Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Reflection: Best Practices in Education: Reading Instruction

Reading Instruction

In this blog entry, I am sharing the summary of a podcast series that examines some of the instructional strategies and tools many educators (including myself...) have been using to teach and assess reading and writing. I must say that listening to this podcast has both shocked and awed me, and I feel it is extremely important to share this with others. To be clear, my goal here is to reflect upon and refine my own practice to more powerfully impact my own students' growth by examining research-based strategies.

Enter Sold a Story...

I begin my dive into reading instruction with an American Public Media 6-episode podcast. It was created, researched, and narrated by Emily Hanford, and is called "Sold a Story". It is basically her research on how children learn to read, how reading is taught, and why some students struggle. To quickly get us on the same page, here are summaries of the six episodes (taken from the author's summaries on Spotify):

  • 1: The Problem: Corinne Adams watches her son's lessons during Zoom school and discovers a dismaying truth: He can't read. Little Charlie isn't the only one. Sixty-five percent of fourth graders in the United States are not proficient readers. Kids need to learn specific skills to become good readers, and in many schools, those skills are not being taught.
  • 2: The Idea: Sixty years ago, Marie Clay developed a way to teach reading she said would help kids who were falling behind. They’d catch up and never need help again. Today, her program remains popular and her theory about how people read is at the root of a lot of reading instruction in schools. But Marie Clay was wrong.
  • 3: The Battle: President George W. Bush made improving reading instruction a priority. He got Congress to provide money to schools that used reading programs supported by scientific research. But backers of Marie Clay’s cueing idea saw Bush’s Reading First initiative as a threat.
  • 4: The Superstar: Teachers sing songs about Teachers College Columbia professor Lucy Calkins. She’s one of the most influential people in American elementary education today. Her admirers call her books bibles. Why didn't she know that scientific research contradicted the reading strategies she promoted?
  • 5: The Company: Teachers call books published by Heinemann their "bibles." The company's products are in schools all over the country. Some of the products used to teach reading are rooted in a debunked idea about how children learn to read. But they've made the company and some of its authors millions.
  • 6: The Reckoning: Lucy Calkins says she has learned from the science of reading. She's revised her materials. Fountas and Pinnell have not revised theirs. Their publisher, Heinemann, is still selling some products to teach reading that contain debunked practices. Parents, teachers and lawmakers want answers. In our final episode, we try to get some answers.

*** Complement this reading with: Emily Hanford’s collected reporting on reading


“Sold a Story” podcast, Episode TK (TK, 2020).

Friday, March 10, 2023

Reflection: Best Practices in Education: Prologue: Why Bother?

Throughout my 20+ year career as an educator, I have had the privilege of working with inspiring educators and receiving professional development from thought leaders in education, psychology, social and cognitive science, technology, and more. However, I recently began questioning some of the "progressive" or "innovative" practices that I have learned, implemented and even taught others throughout my journey.

My reflections on the relationship between "best practices" and "innovation" were triggered by my experience at a forward-thinking educational institution where teacher freedom in teaching and learning was encouraged. Upon receiving my new class in August, I realized that my students were lacking basic skills, such as literacy, self-management, and understanding of processes, which were assumed in other schools I have worked at.

This made me realize that innovation must be defined, agreed upon, planned, and contained to create an institution that pushes boundaries while ensuring our students have the necessary skills to lead a successful life. Why contain innovation? Because the more we innovate, the less we teach what we know works well. Therefore, finding a balance between "Highly Effective" and "Learning Progressive" is essential to continue finding the best ways to serve our students (I wrote about this balance here)

although I am fascinated with the ways in which AI will affect humanity and the field of education in particular, I am going to work hard to go on a hunt for some educators and cognitive scientists who are making it a point to always look for instructional strategies that have demonstrated significant research-based evidence, examine their work, and reflect on my own practice.

I invite you to join me on this journey, and if you have any thoughts, ideas, comments, or suggestions, please share them with me.