Showing posts with label Commercial reading programs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Commercial reading programs. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to Organize Daily Instruction, Part IV

Over the past few weeks I have been explaining an organizational plan that is a better alternative than Daily 5. Although I appreciate an approach (like Daily 5) that structures time for teachers, I believe it is better to do that around the outcomes rather than the teaching activities. Teachers need activities, of course, but they need to keep focused on what they are using those activities towards. A complaint of most of the big names in education is that teachers get too bogged down in methods, activities, approaches and the like, and lose sight of the purpose of those actions.

Here I will provide responses to many of the questions that have come up.

Won’t it get tedious if I structure the day in the same way everyday?
Perhaps, but that isn’t what I have recommended.  You definitely could use my scheme in a repetitive manner and there are both benefits and drawbacks to that (as the question implies). However, the issue is whether you are spending enough time focused on the right goals, and how you organize that in a day is up to you as a professional. Thus, if you plan on spending 45 minutes on words in your first-grade, that does not mean that you have to teach words from 9:00AM-9:45AM every morning. You definitely could vary this day to day. However, you also could break up this time into smaller chunks.

Shouldn’t I integrate instruction?
Again, perhaps, but because the boundaries are not firm across these categories, it is possible to be very flexible. A fifth-grade teacher might decide that she needs more than 30 minutes to teach a good comprehension lesson—since the texts that students are reading are more extended than that. She could teach reading comprehension every other day, instead of every day, which would allow an hour for such a lesson (writing would usually get swapped with reading comprehension in such a structure). Or, what if the teacher was teaching comprehension, but found out—right in the middle of the lesson—that more vocabulary work was needed. The teacher could provide that instruction and even out later, by providing more or less instruction in one of the other categories.

My school requires that we all teach reading at the same time (in a 90 minute block at the beginning of the day), so I can’t do this.
You could use the required block and add additional time later in your school day. However, I’m not a big fan of your school’s approach.  It makes it more difficult to provide intervention services to the struggling readers (if everyone teaches reading at the same time, then if a student is pulled out during that time he/she gets less reading instruction).

I’m a secondary teacher and we don’t have a reading class. I don’t see how this can work?
Many secondary schools have taken this plan on successfully. It requires cooperation among the various departments, however. Typically, we work on a weekly basis. That would mean that we need to provide 10 hours per week of literacy work (2.5 hours of vocabulary, 2.5 hours of reading comprehension, 2.5 hours of writing, and up to 2.5 hours of oral reading fluency—depending on the students’ fluency levels). Each department agrees to provide some portion of this weekly experience and then some horse-trading is done to ensure that there is sufficient time for everything.

We are required to implement our core program with fidelity. I don’t see how I can do that if I follow this scheme.
I very much like the idea of following core programs with some kind of fidelity, but this isn’t always possible because of time considerations. Typically, core programs offer more instructional activity than fits in a 90 minute block or (even in a 2 hour space). Teachers, in such cases, may follow with fidelity the parts of the program that they teach, but what about the parts they have to omit? This plan helps teachers to make the decisions of what to keep and what to drop. If there is too little instruction, of course, then the teacher could follow that with fidelity, but then would need to supplement.

I find myself agreeing with your approach, but I still love the activities that my students have been doing through Daily 5. Isn’t there a way to compromise?
Like you, there are particular activities that I want to have in my classroom. For example, as a primary grade teacher, I read to my students every day. I did this, not to teach them to read, but as a tone setter for my classroom and as a way of exposing students to particular cultural artifacts (I loved reading Charlotte’s Web to them, for instance). If I were teaching in the primary grades today, I would still read to my students, I just wouldn’t count it as reading instruction and wouldn’t let it take the place of instruction in decoding, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, or writing. Isabel Beck and Moddy McKeown have certainly shown how I could translate that kind of teacher read aloud into an effective vocabulary lesson for the younger kids, so I could perhaps count it that way, but I might not make that choice either. That’s the real benefit of this approach—it keeps you focused on learning outcomes and it keeps you in control of the choices.

What about Common Core?
Common Core sets the learning goals; the goals that your instruction should focus on. All that I have done is to categorize these goals, and matched them with time expenditures. For example, many primary grade teachers look at the CCSS and conclude that they are suppose to teach more comprehension than decoding. My plan allows the teacher to protect sufficient amounts of time to make it possible for students to learn to decode. Review the CCSS standards (including the detailed items including in the appendices) and distribute them across the categories that I have emphasized.

I’m a pull-out reading teacher. Should I use this plan in my teaching?
I expect interventions to either be especially targeted (like a pull out fluency program only for students lagging in fluency) or individualized. My scheme requires the teacher to balance literacy instruction in his/her classroom, but an intervention teacher should be aimed at balancing the child. If Hector is strong in decoding and fluency, then the intervention teacher should aim at comprehension. If Sylvia is weak at decoding, then the intervention should be aimed at strengthening this weakness. This plan makes sense if a student is low in everything, but if there are stronger and weaker patterns of skills, try to even the child out by building the weak spots up (that isn’t a good way to go in a classroom, because the teacher simply has too many kids with different needs—thus, addressing all of the needs equally is the surest way to higher achievement).

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is There a Place for Commercial Reading Programs in the Common Core?

My district has decided not to purchase a core reading program since we are now teaching Common Core. Does CCSS really prohibit the use of commercial instructional materials?

No, CCSS neither requires the use of commercial programs nor does it prohibit such use. That is strictly a local decision.

So should we use a program?

I’ve long argued that teachers need programs. The development of extensive lesson plans and tracking down appropriate materials each day is overwhelming for most teachers, and it introduces great variability into classroom instruction. One of the things I learned as director of reading in Chicago was that having everybody teaching something different makes it well nigh impossible for any kind of systemic improvement. I don’t believe that programs are necessarily better than the lessons good teachers create, but I do believe that all instruction is limited and it is essential for school systems to improve widely rather than a teacher at a time

But if it is okay for us to develop our lessons then why shouldn’t we?

Again, research certainly does not show that commercial programs generally do any better than teacher made lessons. Nor does it reveal such programs to be inferior to teacher lessons. I would rather have teachers adjusting shared lessons and then using the saved time to focus on the learning needs of the children. No one can teach all day, design lessons as extensive as those in typical commercial programs, and focus on children’s needs and problems. Of course, programs can have problems, but in a good system these problems will be identified over time and the schools can respond system wide rather than individually.

Our district is making model lessons and we are supposed to then come up with our own lessons based on the models?

Many states, school systems, unions, and publishers are designing such lessons. This approach suggests that it is possible to formulate worthwhile lessons that can be used on scale. In other words, these groups are using their money and teacher sweat equity to create lessons to be used by others. That’s the same thing that publishers do.

You seem to think developing such lessons is a waste of time?

I generally do think such efforts tend to be expensive and expect too much of teachers. And, yet, I have worked on many of these CCSS lesson design efforts around the country, and engaging students in such lesson development can be great professional development. (And research bears this out; designing and redesigning lessons with feedback—that’s usually my role—can teach a teacher a lot). It is once those very expensive prototypes have been developed and the process is turned over to teachers to do that day in and day out on their own that I get skeptical. That’s the benefit of commercial programs; they give teachers a base to work from and it locates the materials for the lessons, etc.

What is the biggest problem that you are seeing in these kinds of lessons?

One of the big problems that I have seen is the designs that try to break the standards down into parts. Thus, if a standard asks for kids to do two or three things in combination, they reduce this to doing each of those things separately—which is not the same thing. Teachers tell me that it is easier to understand and teach the parts, which I don’t doubt at all; but doing it that way tends to miss out on what the standard actually means. It is harder to carry out three actions in concert while reading a challenging text; that’s the point. You can simplify it, of course, but then you aren’t actually teaching the same standard.

My state has done that for us.

It doesn’t really matter who makes the mistake, it is still a mistake if your goal was higher achievement.

You said you have seen lots of groups developing units and lesson prototypes. Are any of them better than the others?

Not in terms of who is developing these. I see both good and bad examples across the board.

It sounds like you believe teachers should be using commercial programs. But we are seeing lots of materials with Common Core stickers that don’t look very Common Core.

Me, too. This is a case of “buyer beware.” It is more efficient to use commercial programs and it is fairer for kids since it equalizes the playing field a bit (“my teacher couldn’t/didn’t find as good a story as the teacher next door”). But just because it is commercial it will not necessarily be any good. It is clearly up to the teachers to determine quality of the overall program and then to monitor the program for weak spots during use (which is easier than everyone spending hours designing all lessons themselves). Take a good careful look at the materials that foks are trying to sell you and be critical; if you think they have just relabeled their old lessons to make them look Common Core-ish, then ask them to show you both the program they are selling you and the previous edition of the program. That will uncover some of the chicanery that sometimes takes place.

Aren’t textbooks for lazy teachers?

No, they are not, and I think that can even be a dangerous claim. I’ve seen teachers over the years (including myself early on) defining quality in terms of whether the teacher uses a textbook or not. Not using a textbook won’t make you a good teacher by definition. You can be a good teacher with our without a textbook program, which means good teachers have to plan instruction even when they have a textbook. That is more efficient and it will give kids a fairer shot at success, but it won’t guarantee quality; only teachers and principals can do that.

Also, here is the link to my recent presentation, the Common Core Ate My Baby.