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Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction

The Penn Literacy Network embodies professional development and literacy research and provides for the systemic growth of best practices across the span of PreK-12 classrooms. The PLN framework of The Four Lenses and the development of instructional literacy practices through its Five Reading/Writing/Talking Processes provide the opportunity for reflective practice of the highest order resulting in improved student achievement. (4)

Developing Literacy Skills

Researchers agree that the successful development of literacy skills impacts student learning and achievement in a profound and direct relationship. The integration of language and content should and must relate language learning, content learning, and the development of thinking in a continuous spiral of rigor and application.Research also describes the necessary conditions for this implementation:

Student-centered classrooms

Literacy builds engagement central to learning content; students read, write, talk, and reflect on facts, concepts, and applications; students regularly collaborate and where learning is visible and accountable.

Knowledge-centered classrooms

Students understand not only what is being taught, but why it is being taught, and teachers deliberately build on prior knowledge to help students understand the connections of content to their world and their lives.

Assessment-centered classrooms

Classrooms built around ongoing formative assessment that informs instructional practice, guides learning, and is linked to pre-designed summative assessments.

Reflection-centered classrooms

Research-based literacy skills and study skills are explicitly taught and nurtured as students learn how to learn in all content areas.(1)

Understanding Best Practices

In development of earliest literacy, the research provides an effective template for understanding best practices:

  • Teach reading for authentic meaning-making literacy experiences for pleasure, to be informed, and to perform a task.
  • Use high-quality literature.
  • Integrate a comprehensive word study/phonics program into reading/writing instruction.
  • Use multiple texts that link and expand concepts.
  • Balance teacher- and student-led discussions.
  • Build a whole-class community that emphasizes important concepts and builds background knowledge.
  • Work with students in small groups while other students read and write about what they have read.
  • Give students plenty of time to read in class.
  • Give students direct instruction in decoding and comprehension strategies that promote independent reading.
  • Balance direct instruction, guided instruction, and independent learning.
  • Use a variety of assessment techniques to inform instruction. (2)

Questions to Ask

The International Reading Association recommends teachers and administrators ask the following questions when considering professional development:

  • Does this program or instructional approach provide systematic and explicit instruction in the particular strategies that have been proven to relate to high rates of achievement in reading and writing for the children I teach?
  • Does the program or instructional approach provide flexibility for use with the range of learners in the various classrooms where it will be used?  Are there a variety of strategies and activities that are consistent with diverse learning needs?
  • Does the program or instructional approach advocate the use of high-quality literary materials that are diverse in level of difficulty, genre, topic, and cultural representation to meet the individual needs and interests of the children with whom it will be used? (3)


Evidence Supporting "Best Practices": Expert Judgment and Meta-Research, by Dr. Morton Botel

1. Meltzer, Julie with Nancy Cook Smith and Holly Clark (2002).  Adolescent Literacy Resources: Linking Research and Practice. The LAB at Brown University. 
2. Gambrell, L.B., & Mazzoni, S.A. (1999). Principles of best practice: Finding the common ground. In L.B. Gambrell, L.M. Morrow, S.B. Neuman, & M. Pressley, (Eds.), Best Practices in Literacy Instruction. New York: Guilford Press.
3. Taylor, B.M., Pressley, M.P., & Pearson, P.D. (2002).  Research-supported characteristics of teachers and schools that promote reading achievement. In B.M. Taylor & P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Teaching reading: Effective schools, accomplished teachers.
4. Botel, Morton (2010). The Plainer Truths of Reading/Writing/Talking Across the Curriculum. Botel Associates.