Evidence Based Practices and the Big 5

Remember the Elementary Secondary Education Act defines evidence-based practices as those “effective educational strategies supported by evidence and research”.  When teachers use evidence-based practices with fidelity, they can be confident their teaching is likely to support student learning.

Evidence-based practices in education are the same.  They are backed by rigorous, high-standard research, replicated with positive outcomes, and backed by their effects on student outcomes.  EBPs take the guesswork out of teaching by providing specific approaches and programs that improve student performance.  There is frustration in teaching when you cannot find a way to help your student learn.  You try one thing and then another and another and they are not having positive outcomes for your student.  EBPs have proven outcomes on students’ performance and can make finding and implementing an effective practice less frustrating.

Using evidence-based practices (EBPs), with special education students especially, is a critical feature of improving their learning outcomes.  When teachers combine their expertise as content knowledge experts with explicit instruction and practices and programs backed by research, the likelihood that a child will grow academically is increased.

A quick history lesson

We all love or hate the Big 5. 

BUT..... without them

Congress appointed a National Reading Panel (NPR) in 1997 to review reading research and determine the most effective methods for teaching reading. The NRP reviewed over 100,000 studies and analyzed them to see what techniques actually worked in teaching children to read. The group only looked at quantitative studies, which gathered data in a numerical form and through structured techniques. Qualitative studies, which gather data through observations such as interviews were not included. In 2000 the NRP submitted their final report. The results became the basis of the federal literacy policy at that time, which included “No Child Left Behind.” We still base our understanding of evidence-based reading research on the NPR, but sadly, some of their major recommendations have been largely ignored. So what were their findings? They concluded that there were five essential components to reading, known as “The Big Five:”

  1. Explicit instruction in Phonemic Awareness.
  2. Systematic Phonics Instruction.
  3. Techniques to improve Fluency. These include guided oral reading practices where the student reads aloud and the teacher makes corrections when the student mispronounces a word. A teacher can also model fluent reading to the student. Fluency includes accuracy, speed, understanding, and prosody. Word calling is not the same as fluency. 
  4. Teaching vocabulary words or Vocabulary Development. 
  5. Reading Comprehension.
Teaching a student to read is like building a house, and you need to lay a foundation first of all. Without the foundation, the building is unstable and will eventually fall down. That foundation is Phonemic Awareness. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that all spoken words are made up using a subset of about 44 individual sounds, called phonemes. Mastery of the skill of phonemic awareness has to be to the point of automaticity in order for fluency to be developed. 

On top of this comes systematic Phonics. Children learn that the sounds in spoken words relate to the patterns of letters in written words. Not just mastery of the skills of systematic phonics, but automaticity in those skills, is also necessary for fluency to develop. 

With these two layers in place and developed to the point of automaticity, techniques to improve Fluency can begin to be effective.

Vocabulary Development can be built next, including learning the meaning of new words through direct and indirect instruction, and developing tools like morphemic analysis, to discover the meaning of an unknown word.  

Then Comprehension Skills can be added. Comprehension skills are the strategies a reader can use to better comprehend a text. 

This is the foundation of reading, but it is also the foundation of education generally. Every subject is dependent on reading, and mastery of these subjects depends on developing a strong foundation in these early literacy skills.

As I continue to explore Evidenced-Based Practices, I will use the “Big 5” to share how they can be developed, and provide some resources that you can take back and use.

Chat Soon,


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About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.
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