IN OTHER WORDS
BY JOANNE DUNCAN
Jun 20, 2013
Five years ago, I was at a training to which my district had been sending teams of teachers. I teach first grade. We were learning about progress monitoring our students using nonsense words, creating instructional groups based on one-minute timed screening outcomes, and were told that the most effective way to teach reading was to follow a scripted program.
I wanted to stand up and scream.
My blood began boiling and I could feel my face turning red. This was all mentioned in the first five minutes of a seven-hour training. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the entire day.
I ended up lasting for about an hour.
When the presenter started mocking teachers and stated that “teachers who do not want to change and follow this model…teachers who stray from the script to follow a student’s lead…just think it’s all about them and they need to get over it,” I knew I was done. I closed my binder, calmly stood up, looked around the crowded room, and walked swiftly out of it.
By the time I got to my car I was crying. How could this be happening? How could so many districts be sending teams of teachers to “literacy” trainings like this? I cried the entire forty miles home and vowed to become a literacy advocate for students and teachers. I would no longer just close my door and be quiet about the malpractice I was being asked to perform while I kept doing what I know to be effective, joyful, literacy practice.
During the time our district was sending teams of teachers to trainings like the one above, many of my colleagues and I were attending trainings that used a workshop model. At those trainings we were learning about how to use the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model to create a framework which provided students with meaningful practice with reading and writing. I had done my masters work and a Classroom Action Research Project
on the positive effects of using the Daily 5/CAFÉ as a literacy framework. I had read Michael Pressley’s work on what exemplary teaching looks like in a first grade classroom. The work of Richard Allington, Marie Clay, Debbie Miller, Reggie Routman, David Fisher, Fry, Fountas and Pinnell, Linda Gambrel, Gail Boushey, and Joan Moser guided my literacy instruction.
Following a scripted program and progress monitoring on nonsense words was definitely not in any of the literature that I reviewed. Taking time to get to know students strengths and needs, however, was. So was finding out what my students were interested in, providing them with choices, and using the gradual release of responsibility model. Giving students time to read books at their level and write about self-selected topics, meeting with them in small guided groups in addition to conferring with them one on one, and knowing how to use running records as a way to monitor progress—these were all things I was learning in my self-guided PD.
Students need to know and understand that reading NEEDS to make sense. We need to teach them many strategies to comprehend, read with accuracy, fluency and they need to expand their vocabulary. We don’t need pacing guides, scripted programs or Basal Readers. According to Richard Allington, what we need is to provide teachers with 60 hours of quality professional development. Allington states, “Professional development should be a personal professional responsibility as well as an organizational responsibility. In other words, each teacher has a professional responsibility to continue to become more expert with every year of teaching. Each district has an organizational responsibility to support the professional development of each member of the faculty.”
My district now has new leadership that values teacher’s professional expertise. Instead of closing my door, I opened it wide to share the positive effects of using a workshop model with my colleagues, parents, administrators and our local university. Our first grade team stood together to say that reading nonsense words does not make a deep-thinking reader. We spend our
instructional time modeling to students that reading should make sense. If you come to a word you don’t know, cross-check it—does it look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense? We spend a lot of time teaching all of our readers this strategy, which uses all three of the cuing systems. So why, then, would we monitor our most at risk students on nonsense
words? They don’t look right! They don’t sound right! And they DON’T MAKE SENSE!
We came up with an alternative plan. We now monitor sight word progress and use running records to monitor independent reading levels. This allows us to use teachable moments with each student on their reading behaviors, as well as notice which strategies they are using and which ones they need help with. We are able to monitor word study and spelling using WORDS THEIR WAY by Bear et al.
We need to continue on this path, using the research to stop the pendulum from swinging. Instead of just closing our door and continuing to use best literacy practice when a hurricane of unfounded mandates swirl around us, we need to share what we are doing, why we are doing it, and the positive impact it has on student learning.
We need to be a voice for our students.
The money our district spent on basal readers, testing, and programs could have been spent on classroom libraries with a wide range of levels. It could have been spent on district wide literacy professional development.
We need to work diligently to advocate for best literacy practice for all of our students and not allow the pendulum to keep swinging.
JoAnne Duncan received her Master’s degree in elementary reading and literacy from Walden University. She teaches first grade at Mt. Stuart Elementary School in Ellensburg, WA, and is currently working with colleagues to try and help prevent summer learning loss by starting a community book mobile as well as a summer literacy learning in the parks program. She is an advocate of best literacy practice for students and teachers.
© 2013 JoAnne Duncan. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. One Equally Effective but Lower-Cost Option to Summer School Words: The Power of a Shared Vocabulary