Visible Learning for Literacy: Surface Literacy Learning

There are three levels of learning: surface, deep, and transfer. For students to reach deep and transfer levels of learning, they need surface learning. Surface learning helps students relate, extend, and think deeply. The problem is that many teachers are pushed to go beyond surface learning before students are ready. Chapter two of Visible Learning for Literacy talks about the importance of surface literacy learning and how to utilize surface learning during instruction.

Before we can begin instructing our students, you must first find out what they already know. You can assess prior knowledge in many ways, such as through the use of anticipation guides or cloze reading. Rhonda shared how assessing prior knowledge can be an everyday thing, as opposed to assessing prior learning in our Facebook group:
"Assessing "prior knowledge" is an everyday informal thing...asking those "Have you ever ____" questions (seen a, been to, tried,). It lets me know how much time I need to spend introducing something, if my students need visual support or examples, and helps determine my pacing. When I taught 1st we had grade level themes and pets was one of our first ones. I taught in a Title I school where most my kids were in less than desirable situations. I remember starting the first lesson with "How many of you have pets?" Not a single hand...thinking that couldn't be possible I tried again, How many of you have ever had a dog?" Crickets..."cat?", not one of them had ever had a pet. It was obvious that we couldn't jump right into the needs of a pet. It also was at that point I knew that we were going to have a class pet!"
Once you are aware of what your students already know, then it is time to tackle reading. Becoming literate is not something our brains are hard-wired to do like walking and talking. Everyone has to work at becoming a reader. Reading involves six major areas that will eventually be utilized in unison:
  1. Phonemic Awareness
  2. Alphabetics
  3. Phonics
  4. Fluency
  5. Vocabulary
  6. Reading Comprehension
All of these areas are crucial for developing reading skills, but phonics instruction is very important for beginning readers. Chapter two talks about using direct instruction to strengthen phonics skills, vocabulary activities, and improving fluency.

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