This blog post is one that is specifically written for my fellow teachers, with a sincere and genuine loving purpose. Recently, I have seen a lot of commentary about our students that are behind with reading skills. Specifically related to whether or not parents are reading to their children at home, and the assumption that if a student is behind or struggling with reading, then that MUST be the problem - a lazy parent. This. Could. Not. Be. More. Wrong.
Reading aloud to a child is important. It develops language is ways that simply talking to them cannot. However, it does not teach a child to read. Reading aloud to a child will not keep them from struggling with reading skills. As importantly, not reading to a child will not, in and of itself, cause them to have reading struggles.
So what then? Who is the blame for these students' low achievement?
Brace yourself... because it is us. Kind of. Actually, it is the teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities across the country that have completely failed to adequately prepare and education us, thus leading us to fail our students.
Hear me out! I completely understand and am utterly disgusted by the amount of work placed on teachers these days. There is simply no way we can keep up with all of the individualization, paperwork, grading, feedback, testing, lesson planning, data collection, etc... The system is definitely against us, but there are some things we can and should change about our instruction.
The most important thing we can do as educators is to continue to seek out education for ourselves. Professional development that is NOT chosen by your principal, but by you. And if you are a teacher who has found ourself thinking "if only their parents would read to them at home, then they wouldn't be struggling so much in the class and feeling so frustrated and lonely" - then you should really consider some PD related to The Science of Reading (SoR).
If you have never heard of the SoR, it is basically a broad and comprehensive collection of research that provides evidence about the best ways to teach children to read. Since 95%, yes NINETY-FIVE PERCENT, of children are capable of learning to read, but less than 40% of US students are currently meeting basic literacy standards, we absolutely need to pay attention to this important SoR research.
"Explicit, systematic phonics instruction is essential for some, helpful for all, and harmful to none." - Snowling, Hulme, Snow & Juel -
There are two philosophies of teaching reading: Systematic and Implicit Instruction.
sound & spelling rules are taught as corresponding units in isolation
includes direct instruction, explanation, and practice of these units
these units are introduced in a logical and specific sequence that builds upon previous concepts
sound & spelling correspondences are inferred from reading
limited direct instruction, relies heavily on "teachable moments" as readers encounter new sounds in words
sound & spelling rules are introduced incidentally as students encounter them in text
concepts vary in difficulty depending on texts introduced to student, rather than systematically increasing difficulty of concepts or building upon previous concepts
Systematic instruction is the gold standard for teaching reading. It is also utterly necessary because at least 40% of students will be highly unlikely to read proficiently without it.
If your classroom is using an implicit instructional model, and you are not explicitly teaching phonics rules, then you're overdue for a change. Now I realize we do not have a whole lot of say over what curriculum is handed to us by the district, but we can and should speak out about best practices to our administrators. Again, taking some professional development is a fantastic way to open this conversation!
As a certified principal, if one of my teachers came to me and said "Good morning! I hope you had a great weekend! I recently took some professional development in my own spare time, and I am feeling really passionate and energized about it. Is there a time when I could share with you what I learned and some potential ideas I had to implement it?" - I would be incredibly impressed and excited!
Bottom line, reading struggles are neurological in origin. Our brains are where we process phonemes, and if a child has any type of language based learning difference, it will make reading more difficult.
If there is one thing you learn from this blog, please let it be that simply reading aloud to a child is NOT ENOUGH to fix these learning struggles, and not reading aloud to a child certainly did not cause them.
The way to help our students, and to reach all 95% of children who are capable of learning to read, is to use systematic instruction in our classrooms. A great starting place for this is professional development based on the SoR. I also highly recommend learning the 6 syllable types, and the rules for teaching them.
Teachers are awesome. Teachers deserve more support. Teachers are so important. Let's make sure we are the kind of teachers that do what we need for our students, because the country is truly relying on us!