. But the one recurring question throughout the workshop was, what does effective literacy look like? Effective literacy is directly related to the 5 pillars of reading instruction, which is what this upcoming series is all about.
Over the next month, I am going to focus on each of the 5 pillars of reading instruction, including experts in certain areas, practical strategies, and ideas on how to incorporate them in your literacy upper elementary classroom. Before we can dive deep into each pillar, it’s important to have a general understanding. Therefore, in today’s episode, I’m providing an overview of the 5 pillars of reading instruction in order to provide you with some confidence in your instruction and how to help your students.
The foundation of all literacy instruction is rooted in the 5 pillars of reading. They help educators understand what they need to focus on in order to guide students to become skilled readers. The 5 pillars of reading are phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. While each has its own individual value and purpose, I share why they’re all interconnected and work together to create a successful reader.
Our goal as literacy teachers is to help students grow and become skilled readers. And we know the best way to do that is by incorporating the 5 pillars of reading into your literacy instruction. By having this overview, you are now prepared for the rest of the series as we dive further into each of the 5 pillars of reading instruction.
In this episode on the 5 pillars of reading, I share:
- The background on how the 5 pillars of reading were formed and their importance
- Each of the 5 pillars and their purpose related to reading
- How each pillar has individual value but all are connected to a student’s reading success
- Why knowing the 5 pillars of reading increases your confidence and ways to help your students in the area of reading
- Read the National Reading Panel here!
- Sign up for my Private Podcast: Confident Writer Systems Series
- Check out the Stellar Literacy Collective Membership
- Check out my Free Literacy Workshop, The Time Crunch Cure: Create a Literacy Block That Fits it All In and Achieves More
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 108, Powerful and Practical Tips to Boost Your Students’ Reading Fluency with Aylin Claahsen
- Episode 86, Understanding Phonological and Phonemic Awareness with Michelle and the Colorful Classroom
- Episode 85, What is The Science of Reading & Why is it Important?
- Episode 67, What to do When You Have a Student Who Struggles with Reading
- Unlocking the Big 5 in Reading through the Power of Poetry
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More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact on your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high-quality, no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Hey, there I am. So glad you are tuning in to today’s podcast episode because we are actually getting ready to kick off a special series that I’m going to talk about here in a little bit.
And the idea for this series came to me a couple of weeks ago, when we were offering our time crunch care workshop. And it’s possible that you joined us for one of our sessions, we had over 1000 teachers join us, I love it when we offer this session. And so if you are a part of that workshop, thank you for joining us, we really love connecting with you.
Now, the focus of that workshop is really on how to create a literacy block that fits everything in because I know feeling crunched for time is something that is, I think, very common for upper elementary literacy teachers. And one of the things that we talked about at the very beginning of that workshop is that if we want to be able to fit everything in, then we really need to have a clear definition of what it means to have an effective literacy block.
You know, what does effective literacy instruction look like? Because ultimately, we don’t want to just try to fit everything in, you know, that’s fluffy or ineffective, or because we feel like we should be doing it or because we see somebody on social media doing it or because our box curriculum says we should, we want to be able to fit everything in that we know is going to help our students grow as readers.
And one of the things I shared is that an effective literacy block covers the five pillars of reading, according to the National Reading Panel. And knowing what the five pillars are is incredibly important, right just to be able to name the five pillars, but having a deep knowledge of each of those pillars and how they work together, and how they help students become successful readers is incredibly important.
And I think as a literacy teacher, having a deep understanding of the five pillars is probably one of the best things that you can do to build your confidence and also to help your students. So knowing that this really is the foundation of all literacy instruction, we are about to kick off a podcast series that I’m super excited about, it’s going to do a deep dive into the five pillars of reading, I’ve got a couple great guests lined up to come on during the series.
But today for this very first episode, I want to give you a brief overview of just what the five pillars are. So that way, you know sort of where we’re headed in this series.
But before I do that, I want to just talk briefly about the National Reading Panel, because this is where the five pillars really came from. And this was way back in the day back in 1997, Congress had asked the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to create a national reading panel to assess the status of research based knowledge, including the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching children how to read.
And this panel, which was, you know, researchers and reading scientists, and ultimately, they were given the task to create a report that really presents their findings and their conclusions regarding reading instruction. And you know, what is effective reading instruction? And I love it, because this just shows that way back in 1997, you know, we were starting to look at research based strategies, and really making sure that the science of reading is what we’re routing our instruction in.
And I remember I was in college in early 2000s, like 2002 2003. And I remember, you know, when I was in my elementary education training program, we had to read the National Reading Panel, like I have very vivid memories of having to read it was this like yellow booklet, I think that talked all about the results of the National Reading Panel and their findings.
And I remember reading through it, and I definitely remember learning about the five pillars, obviously I did not understand it as well as I do now. But I remember in college learning about the five pillars and how we need to make sure that our literacy instruction is rooted in these five pillars.
And the thing that I think about now sort of like reflecting on that is I have since realized because I have a lot of friends who are literacy specialists and love literacy, and you know, went to college to study literacy, but not every elementary college preparation program has had their students read the National Reading Panel.
And it’s possible that you didn’t even study this, you know, when you were in college that you didn’t hear about the five pillars. And so if you are just hearing about this for the first time, then I’m so glad you are. And I think it’s going to help you just understand how to really build that strong reading foundation.
But ultimately, the five pillars of reading are rooted in reading research. And they really help us as educators understand what we need to focus on what we need to be doing day in and day out to help our students become skilled readers. So let’s jump in and talk about what are the five pillars of reading instruction, otherwise known as the Big Five.
And my goal today, we’re gonna go in depth with each of these pillars on future episodes, where you’re gonna get some really practical strategies and ideas on how to incorporate them, especially in upper elementary. But my goal for today is really just to give you an overview, so you know what the five pillars are, and you have an understanding of each pillar and what that means.
The very first pillar is phonemic awareness. And this might actually be something that is slightly unfamiliar to you, if you are an upper elementary, third, fourth, or fifth grade teacher, because phonemic awareness usually isn’t something that is heavily focused on in the upper grades, because it is very essential when our students are learning, you know, word recognition. But it’s still important that we understand that.
So phonemic awareness is the ability to focus on and manipulate phonemes in spoken words. And so of course, we need to have an understanding of what is a phoneme. And a phoneme is simply the smallest unit of spoken language or a sound. So it is a unit of sound. And there are 41 phonemes, in the English language. So there are 41 units of sound. And obviously, our students need to know all of them in order for them to be able to read.
So some words, very few words, but some words have only one phoneme, like the word I or Oh, but most words, obviously are going to have multiple phonemes. So the word stop has four phonemes, there are four units of sound, and that word we’ve s, t, ah, p. So each one of those is a sound.
And it’s important to recognize that phonemes are different from graphemes. And I feel like sometimes we throw in all this advanced language, and I remember in college for sure, struggling to remember, a phoneme and a grapheme but think phoneme is sound and the grapheme is writing. We’ve got the root phone and graph in there. But phonemes are different from graphemes. graphemes are the units of written language. So we’re thinking spelling; phonemes are just the sound graphemes are the unit of written language that represents the sound.
So phonemic awareness when we’re teaching this to our students includes a variety of tasks. I’m going to talk about those specifically in our next episode. But some of the things that teachers can do to work on phonemic awareness is phoneme isolation.
So you might have your students, you might ask them, tell me the first sound and the word chop, and then they would want to produce -ch. Or we can have students do phoneme blending, where we would give them the sounds and ask them to give us the word. So what word is s, k, oo, l: school.
So having phonemic awareness is very important for our students ability to eventually be able to read because in order for them to be able to match the graphemes, to the phonemes, they need to know the phonemes. So that is phonemic awareness.
So then phonics involves matching the sounds of spoken language, with individual letters or groups of letters. So this is where students starts to understand the letter sound correspondence and spelling patterns. And they start to learn how to apply this knowledge to their reading.
And if you’re reading the actual National Reading Panel, one of the things that I think is so apparent in the section where they talk about phonics is the importance of explicit and systematic phonics instruction, which simply just means that we are teaching phonics in a very planned sequential order that builds on topics from least complex to most complex.
So you know, with our phonics instruction in kindergarten, and in very early grades, we’re starting at the very beginning with things like single consonants and short vowel sounds. And then we would systematically work our way up, you know, covering long vowels and vowel teams and blends and digraphs and all of that in a very specific way, until we get to like advanced vowel teams and Greek and Latin roots.
So we’re not going to teach things randomly. We’re not going to start with the most complex things. We start at the very beginning and work our way up in an explicit systematic way.
Now, the thing that I think is really important, and again was mentioned many times in the National Reading Panel, both phonics and phonemic awareness, it is really important to recognize that the purpose of focusing on these pillars is not for growth or mastery of that individual element. But it is ultimately to make progress on reading.
So we aren’t teaching phonics, so students can get really good at phonics. And we aren’t teaching phonemic awareness so students can get really good at their phonemic awareness tasks. We’re teaching phonics and phonemic awareness so our students have the tools that will allow them to get really good at reading, which I think is really important to remember.
Okay, so the next pillar, then is fluency. And fluency is just a description that tells us, you know, fluent readers can read a text with speed, accuracy and proper expression. And, you know, I think it’s cool to read through the National Reading Panel and to continue to do research on this because we start to realize that while we can talk about these and define these as individuals, you know, in an isolation, right, I can give a definition of fluency. Ultimately, the pillars are all interconnected.
And fluency really depends on how well developed a student’s word recognition is. So that again, highlights how important phonics and phonemic awareness is because if a student is lacking with their phonics and phonemic awareness, they are going to really struggle to become fluent readers.
But fluency is a really critical component of becoming a skilled reader. You know, students are going to struggle to comprehend a text if they are not able to fluently read it. And that’s just simply because that if a student is not a fluent reader, then more of their brain power is going to be spent on trying to decode and figure out the words, rather than reading the text to figure out what the text is actually saying and looking at the meaning.
There was a quote in the national reading panel that says, “Teachers need to know that word recognition accuracy is not the end point of reading instruction. Fluency represents a level of expertise beyond word recognition accuracy, and reading comprehension may be aided by fluency.”
So again, if we want our students to become skilled readers, and to comprehend the text fluency plays an important role in that. It goes on to say in the national reading panel that skilled readers read words accurately, rapidly and efficiently. And children who do not develop reading fluency, no matter how bright they are, will continue to read slowly and with great effort.
So as you can see, fluency is an incredibly important part to helping our students become skilled readers, it’s no surprise that it is one of the five pillars.
Okay, so the next pillar is vocabulary. And not that these necessarily go in a specific order. But I’d like to, I’d like to talk about them in a specific order for a reason that I’ll talk about here in a minute. But vocabulary simply refers to all the words that we need to be able to communicate and understand about a topic or to, you know, communicate or understand with each other. So it has all the words in our language.
And I think oftentimes, we think about vocabulary as something that is separate or isolated, or just this idea that we’re teaching words, the size of our vocabulary really does have a huge impact on our ability to successfully read and understand the text.
You know, long before the National Reading Panel came out. I think even going back to like the 1920s, or 1930s, there’s research that suggests and shows that the larger your vocabulary, the easier it is for you to comprehend and read a text so we know that vocabulary is strongly connected to reading comprehension.
Now, a few things that the National Reading Panel points out about vocabulary. Again, they highlight that vocabulary instruction leads to gains in comprehension. They also mentioned that vocabulary can be learned incidentally through a text or listening to others. So while we also want to have explicit vocabulary instruction, it is possible for students to increase their vocabulary through reading or listening to others.
And I thought this point was really significant. But they say dependence on a single vocabulary instruction method will not result in optimal learning, a variety of methods is necessary. And I was so happy to sort of read that because when we get to the vocabulary episode in this series, y’all are going to love my guest that week, because she has 10 really powerful ways that you can increase students vocabularies with strategies that are backed by research.
So this idea that we don’t want to rely on just one method for teaching vocabulary, but we want to have a toolbox that is filled with multiple strategies so we can really try to support our students in a variety of ways to grow and increase their vocabulary.
So then the final pillar and the five pillars of reading is comprehension. No surprise there because ultimately, this is the end result. This is why we teach phonemic awareness and phonics and fluency and vocabulary because it gets to comprehension They define comprehension as the essence of reading, which I really just love that phrase, because it’s like, Yes, this is the essence of reading. This is what reading is all about.
You know, they say comprehension is the intentional thinking, during which meaning is constructed through interactions between the text and the reader. And, you know, I think I talked about this one at the end, because the reality of it is, is that our students have very little hope of comprehending the text if they are lacking in any of the other five pillars, it really is necessary for them to have a strong foundation in, like I said, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary. So that way, they have the potential to comprehend the text.
And one of the things that I liked about the National Reading Panel is that they indicate that there are eight kinds of comprehension strategies that appear to be effective and the most promising for classroom instruction. And as I list through these, I want you to make mental note of like, which one of these have you taught? Because my guess is, is that a lot of these are things that you are already doing with your students.
So the eight that they list out are comprehension monitoring, cooperative learning strategies, the use of graphic and semantic organizers, story structures, question generation, question answering, summarization, and then multiple strategy teaching. So like I said, knowing the types of teachers that listen to this podcast, and knowing the questions that you guys ask and the resources that you use, I know that you’re already doing a lot to really support your students in the area of comprehension.
Again, the big thing about reading comprehension, and this, again, was brought up in the National Reading Panel is that comprehension is not only necessary for reading success, the National Reading Panel also highlights that it is absolutely necessary for our students to be able to obtain an education because as you guys know, you know, reading is essential and necessary for all other subjects. So if we want our students to be successful students, and you know, therefore be successful in life, they really need to have the ability to comprehend the text, which means all five pillars really need to be in place.
So, again, in case you’re like, Okay, I get the five pillars. But again, why is this important? Ultimately, this is important because these five pillars lay the foundation for our students to be literate, and successful readers and writers. And in order for you, as a teacher, to successfully incorporate the five pillars in your classroom, you really need to know what they are, and how to effectively incorporate them into your instruction.
You know, it’s not enough just to be able to rattle off the five pillars by name, we really need to have an understanding of what they are, how they work with each other, and what we can do in our classroom to help our students grow in that area.
So my goal with this podcast series is to really, you know, equip and empower you to feel like you have a strong understanding of each of these pillars. So that way, you can easily incorporate them in your classroom. Not only is that going to help you feel more confident as a teacher, but it’s going to help your students experience success.
So for the next few weeks, we’re going to be digging into individual topics. So phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Some of the episodes have some really amazing guests who are experts in a particular area, and other episodes will just be me sharing practical strategies that I’ve learned from, you know, my own research on the five pillars.
And, you know, like I said, my goal is that at the end of this series, you feel really confident in your literacy knowledge and have some practical strategies that you can put in place. So I am super excited to be kicking off this series at the start of 2024. I feel like it’s a really good time to sort of just like get back down to the basics. I hope you plan on tuning in each week for our episodes, and I will see you back here next Monday. Until then, have a stellar week, my friends.