Theoretical / Research Base
Synthesis Related Readings
Irene Gaskins, founder and
developer of the Benchmark School and Curriculum, utilized a variety of
resources and theorists to help lay the foundation for student success in
literacy. Gaskins, together with
teachers from the Benchmark School, incorporated four critical elements that
maintain success for at-risk and delayed readers. First, staff development, according to Darling-Hammond
(1996), is the cornerstone of instructional programs that produce significant
results in student progress. A
second critical ingredient is quality instruction and support services tailored
to address the academic and nonacademic roadblocks that stand in the way of
success in regular classrooms (Dryfoos, 1996).
Third, congruence between the remedial and regular education classrooms
is a must. Research from Shanahan
and Barr (1995) confirms this key element as a means to maintain academic
progress of at-risk students. Finally,
sufficient time to accomplish the goal of getting students ready for success in
the mainstream classroom is the fourth critical element.
An important component in the
Benchmark curriculum is teaching children to express their ideas in writing.
In the teachers’ review of professional Literature, they studied the
early works of Donald Graves (1977), which entailed his ideas on the process
writing technique. After
realizing that neither synthetic phonics or context clues was meeting all the
needs of their students, the Benchmark teachers also studied other decoding
strategies. Patricia Cunningham and
Richard Anderson were consultants for the development of the grades 1-8 program
that teaches students to identify words through analogy.
Furthermore, Benchmark embraced Linnea Ehri’s theory (1994) that stated
that sight words can be used to decode unknown words by analogy only when words
have been fully analyzed with each sound matched to its corresponding letter or
Another component of the
curriculum explores how students understand how they learn.
As Gaskins (1998) studied research on metacognition, she worked
collaboratively with her staff to develop up a comprehensive strategies
instructional program. They researched and worked with Anderson and Pearson (1984),
Duffy and Roehler (1987a, 1987b), Palincsar and Brown (1984), Paris,
Lipson, and Wixson (1994), and Pressley et al. (1990).
The study of cognitive and metacognitive strategies allows students to
select, organize, synthesize, and monitor incoming information and instills a
deeper and more meaningful understanding of the text.
Classes such as Psych 101 and Learning and Thinking (LAT), were developed
by Gaskins and her staff to provide students with the opportunity to share the
steps used to complete the assigned task, orally.
Psych 101 is taught for 15 minutes, 4 times a week to middle school
students. LAT is a 10 session
course taught to the elementary students. These courses have been noted to (1)
enhance an understanding of the importance of metacognition; and (2) instill
better academic performance, since students utilize various control factors that
lead to motivation and willingness to learn.
P. M. (1980).
Applying a compare/contrast process to identifying polysyllabic words.
Journal of Reading Behavior, 13, 213-223.
Although this article is twenty
years old, it provided insight into the initial inquiry of the
“compare/contrast process” for word identification. Cunningham refers to the word identification process as
interactive and explains that some words are recognized without delay, some are
recognized almost immediately given the context and the letter/sound
relationships, and some words are unidentifiable despite the context.
Of course sometimes these words that cannot be decoded do not break down
the reader’s meaning making, but in other cases they do.
In the introduction of the
article, Cunningham goes onto describe the mental process that readers may go
through when decoding one-syllable, two-syllable, and polysyllabic words.
This was relatively straightforward for the one and two-syllable words,
but with the polysyllabic words the phonics rules did not always apply and there
were questions by the students about which ones to try first.
As a result, Cunningham suggested that decoding be examined as “an
interactive process in which all or parts of the unknown word are compared and
contrasted to all or parts of known words in a cognitive word store.”
Based on this hypothesis,
Cunningham conducted a study using fourth and fifth graders.
The experimental group played a series of games developed by Cunningham
(the predecessors of “Making Words”) in which two teams tried to solve
unknown words through a progression of “clue words.”
The three clue words Cunningham provided in the example were absolute,
rebellion, and attention. The students then worked in teams and asked the teacher which
parts of the clues words were used in the unknown word and in what location:
beginning, middle, or end. From
these clues, the students guessed the unknown word re solu tion
– resolution. After three weeks
of training in the compare and contrast method of decoding the students showed
significant gains in decoding polysyllabic words in isolation and in context.
In her discussion of the
article, Cunningham addresses my major question regarding the study and the
approach. I wonder about teaching
this process in isolation. Cunningham’s
response to this is that teaching these strategies in context in this study
might “muddy the waters” because the students would also be learning how use
context to aid in the decoding process. This
seems like a contradiction, as we want balanced readers who utilize all four
cueing systems: graphophonics, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics.
P. M. (1995). Phonics
they use. NY, NY:
Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers.
In chapter two of
Phonics They Use, Patricia Cunningham outlines activities that
teachers can successfully use in their classroom to help children become more
independent at reading and writing one-syllable words.
In the opening paragraph, Cunningham states that readers can decode and
spell one-syllable words even if they haven’t seen them before because they
are often consistent with the rules of spelling and pronunciation.
The premise behind many of the chapter’s activities is based on a
“use what you know already” assertion.
Chapter two activities assume that the child has already developed some
phonological awareness and know some consonant sounds.
The activities outlined in the chapter include; Cross checking for
meaning, Word Families, and Vowels strategies-decoding and spelling by analogy.
All of these strategies affirm that a child always try to use what they
already know to decode unknown words.
Cross checking for meaning is
one fantastic way to practice reading words that begin with consonants or
digraphs, and words that contain blends. The cross-checking actvity is done by
first choosing a set of words that use the consonants, blends or digraphs that
you are trying to address. Next,
use those words in sentences on an overhead transparency underlining the word.
For each cross-checking lesson, cover the underline word and read the
sentence minus the underlined word allowing the children to guess at the word
based on what word would make sense. If
they can’t guess the word, then show only the beginning consonant and let them
guess again. For digraphs and blends, cover the digraph or blend and
reveal the rest of the word and allow children to guess at the word based on
what word would make sense.
Word families, or phonograms,
are words that have the same vowel and ending letters and that rhyme.
Word families strategies can help practice consonants, digraphs, blends,
and endings by finding, analyzing, and charting words that use the same vowel
and ending letters and rhyme into the same groups or families. Children who
learn word families are asked to look carefully at the spelling of a new word
and search for already known words that share the same spelling pattern. In a
word family activity, the class can chart words with the same pattern and rhyme
into the same families. For example, words like BAT, PAT, RAT. and FAT would all
be placed in the same family on a chart. There
are many word families that can be discussed and charted.
The class chart can be added to and displayed for several weeks. It is hoped that when they come to a word in their reading
that they don’t know, they will be able to figure it out by thinking of a word
that they know that has the same vowel and ending letters.
Vowel strategies-decoding and
spelling by analogy also supports the “use what you know” theme.
Cunnningham states that research supports the view that readers decode
words by using the same spelling patterns from the words they know. Using words
you know to decode unknown words is called decoding by analogy.
Word sorts and making words activity practice the analogy and decoding
and spelling strategy. In word
sorts, children look at words and ort them based on spelling patterns and
sounds. Sorting can be done with pictures, with initial sounds, with
rhyming words, with vowel patterns, and with multi-syllabic patterns.
Making words is an activity where children are given some letters and use
these letters to make words. They
are able to begin by making little words and graduating up to making bigger
words until a final word is made using all of the letters.
Making words is a hands-on activity in which children learn how to look
for patterns and how changing one or two letters can change the whole word.
This was a chapter packed with
concrete strategies and activities that can be used to help children begin to
develop reading and writing of one-syllable words. The activities are all based around building knowledge based
on what you already know about words and language. That same premise is a main point of the Benchmark program as
well. A key component of the
Benchmark program is the Key Words that are used to decode other words.
The Benchmark program puts to practice the decoding by analogy strategy
in much the same way that Pat Cunningham suggests.
Reading this chapter by Cunningham helped me to refresh my memory and to
revisit strategies of analytical phonics instruction, applying what you already
know about language to unknown words.
I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (1998).
Word matters. Portsmouth,
Chapter twelve in Word
Matters is entitled “Teaching for Print and Sound Knowledge”.
In this chapter, the authors outline two components of word study; print
and sound knowledge about a word. The
chapter outlines many activities that can be used in early literacy learning
about sound and print. In an early
literacy environments, children experiment with reading and writing words
sometimes by using the support of high frequency or word wall words.
At other times, they recognize or approximate spellings of words by
considering what they know about letters and sounds.
The nine activities discussed in the chapter all relate to helping
children develop print and sound knowledge.
The activities are listed below:
Picture sorting: sorting
pictures based on beginning sounds, ending sounds, medial sounds, number of
syllables, and rhyming words.
Letter Sorting and Matching:
sorting and matching according to various characteristics
Alphabet Linking Chart:
alphabet chart that the class can refer to and use for a number of activities
including singing the chart, reading only the vowels, reading only the
ABC books that provide many opportunities to engage children in
activities such as reading letter names, matching letter forms in the book with
plastic letters etc.
Uses the same principle as alphabet books but focuses on one letter
Chart of all of the class member’s names that the class can use to read
each other’s names using the pointer, to find names with particular features,
Songs, Chants, and Rhymes:
Rhythmic language to help children hear the similarities and differences
in sound patterns. The jump rope jingles help children attend to attend to sound
patterns and learn the alphabet and vocabulary that is associated with
particular sounds and patterns.
Practicing handwriting helps children attend to important features of
The chapter relates well to the
Benchmark program because many of the Benchmark activities relate to helping
children understand print and sound. Like
the Word Matters activities, many Benchmark activities actively involve the
children in oral exercises where they chant the words out loud as a class so
that they can hear the sounds associated with certain words.
In the spelling chant and check benchmark activity, students take regular
spelling tests. After the test to check their work, the group chants the
spelling words together out loud. While
the word is being chanted, the students are supposed to put a small dot under
each letter as it is said. By
attending to each letter in the word, it is hoped that they may pick up on any
mistakes. The Benchmark program
also incorporates songs, jingles, and chants into their activities to help
students attend to sound. The
benchmark program also uses numerous letter and word sorts similar to the
activities listed in the chapter.
This was a helpful chapter to
read out of Word Matters. It
reaffirms to literacy educators the importance of helping the student develop
knowledge about letters and sounds as a way to further support their reading and
writing development. Even as a
fourth grade teacher, I can see that some of my students are not carefully
attending to letters and sounds and making sure that the word that they write
out matches with the sound of the word they are trying to spell.
An activity like the spell chant and check would be a good one to
incorporate into a spelling lesson to try to assist my students in improving
their daily spelling. Reading the
words out loud always help my students discover mistakes that they did not see
I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (1998). Word
In Pinnell and Fountas’ book,
Word Matters, the authors devote a chapter on teaching for print and
sound knowledge. They review the framework of a dynamic literacy program. Six
points that are to be considered when evaluating a literacy program for children
A clear understanding about letters
Knowing how to look at print
Establishing the alphabetic principles
Forming letters into words by writing
The ability to read and write a body
of high frequency words to create messages.
The authors then present
activities to use to accomplish these points, such as picture sorting, letter
sorting and matching, alphabet books and letter books that link letters to
sounds. Name puzzles are particularly good in encouraging students to learn a
few examples of letters and how they sound .It is also authentic in that they
are analyzing their own name. Students
acquire examples of letter-sound relationships from these types of activities.
They learn that the sequence of letters is important and that a word is
displayed as a cluster of letters. Students learn that a known word can be a
reference point for learning additional, similar words by studying word
Pinnell and Fountas (1998) also devote an entire section to
songs, chants and rhymes. It is their opinion that rhyming words and engaging in
songs and chants helps children to hear similarities and differences in sound
patterns. It not only helps children attend to sound patterns, but also to the
vocabulary associated with particular sounds and letters. The authors encourage
the use of nursery rhymes and jump rope jingles to reinforce the students’ use
of phonemic awareness. In addition, the chapter also discusses the importance of
the formation of letters and neatness in handwriting.
As with most of the information
I have gleaned from books written by Pinnell and Fountas, it is always
excellent. The authors have an easy style to their writing in which they make
their ideas very clear. I am finding that I reference it more and more, either
for activities in my class or as a companion piece to other works.
I find that many authors, such
as Nueman (1995), Reutzel (1995) and Cunningham (1995), in addition to Pinnell
and Fountas, parallel each other as well. They all approach word analysis in
similar fashion. They actively engage the learner in a variety of “hands on”
or oral recitation tasks.
Irene. (1998). There’s more to teaching at-risk and delayed readers than good
reading instruction. The Reading Teacher, 51(7), 534-547
This article discusses the
foundation of The Benchmark School and the four elements that provide a
foundation for the success of school-based initiatives utilized in teaching
readers who are considered "at-risk". Staff development, which is
considered the cornerstone to the successfulness of a program’s
implementation, needs to be on-going, collaborative and in-depth. In essence,
the staff members are encouraged to take ownership of the of the program through
support-coaching relationships and personal testimonials for publication in
professional literature. Quality instruction and support services tailored to
address academic and non-academic roadblocks are needed to ensure success in
literacy. The staff at Benchmark meets their students needs academically in
regard to affect of instruction, motivation and cognition. They believe that the
children change as a result of the changes made in their approach to them.
Congruence between the remedial and regular education programs is another
critical ingredient. Regardless of the educational movement toward
collaboration, pull-out programs still prevail in most schools. Sufficient time
to teach at risk or delayed readers is the fourth element. Benchmark suggests
that (1) delayed readers need to spend more time receiving quality instruction
more than peers in regular classrooms and (2) delayed readers need continued
support over many years.
In order to accomplish these
elements, Benchmark has encouraged their students to focus on the following:
reading lots of books; expressing ideas in writing; reading in content areas;
learning words and decoding; understanding how to learn; applying strategies
across the curriculum; identifying roadblocks to school success; and taking
charge of personal style and motivation. Staff development and change is another
focus that has been developed among the faculty at Benchmark.
Upon reflection, this article
supports the beliefs of educators, whether they teach in the remedial or regular
classroom setting. The need for continuous and supportive staff development is a
must for successful implementation of any program. Furthermore, the need for
congruence/collaboration between the remedial and regular education classroom
curriculum is a must if educators want the at-risk reader to be successful in
the regular classroom. The purpose for remediation is somewhat questionable in
terms of the desire of the respective program. It appears as if these programs
are designed to admit as many children as possible to maintain funding from
state or federal entities rather than prepare them with skills and strategies
for success in a regular education setting. In short, Benchmark’s
"keys" or elements to literacy success make sense.
This article provides the
reader with a deeper insight into the rationale and foundational beliefs of the
Benchmark curriculum. This article provides a quick glance at the reading
program and a better understanding of why Benchmark uses certain strategies with
the remedial reader.
I. W. (1999). A multidimensional
reading program. The Reading
Teacher, 53, 162-164.
This article provided a brief
but informative glimpse into the reading program used by several teachers at
Benchmark School in Media, Pennsylvania. The
teachers’ methods were illustrated through a “day in the life of Nancy,” a
fictitious first grade teacher, who embodied the three teachers who were
credited for the strategies shared. The
class description was typical of first grade; 20-25 heterogeneously mixed
students with a wide range of literacy abilities.
The activities portrayed in the article all seemed to engage children in
meaningful activities and provide support at different levels.
The activities included: listening to tape-recorded stories, songs,
chants, and poems while tracking print (these materials were first introduced in
a interactive/shared reading lesson), reconstructing familiar text that had been
printed on sentence strips and cut apart, working in “language logs” and
writing down the sentences the students had constructed.
During these independent activities, the teacher pulled small groups for
strategy lessons. The text that was
used during the small group lessons was from a 1970’s basal series that relied
on controlled and repetitive vocabulary.
Following this, the students
moved on to the word identification activities. This portion of the day included a systematic lesson that
integrated “rhyming, segmentation, sound-symbol matching, and spelling
patterns.” Students were taught
to use spelling patterns to aid in the decoding process and games were utilized
to reinforce this strategy. One of
the games described, “What’s in my head?” led students to a word through a
series of clues that required them to analyze word parts.
“Nancy” also utilized
spelling patterns in writing. Each
week the students created a story using three or four words that displayed the
highlighted spelling pattern of the week. These
stories were sometimes contrived and sometimes featured the students in the
class. Nancy also included a
read-aloud time each day and shared an array of genres.
Following the read aloud, the students had a written response time.
Students were encouraged to use inventive spelling, and Nancy had the
students read their writing to her.
The program is described by
Gaskins as multidimensional, and the article does explain a number of different
approaches to meet the needs of struggling readers. I did have some questions regarding two of the activities.
I questioned the importance of the
“language logs.” The logs are
used to write down the sentences that the children have reconstructed from
familiar text. Are they just
copying the sentences or reconstructing them using pencil and paper versus
reconstructing them by manipulating the sentence strips?
I also wondered about the reading material used in “Nancy’s” small
groups. They are described in the
article as a 1970’s basal series that uses “controlled introduction and
repetition of vocabulary.” This
description did not paint in my mind a picture of high quality children’s
literature. Would other reading
material be more stimulating, interesting, and motivating?
This article provides a general
overview of the Benchmark Program. It
is an excellent introductory article, as it presents examples of the activities
in the context of a regular classroom day.
I. W. (1999). A multidimensional
reading program. The Reading
Teacher, 53(2), pp. 162-164.
This article by Irene Gaskins,
the founder of the Benchmark Program, tells the story of a teacher, Nancy Smith,
who does a great job of meeting the needs of struggling readers by implementing
a multi-dimensional reading program in her classroom.
Nancy, however, is a fictional character created by Gaskins to represent
Carol Topete and two teachers from the Benchmark School.
The Benchmark school is a school for children who are reading below grade
level (at-risk readers).
The article narrates an average
day in Nancy’s classroom, thus outlining Nancy’s overall approach to
teaching her students how to read and write.
First and foremost, every one of Nancy’s activities must include a high
level of EPR (every pupil response).She also provides varying degrees of
scaffolding to support students according to their needs.
The teacher tries to also provide ample modeling and models the process
with familiar text.
Some independent activities
that her students work on while she is teaching a small group include taped
repeated reading activities and correlating sentence strips with the words from
the text in envelopes for the students to use to construct their own sentences.
Word identification activities are also an important part of the program.
Nancy introduces a lesson each day that uses some sort of word
identification strategy like rhyming words, segmentation, sound-symbol matching,
and spelling patterns. The class
also incorporates their ongoing word wall into many activities throughout the
day. Last, the class spends a lot
of their time composing stories and using them as read-aloud activities. The approaches detailed above outline Nancy’s
multidimensional reading program. The
program is multi-dimensionsal in that it incorporates many different approaches
including explicit, direct, discovery, synthetic, analytic, who to part, part to
whole and interactive approaches in whatever combination she deems appropriate
for her students at that time. She
understands that there is not just one method by which to teach but a variety of
approaches to use when trying to help a student. By engaging students in meaningful literacy tasks, Nancy
feels that she will produce students who can read and write.
The article was a clearly
written account of how to effectively incorporate strategies that help to meet
the needs of struggling readers. I
enjoyed reading it because it gave me very clear-cut ways that I can personally
incorporate aspects of the Benchmark program in my classroom.
I really liked how the author and the teacher she describes feel that
there is no set program or set materials that a teacher should always use.
Rather, we should be informed about a number of different approaches that
we can use to meet a variety of individual needs.
The reading program profiled
above relates to the Benchmark reading program because it is a fictitious
example of what a Benchmark classroom might look like.
The account is based on three teachers Carol Topete, a mentor of Irene
Gaskins, and Cheryl Cress and Marjorie Downer, two current Benchmark teachers.
Cheryl and Marjorie work very closely with Gaskins to continue to develop and
refine the program. She has
acknowledged their contributions in numerous materials that I have come across.
In her acknowledgements, Gaskins implies that she has received daily input on
Benchmark lessons from these two colleagues.
I. W., Downer, M. A., Anderson, R. C., Cunningham, P. M., Gaskins, R. W.,
Schommer, M. (1988). A
metacognitive approach to phonics: Using what you know to decode what you
don’t know. RASE, 9 (2),
This article begins by building
a case that emphasizes the need for explicit decoding instruction for poor
readers. In addition to this, the
authors state that automaticity in the decoding process enhances success.
Based on these thoughts, the Benchmark Program was established.
The program was initially used with struggling readers of average or
above average intelligence. Many of
these students came to the Benchmark School from schools that used “intensive
rule-based and/or synthetic phonics instructional programs.” The Benchmark School distinguishes itself from these types of
phonics programs because it takes a metacognitive approach and helps students
develop an awareness of spelling patterns through the use of “Key Words.”
The key words serve as model words displaying the said spelling patterns.
This decoding strategy is used in conjunction with a basal reader or with
leveled trade books.
The article goes on to explain
how the program is then implemented at the beginning and intermediate level.
At the beginning level, the goal is for children to acquire the 120 key
words that model the most commonly used spelling patterns in the English
language. In addition to this,
there is a great deal of importance placed on phonological awareness.
The authors then provide a glimpse into a week at the Benchmark School
and provide sample activities for each day beginning with the introduction of
the key words and concluding with meaningful applications in which the students
decode unknown words from known words.
At the intermediate level,
children with a basic sight word vocabulary, but inconsistent phonological
awareness are serviced. At this
level like at the beginning level an emphasis is placed on the automaticity of
the 120 key words. Again, these
words are compared and contrasted to unknown words in the decoding process.
Since many of words at this level are polysyllabic, children are taught
flexibility regarding the strategy. Like
the beginning level, the lessons are presented in “fast-paced, game-like”
The article was well written
and provided clear examples of the lessons in addition to providing background
information on the student’s and the program development.
Unfortunately, in the intermediate section there were limited examples
provided. This was somewhat of a
disappointment as the authors did a completely thorough job of describing what
takes place in the beginning level section.
It was almost as if they got to the intermediate section and decided the
article was getting too long. The
introduction presented a number of references in relation to decoding and the
struggles that at-risk readers face. They
also provide a definition and citation for metacognition as it relates to the
This article would be
beneficial to those interested in the foundations of the Benchmark Program.
If looking for information on the intermediate level, however, additional
literature would be needed as this article only explains the generalities of the
level and does not provide an abundance of examples.
Gaskins,I. W., Ehri, L.C., Cress, C.,
O’Hara, C. & Donnelly, K., (1997). Analyzing
words and making discoveries about the alphabetic system: Activities for
beginning readers. Language Arts, 74, p.172-184.
article by Gaskins, Ehri, Cress, O’Hara and Donnelly (1997) discusses the
foundation of language skills built during the preschool years and the
consequences that take place when a solid foundation is not created. The
research suggests that the more functional knowledge students have about the
alphabetic system and how words are structured to represent speech, the more
fluent and automatic they become as readers.
article is in two sections. The first section deals with an overview of the
Benchmark program and how the research that was done relates to theory and
practice. The authors found that there are at least four ways to read words: by
sight, by letter sound decoding, by analogy and by contextual guessing.
The traditional way of memorizing sight words is not an accurate
description as well. There are actually four phases of sight word development.
They are as follows:
The pre alphabetic phase, which is
tied to visual cues, generally at the beginning of a word.
The partial alphabetic phase consists
of recognizing the beginning and ending sounds.
The full alphabetic phase refers to
remembering the spelling -sound pronunciations,
The consolidated alphabetic phase
occurs when the sight word emerges as a fully analyzed sound–letter formation.
article describes the four phases in depth and relates them to the skill
acquisition of the learners. According
to the authors, once students learn to segment spoken words into sounds and
match them to letters, they are able to store key words as fully analyzed sight
words in memory, and hence, access the words when reading unfamiliar text.
Students must go through the phases sequentially if they are to be
successful. Therefore, after the current research, some revisions were made to
the original Benchmark program. Gaskins, et.al. (1997) created a five day cycle
that would encompass the following: discussion, word analysis, guided practice
and spelling. The second part of the article discusses the framework of each
for discussion with students are encouraged by using questions such as, what
strategies are being learned, why they are being learned, when can the
strategies be used, and how to use the strategies. This type of questioning
reinforces metacognitive knowledge about the learning process. Word analysis is
a key component. Some activities to be used to strengthen word analysis include
the games Ready Set Show, and Word Detectives. From there the students move on
to guided practice. They engage in activities that encourage and reinforce self
reflection such as Predictable Rhymes, which are little books written
specifically with certain spelling patterns in mind, along with word hunts and
echo reading. For the spelling portion of the activities, Elkonin boxes and
playing, What’s In my Head was discussed. Sample teacher-student dialogues are
also included in each section to give a clear account of how the program works.
This is an excellent
article. From it I got a crystalline understanding of the program’s goals. It
is well written and easy for a layman to read. It gives detailed research about
the theories and practices in learning word- decoding strategies in a sequential
order. One only has to determine the ability level of the student to engage the
student in the activities at the appropriate stage. The overview of activities
and how they relate to the different phases of the learner are so accurate.
Charts of Elkonin boxes and a rhyming word sort game were included in the
text. I can see how beneficial this would be to my own students.
Gaskins, I. W., & Gaskins, R. W. (1997).
Creating readers who read for meaning and love to read: The Benchmark
School reading program. In S. A.
Stahl, & D. A. Hayes, (Eds.), Instructional models in reading (pp.
130-159). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
article is a wonderfully thorough explanation of the theoretical base,
definition of reading, professional development, and principles for instruction
at the Benchmark School. Prior to reading this article, I was under the
misconception that the Benchmark Reading Program was merely an analytic phonics
program. In actuality, Word Identification is merely a component of the program
in place at the Benchmark School.
Benchmark School is a grades 1‑8 school for poor readers with average or
better intelligence. Thus, the reading program is designed to build on the
strengths that these students possess in order to help them achieve success in
reading. The program "...is grounded in continuous analysis and application
of cognitive research and is refined through research and practice in Benchmark
classrooms" (Gaskins & Gaskins, p. 131).
Benchmark school is based on the beliefs that learning is socially mediated,
learning requires active construction, learning requires motivation and
confidence to take risks, learning is a product of time and effort, and learning
is purposeful. These beliefs guide all instructional decisions. Students are
actively engaged in collaborative learning with a mixture of types of classroom
discourse and the teachers assuming the appropriate roles for instruction.
Teachers spend a great deal of time building a safe environment in which
students are willing to take risks. Perhaps most importantly, the students are
engaged in tasks which are either authentic in nature, or are linked to
teachers believe that reading must make sense. As the meaning of reading is
discussed with students, teachers emphasize "...that reading is an active
process in which meaning is constructed based on readers' experience and the
text, rather than meaning being present in the text" (Gaskins &
Gaskins, p. 136). Rosenblatt's theories of reader response are evident in
instructional practices. Benchmark teachers believe that good readers are
independent strategy users enjoy reading and look for opportunities to read.
development is a high priority at Benchmark. The staff works continuously to
increase their levels of theoretical understanding of reading and writing.
Examples of professional development activities include new teacher training as
assistant teachers; peer collaboration; classroom observations; weekly meetings
with supervisors; in services; professional readings and research seminars;
retreats; professional writing; and participation in program development.
Benchmark teachers are expected to be reflective teachers, thus generating
continuous professional growth and development.
Benchmark School uses five principles to guide reading instruction. The first is
to focus on the desired outcomes of instruction. Teachers are not bogged down in
daily routines because they focus on the big picture of the goals. Secondly,
teachers strive to create an environment in which the children feel free to take
risks. Collaborative learning and discussion of classroom goals and expectations
provide this atmosphere for the students. Benchmark teachers are expected to
plan, yet be dynamic and flexible. Because the teachers believe that they should
teach based on the strengths and needs of the children rather than being
curriculum driven, they often are flexible with plans when they see a need of
the children that needs to be addressed. Benchmark teachers teach actively and
across the curriculum. They are able to show application of reading skills to
all other learning. Finally, the Benchmark teachers encourage extensive reading
Benchmark instruction is based
on the research of cognitive scientists and their theories of learning. These
theories emphasize the social, knowledge-based process of active learning and
construction of meaning. Because teachers believe that instruction should be
provided within the zone of proximal development for each child, they are
actively involved in observation, reflection, and planning based on individual
needs. Perhaps the greatest strength of the Benchmark Program is that although
the "...teachers are pleased with the instructional program that has
evolved over time ...they continue to strive to make the program better"
(Gaskins & Gaskins, p. 156). The program is continually evolving based on
local school research.
Francene. (1998). The reader, the text, and the task: Learning words in first
grade. The Reading Teacher, 51, 666-675.
This article discussed the ways
that predictable texts fit with a child’s early reading experiences. According
to Johnston, the three factors that help to facilitate a young reader’s word
learning include: the reader, the text and the task. The young reader brings
varying literacy experiences to the reading classroom. Some children have more
word knowledge and print skills than others. These factors contribute to the
success of recognizing and learning words when reading. Children who don’t
have sufficient background experience with words may need visual cues to help
them at first. Eventually, they learn skills and strategies to decode new words.
Vowel spelling patterns is one of these strategies, as well as repetition and
rhyme. The traditional basal text was designed to provide words that were high
in utility and frequency, repeated in cumulative fashion, and easily decodable.
This method of controlled vocabulary led to contrived text and provided the
reader with little probability of reading unfamiliar words.
Research has shown that word recognition is supported b by illustrations,
patterned repetitive language, by rhythm and rhyme, and by the child’s ability
to anticipate and memorize the language. The tasks that children are encouraged
to perform lead to further literacy success. Flashcard drills, word walls, and
writing words in sentences are wonderful ways to allow children to focus on the
printed form of the word in isolation. Thus, oral activities are recommended to
add a sense of sound and meaning to the written word.
This article affirmed my
pedagogy in regard to the tasks in which readers should be engaged. As an
educator, I utilize many strategies for reading in my classroom. A major
component of my instruction of reading is the utilization of drama. Through
drama, my students can express the written language orally. Furthermore, choral
reading, a drama technique, allows my students to recite poetry, thus giving
them exposure to the sounds of rhythm and rhyme. Through action research, I have
been able to support the findings of this article that reiterate the need for
meaningful tasks as well as the reader’s prior knowledge and variety of text
Based upon the curriculum
provided by Benchmark, the usage of rhythm and rhyme are a major part of the
success of at-risk readers. This affects the learner’s style and addresses
motivational techniques used in the Benchmark program. The reader’s
responsibility of utilizing metacognition to address his/her own reading
strategies in the Benchmark program was portrayed in this article’s discussion
on the need to include "the reader" as a key factor in word learning
Pressley, M. (1998).
Reading instruction that works: The case for balanced teaching.
New York: The Guilford Press.
Pages 210-214 of this text
contain Michael Pressley’s studies on comprehension strategies instruction
conducted at Benchmark School in Media, Pennsylvania.
One study conducted by Pressley was an interview study of the faculty.
Pressley asked 31 teachers 150 questions about their instruction.
Analysis of the interviews revealed many points of agreement between the
teachers about their instructional practices.
Some of the shared beliefs of the teachers include:
The teachers strongly endorsed direct
instruction and modeling as essential components of effective strategies
instruction. This direct
instruction is important in both small and large group instructional settings.
The teachers advocated extensive
practice in the use of strategies and the careful observations of student
strategy use by the teachers in order to guide instruction.
The teaching of strategies and their
application occurred across the curriculum.
The teachers believed that explaining
thoroughly to the students when and where to apply the strategies they were
The teachers advocated only
introducing a few strategies at a time. In-depth
strategy over a period of months and years was strongly advocated.
Feedback to students was considered to
The Benchmark teaches believed that
they should teach children to be habitually reflective and to be good planners.
Additional studies at the
Benchmark school included case studies conducted by Pressley that revealed that
the Benchmark teachers practiced what they preach. The teachers advocate strong, explicit direct instruction of
strategy use and observations of their classrooms revealed that this type of
instruction occurs repeatedly in lessons and across the curriculum.
When reading the reports of
these studies, I was impressed by the manner in which Benchmark teachers were
able to clearly articulate their instructional beliefs and the ways in which
their instructional practices were consistent with their stated beliefs.
Additionally, Pressley’s studies indicated that not only do the
teachers know why strategy use is vital, they convey the whens, wheres, and whys
of strategy to their students consistently and repeatedly.
These studies suggest that Benchmark teachers provide their students with
instruction that enables them to become independent, critically thinking, and
Pages 137-141 in this text
discuss the Benchmark Word Identification Program developed by Irene Gaskin,
Linnea Ehri, Patricia Cunningham, and Richard Anderson.
Pressley describes the Word Identification Program as “…The best
developed decoding-by-analogy program that I have ever encountered…”(p.
This program is based upon 120
key words that capture the key spelling patterns associated with the six
English-language vowels. Additionally,
key words are also given for the two sounds of g and the two sounds of c.
A vastly important component of the program is that the students are
taught to self-verbalize their thinking as they apply the strategies of using
key words to decode based on memorized phonetic rules.
Teaching the students to decode by analogy increases critical thinking
skills and independent learning while they apply strategies to identify new
Pressley provides a thorough
explanation of two key components of the total Benchmark Reading Program in this
Shanahan, T. (1997).
Read-writing relationships, thematic units, inquiry learning: In pursuit of
effective integrated literacy instruction. The Reading Teacher, 51,
In his article, Shanahan
attempts to present the effectiveness of teaching reading via integration across
the curriculum. The concept of teaching reading with writing coincides with the
fact that writing and reading overlap because the same cognitive elements are
needed to do either task. Thematic units is an approach to integration wherein
the lessons taught in each discipline or subject have a similar topic. This
integration provides a student with more meaningful content in the classroom.
Some educators believe that this method of instruction takes away from direct
instruction or drill and practice. A better understanding of integration might
better explain that this belief is unsupported by researchers: (1) know what
integration is supposed to accomplish; (2) successful integration requires a
great deal of attention to the separate disciplines; (3) curricular boundaries
are social and cultural, not just cognitive; (4) integration does not do away
with the need for direct instruction or drill and practice; in fact keypoints
and main ideas presented by the instructor build the lessons within the thematic
unit. Through the students’ personal inquiries into a particular topic or
subject, they can gain valuable learning from the integration approach. In
short, integration takes away the abstract curricula and presents information
with relevance and value.
I could relate to this
article’s concept of integration as I too teach thematically in the classroom.
I was disappointed in the lack of research presented for the basis of thematic
units. Information was not presented on the cognitive processes that this type
of instruction encourages. There wasn’t any mention of brain compatible based
theory on the integration of content areas. Nonetheless, reading was recognized
as a component of every subject area and can therefore be easily transferred
Integration across the
curriculum has been utilized by Benchmark. It has been noted that both the
children and teachers enjoy this approach. Unfortunately, there has been
difficulty in developing strategies across the curriculum. According to Gaskins,
becoming strategic across the curriculum takes many years of instruction and
scaffolded practice in all subject areas, as well as instruction tailored to
students’ developmental levels. Further research in this area is currently
being done in the Benchmark program.