Back to School, for Parents: Learning the Lingo in Schools

    When the back-to-school bell starts ringing, parents often hear and read school-related terms that are unfamiliar to them. Below are three terms and descriptions related to reading instruction that may help give you a better understanding of what’s happening in your child’s classroom and what it all means for your young learner.

    Screening: Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In the classroom, this quote translates to the use of reading screening for all kids. Screenings usually take place within the first few weeks of school. Rather than waiting for kids to fail at school, screenings give teachers a chance to identify kids who are at risk of having difficulty. Scores on screenings help teachers identify kids who may need extra help through small group or one-on-one instruction.  
    DIBELS: DIBELS is the K-3 literacy benchmark assessment administered in all CUSD schools. It stands for Dynamic Indicators of Beginning Early Literacy. This benchmark test is give 3 times a year so that teachers can measure progress on the skills necessary for learning to read. The tested skills vary by grade. Based on meeting certain criterion, the child is considered Benchmark, Strategic, or Intensive in terms of instruction in a category.
    BURST: BURST is an intervention system (small groups) for students who need intensive instruction and sometimes strategic instruction. A child in a BURST group is just receiving the added instruction they need to help them master certain benchmarks. BURST groups occur during the regular day and during the literacy block.

    Differentiated reading instruction: A teacher who provides differentiated reading instruction is one who meets the instructional needs of all the students in the class by planning different instruction based on the results of an assessment he or she has given. For example, while all the students in the class may be working to develop their fluency skills, some students may be working with different books and others may still be working on their sight words. Some students may be working in pairs, others may be working one-on-one with the teacher.

    Journeys: Journeys is the name of the reading series from Houghton-Mifflin-Hartcourt (HMH) used in all grades K-6. Journeys provides instructional materials to help our students meet the AZ College and Career Ready Standards in literacy. Journeys provides grammar, writing, listening, speaking, and reading activities and lessons.

    Leveled text: Many teachers use leveled texts in their classrooms. Most of the books used in elementary classrooms are leveled, or placed in a certain category, based on certain criteria such as number of words and sentence length. There are several common leveling systems; some use letters to indicate levels and others use numbers. The levels correspond to different grade level materials. For example, if a school is using a Guided Reading leveling system, levels E-I typically refer to books written at a first-grade level. If your school uses leveled texts, ask your teacher what leveling system they use.


    As a parent, it can be tough to keep up with the language of schools. These terms are just a few of the many reading-related words you’ll hear this year. We encourage parents to work closely with teachers and ask lots of questions. You’ll be glad you did!

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