Reading Workshop Modules
ISBE Reading Standards Compliance

Module 1


Essential Questions for this Module

  1. How do students acquire language?
  2. What is reading?
  3. How do students acquire reading competency?


Think about a time when you learned how to do something, such as tie your shoes, ride a bike, drive a car, water ski, etc. How did you learn this skill? You may not remember all of the factors that went into your learning, however, I can assure you that the process is complex.


Brian Cambourne, an educational anthropologist from Australia, has been studying the learning process for over 40 years. In his research, Dr. Cambourne set out to discover how young children learn language. He identified eight conditions that promote language acquisitions: immersion, demonstration, expectation, responsibility, approximations, employment, response, and engagement.




Now, think again about something that you recently learned. Which of these conditions were part of your learning process? Did your teacher demonstrate the process, have high expectations for you, allow you to make mistakes, and provide you with feedback?


So how might these conditions relate to literacy learning, or more specifically to learning to read? What would the learner need? How might you change the above descriptions of each condition to describe the process of learning to read? Read this article from the FLARE Center to learn more about establishing an enviornment for literacy learners.

Test your understanding of the article in the activity below.



What is reading?

If you were asked to define reading, what might you say? How would you describe it? 


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Many people think about reading as the ability to say the words on the page; however, reading involves much more than just putting letters and sounds together to make words. Establishing a clear definition of reading provides an important perspective for how we can promote conditions for learning that will support students' success. Throughout the years, literacy researchers, teachers, and parents have viewed reading in different ways. Most educators, however, would agree that the ultimate goal of reading is comprehending. In other words, if a reader cannot talk about what they read, they are not really reading. Reading is no longer viewed as a simple decoding of printed symbols into oral language, although that is certainly part of the process when reading printed texts. "The sense you make of a text does not depend first of all on the marks on the paper. It depends first on the sense you bring to it" (Goodman, 1996).  In other words, reading is a process of making sense of print, not a process of recognizing letters and putting sounds to those letters. In this active search for meaning, readers use their knowledge of how language works to make sense of text.




There is no doubt that reading is a complex process.  According to Goodman (1996) reading is an active search for meaning that requires studying the relationships between the reader's thought processes, language, and sociocultural settings in which both the reader and the text are changed during the process.


The Reading Process

The most important concept from the slideshow is that reading is a process, and not a set of skills that exist in isolation. In other words, readers use several language systems, reading strategies, and background knowledge to construct meaning when they read.

 Readers come to this language process with:

This same knowledge of language and reading which readers use to read accurately also causes them to make miscues. We use the term miscue rather than mistake or error when a reader's observed response (what the reader says) does not match the expected response (what is in the text). Often readers' miscues are the result of their knowledge of the language systems (such as syntax and semantics) and reading strategies and are therefore, not random. 

 Every reader miscues (Goodman, Watson, Burke, 2005), miscuing is NOT simply random, uncontrolled behavior. The fact that all readers miscue when they read makes sense when you consider that all readers bring their own experiences and background knowledge to any reading event. Goodman (1996) calls this a parallel text. All readers will "construct [their] own meaning, employing [their] own values, understandings and experiences" (Goodman, 1996, p. 2). Therefore, teachers must place emphasis on the quality of the miscue and the strategies that readers use rather than expecting that readers say every word exactly as it is in the text.

Observing the Process in Action

In this next activity, you will listen to two readers. As you listen to these readers, consider what you learned about the reading process. What do you notice about their use of reading strategies and language systems? How do they use their background knowledge? 


In this audio file, you will listen to Randy, a second grader, as he reads from the book All About Koalas. Below is a link to the script, so that you can follow along as he reads.

Click here for a word doc of the audio.



in this audio file, you will listen to Jordan as she reads a chapter from Camp Detective. Below is a link to the script, so that you can follow along as she reads.

 Click here for a word doc of the audio


Both Randy and Jordan are accurate readers, but both have a more difficult time with comprehension, being able to tell about what they read. They could each recall a few details of the story, but had a harder time thinking beyond the story. You might also have noticed how they used the language cueing systems and the reading strategies. Would you describe either or both of them as proficient or non-proficient?


Let's return to our essential questions for this module.

  1. How do students acquire language?
  2. What is reading?
  3. How do students acquire reading competency?


How might you answer these questions now? What have you learned that can help you?


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 In the next module, we will focus specifically on background knowledge, or schema, and what counts as literacy.



Module 2


Essential Questions

  1. What is the role of background knowledge during reading?
  2. What counts as literacy?
  3. Why is a literate environment important for developing readers?


Being literate depends on a variety of factors including in and out of school activities. Sometimes even something that seems insignificant, such as the time of day a class is scheduled, can impact one's literacy practices. The way we view ourselves as readers and writers and the way others perceive us can determine success and failures of our learning experiences. As a teacher, you come across many students with unique abilities, attitudes, and interests. For example, one student may enjoy video games and television, while another student may enjoy motocross racing. Also, one's attitude is influenced by families and one's environment. In this module, you will explore what readers need to be successful.


You will recall from Module 1, comprehension is an essential component of the reading process. We must always keep this goal in mind for reading, because accurate reading does not automatically mean that readers will remember or comprehend what they read just because they were accurate when decoding all the words. While the perceptions of teachers, family and others guide us in how we relate to various texts, this is just one part of the building block for us to understand the text. In order to be considered literate, one must be able to bring meaning to text. The following video demonstrates this process.


  " Teaching Content Is Teaching Reading "


What does this suggest about comprehension? What does this mean for teachers of various content areas? While the video pertains mainly to comprehending printed text, other forms of text are related. How does knowledge in the content areas help one comprehend speeches and diagrams, for example? From this video, we can recognize that reading is not just a rote skill; rather, we must be able to understand or comprehend what we are reading. Background knowledge and prior experiences assist in comprehension, but not having any background knowledge does not mean a person cannot comprehend something.

When we try to comprehend the writings of an author, we are attempting to obtain meaning from something someone else has written. Goodman (1996) explains that an author has a message to convey, but it is not possible for the writer's thoughts and meanings to be received intact into the reader's head. In fact, no text "will ever "contain" [the author's] message so precisely as to guarantee that [he/she] communicate [his/her] exact "intended meaning" to [the reader]" (Goodman, 1996, p. 2). Therefore, comprehension is based in large part on a parallel text that combines the author's intended meaning and what the reader brings to the text. This does not mean that anything goes. Even though each reader brings his/her own background experiences to a text, and no two readers will construct the exact same meaning from what is read, shared meanings will emerge. However, shared meaning constitutes a smaller percentage than individual meaning. Additionally, readers, in their interpretation of a text, must also use what is written to support their understanding.


The Role of Background Knowledge

Schema Theory explains that a reader must be able to make a reasonable connection between the ideas in a message and an existing schema (mental model) in the reader's mind. Bransford and McCarrell (1974) demonstrate this process using the following sentence.


The notes were sour because the seam split.


All of these words are probably familiar to you; however, taken as a whole you may not know what the message is. Some may argue that the ability to decode all these words is reading, however, most educators would disagree. Unless you can gain meaning in a way that allows you to demonstrate an understanding, you aren't really reading. In the above example, without an existing network of prior knowledge (schemata), the reader becomes lost. If you know that the sentence is describing playing a bagpipe, does that help? If you said yes, that is because you have some schema about bagpipes. In the slide presentation below, you will learn more about schema theory and how it explains the role of background knowledge when making sense of print.



 These ideas suggest that assuming one ability level or grade level for each reader is problematic. Readers will be more likely to comprehend and interpret texts for which they have background knowledge and experiences. In fact, the more knowledge one has the more challenging the reading material can be. At the same time, the same reader can be a very skilled reader in one content area but not in another simply because of the knowledge he/she brings to the text.


Literate Environment

Since prior knowledge and context play key roles in the reading process, it makes little sense to disregard students' environments both in and out of school. It is within these environments that students are exposed to the ideas and experiences that help shape their literate identities. Possessing schema about a topic is not enough. Whether or not schema is sufficient and appropriate to the context of the lesson also influences understanding. A learner's environment helps determine the adequacy of these factors. Let's return to Cambourne's Conditions for Learning. As you might imagine learning takes more than just what the reader brings to the reading event. Readers will also need to be immersed throughout the school day in literacy practices. One of the most common misconceptions about learning to read is that children acquire all of the skills they need to be good readers by third grade. This is not true. Learning to read is a continual process, even for proficient adult readers.

Children's literacy experiences begin early, and these early experiences continue to impact adolescents' literacy development. Children raised in high-literacy homes are entrenched in reading and writing experiences such as regular bedtime stories, attention to letters on signs around town, and practice writing their names. Adams (1990) estimated that these children may experience more than 1000 hours of literacy events before they ever reach school. Research indicates that children of poverty may not share the same print experiences that are privileged in schools. This can lead to insufficient background knowledge that immediately puts these students at a disadvantage because they are unprepared for the academic discourse that takes place in the classroom.

One way to combat this disadvantage is to broaden the viewpoint of literate experiences to encompass the literacies students practice outside of school. For many students from poor or culturally different backgrounds, an oral tradition is privileged within the homes (Egan 1987). Other students who struggle with traditional academic reading and writing often thrive in other literate spheres like online forums and gaming. Integrating youth culture and culturally-relevant practices can help students make connections and strengthen their reading successes. 

Teachers modeling their own literacy practices can also help students overcome gaps. Good readers often assume that everyone thinks like they do, but struggling readers do not automatically use the strategies associated with effective readers: visualizing, connecting, questioning, inferring, evaluating, analyzing, recalling and self-monitoring. Therefore, it's important for teachers to demonstrate these strategies as they naturally occur in their own reading experiences. Similarly, when students see adults reading and writing regularly, they begin to appreciate the value of these practices. In the next module, we will further explore what happens when students struggle.



Let's return to our essential questions for this module.

  1. What is the role of background knowledge during reading?
  2. What counts as literacy?
  3. Why is a literate environment important for developing readers?


How might you answer these questions now? What have you learned that can help you?



In the next module, we will focus specifically on the differences between proficient and non-proficient readers.




Module 3


Essential Questions for this Module

  1. What happens when a student struggles with reading?
  2. What is the difference between proficient and non-proficient readers?
  3. How does text difficulty play a role in this process?



In order to understand why some students struggle, or why some texts may be more difficult than others, we must first understand that success and failure does not solely rest within the reader. In fact there are many factors that contribute to one's learning. In this module, you are presented with a framework for success that includes student ability, text difficulty and instructional approach. Each of these factors are complex within themselves in addition to the interplay among them. Because you will not likely be assigned to teach reading, this module will instead focus on the other factors that play a significant role in learning to read and becoming a proficient reader: text difficulty and student ability.


Consider the chart below. These are common characteristics teachers see in proficient readers. Do these sound familiar to you? Do you use these same strategies to make sense of what you read? Chances are you do, but perhaps they are so automatic that you are not aware that you are using them.




In this presentation, you will learn more about what factors contribute to students' success or failure with reading tasks. As you view and listen to this presentation, keep in mind the conditions for learning discussed in module 1 as well as the role of background knowledge for comprehension.



Self-Check. In the activity below, you will sort reader characteristics into those that you would expect to see in proficient readers and those for non-proficient readers.



Defining Text

Defining text is difficult because it is very context specific. We think of text as a placeholder for knowledge. Most people think that text is printed words on a page. However, this is problematic because too many other "texts" without print are meant to be read and interpreted. For example, music, presentations, road signs, videos, and lab demonstrations require students to think, comprehend, and interpret content information.


In order to define text, we must first think about expanding our notions of what a text is. Neilsen (1998) defines text as "anything that provides readers, writers, learners, speakers, and thinkers with the potential to create meaning through language" (as cited in Draper, 2002, p. 523). While this definition, at first glance, seems all-encompassing, a closer look reveals that it still privileges language. Wade and Moje (2000), on the other hand, suggest that texts are "organized networks that people generate or use to make meaning for themselves or for others" (p. 610). This definition opens a path for other modes of communication such as symbols, images, and sounds.


Texts used in schools are varied, and each content area has its own forms of text. Imagine how texts differ from the language arts classroom to the physical education classroom. Both classrooms have specific texts that are unique to their content areas. Every 50 minutes, students must adjust to different texts as they move from one subject area to another. While learners process all of the texts in similar ways (i.e. activating schema, decoding the message, and comprehending), there are nuanced differences in what students will need to interpret the texts. Teachers should support students while they use these texts for learning. Therefore, teachers must know what form the texts take in their subject area.


Text characteristics are multifaceted and are dependent on format and genre. Traditional printed textbooks, for example, typically contain a table of contents, a glossary, an index, and pictures with captions to illustrate concepts. Non-traditional texts like videos, songs, task cards, graphs, and websites contain their own unique structure and set of characteristics. Assessing a text's characteristics means that you will want to think about how the structure and features support or create a barrier for students' learning. Where will you need to supplement information? What do you want students to pay more or less attention to? What will you need to explain prior to students' encounter with this text?


In this presentation, you will learn more about specific text structures within various content areas, and why some students may struggle depending on the text demands.


Author Assumptions

Just because a text seems to fit within a particular subject of study does not mean that it is the best text to use. We must also consider the match between the text and the students.

When authors are writing a text, they typically write to an implied audience. This implied audience is based on the author's assumption about who will be reading the text, or the intended reader. For example, if an author is working on a 9th grade science textbook, he or she must make assumptions about the background knowledge of a typical 9th grade student. Additionally, to make the textbook more marketable, the author has to consider what is typical background knowledge for 9th grade students across the nation. As you might imagine, this is essentially an impossible task. First, background knowledge is both what students learned in science prior to 9th grade but also everything they have learned outside of school. Since students' interests vary considerably, what is learned in and out of school for any two students will be different. How might an author account for this variability for all students who will come into contact with this text? The author uses an implied reader, and the author decides what an average 9th grader should know.


The following diagram (adapted from McKenna, Robinson, 2008) presents a framework for thinking about how your instruction fits within the author's assumptions and your students' prior knowledge.


To determine what an author has assumed about his/her readers, teachers can take the following steps (adapted from McKenna and Robinson, 2008):

  1. Look for references to previous material.
  2. Examine the new vocabulary necessary for comprehension.
  3. Determine which words or images must be known in advance in order to make sense of them.
  4. Look for references that are not adequately explained.
  5. Consider the relevancy of the content to students' lives.
  6. Evaluate the familiarity with task/text demands or format.

These steps can be applied to any text regardless of its format.


Although many schools use a set curriculum and a designated textbook (or set of texts) for each grade level, these texts are almost never a good match for all the students in a classroom. Motivation and interest in the reading material aside, most of these texts will either be too difficult or too easy for several of the students. The cause of this mismatch is often related to the previous knowledge each individual brings to the text. Teachers have to think about the texts they use and assess their match with readers in various ways. The following characteristics should be considered when selecting a text for instruction, whether that text is print or non-print: quality, structure, author assumptions, readability, and features. In addition to these characteristics, teachers will also need to know (1) how the text matches the purpose, (2) the students' needs, interests, and prior knowledge, and (3) the content standards that must meet.



Certifying Your Participation

This online reading workshop was develped to meet the following Illinois State Board of Education standards for school personnel:

To certify your participation in this workshop, you will need to have a 70 percent pass rate on the following exam. After completion of the exam, you should request the certificate of completion to verify your participation.


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