Paying Attention to Progressions

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by Jeff Barger

Last August, I made a conscious decision to improve my eating and exercise habits. I made a goal to walk a set number of steps each day. After reaching the goal for several weeks, I added in some running and set a time goal. I was careful not to do more than I was capable of doing. The mix of walking and running changed to all running and the goal went from time to number of miles and time per mile. This was my progression from walking to running. In reading text, children follow progressions as well. Utilizing a progression allows educators and parents to see what is expected of readers as they age. The Common Core standards for each succeeding grade level build upon the previous grade level. For example, the first standard for informational text is all about the details in a text and how a reader uses them. Here is the progression from kindergarten to grade five:


  • In kindergarten, readers learn the definition of a detail. Teachers use prompts to support readers in being able to ask and answer questions about key details. An adult may ask, “What is this book about?” and point to text that could help answer that question.
  • The following year, first-graders are expected to ask and answer questions about details without support.
  • Second-graders progress to answering specific questions like who, what, where, when, why, and how.
  • As they did previously, a third-grader continues to ask and answer questions with the now-added skill of being able to refer explicitly back to the text. You may ask your reader to show you in the text where a historical figure made an important decision.
  • In their fourth-grade year, readers need to be able to draw inferences using background knowledge and text clues to form ideas about details that are not explicitly stated.
  • Finally, in fifth grade, the expectation is for readers to quote accurately from the text when talking or writing about the text.


So why is this progression important? It guides your instruction. You can see the big changes in expectations as readers get older. Knowing where skills such as referring back to text and drawing conclusions are in a child’s learning continuum will help you determine if your reader is ready to take on a particular skill. Learning progressions are a vital part of informing reading instruction.


Jeff Barger is a K-5 literacy specialist in North Carolina. He is the creator of the NC Teacher Stuff blog and has written several nonfiction books for children.


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