writing. Reading aloud is the method of choice when the entire class needs to be familiar with information in a book but the difficulty of the text curtails active independent reading by less skilled readers. This is the logical solution for dealing with class novels. Nonfiction trade books are still not regular fare for read-alouds in the classroom, although information books have a myriad of uses in classroom instruction (see Vardell & Copeland, 1992). Presenting nonfiction through read-alouds develops background knowledge, exposes students to patterns of writing, creates links across the curriculum, and encourages students' engagement in more reading of nonfiction. Most importantly, we view teacher read-alouds as a crucial component of instruction that should be included on a regular basis rather than just once a week or when time permits.
Developing fluency. Providing regular opportunities for students to read relatively easy materials is certainly one excellent way to help students build fluency. The benefits of rehearsed performance reading are also well documented. Wolf (1998) noted the shifts that took place in students' decoding and comprehension skills when one teacher moved from round-robin reading to a classroom theater setting where text was both interpreted and performed. Martinez, Roser, and Strecker (1998/1999) reported growth not only in fluency and comprehension, but also in students' self-confidence as readers, and this is particularly important for middle school students who have had only limited success as readers in many years of school. A variety of texts can be used for Readers Theatre scripts, including nonfiction trade books (Young & Vardell, 1993), poetry, picture books, and novels with formats that are easy to script (e.g., diaries).
Linking reading with writing. Middle school students need structure and practice to develop the skills necessary to pursue independent reading and research in content area materials. This can be accomplished through linking reading with the writing process (Moss, Leone, & Dipillo, 1997). With this focus students read not only to construct meaning, but also to discover and learn from the processes used by writers. For example, students can learn about perspective as a literary element by reading Anthony Browne's innovative Voices in the Park (1998), a picture book that portrays the same park visit from four different perspectives. Other texts, such as Regarding the Fountain: A Tale, in Letters, of Liars and Leaks (Klise, 1998) provide multiple sources for teaching unusual text formats such as scripts, memos, letters, drawings, and documents.
Promoting word analysis skills. Middle school students have much yet to learn about the structure of words, albeit at many different levels of sophistication. Effective teaching of word analysis skills, spelling, and vocabulary requires teachers to understand the nature of the English spelling system and how it is learned (see Bear & Templeton, 1998). Unlike elementary teachers, however, middle school teachers generally are do not incorporate this knowledge into their reading and language arts instruction, even though many of their students have word analysis and spelling skills that approximate those of average readers in the early grades. Consequently, some teachers may not address these issues with students, or they resort to phonics-type commercial programs that may not be suitable. We believe middle school students would be well served by word study (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 1996) that emphasizes spelling- and meaning-based explorations of patterns in words and that may include word sorts, word hunts in reading materials, word games, and thematic study in the content areas.
Learning about individual students as readers and writers. "How can I get to know individual students when I see a hundred students each day?" This is an important and valid question we would expect from middle school teachers when they hear the suggestion that they should be familiar with the details of each of their students' reading and writing abilities and habits. Nevertheless, knowing individual students helps teachers gain critical awareness about how literacy develops and about how to meet students' particular needs, and we believe this is the key to building an instructional environment that is responsive to individual differences.
How does a teacher gain this kind of knowledge about students? We suggest, quite logically, that this knowledge comes from getting to know and teaching one student at a time. We know from research about the benefits of having novice teachers conduct practical research in literacy development. It is firsthand experience that connects theory with practice in two distinct ways. First, the study of one student's literacy development provides a structured context for reflection whereby teachers may step back and reexamine