Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Why Johnny Can't Read? Part 6: Quality of Instruction

In order to be highly successful literacy instruction must be informed, balanced, and responsive. To the extent that literacy instruction fails to meet these three components it surely contributes to why Johnny can't read. The other causes outlined in this series, income inequity, racism and segregation, brain-based learning difficulties, and limited resources, all play a part and all contribute to children not learning to read, but they do not excuse in any way the failure to provide the quality instruction that every child deserves. It is our responsibility as teachers, administrators, teacher educators, parents, and community members to insure that the very best quality instruction is available to all students, and for those most vulnerable readers, that the best of the best is available.

Informed Instruction

Pre-service teachers simply do not get enough instruction in how to teach reading. Often formal reading instruction is limited to two courses or about 6 credits. Learning to read is a complex activity. Teaching a child to read is even more complex. At a minimum pre-service teachers should have 9 credits hours in literacy theory, research' and practice. followed by a 4 credit hour clinical practice course that includes the opportunity to work with individual students in reading under the watchful eye of college professors and reading specialists.

In addition pre-service teachers should be observing in regular classroom settings during the sophomore year, assisting a classroom teacher in the junior year, and completing a full semester of practice teaching under the mentorship of a skilled, experienced classroom teacher in the senior year. Ideally, all elementary teachers would be enrolled in a five-year program leading to a Masters degree in elementary education with concentrations in literacy and mathematics instruction.

Upon graduation first-year teachers should be teamed with a skilled, veteran teacher as a co-teacher, honing instructional and classroom management skills. Second and third year teachers should continue a relationship with a teacher/mentor as well as participating in imbedded professional development in literacy instruction. Imbedded professional development is most effective because it happens in classrooms in real time and is conducted by literacy specialists employed by the district.

It is important to note here that this professional development must not be focused on compliance or fidelity with a particular program, but on the developing instructional competence of the individual teacher. We must seek to create teachers who have a deep knowledge on how to teach literacy, how to assess student progress and how to adapt instruction for the needs of individual learners with their unique needs.

Participation in a Professional Learning Community of peers, where problems of instruction are presented, examined, researched, and solutions hypothesized and tested, would act as a continuing professional development for the teacher.

When it comes to our most vulnerable readers, only our most accomplished literacy teachers must be chosen to provide them with whatever additional support may be required.

Balanced Instruction

All children, skilled readers, developing readers, and vulnerable readers must be exposed daily to a balanced instructional program in literacy. A balanced literacy program begins with the recognition that the goal is to develop independent readers, in control of their own reading processes, who possess both the skill to read well and the will to choose to read regularly. This goal is best achieved through the recognition that the goal of reading is to make sense of the words on the page and teach with that goal of meaning making always at the fore of the instruction.

To make this happen we provide all children with daily opportunities in word work, read aloud, shared reading and writing, guided reading, and independent reading and writing.

Word Work: Includes all the aspects of learning how to decode words including phonemic awareness, sound/symbol relationships, sight words, spelling, and vocabulary development. 

Read Aloud: Helps readers understand how fiction and non-fiction books work, develops vocabulary. builds background knowledge, provides a common classroom experience, builds interest in reading, provides a platform for comprehension instruction.

Shared Reading and Writing: Provides all the benefits of a read aloud and also allows readers to develop their burgeoning decoding and comprehension abilities in a supportive environment.

Guided Reading:  Provides small group instruction at the appropriate level of challenge for the child. Working in the "zone of proximal development" the child strengthens decoding and comprehension abilities with a teacher's guidance and prompting.

Independent Reading: Students consolidate their growing skills by reading for extended periods in self-selected books that they can read with a minimum of adult support, but at times perhaps, with a maximum of their own effort.

Independent Writing: Student writing provides students with practice encoding words that they must decode in reading. Writing also provides an opportunity to develop their comprehension abilities and reflect upon their understanding of their reading.

I have addressed various aspects of this instruction at length in other posts over the years. In a future post, I will compile those that are of particular interest to teachers working with vulnerable readers.

Responsive Instruction

Instruction for our most vulnerable readers must not only be balanced, but it must be responsive to the student's individual needs. Responsive teachers develop a strong working relationship with their students. They know their students strengths and weaknesses as learners, but also their personal likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams. Responsive teachers listen to their students when they talk and apply what they learn to their teaching.

Responsive teachers use daily formative assessments based on observations and informal assessments like Running Records to determine student instructional needs and then design instruction to meet those needs. Students who need more work on decoding receive that work within the context of the balanced program the teacher has designed. Reading groups are flexible and fluid, forming and reforming, as children's needs change.

Responsive teachers adapt their instruction based on the children in front of them rather than from the demands of particular program's prescriptions or standardized test demands. The instruction for any one child is constantly altered and refined as the child provides more information on their needs in daily reading and writing activities in the classroom.

Knowledgable, responsive teachers, using a balanced literacy approach give us the best opportunity to help vulnerable readers achieve literacy, even when other factors make it difficult. Those difficulties, while very real, are obstacles, but not excuses.

Other posts in this series:

Why Johnny Can't Read? It's Complicated, Ms. Hanford
Why Johnny Can't Read? Part 2: Income Inequity
Why Johnny Can't Read? Part 3: Racism and Segregation
Why Johnny Can't Read? Part 4: Brain-Based Reading Difficulties

Why Johnny Can't Read? Part 5: Environmental Resources

No comments:

Post a Comment