Using Trip Steps to Guide Instructional Reading Time


The following blog was contributed by a team of authors from Renaissance: Dr. Gene Kerns, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer; Dr. Jan Bryan, Vice President and National Education Officer; and Julianne Robar, Educational Content Program Manager.

To view the full article on Reading Trip Steps, click here. You can also learn more about Reading and Math Trip Steps in the NCEA webinar, Mastering Challenging Reading and Math Skills and the NCEA podcast, Trip Steps for Reading and Math.

In education, we often describe learning as a staircase, with each skill being slightly more difficult than the one before it. While this is generally accurate, students occasionally encounter a skill that is significantly more difficult than the prior skill, and these “Trip Steps” may cause a stumble in learning.

Focus Skills, a free resource from Renaissance, are the essential reading and math skills at each grade level that are also important prerequisites for future learning—the skills that students must master in order to progress. While all Focus Skills are essential, Trip Steps are more difficult, and critical, for students to learn than others.

Knowing which reading and math skills are most difficult for students to learn at grade level is valuable information for planning instruction. Trip Steps also support the important work of learning recovery, by helping educators identify essential yet challenging skills from prior grades that students may have missed. Trip Steps for Reading tend to span many grades within each skill area. For example, the Trip Steps for Main Idea and Details span grades 2–10. The Author’s Purpose and Perspective has Trip Steps spread across grades 2, 7, and 10. Looking at the list, it’s clear how these skills build on one another and require increasingly sophisticated levels of analysis.

What sets reading apart is how students must operationalize skills they’ve learned through all the genres they encounter. Reading a novel is different from reading a poem, an essay, a persuasive piece, or a newspaper article. The Trip Steps in the Conventions and Range of Reading skill area highlight the difference between reading literary texts and informational texts. This begins in grade 1 with the Trip Step, Understand the general differences among various print and digital materials (e.g., storybooks, fairy tales, informational books, newspapers, websites).

Grade 1 typically has the most reading Focus Skills, so it’s not surprising to see the large number of reading Trip Steps in kindergarten and grade 1. Students build important foundational skills at these grade levels, particularly for decoding. The skill areas we see here include Phonemes, Vowel Sounds, and Consonants, Blends, and Digraphs. Some early reading Trip Steps are extraordinarily difficult. For example, consider the kindergarten Trip Step for Vowel Sounds: Distinguish between similarly spelled words by identifying the sounds of the vowels that differ (e.g., pick the word that has the /a/ sound: cat, cot, cut.) Using the empirical difficulty data from Renaissance Star Assessments, we see this skill is roughly two grade levels ahead of kindergarten. But because it’s a prerequisite skill, it’s taught in kindergarten, not second grade. Even though it’s a difficult skill for kindergarteners to learn, it’s essential to their progression—which is the very definition of a Trip Step.

It may seem surprising to see only one reading Trip Step for grade 3, given the many policies around third-grade proficiency. Remember that high-stakes grade 3 tests assess students’ reading development through grade 3, not just in grade 3, including all the critical decoding skills in kindergarten and grade 1.

Once students have learned the mechanics of reading, daily independent reading is essential for building background knowledge and vocabulary and developing the stamina to read the long and complex informational texts they’ll encounter in college and career. In middle and high school, there’s a massive shift in complexity and in how students are asked to interact with texts. They’re making inferences, analyzing figurative language, evaluating arguments and evidence, and drawing conclusions. 

Looking at grade 7 Trip Steps, you’ll see that the skill areas deal with author’s purpose, author’s word choice, connotation, cause and effect, etc., and the skills begin with words like “Interpret,” “Analyze,” “Explain,” and “Draw conclusions.” This is not something that comes naturally to many 12- and 13-year-olds. The Trip Steps for middle and high school highlight the equally important role of teacher-led instructional reading practice in helping students to learn these challenging and more abstract skills. So how might teachers and administrators use Trip Steps for Reading? We suggest that grade-level teams plan instruction and share resources, focus on prerequisite skills and student motivation, and frequently check for understanding.

Trip Steps provide a tool for prioritization, a way to “zoom in” on the Focus Skills that will likely require the most instructional time, the most support, and the most student practice. Share the list of Trip Steps with teachers and instructional specialists. Ask them to find quality resources, lesson plans, and instructional tools for teaching students these necessary and challenging skills.


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Natasha M. McKnight

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