There is no single answer for all kids, but I believe that we are all responsible for all kids learning to be successful readers. There are 4 points of departure for trying to answer the “how” question:
A. Identifying those who have influence on a school/school district and understanding the decision making process used to develop a reading “program”;
B. Understanding the context (at home, preschool, school and classroom levels) in which the teaching/learning takes place;
C. Questioning the assessments used; and
D. Evaluating the model(s) of learning that is/are articulated/communicated, implemented, assessed and fine-tuned.
Who are the decision makers and what influences their choices?
Based on my reading, research, thinking and observation in schools, I think there are multiple sources that influence decision making about reading “programs”: published/commercial products, “experts” (researchers, high visibility authors, organizations (IRA, NCTE, CCSS….), professional development sources (including teacher “educators”). Advocates* and advocacy organizations for particular groups of children also bring expertise and influence (economically disadvantaged students, students who are English Language Learners, students with disabilities). *Advocates Include state legislators. See, for example: http://www.nj.com/education/2013/12/nj_early_screening_dyslexia_assembly.html
I’m sure those closest to an individual classroom could suggest others seen as “experts.”
A second (though not in importance) group of decision makers are school-based: superintendents, principals, school “leaders.” It would be informative to have each school member define who the decision-makers are in their schools and how decisions about teaching reading are made.
The third tier (again—not in importance) of decision makers are classroom teachers and, possibly, support personnel—for example, literacy specialists, special educators, school psychologists. Each teacher’s beliefs about learning to read as well as his/her expertise influence the development of children’s “learning to read/reading to learn” success.
Fourth (again, certainly not least in importance) are individual children and their families. Their stories should influence us all. They are stories of struggle and success. For example:
Even famous people sometimes struggle with reading. One example from
“Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon, and, until she was old enough to attend school, lived on a farm in Yamhill, a town so small it had no library. Her mother arranged with the State Library to have books sent to Yamhill and acted as librarian in a lodge room upstairs over a bank. There young Beverly learned to love books. However, when the family moved to Portland, Beverly soon found herself in the grammar school’s low reading circle, an experience that has given her sympathy for the problems of struggling readers.
By the third grade she had conquered reading and spent much of her childhood either with books or on her way to and from the public library….”
For other success stories, read: Narrowing the Literacy Gap: What Works In High Poverty Schools by Diane M. Barone.
Anyone who has spent time in classrooms, knows that the individual classroom on a day to day basis is its own place, regardless of the program or approach to reading. We need to understand the dynamics of the individual classroom. For example a research study
found 4 types of factors influencing success, one of which was Context, defined as…..
Context refers to an individual school’s:
• Practices and Norms
• Staffing and Leadership
• Achievement Patterns
• Resources, and
In short, context matters. South Street’s school improvement plan was developed to match their unique context.
See: Becoming More Effective in the Age of Accountability: A High-Poverty School Narrows the Literacy Achievement Gap by Kristin M. Gehsmann and Haley Woodside-Jiron, U. of Vermont
Assessment is both formative and summative (including qualitative research and teacher observation). If we are going to maximize the likelihood that children will be successful readers by third grade (and beyond), we need to know how they are progressing along the way. In the elementary school, children’s prekindergarten skills are often (typically?) assessed before they even enter Kindergarten. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the child’s preschool teacher could communicate what s/he knows about the child’s language/literacy development. And to that knowledge base, we would add parents’ knowledge of their child’s language/literacy knowledge and skills.
Along the way, teachers use observation and a variety of informal assessment tools to determine if children in their class are progressing. Even in kindergarten children are given “report cards” in the form of parent-teacher conferences, written notes sent home, the products of children’s in class work.
Models of Learning and Understanding the reading/learning process.
How clearly can we/do we articulate how “learning” to read happens? Skillful observers can document what the teacher does on a daily basis and derive the principles of instruction the teacher is using. But we need to know what the teacher believes s/he does to facilitate learning to read. I believe that effective teachers can do that!
There is a wealth of information out there on learning in general and learning to read/reading to learn in particular. And, given the new CCSS for the Language Arts, we need to understand how those standards are understood, applied and assessed in classrooms and schools. All worth investigating! More forthcoming….
And so? So, how can we identify the “best practices” in these 4 domains: Decision-Making, Context, Assessment, and Models of Learning to Read? While what works in one school (or one research report) may not be a one-to-one fit with another school, classroom, or context, reports of “best practices” do give us a place to begin. We might ask how accessible these reports are to teachers and families. And, we might ask what roles teachers and parents have in determining and implements a reading program.