The following principles reflect the philosophical foundation of the Kit and Dick Schmoker Reading Center and guide the instruction of UNL graduate and undergraduate students as well as the K-12 struggling readers with whom they work.
Principles that guide instruction at the Schmoker Reading Center:
A. Assessment-informed instruction
The basis for creating and maintaining effective instruction is a multi-faceted understanding of the student literacy strengths and challenges. As a result initial and ongoing informal assessments are the necessary for developing lesson plans, modifying them and for determining a reader’s current literacy needs. This information allows the UNL students at the Reading Center to individualize their instruction throughout the semester to better support the specific reading and writing needs of the children they tutor. Concurrently, K-12 students and their families need to have access to assessment results presented in a clear and accessible way through the instructional process, reports and formal meetings.
B. Meeting students’ individual literacy needs with research-based instruction
Once student strengths and needs are established, UNL students will match individual students with effective research-based instruction. Much research has been and continues to be conducted to determine effective and efficient literacy instruction that is proven to foster growth in struggling readers. UNL students participating in Reading Center courses learn a variety of research-based instructional strategies to address struggling reader’s needs in but not limited to: concepts of print, literacy motivation, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, comprehension, and writing. Armed with this knowledge and informed by the assessment data they gather, UNL students are better prepared to choose and implement targeted instructional strategies resulting in individualized instruction.
C. Balanced instruction that incorporates basic skills and more complex literacy strategies
From its inception, the founders and the directors of the Reading Center have held the belief that a holistic, eclectic approach to meeting the individual instructional needs of struggling readers is best. Teachers must have a clear understanding of what successful readers and writers know about reading and writing and do (i.e., implementing literacy strategies such as monitoring comprehension or activating prior knowledge of a topic) to be considered proficient. Teachers also must possess a wide-ranging assortment of research-based instructional strategies at the ready to address children’s specific configurations of literacy strengths and needs, as identified through ongoing observations and assessments. Children’s individualized literacy learning needs may include building knowledge and application of: (a) basic skills (phonemic awareness and phonics), (b) vocabulary, (c) fluency, (d) reading and/or writing strategies, or (e) a combination of these literacy components. The Reading Center, therefore, does not endorse any specific instructional program. In fact, we believe that teacher professionalism and broad knowledge regarding literacy development are key to the academic success of all children in the short term as well as the long term.
D. Emphasis on reading and writing topic-related texts in a variety of genres
We believe that, to become proficient in literacy skills and strategy use, children need repeated experiences that reading and writing narrative and informational text. Our Reading Center students plan and implement lessons that systematically move from teaching needed basic literacy skills and strategies to having the children apply their knowledge to full texts, thereby bringing their learning to functional use within each tutoring session. This instructional practice is designed to foster the transfer of new learning to other literacy experiences that the children encounter outside their tutoring sessions.
E. Making the integral link between reading and writing explicit in meaningful ways
Research has clearly shown that individuals become proficient in reading and writing, when they have multiple opportunities to be actively learning in related and meaningful ways through the read-write connection. UNL students plan and execute lessons in which the connection is explicit between reading texts and writing about them. By creating lessons highlighting the read-write connection, both children’s comprehension and writing skills are strengthened.
F. Gradual release of responsibility model
The main goal of instruction at the Schmoker Reading Center is to enable both the K-12 readers and the UNL students in becoming independent in utilizing the knowledge and strategies that they are taught. This transferred application of knowledge and learning strategies is not automatic. It takes distributed practice with specific feedback across time for this to happen. We believe that a gradual release of responsibility for learning is an important instructional model to implement for fostering the success of our Reading Center students as well as the children that they teach.
G. Explicit attention to motivation
Motivation to reach a learning goal is the catalyst to learning. It focuses attention and involves efficient working memory use. Creating a caring learning environment that fosters students’ competence and promotes their autonomy is an effective way to promote motivation for literacy learning. Explicit attention to the motivation of our UNL students and the K-12 students whom they tutor is another key to success at the Schmoker Reading Center. Motivation is enhanced through competence-building instruction and support, autonomy-fostering tasks, and constructing an atmosphere of caring at both levels.
H. Emphasis on reflective practice
All students enrolled in courses at the Schmoker Reading Center are required to reflect deeply on the lessons they teach. Research provides much support for the notion that an ongoing reflective stance regarding their instructional practices is a habit-of-mind practiced by expert teachers. Reflection aids the Reading Center students in understanding the consequences of their instructional choices better and acting deliberately to improve upon them. Reflection is facilitated across all Reading Center courses by implementing a tested framework, previously shown to support substantial growth within the UNL students across a semester.
Organizational Principles at the Schmoker Reading Center:
I. K-12 span approach
It is important that literacy acquisition is viewed as a developmental process. Because the Schmoker Reading Center accepts children from kindergarten through 12th grade who struggle with literacy tasks, Reading Center courses offer UNL students opportunities to work directly with children at a variety grade levels. These options are particularly important for graduate students who are earning a Nebraska K-12 Reading Specialist Endorsement or whose goals include becoming a teacher educator in the area of literacy.
J. Inter-department collaboration
The Schmoker Reading Center was created in 2003 by faculty from the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education (Drs. Guy Trainin and Kathleen Wilson) and the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders (Dr. Joan Erickson). Soon afterward, the Department of Child, Youth, and Family Studies joined the Center’s efforts. We see this unique collaboration among three Departments in the College of Education and Human Sciences as a key element in the success of the Schmoker Reading Center. We believe that each of these student and faculty groups brings unique knowledge, expertise, and perspectives that enhance and enrich the literacy understandings of all.