The school principal as a reading supervisor

The school principal as a reading supervisor

Marlow Ediger

The role of the principal has changed from being a manager of a school to a leader in curriculum improvement. With mandated testing, it behooves the school principal to assist in improving the curriculum. Increased accountability of teachers for pupil achievement is in the offing. Reading as a curriculum area is basic to success in the different academic disciplines taught in school. This manuscript will pertain to the principal working with teachers to strengthen the reading program.


How might the school principal assist teachers to improve reading instruction? Certainly, he/she needs to be well versed in what makes for quality teaching and learning situations in reading. Word recognition causes problems for pupils.

Helping pupils to use context clues is a major way of identifying unknown words.

If a pupil is unable to recognize a word, he/she may use a word that fits in meaningfully. Reading the surrounding words/sentences will further ascertain if a pupil has identified the unknown word correctly. Then too, if a pupil can sound out the initial consonant of the unknown word, the chances are the word which makes sense within the sentence will be correct (Ediger and Rao, 2007).

There are critics who advocate more phonics be taught. This may be a good recommendation if the graphemes (letters) harmonize with the related phonemes.

There are sounds and symbols which harmonize as in the following words–run, sun, fun. There are, however, words which rhyme with the preceding, but are spelled differently–done, none–as well as words spelled the same for the latter set, except for the initial consonant, but are pronounced differently–bone, lone, tone. Phonics is valuable in teaching up to a point when sound/symbol relationships do not exist. There can be consistency even in parts of a word such as phone. The “n” sound is the only consistently spelled grapheme. It does, however, follow the pattern of consonant/vowel/consonant/ silent “e” patterns making for a long vowel sound of “o.”

Learning words through the sight method will need to be used when other procedures do not work. Sight word may be printed on a three by four inch cards; pupils might then practices identifying each as it is being viewed (Ediger, 2007).

For primary grade pupils, using picture clues to identify an unknown word will help, in many cases, to identify unknown words. Thus, if a pupil cannot recognize a word, the picture in the page of the textbook will give away its pronunciation. Generally, pictures in books are many and large for young children. Hopefully, a picture will provide the clue for the child in determining an unknown word (See Gunning, 2000).

The school principal needs to provide leadership in helping teachers also teach struggling readers. Struggling readers need teacher assistance to determine where each pupils is presently in reading achievement. This may be done by having teachers mark one hundred running words in the basal text being used. The struggling reader may then read aloud to the teacher that marked portion. He/she has not heard the selection read nor practiced it in silent reading. Thus, the struggling reader may reveal his/her reading level presently. If the pupil reads ninety five percent or more of the running words correctly, as well as answering four out of four comprehension questions correctly, the text is on the pupil’s recreational reading level. This is the level of words read correctly for enjoyment purposes from a library book. Reading correctly eighty-five to ninety four per cent of the running words correctly represents the instructional level, providing that three out of four questions are answered correctly covering the contents read. Going below that level in word recognition and comprehension, the pupil tends to read on the frustration level. From the instructional level of the text being the starting point, the teacher may develop objectives, learning activities, and evaluation procedures. The instructional level provides opportunities for the struggling reader to be successful with quality sequence and good teaching (See Devine, 1986).

For all levels of pupil reading progress, the principal needs to help teachers with recreational reading. Here, pupils choose their very own library books individually and silently read to the self. Generally, pupils choose library books to read which are interesting and on the appropriate reading level. Interest is a powerful factor in learning and propels the learner to read sequentially more complex levels of reading materials. The teacher observes if pupils individually are fully engaged in reading. Conferences may be held with individual pupils to check oral reading proficiency as well as comprehension of content. Notes of the conference may be recorded and progress noticed by the teacher in future reading conferences (Ediger, 2002).

Higher Order Thinking Skills

It is salient for pupils to realize higher order thinking skills in reading. The principal may provide leadership in guiding teachers to assist pupils in diverse kinds of thinking while reading. Literal interpretation is necessary, but pupils need to learn to think at a more complex level. The recall level then involves literal comprehension. But to truly comprehend well, the pupil must read analytically. Here, the learner separates facts from opinions, accurate from inaccurate statements, as well as fantasy from reality. When reading editorials in newspapers, the pupil needs to think critically pertaining to opinions read. Also, it is always good to attempt to check the accuracy of ideas read. Synthesizing, too, is salient in that once inaccuracies, for example, have been taken out, then the reader must put together what is accurate in a complete thought.

Reading creatively also stresses higher order thinking in that the pupil comes up with unique ideas in interpreting news happenings and events. Creative thinking has made for progress in society in that someone needs to think of better processes, products, and ways of doing things. It emphasizes what is unique and original.

Scaffolding is an important concept to use in reading instruction. Thus, if achieving an objective appears to be too complex, the teacher may assist the learner to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown. This involves sequencing learnings until the objective has been attained by the pupil. In the past, the thinking was that if a pupil cannot attain an objective, no more effort need be put forth. With scaffolding, however, there are good chances of bridging the gap between the known and the unknown (See Yopp and Yopp, 2007).

Inservice Education

The school principal must take the lead in promoting inservice education programs to improve instruction. Phonics versus whole language approaches in reading very often take center stage in this debate. The former have strong backers in having teachers teach sound/symbol relationships in assisting pupils to read. They believe that if pupils learn to decode effectively, reading progress will be shown by learners. Somewhat toward the other end of the continuum, whole language advocates unveil their approaches in teaching reading. There are several procedures which might be emphasized here:

The big book approach stresses using a large book for all pupils in small groups of five or six, approximately, be able to see the contents clearly. The teachers comments on the illustrations and encourages input from learners in the discussion. This provides background information to pupils as well as assists pupils to posses the necessary facts and concepts to understand the ensuing content. The teacher then reads aloud the content, pointing to each word being read, as pupils follow along in the big book. Next, pupils read aloud with the teacher as the latter again points to each word encountered. With the third reading, the same procedure is followed as in the previous step of reading aloud. The fourth time, pupils, only, read aloud, the content with the teacher observing the ongoing experience. This activity may be repeated as often as needed or desired. Here, pupils are reading content without hindrance/embarrassment of not being able to recognize individual words or phrases. A basic sight word vocabulary for reading is then being developed by pupils. If desired, phonics may be stressed in the following examples in the selection just read aloud:

1. who can find a word which begins like “dog?”

2. who can find a word which ends like “cat?”

3. who can find a word which rhymes with “man?”

* a second inservice education activity might well emphasize individualized reading. Here, the teacher introduces a few library books to pupils in class. The library books need to be appealing, interesting and meet pupil needs. Learners may then select books to read sequentially. At intervals, a conference needs to be held. The teacher checks oral reading progress of the pupil, as well as comprehension through related questions discussed. Conference information needs to be filed for future reference and comparison.

Individualized reading stresses that pupils are in the best position to choose reading materials based on personal interests and reading level possessed.

This approach can be used solely or with other approaches in reading instruction such as the use of basal readers.

Additional inservice education procedures include the following:

* surveying teachers to ascertain which problems they face in reading. Items listed might well provide the basis for an inservice program

* demonstration teaching of “Questioning the Author” (QtA), followed by an indepth discussion

* panel presentation on implementing “Reciprocal Reading,” followed by questions from inservice education participants (See Biddle and Saha 2006).

Teachers need to try, in their respective classrooms, different approaches elaborated upon from inservice education sessions. Obtaining feedback to report to inservice education participants is truly worthwhile.


Biddle, Bruce J., and Lawrence J. Saha, “How Principals Use Research,” Educational Leadership, 63 (6), 72-78.

Devine, T. G. (1986), Teaching Reading Comprehension. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

Ediger, Marlow, and D. Bhaskara Rao (2007), Reading Curriculum and Instruction. New Delhi, India: Discovery Publishing House.

Ediger, Marlow (2007),”The Substitute Teacher in Reading Instruction,” The Sub Journal, 8 (2), 67-73.

Gunning, Thomas (2000), Creating Literacy Instruction for All Children. Needham Heights, Massachusetts; Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

Yopp, Helen Ruth, and Hollie K. Yopp (2007), “Ten Important Words Plus: A Strategy for Building Word Knowledge,” The Reading Teacher, 61 (2), 157-160.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Project Innovation (Alabama)

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning