Blast from the Past: First issued May 18, 2014 and reposted on September 24, 2022. These days I'm often asked how I would organize my reading instruction. In this blog entry I provided that kind of description (and I followed it with two more over the subsequent weeks to expand upon those ideas). You can find those blogs by typing How to Organize Daily Instruction into the search function of my site. I think these entries provide some valuable guidance in how to make sure that you are successfully addressing educational standards and meeting students needs in ways consistent with relevant research. However, there are issues not throughly addressed in these entries dealing with differentiation. Those issues don't fit neatly into any scheme such as the one described here because classrooms differ greatly. As Rebecca Barr showed, the specific mix of children in terms of reading ability will dictate how much group work will be done, the size of groups, and so on. Teachers should never group for the sake of grouping, but only in response to student needs. The are other blog entries on this site that discuss some of the issues of differentiation. However, varying instruction on the basis of student needs should take place within some overall structure, and it is that that these three blogs address.
Twice this week I’ve been asked how to organize instructional time for literacy. Both inquiries noted my earlier objections to Daily 5 and CAFE.
They were right I am not a big fan of those approaches.
My reason (with these any similar, but less popular schemes): they distract teachers from an intense focus on what they are trying to teach students. Teachers must be focused on learning—not activities.
Of course, many teachers would point out that the idea is for kids to learn, and teachers address learning through those 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 fetishize the activities.
There are many ways to accomplish learning goals and teachers should select among these as they help students to meet the required outcomes. Locking oneself into a particular daily activity 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 measure success in terms of how smoothly an 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 appreciate that teachers embrace such schemes because of their manageability. Some of the most onerous decisions for teachers concern how to parcel out their valuable instructional time, and schemes that help teachers to do that have some value.
The framework that I have long used is both like—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 daily. 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 that such programs provide.
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