Student engagement focuses the student’s “in-the-moment” cognitive interaction with the content.86 Engagement can result from teacher instruction, text discussions with peers, or independent reading. The challenge for the teacher is to use effective methods of instruction that maintain/support student engagement with the content. Classroom support for engagement involves cognitive activation, a clear and well-structured instruction, teacher support through feedback, and teaching adapted to the students’ needs and interests.87,88 Clear instruction is particularly important to ensure students are engaged, including explaining the content in an accessible way and gauging student understanding of the topic.89,90,91 Additionally, students who find the reading content interesting itself are more likely to be engaged during lessons.
PIRLS developed the Students Engaged in Reading Lessons scale in 2011, which includes items about whether the teacher is easy to understand, has clear expectations, gives students interesting things to read, supports students’ autonomy, and does a variety of things to help them learn and enhance their reading skills.
Reading fluency has been shown to be related to reading comprehension with students having high achievement in reading comprehension also displaying high levels of reading fluency.92 PIRLS collects data on the various ways teachers help students practice fluency, including how often teachers ask students to read aloud and silently on their own.
Students who also develop and utilize various comprehension skills and strategies can have a deeper understanding of the text they are reading.93 Since the first PIRLS cycle, the teacher questionnaire has collected information on the types of reading comprehension skills and strategies taught to students including identifying main ideas and making predictions. Additional items have been added in subsequent cycles to reflect skills and strategies that are important in reading comprehension, such as determining an author’s perspective or intention and student ability to self-monitor their reading.
Fostering student motivation in reading is fundamental for reading teachers, because students who are motivated to read more, especially at a young age, become better readers.94 Motivation can be facilitated, according to self-determination theory,95 by creating a supportive environment that fosters a sense of relatedness, competence, and autonomy. A classroom environment that is overly controlling can stifle student motivation because it removes the student’s sense of autonomy.96 One way teachers can foster autonomy in reading instruction is by allowing students the opportunity to choose their reading material.97 Additionally, supportive teacher-student relationships are important in fostering student motivation.98 PIRLS asks teachers about how often they do various activities to encourage and motivate students to read such as giving students time to read books of their own choosing and encouraging student discussions of the text.
The reading materials teachers assign to students help shape students’ reading experiences in school. With the burgeoning increase in readily accessible information on the internet, there has been a push for students to develop the skills to comprehend various forms of informational text. Literary texts also serve important purposes by engaging students through personal identification with characters in a story and encouraging students to think critically when making predictions or connections in the text.99Because PIRLS assesses student comprehension in both informational and literary texts, teachers are asked to report how often they assign various types of informational and literary reading materials to their students.
Teachers use a variety of ways of grouping students to maximize the effectiveness of their reading instruction. Generally, small-group instruction can improve reading ability.100,101 For example, in the guided reading approach to small group reading instruction, teachers form small groups that are focused on instruction involving a specific skill or strategy rather than on reading ability in general. This type of flexible within-class grouping allows for differentiation in order to address the needs of each individual student. Homogeneous grouping by ability is another type of grouping thought to support students in learning at a pace that reflects their skills in the subject. However, research has found that grouping students according to the same reading ability in elementary school may benefit high achieving students but have negative consequences for low performing students.102,103 The PIRLS teacher questionnaire has routinely collected information on various grouping practices, asking teachers the frequency that reading is taught as a whole-class activity, in groups of same- or mixed-ability students, or to students individually.
Students who have easy access to reading materials are more likely to read, and for this reason, some countries have moved to creating classroom libraries that provide a wide variety of text and text types, including digital resources, as well as a special place for independent reading. The presence of an organized and readily accessible classroom library encourages students to read104 and can aid teachers in incorporating literature into instruction and fostering positive reading habits and attitudes. However, size and access to classroom libraries can vary depending on the socioeconomic composition of the school, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds having access to fewer books than students from advantaged backgrounds.105
In some countries classroom libraries replace school libraries, especially in smaller schools, and in others they complement school libraries. PIRLS began collecting information on the level of access and size of classroom libraries in 2001.
Homework is one way teachers can extend instruction and evaluate student learning. The amount of homework assigned varies both within and across countries, with homework not assigned at all to fourth grade students in some countries. Although there are differences across countries, teachers who assign homework can discuss the homework in class and provide feedback to students. Since 2001, PIRLS has asked teachers about how often reading homework is assigned to students and the time they expect students to spend on homework. In 2011, PIRLS also began asking teachers how homework is used.
Teachers have a number of ways to monitor student progress and
achievement, including direct assessments of what students have learned. PIRLS
asks teachers about the types of assessments administered to students. Informal
assessments such as observing students as they work, asking students to answer
questions during class, and short written assessments help teachers identify
needs of particular individuals, evaluate the pace of the presentation, and
adapt instruction. Formal tests, both teacher-made and standardized, as well as
long-term projects, typically are used to make important decisions about
students’ achievement (e.g., grades).