Teach Silent Readers to Use Strategies Effectively

Reading is comprised of many processes and components in the brain that must be mastered to be proficient for a MASTER reader.  Rosenblatt (2004), states, “It is a process of constructing meaning from a written text as a result of thinking with the guidance of the existing text.”  Reading components include phonemic awareness, phonics, oral fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Reading 3D helps us to pinpoint these skills to intervene and “fix” instruction for our students.  As a student gets older, it is harder for us to determine where our students need help because they are reading for longer periods of time silently and independently.


Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) is one integral part of the reading process. When a person is a fluent reader, they decode and recognize words quickly and efficiently which allows the brain to focus on the meaning rather than deciphering words.  Think of the acronym P.A.R.E., which stands for punctuation, accuracy, rate and expression. The rate is the speed in which the child decodes words and the accuracy measures the correctness.  Punctuation and expression (prosody) make up the final component, which is the child’s ability to understand the syntax (the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language), phrasing and intonation of a text.


In my experience, there is one missing skill to ensure proficiency in a reader which is Silent Fluency.  Beginning in second grade, students begin to transition to reading silently and are expected to be proficient at it by third grade for standardized testing.  However, how much ACTUAL instruction do we do to ensure students can transition from fluent oral readers to fluent silent readers?


When reading silently, students learn to accommodate for their weaknesses and apply strategies in different ways than when reading aloud. When you read silently, you no longer have to pronounce everything correctly; you can skip unknown words, skim descriptions and simply make individual changes in your reading patterns.  In a study by Dr. Kasim Yildirim, the findings were that silent reading fluency was a stronger predictor of comprehension than oral fluency especially in older students.  This makes sense because when our students are not proficient and reading silently, they often become “Fake Readers” who skim text rather than read. Others are able to get the “gist” out of the text but are missing the subtle inferences, clues and hints of mood changes, tone and character personalities that the author hides in figurative descriptions.


Skipping words is often taught as an “effective reading strategy” and though it can be—think of the habits we are creating.  What happens when “YOU are no longer in control” of the number of times this is applied and used as a strategy?  Skipping words is only effective when using it paired with context clues application. Skipping the word and looking to find meaning is much different than simply skipping the word.

Our silent readers are learning to compensate for missing skills and BECAUSE we are no longer in control—they can apply and pick and choose strategies as they want.  This is a bit scary considering many of these silent readers are not yet proficient readers.  As teachers, we are not seeing or hearing the breakdown in decoding, mispronunciations and patterns of mistakes.



I challenge you to ask students to read something difficult.  Walk around, ask questions and most of all—just observe. What you will notice is that some students will “pretend to take notes” but ask them what they are writing and why.  You will most likely see LOTS of fake reading. Stop them and ask questions such as:

  • How did you pronounce this word?
  • What is the meaning of this word? How do you know?
  • What did the author mean by ___________?
  • What happened when you did not understand ___________?
  • What did you do when you could not pronounce ______________?


Find out what strategies they are using and begin to model and reinforce the ones that the students are NOT using.  If you have time, conference with students which produces even more information.

  • Ask them about specific words—Can they decode?
  • Ask them questions that require inferences or interpreting figurative language—Did they read deeply enough?
  • Are they making sense of what they read?
  • Are they making connections?
  • Do they understand text structure and use it to navigate as they read?
  • Do they know how to chunk a word into syllables and apply understanding of phonetic knowledge?


It is important we find out what our students are doing as they silently read. It is even more important to give them the strategies they should be using AND holding them accountable for applying these strategies.

Make students SHOW you what they are thinking and take time to ask them what they meant by that or why they underlined something. If you do not pair silent reading with questioning—they will become fake readers who take fake notes.

TREASURE is a simple way to encourage students to begin thinking about their reading.  Nevertheless, do not forget that to get to the comprehension—we must ensure our students are really reading silently and able to decode fluently the text that we are giving them. As upper grade teachers, we often think that only comprehension matters but if a child does not have silent fluency—they are not able to fully read and apply the strategies you have taught to be able to comprehend the text in the depth and manner in which standardized tests will require.

However, hold them accountable to what they are doing by partnering them with a student who asks:

  • What notes did you take for this chunk of text? Why?
  • What was the main idea of this paragraph?
  • How did you pronounce _____________? How many syllables does it have?

When silent reading happens—don’t let the students become a mystery. Hold them to the same standards you would when they read aloud. Do we do that?  My challenge is for you to begin setting that tone with your students and opening conversations and questioning that not only makes them aware of what they are doing but thinking about what strategies they are applying and which ones are working or not.

Happy Investigating!

NCDPI’s 12 Instructional Practices for the ELA Classroom

I attended a workshop from the NC Department of Public Instruction on the upcoming new ELA Standards for 2018.  This supporting document was given and as I looked at it–a few stood out as thoughts to ponder in regards to how it affects our school.

From NCDPI. Published on their website and livebinder. See this link for the information found in this document.  Link to NCDPI Livebinder.

Numbers 1-3 were simply reminders of the things we do everyday.

  • informational and literary text (50-50) at heart of instruction
  • integration of listening, speaking, reading and writing
  • systematic vocabulary instruction

Number 4:  Texts are organized around conceptually-related topics (at a range of complexities) to build students’ knowledge and vocabulary.  The words “organized around conceptually related topics” made me think about how we choose our text. Are these related topics or our social studies and science?  Are these related texts both pairing informational and literature on the same topic?  I am not sure we are thinking through our units to this depth to ensure the ideas we are teaching cross a range of complexities and using vocabulary in different ways with different genres.

What can we do?  

Create text sets. I know we talked about this five years ago when Common Core came on the scene but did we understand it?  We need to create our units that use similar vocabulary across the different genres for students to see these words in different contexts.  In addition, we must increase and manipulate the complexities both through choice of Lexile AND the qualitative measures the text possesses.

Number 5 and 6 seem to pair nicely.

  • integration of technology
  • opportunities to communicate daily about what they are learning

Number 7:  Students think critically while reading, writing, speaking and listening to text.  Think critically does not simply mean answering questions. Think critically means to make decisions, create arguments and defend ideas.  Are we going this deep?

What can we do?

Ask meaningful questions that require students to synthesize information and to think using the text in various places as well as their schema to answer questions. Pose questions or statements for students to defend or disprove. Finding mistakes in other’s work or finding evidence for ideas helps students critically think about information and weigh the quality of this information. This type of thinking does go on occasionally but do we do this daily? An increase in this type of thinking will encourage deeper reading naturally.

Number 8 which is apply formative assessment practices to gauge student mastery and inform instruction. This practice directly correlates with our school Benchmark scores. Those teachers who use their data and drive instruction with it–yield the highest results.

Number 9 which is scaffolding as needed for all students. Please remember this means to provide it AS NEEDED!  AS A STAFF WE HAVE LEARNED TO CONTROL THIS–RIGHT???  Think on our PD and what you have learned about how to control rigor.  What scaffolding is in place– who is your learner?? What truly needs to be applied to stretch that student.

Number 10 and 11 are used daily and is probably our strength as a school.  Think text dependent questioning and making strong authentic examples and relevant connections.

  • students returning to text for evidence to support ideas
  • examples, lesson and tasks are relevant and authentic

Finally, Number 12, skills are developed in writing. NOT Usually!!!

What can we do?

Start small with student reflections and quick writes on topics you are discussing. These opportunities open up writing for students without worrying about punctuation, sentence structure and grammar. Sometimes these hold our students back from trying. Get the ideas down AND then start work on editing and improving their ideas.

This list is not earth shattering BUT is a good reminder of what our ELA classes should look like on a DAILY basis. We are solid with our instruction in some areas but need to really examine the ideas in the others. As a staff, I challenge you to think about which ones you feel need to be strengthened. Choose one to begin with and take small steps towards mastering it.


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