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Explicit Teaching: Reading

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When we think of teaching explicitly we often think of giving specific and clear interventions for phonemic awareness and decoding. For the more advanced reading skills, like making inferences or predictions, we give much more vague and unclear instructions, assuming children will be able to learn through doing or using their intuition. However, most children with special needs require more clear, explicit, instructions in order to acquire these skills. That is why I recommend teaching reading skills explicitly. 

Explicitly teaching sounds harsh I’m sure, or time-consuming, or like you’re going to be doing most of the talking. It can be, in the beginning.

However, over time it allows your students to form more independence and master skills in a more meaningful way, and hopefully struggle less as they learn more advanced reading skills.

So in this post, we’re going to cover what teaching explicitly is, why it works better for some students, and how to apply it to reading skills.

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Explicit teaching or giving explicit instructions is a lot like what it sounds like. It’s when you guide students through complicated or simple activities by giving clear directions that break down everything step by step. 

You essentially explain everything and don’t leave a lot of room for students to use their creative minds. 

Educators using explicitly teaching might often make checklists for students, layout directions clearly and repeatedly, or break down tasks with a mind map. I can and have used all these strategies. 

Sometimes it can feel like a drill and get a little repetitive.

However, it’s that repetitive nature that can help your student master the skill. The way it works is you teach how to do it, and then have the student do it, practicing, again and again until they’ve reached a desired level of independence.

There are some downsides to explicit teaching. Namely, as I said above, your students don’t have as much input in what they’re doing. They can’t decide on the next steps for themselves.

It’s not a good way to work on executive functioning. 

However, many students with executive functioning challenges, need explicit instruction in order to master new skills, both for academics and life.

Executive functioning skills help us decide on what to do next and make logical choices. Children with autism or ADHD might not have strong executive functioning skills and require interventions.

Click here to read more. 

But Sarah, you love executive functioning skills. Why use explicit teaching if it doesn’t improve them?

It’s true. I do love executive functioning skills. 

However, I cannot only target executive functioning skills or my students would never learn anything but math. I use explicit instruction to help scaffold for students’ executive functioning deficits so they can still learn the advanced concepts in reading.

If you also choose to go this route, just make sure you’re still setting time aside for executive functioning interventions. 

So if you want to use explicit instruction in reading, the best place to start is inferences, and here’s why.

Explicit instruction asks students to do something step by step. Making an inference is the easiest thing to break down into steps in language-based reading skills.

Let’s say for example you’re working on identifying character feelings. Assuming your students have the needed prior knowledge of examples of feelings and behaviors commonly associated with them, there’s a series of steps for them to follow.

  1. Read the text, more than once is best.
  2. Underline important things the character does or thinks. (Evidence)
  3. What does this tell you about how they feel? (Inference)
  4. Does your inference match your evidence?
  5. Write/say a sentence about how the character is feeling with evidence.

Five steps with clear concrete actions. 

If you like these steps you can purchase my premade interactive mini-lesson on character feelings by clicking here!

While it’s easiest to use explicit instructions with inference making, you can do this with other reading strategies.

Just ask yourself to break it down step by step. Don’t be scared to go as deep into the minutia as you think your students need!

If explicit instruction seems extreme that’s because it is. It’s offering a large amount of guidance that takes time to roll back.

I never recommend starting with it, but it does have its place in special education. Every SEIT should have it in their back pocket.

To get started without having to stress about prep, click here to purchase my premade interactive Google slide show on character feelings!

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