Catching Readers Before They Fall: Supporting Readers Who Struggle, K-4 by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier has been my summer read and it's been a good reminder of some of the things we need to look for when a child is struggling. One of the things that was particularly interesting to me is how the authors discussed teaching individual comprehension strategies. I think since Elin Keene's work has come out that teachers have tended to teach the strategies in isolation instead of making sure that children understand that the main purpose of reading is comprehension so that one of the strategies that you explicitly demonstrate and think-aloud might be a way that a student could add to his own system of comprehending. In other words, more emphasis on the integration of strategies instead of just practicing a single strategy. The authors even say that it is not necessary for students to name a strategy - only that they are able to use the strategy! For me, this is a slightly different way of looking at strategy instruction.
Another strong chapter is the explanation of using running records as a source of information to show a teacher how a student is solving words, including examples of what struggling readers might do and how teachers might respond. I think this is a chapter that would be good for the K-2 teachers at my school because I am not sure that they always understand how to analyze a running record in depth. For me one of the interesting discussions in this chapter was how teachers immediately correct a struggling student when they make a mistake. This technique doesn't always give our students a chance to self-correct. When we interrupt them, they don't have a chance to hear for themselves that the sentence doesn't make sense. I am certainly guilty of this because it is a technique taught in my early Direct Instruction training. However, I have noticed that I have students that become dependent of me correcting their mistakes instead of becoming students who hear their own mistakes and self-correct so I think this is a technique that I will give a try when I start to see this happening.
At our school, we have a separate 30 minutes Skills Block. The book explains how all phonics instruction needs to refer back to connected text and meaning so that our students do not get the idea that the phonics instruction is separate from reading. I think this is an area that I could improve so I am going to make a conscious effort to make sure that all of our phonics instruction this year is taken from a read aloud of in some way refers back to connected text. Realizing this is probably why Fountas and Pinnell call Skills Block Word Work and it follows the guided reading session.
I think this is a book that would make a good book study for K-2 teachers. It's not that there is so much that is new, but it does give strong instruction that would make good discussion among early childhood teachers.