"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reading Instruction Children Need and Deserve

The national testing obsession continues to grow unchecked. Corporate "reformers" and their collaborators in state legislatures, governor's mansions, state departments of education as well as their counterparts in the federal government, continue to do everything in their power to privatize public education and de-professionalize the job of educators.

Educators are told what to teach and how to teach by people who have no experience in education. Unqualified politicians and pundits demand more money for charter schools, evaluations based on student test scores and cuts to public education. Then they hold teachers, administrators and schools accountable for their ignorance.

Yet, while the dismantling of public education continues, America's classrooms are filled with educators who are striving to do what's best for children. Millions of teachers are working each day fighting against the forces of corporate "reform" pressuring them to teach in ways which they know are ineffective and, in fact, damaging to their students. Millions of teachers are making ways to find the time to actually teach amid all the demands for testing, testing and more testing.

Professor of education and reading Hall of Fame member Richard Allington (University of Tennessee), along with his colleague, Rachael E. Gabriel (University of Connecticut), have provided support for those teachers in an article in the March, 2012, Educational Leadership. Every Child, Every Day, provides teachers with a list of 6 "must-do" elements of reading instruction which need to occur for each child, every day, complete with an extensive list of references.

It used to be that 'reformers' and state departments of education demanded that teachers use "research based" teaching techniques. Now there's a push for more and more charter schools, test-based evaluations of teachers, allowing untrained and unlicensed graduates to hire on as teachers in schools with the most needy students, and using high stakes tests to determine which students are passed on to the next grade, none of which have a strong, if any, basis in research.

Allington and Gabriel, on the other hand, have explored current research in education and use it to help teachers isolate what really counts in reading instruction...and the six elements they list in their article are not only effective, but they are free.
The six elements of effective reading instruction don't require much time or money—just educators' decision to put them in place.
Here they are. Read the entire article at Every Child, Every Day. The rationale for each element is much expanded in the original article.
1. Every child reads something he or she chooses.

The research base on student-selected reading is robust and conclusive: Students read more, understand more, and are more likely to continue reading when they have the opportunity to choose what they read...the two most powerful instructional design factors for improving reading motivation and comprehension were (1) student access to many books and (2) personal choice of what to read.

We're not saying that students should never read teacher- or district-selected texts. But at some time every day, they should be able to choose what they read.

2. Every child reads accurately.

Good readers read with accuracy almost all the time. The last 60 years of research...demonstrates the importance of having students read texts they can read accurately and understand. In fact, research shows that reading at 98 percent or higher accuracy is essential for reading acceleration. Anything less slows the rate of improvement, and anything below 90 percent accuracy doesn't improve reading ability at all...Sadly, struggling readers typically encounter a steady diet of too-challenging texts throughout the school day as they make their way through classes that present grade-level material hour after hour. In essence, traditional instructional practices widen the gap between readers.

3. Every child reads something he or she understands.

Understanding what you've read is the goal of reading. But too often, struggling readers get interventions that focus on basic skills in isolation, rather than on reading connected text for meaning. This common misuse of intervention time often arises from a grave misinterpretation of what we know about reading difficulties.

4. Every child writes about something personally meaningful.

As adults, we rarely if ever write to a prompt, and we almost never write about something we don't know about. Writing is called composition for a good reason: We actually compose (construct something unique) when we write. The opportunity to compose continuous text about something meaningful is not just something nice to have when there's free time after a test or at the end of the school year. Writing provides a different modality within which to practice the skills and strategies of reading for an authentic purpose.

5. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.

Research has demonstrated that conversation with peers improves comprehension and engagement with texts in a variety of settings. Such literary conversation does not focus on recalling or retelling what students read. Rather, it asks students to analyze, comment, and compare—in short, to think about what they've read. [Researchers] found better outcomes when kids simply talked with a peer about what they read than when they spent the same amount of class time highlighting important information after reading.

6. Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.

Listening to an adult model fluent reading increases students' own fluency and comprehension skills, as well as expanding their vocabulary, background knowledge, sense of story, awareness of genre and text structure, and comprehension of the texts read.

Yet few teachers above 1st grade read aloud to their students every day. This high-impact, low-input strategy is another underused component of the kind of instruction that supports readers. We categorize it as low-input because, once again, it does not require special materials or training; it simply requires a decision to use class time more effectively. Rather than conducting whole-class reading of a single text that fits few readers, teachers should choose to spend a few minutes a day reading to their students.
These 6 things, then, are essential to developing efficient, proficient and life-long readers. These are the things which really matter, not tests, not DIBELS, not test prep, and not drill and kill worksheets.
Most of the classroom instruction we have observed lacks these six research-based elements. Yet it's not difficult to find the time and resources to implement them. Here are a few suggestions.

First, eliminate almost all worksheets and workbooks. Use the money saved to purchase books for classroom libraries; use the time saved for self-selected reading, self-selected writing, literary conversations, and read-alouds.

Second, ban test-preparation activities and materials from the school day...there are no studies demonstrating that engaging students in test prep ever improved their reading proficiency—or even their test performance...eliminating test preparation provides time and money to spend on the things that really matter in developing readers.

It's time for the elements of effective instruction described here to be offered more consistently to every child, in every school, every day. Remember, adults have the power to make these decisions; kids don't. Let's decide to give them the kind of instruction they need.
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