Reading Rockets

Richard Allington has been a reading researcher and scholar for more than 30 years. In early 2000 he published an article that focused on the 6 T’s (talk, text, task…and time, teach, test) that reflected the reading instruction framework of successful literacy teachers. Noted below are several excerpts, (in quotations and italics) interspersed with my comments.

Based on extensive research at the first and fourth grade levels, he and his colleagues observed, interviewed, and videotaped exemplary teachers and teaching over hundreds of days in schools across from six states that enrolled substantial numbers of poor children representing a wide range of ethnic and linguistic diversity.

He found six factors that distinguished these exemplary teachers. Three of these reflect the Talk-Text-Task Framework of the Reading Pyramid described in an earlier blog.


The “who,” “what,” and “how” of talking matters. Allington addresses three important aspects of talk: who does the talking, the nature of the talking (conversational) and what they talk about.

“….We saw fundamental differences in the nature of the classroom talk in the exemplary teachers’ classrooms and the talk typically reported in classroom observational studies. First, we observed these teachers fostering much more student talk – teacher-student, student-student – than has been previously reported. In other words, these exemplary teachers encouraged, modeled, and supported lots of talk across the school day. This talk was purposeful talk though, not simply chatter. This talk was problem-posing, problem-solving talk related to curricular topics (Allington & Johnston, 2002; Johnston, Woodisde-Jiron & Day, 2001).

It wasn’t just more talk but a different sort of talk than is commonly heard in classrooms. We described this difference as “more conversational than interrogational.” Much previous work has well-documented the interrogational nature of most classroom talk. Teachers pose questions, children respond, teacher verifies or corrects. That is the dominant pattern observed in study after study, grade after grade (Cazden, 1988; Nystrand, 1997).

The classroom talk we observed was more often of a conversational nature than an interrogational nature. In other words, teachers and students discussed ideas, concepts, hypotheses, strategies, and responses with others. The questions teachers posed were more “open” questions, where multiple responses would be appropriate…”


It matters what kinds of texts we ask students to read. Allington notes that children need to “read” texts they can actually read. And they need to spend enough time reading those texts.


“In these classrooms, lower-achieving students spent their days with books they could successfully read. This has not typically been the case in less effective classrooms (Allington, 1983). In too many schools, the lower-achieving readers receive appropriate reading materials only when they participate in special support instruction (e.g., special education resource rooms, Title 1 in-class support, bilingual education block). In other words, in too many cases the lower-achieving students receive, perhaps, an hour of appropriate instruction each day and four hours of instruction based on grade-level texts they cannot read. No child who spends 80 percent of his instructional time in texts that are inappropriately difficult will make much progress academically.


“These teachers” seemed to notice that motivation for reading was dramatically influenced by student reading success. They acted on these observations by creating multi-level, multi-sourced curriculum that met the needs of the diverse range of students in their classrooms.”


It matters why children are reading. Reading cannot simply be done to complete the reading or even to answer factual questions. Students need to see reading as a significant part of learning and interacting with the world. The tasks that we ask children to do in connection with reading “assignments” needs to engage them in reading what they text says but go beyond that to the meaning and use they make of the information and ideas.

“Another characteristic of these exemplary teachers’ classrooms was the greater use of longer assignments and reduced emphasis on filling the day with multiple, shorter tasks. In these classrooms, students often worked on a writing task for ten days or more. They read whole books, completed individual and small group research projects, and worked on tasks that integrated several content areas (reading, writing, and social studies).

The work these children in these classrooms completed was more substantive, more challenging, and required more self-regulation than the work that has been more commonly observed in elementary classrooms…..

Relatedly, the tasks assigned often involved choice – student choice. We described the instructional environment as one of “managed choice.” Students did not have an unlimited range of task or topic choices, but it was less common to find every student doing the same task and more common to observe students working on similar but different tasks. For instance, in a fourth-grade unit on insects, each child caught and brought that insect to class. They then sketched the insect using magnifying glasses to discover detail. These sketches were then labeled for body parts (thorax, abdomen, antennae, etc.). Students also observed the insect in its natural environment and jotted field notes about observed behaviors and habits. They wrote a short description based on these notes and constructed a model of the insect from craft materials. Finally, they presented their insect to classmates and then posted their sketches, models, and descriptions on the classroom wall where classmates could review and study the insect projects….”

I hope you will read the full article by clicking on the link at the beginning of this post.