Saturday, May 24, 2014
Last week I explained that it makes sense to organize instruction in ways that allots time to learning goals—rather than to instructional activities. It is not that teachers don’t need activities, just that activities don’t have a one-to-one relationship with instructional outcomes. That's why approaches like Daily 5 and CAFE are simplistic and don't have an especially powerful relationship with learning. Those approaches get teachers aimed at particular classroom activities, without sufficient attention to the outcomes.
How should teachers determine which activities to use towards these essential ends? Research.
For example, imagine you required 30 minutes per day for paired reading (an activity). Research indicates that paired reading can be an effective way of teaching fluency so that sounds pretty good. But it is not the only way to teach it: radio reading, echo reading, reading while listening, and repeated reading are all good, too. As are related activities that can help with some aspects of fluency such as sight vocabulary review or reading parsed text (helps with prosody). Wouldn’t it be better to devote the time to developing oral reading fluency and leave the activity choices to the teacher?
I indicated that I would devote slices of time to word learning (not word study—that’s an activity), oral reading fluency, reading comprehension, and writing. Why those? Because for every one of those there is research showing that such instruction can improve overall reading achievement. There is also research showing that at least some struggling readers may have a specific learning problem in one of those areas (but not the others). Later, I'll be more specific about these categories as goals, but for now the categories are enough.
Increasingly, research is suggesting that oral language development is implicated in reading development. Not yet any studies showing that oral language instruction improves overall reading achievement—but getting closer. Some educators might want to divide classroom literacy instruction by 5, to accommodate that additional goal.
Another possibility: many of my colleagues believe it is essential for teachers to motivate; to teach kids to love reading. Again, no research showing much of an impact on overall reading achievement but if you are committed to that outcome, building it into the time structure would be appropriate.
I wouldn’t add either of those goals at this time, as I’d wait for the research to make the case. However, whether I stayed to the goals already mentioned or added these, I would still structure the time around the goals and not the activities. It doesn’t make sense to set a self-selected reading time, because this alone is not a very robust response to the motivation goal.
I would also stress that this approach calls for set amounts of time devoted to particular goals—not set periods of time. What I mean by that is that it would be okay for a teacher to spend 30 minutes per day teaching vocabulary, but that it wouldn’t have to be done from 9:00-9:30. The point isn’t to fit instruction into boxes, but to ensure students get sufficient amounts of teaching. Thus, a teacher might include a 5-minute vocabulary review at the beginning of the day, a 10-minute vocabulary discussion focusing on connotation during close reading, and a 15-minute direct instruction period with new words in the afternoon. Not as simplistic as CAFÉ or the Daily 5, but sensible in terms of what it takes to successfully teach students to read.
My next entry will explain how this time-based approach can work with a core reading program or with Common Core. Until then, keep your eyes on the prize; emphasize learning goals, not instructional activities, and use research to set those goals and to identify activities worth spending time on (in other words activities found to accomplish particular goals).
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Twice this week—from a NY teacher and an Illinois school administrator—I’ve been asked how to organize instructional time for literacy with Common Core. One was an email inquiry, the other face-to-face, but both noted my earlier concerns about Daily 5 and CAFE.
In both cases, they were right that I am not a big fan of those approaches.
My reason in both cases (and also with any similar, but less popular schemes): they distract teachers from an intense focus on what they are trying to teach students. Teachers have to be focused on learning—not activities.
Of course, many teachers would point out, the idea is for kids to learn, but teachers do that through their activities. I don’t disagree about the need for instructional activities as the means for increasing student knowledge and skills, but that doesn’t mean we should idolize the activities.
There are many activities that can be used to accomplish particular learning or teaching goals and teachers need to select among these and to move among these as they help students to gain the outcome. Locking into a particular activity on a daily basis is foolish.
Research has shown that teachers struggle to keep focused on kids’ learning; that they get so wrapped up in the activities that they often lose sight of their purpose. What do they say about alligators and swamp draining?
That’s why so many teachers and principals come to measure success in terms of how smoothly the activity went rather than on what it enabled kids to do.
Any scheme that focuses teachers on activities rather than outcomes is a non-starter for me.
However, I do appreciate that teachers embrace such schemes because of their manageability. The biggest decisions teachers have to make have to do with how to parcel out their valuable instructional time, and any plan that helps teachers to do this has some value.
The framework that I have long used is both similar to—and wildly different from—these schemes that I’m criticizing. My framework also gives teachers guidance with time use, but its emphasis is on the outcomes rather than the methods.
I start from the premise that students are going to need to spend a lot of time with literacy to become literate. Given that, I think kids should spend at least 2-3 hours per day dealing with literacy.
A second premise is that we have multiple goals in literacy and that they all compete for instructional time. I believe that it makes sense to divide the available instructional time among these different goals.
What are these goals? My reading of the research says that students need to learn words and word parts (to read them, to interpret them), they need to be able to read text fluently (with sufficient accuracy, speed, and prosody), they need to be able to understand and interpret the ideas in text, and they need to convey their own ideas through text (writing). These are all critically important goals, and each of them has many sub goals.
I would argue teachers should provide students with explicit instruction and lots of practice time in each of these four learning areas on a daily basis. Rather than focusing on four or five activities that kids should be engaged in everyday, I’d rather have teachers thinking about what activities they should encourage based on the learning goals in each of these areas. Thus, it would be very reasonable to spend 30 minutes on words, 30 minutes on fluency, 30 minutes on reading comprehension, and 30 minutes on writing everyday (on average)—even though the actual activities would vary.
A daily organizing plan that is focused on these outcomes makes greater sense than one based on activities such as read to self or read to someone.
And such a plan makes sense even when using “core reading programs” or “basal readers” because they help teachers to choose among the many options such programs provide.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Recently, I received a question about the appropriateness of the Daily Five to the Common Core. Interesting question….
I think the purpose of the Daily Five is to provide teachers with a curriculum framework that guides them to spend time on a certain set of activities. Many teachers embrace it because it gives them a way to make sure a variety of things take place in their classrooms each day. Teaching is a complex job and frameworks that help simplify choices can be very useful.
Although the Daily Five plan bears a superficial resemblance to what I used in the Chicago Public Schools, it differs from my approach in at least one big way: it focuses on teaching activities rather than on learning outcomes. “Reading to someone” or “listening to someone read” are fine activities, so I don’t oppose them, and yet, there are enough pressures on teachers to submerge themselves in the activities at the expense of the outcomes.
The Daily Five ensures that certain activities are included, but this can be a real distraction from making choices that support student learning. I’d much rather have a teacher, wanting to expand students’ vocabularies, who decides to read a book to them to facilitate this learning, than one who is going to read to the kids and can either seek a purpose for it or not.
There are lots of ways to a goal, and I deeply respect the teacher who has a clear conception of what she is trying to accomplish and the choices that entails. Starting with the activity instead of the outcome, however, allows someone to look like a teacher without having to be one.
That’s a big difference, and I think the common core separates itself from the Daily Five even more. The common core state standards emphasize goals –not activities, and they provide a specific delineation of the specific levels of demand or complexity or quality that has to be evident in performances of these standards. Nothing like that in the Daily Five.
Obviously one could combine the Daily Five and CCSS. “I’ll use the Daily Five to guide my lesson planning and I’ll aim those lessons at the goals specified by the Common Core.” Lessons are always a bit of dance between goals and activities—and, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter where you start out as long as the two are closely and effectively connected in the implementation.
The Daily Five establishes a very low standard for teaching by emphasizing activities over outcomes, and by not specifying quality or difficulty levels for student performances. Teachers can successfully fulfill the Daily Five specifications without necessarily reaching, or even addressing, the standards.
Perhaps, teachers could animate the Daily Five framework with goals and proficiency standards from the common core. I think any of the activities could be stretched or shaped to somehow address the core standards. And, yet, I wonder if it’s worth the extra time this represents. What does it add?