A few weeks ago, I passed on some readers’ questions about the Core Knowledge Reading Program to Matthew Davis, who is coordinating a pilot of the program in New York City elementary schools. He got back to me today with some answers.

Ira asked whether the program addresses syntax, since he finds that his students are very weak in understanding grammar and sentence structure.

Matthew Davis: In the Listening and Learning strand, the children will be hearing sentences with a lot of syntactical variety, including longer sentences than they would generally encounter in early reader type books they read on their own. We hope this oral experience of the language of books will help the students develop a sense of syntax. Also, beginning in grade 2, the Skills strand will address grammar and syntax explicitly. We expect to do some sentence-combining type of exercises to practice syntactic expansion. Details are being refined as I write.

Smith wanted to know how content is selected and sequenced, and how this program differs from what elementary teachers do already.

Matthew Davis: The topics are largely based on the topics in the CK Sequence. Within the topic we tried to sequence from short and basic to long and difficult, so that each domain begins easy and saves the hardest topics or reading for later in the domain, when kids should have enough background knowledge to tackle the harder topics. There is of course no one correct sequence, but we think we generally have a good sequence. We generally sequence according to concepts rather than specific vocabulary words, but we do make an effort to make sure that there is not a “vocab overload” in any of the read-alouds. CKR is trying to promote both implicit vocabulary acquisition (where children soak up vocab. by listening to the read-aloud) and explicit vocabulary acquisition (typically a few words from each read-aloud are selected for either a short vocab treatment or a more extensive treatment along the lines suggest by Beck and McKeown in Bringing Words to Life.

If you have more questions about the pilot, or thoughts about early grades reading instruction, please leave a comment.