October 20. 2016

What is The Literacy Continuum?

*This is the second in a series of blogs about The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum. Don’t forget to read last week’s blog on the Systems of Strategic Actions, an essential part of The Literacy Continuum. Read on to learn more. 

You may have seen The Literacy Continuum on a colleague’s desk, flipped through it, and put it back down. You thought you were picking up a regular professional book, but what you found was a dense, flurry of words and colors that might as well have been in Greek. You were right about one thing: it is not a regular professional book. It is THE essential tool for elevating your language and literacy expertise. 

Think of The Literacy Continuum as a roadmap. It’s a tool to help you meet students where they are and lead them to where they need to be. It’s meant to help guide your assessment through observation, which would then inform your teaching. Your observations show you where their literacy skills sit on the "map," and will lead you to the correct route to take for the next step in instruction. This essential tool is comprised of eight continua, each focusing on a different aspect of Fountas and Pinnell’s learning and literacy instructional framework (Guided Reading, Second Edition, Fountas and Pinnell 2017) contributing in different yet complementary ways to students’ reading, writing, and language processes. Here’s how:

Reading Process

Four of the eight continua address reading: interactive read-aloud, shared and performance reading, guided reading, and writing about reading. Within these four continua, you will find a list of behaviors and understandings that students should be showing at each grade or reading level on the F&P Text Level Gradient™. The behaviors are organized according to the Systems of Strategic Actions for thinking within the text, beyond the text, and about the text. All of these strategic actions should be going on in the readers’ heads simultaneously as they process texts. As they move along in grades and levels, students expand their systems of strategic actions by meeting the demands of increasingly complex texts. “As you work with the continua related to reading, you will see a gradual increase in the complexity of the kinds of thinking that readers do. Most of the principles of learning cannot be pinpointed at one point in time or even one year. You will usually see the same kind of principle (behavior or understanding) repeated across grades or across levels of texts; each time remember that the learner is applying the principle in a more complex way to read harder texts,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017).


The three continua about communication are writing, oral and visual communication, and technological communication. Whereas the writing about reading continuum is an excellent approach to helping students extend their thinking, it does not take the place of specific instruction that is devoted to helping students develop as writers. “Through the writing workshop, teachers help writers continually expand their learning of the craft, conventions, and process of writing to communicate meaning to an audience,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017). The oral and visual communication continuum was created to focus on the broader area of communication beyond the printed word in listening and speaking, and presentation. In the technological communications continua, there are descriptions of specific goals for helping students find effective ways to use technology effectively for learning, communication, and research. “We cannot know exactly the kinds of communication skills that will be important in 2020 and beyond, but we can equip our students with the foundational competencies in listening, speaking, reading, writing, and technology that will allow them to take advantage of new opportunities for communication,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017).   

Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study

For each grade in this continuum, you will find specific principles related to the nine areas of learning that are important for grades PreK–8: early literacy concepts, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, letter-sound relationships, spelling patterns, high-frequency words, and word-solving actions.  It is drawn from the longer continuum published in the Fountas & Pinnell Comprehensive Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study Guide.  “Our work is based on the premise that students not only need to acquire phonics and word analysis understandings, but also they need to apply these understandings daily to reading and writing continuous text. This volume shows how, over time, learning builds on learning. It is designed to help you think analytically about this complicated area of learning and be more precise in your planning and teaching for phonics, spelling, and word study,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017).

How is it different from the previous edition?

You may be familiar with the previous edition, The Continuum of Literacy Learning. The basic descriptions of text characteristics and behaviors and understandings are still there, but the descriptions are more precise. It’s easier on the eyes and arranged in a way that you can spend less time thinking about where on the Systems of Strategic Actions your student’s behaviors lie, and spend more time knowing how to instruct them.  

The key differences are:

·         Streamlined organization

·         Expanded behaviors and examples across the continua

·         First appearance of a behavior or goal or text characteristic is indicated by a red bullet [behaviors are acquired a nd then elaborated over time]

·         Clear organization of and explicit links to the Systems of Strategic Actions

·         Four-color design for clarity and focus

“Our intention was to create a document that holds these precise details in a way that serves as a reference for teaching. In this way, it serves as a curriculum guide to use in observation, planning, teaching, and reflecting, always asking, ‘What are my students showing that they know and can do?’”

Log in next week to read about Who is The Literacy Continuum for? And how is it used?

Jill Backman, Fountas and Pinnell Marketing Manager

Join the fastest growing community in the field of literacy education. Get your free membership and stay up to date on the latest news and resources from Fountas and Pinnell at www.fountasandpinnell.com 

For a well-organized, searchable archive of FAQs and discussions that are monitored by Fountas and Pinnell-trained consultants, go to our Discussion Board at www.fountasandpinnell.com/forum 

For more collaborative conversation, join the Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ Facebook Learning Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/FountasPinnell/ 


The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum. © 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.




October 18. 2016

October Twitter Chat on The Literacy Continuum

On Thursday, October 13th, authors Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell hosted a Twitter chat on The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum: A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching. People from all over the world chimed in to discuss The Literacy Continuum and its role in schools as a road map for literacy acquisition. Read on to see how this essential tool benefits classroom teachers, administrators, and coaches. See how these educators use The Literacy Continuum in student observation, which informs responsive teaching. Gain tips on different ways people are using it in the classroom in conjunction with other tools, such as Reader's Notebooks, sticky notes, etc. to enhance their teaching. See how teachers are using The Literacy Continuum for planning instruction that directly meets the needs of the students.  

The best way to describe The Literacy Continuum is as a road map. It tells you what behaviors and understandings to look for during student observation. Your observations tell you where their literacy skills sit on the "map," which will lead you to the correct route to take for the next step in instruction. 

Join us on November 17 at 8:00 p.m. EST for our next Twitter Chat on Guided Reading, Second Edition. 

October 13. 2016

What are the Systems of Strategic Actions?

*This is the first in a series of blogs about The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum. In order to understand The Literacy Continuum it is essential to understand the Systems of Strategic Actions. Read on to learn more.

While we read books, magazines, blogs, etc., our brains are subconsciously and simultaneously performing a variety of in-the-head actions in order to understand the text in front of us. We notice words we haven’t heard before or understood. We form opinions. We predict what might happen next. Word solving, predicting, and critiquing are just three of the twelve Systems of Strategic Actions that are simultaneously happening in our heads while we’re processing a text.


Take a moment to look at the image above. Fountas and Pinnell have developed this Systems of Strategic Actions (SOSA) wheel to illustrate the thinking readers are engaged in as they process texts. Whether you’re a beginning reader or a seasoned reader, all twelve systems are in use. These cognitive systems are assembled and reassembled in the head as readers move from the easiest texts up a ladder of increasingly difficult texts. The demands of the instructional level text give readers opportunities to learn new ways of problem-solving that in turn builds the processing network.

With appropriate text opportunities and effective teaching, readers will continue to construct their in-the-head processing systems as they move across the grades and into adulthood. Below is a breakdown of these Systems of Strategic Actions.

Thinking Within the Text

Thinking within the text refers to searching for and using information, monitoring and self-correcting, solving words, maintaining fluency, adjusting, and summarizing for purposes and genre of text.  By engaging in these strategic actions, readers acquire a literal understanding of the text—“what is happening” or “the facts.” “Most of the time, these actions are unconscious. You don’t mentally tell yourself, ‘Now, I have to search for information.’ You just do it when prompted by internal questions. When studying for a test, for example, you might consciously remember details or a summary, but most of the time, you simply understand the text and recall the information automatically. Since you do not need to pay attention to the processing, your mind can be working on something else,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2009).  As a teacher, you can gather information about the first five systems of strategic actions by observing reading behavior.

Thinking Beyond the Text

Thinking beyond the text means bring your own thinking TO the understanding in a variety of ways.  Readers make predictions.  They make connections with personal experience, content knowledge, and other texts.  They synthesize new information, which requires differentiating between what they already know and adjusting that fund of knowledge to accommodate the new information they encounter in the text.  Readers  infer what is implied but not stated. “Again, you do not consciously understand these actions; they happen while you are reading. Much of your comprehension of a text comes not from the print itself but from what you bring to the reading. Anyone who has been a member of a book club knows that every person in the group has a slightly different interpretation of the text. These variations in interpretation are quite valuable when they are shared—everyone’s thinking is enriched,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2009).  As a teacher you can gain evidence of your students’ ability to think beyond the text by listening to their talk about it and examining their writing.

Thinking About the Text

Thinking about the text means examining it closely and in an analytic way.  Readers notice and analyze the writer’s craft and appreciate or criticize something about the writing. “When you say, ‘Amy Tan is one of my favorite writers,’ you are indicating that you like her style, the subjects she writes about, the way she organizes and tells a story, her choice of language, and so on. You are holding up the text as an object to be admired. Similarly, you might question the accuracy or authenticity of a text or be critical of the author’s motives or qualifications. Sometimes analyzing and critiquing are conscious efforts, especially if you plan to talk about the text with others; but just as often, they are unconscious. Proficient readers think analytically and critically all the time while they are reading,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2009).  Evidence of students’ ability to think about the text may be found in their talk and writing.

Through closely observing your students during oral reading, talk, or writing you can see the evidence of their control of all twelve systems. The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum shows you what behaviors you should be noticing and teaching for at each grade or level. Each behavior is categorized into one of the Systems of Strategic Actions, to help teachers make decisions during shared reading, interactive read-aloud, and guided reading lessons, as well as writing about reading.

“The common thread is that most children acquire a fully developed literacy processing system that grows and expands over the years. It is helpful to have in mind a clear picture of what effective readers do as they build their systems so we can think about what all readers need to be able to do,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2009).

Jill Backman, Fountas and Pinnell Marketing Manager

Join #FPLiteracy on Thursday, 10/13 at 8:00 p.m. EST for a LIVE Twitter Chat with @fountaspinnell   

Join the fastest growing community in the field of literacy education. Get your free membership and stay up to date on the latest news and resources from Fountas and Pinnell at www.fountasandpinnell.com 

For a well-organized, searchable archive of FAQs and discussions that are monitored by Fountas and Pinnell-trained consultants, go to our Discussion Board at www.fountasandpinnell.com/forum 

For more collaborative conversation, join the Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ Facebook Learning Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/FountasPinnell/ 


When Readers Struggle: Teaching That Works. © 2009 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.