Welcome to my blog. My goal is to educate parents and caregivers on issues related to literacy; however, more importantly, I would like to provide you with information to allow you to discern fact from fiction. Despite decades of effort by government officials and education gurus to raise standards, we are no better off today getting children to read well by the end of third grade. Why can’t we find an answer?
Incorrect diagnoses and remediation that is “too little, too late” are just some of the reasons for the large number of people who cannot read or choose not to read in this country. When combined with “one-size-fits-all” teaching in classrooms, the proliferation of special interest groups promoting and perpetuating ineffective teaching methods, and children being pulled out for Academic Intervention Services (AIS) that do not address the fundamental issues at the core of the problem, it is no wonder so many children continue to struggle learning to read.
How do I know this? Having 30 years of experience as a teacher, reading and learning specialist, mentor, and administrator, I have witnessed firsthand this unfortunate reality. For example, in many school districts, Reading Recovery (RR) was the answer for struggling, first grade students just learning how to read. There were certainly positive attributes to this program: one-on-one instruction given to emergent readers, one half-hour session, four days a week for half the school year, and it was supposed to be for the weakest students. Now for the downside: very few students could be chosen since it was designed to be one-on-one; it was extremely expensive to implement since it was a certified teacher servicing very few children; the methods used were not phonics-based, systematic, explicit, and direct. Moreover, the lowest performing students were not always chosen because of poor behavior, inattention, or lack of family involvement. After children were assessed using the Early Literacy Profile (ELP), the RR teacher would tally the results and “carefully” look at the lowest performers in all first grade classrooms. Then, the RR teacher would conference with each classroom teacher about possible candidates for the program. Since “Little Books” would go home with the children in plastic baggies for practice and needed to be returned the next day, it was important that the “right” children were chosen. If a child was not “suitable” based on anticipated outcomes, the child was bypassed in favor of a child who had a better chance at being successful. These variables were not included in the Reading Recovery data results. Classroom teachers do not get to handpick students based on behavioral or environmental factors; why then should this be allowed? Also, “success” depended on parent participation to review the word-solving strategies and picture-driven cueing that were taught during the RR lesson. Based on this criteria, the chosen children appeared to do quite well because the easy, leveled books had pictures that basically gave away the story. As these same children got older, these ineffective strategies did not work when words became harder, the content more complex, and pictures were removed. Many of these “graduates” of RR returned to AIS and were students I tutored privately when they got to second, third, or fourth grade.
Another example of how struggling students do not get the correct services occurs when there is poor implementation of programs. As a reading specialist, trained in multiple Orton-Gillingham-based programs, and being Wilson certified, I am well aware of what is needed when a child has a language-based learning disability such as dyslexia. There are many fine programs meant for struggling readers with language-based difficulties; the common characteristics throughout all programs are phonologically-based, sequential, structured, systematic, and repetitive, with multiple practice opportunities to build new neural pathways in the brain. A child with or without an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would benefit from Wilson, Phonographix, SRA, or any other program, if and only if, it is implemented with fidelity, taught by a trained professional, and monitored by someone who understands the needs of this type of learner. In the public school system, this is usually not the case. A principal’s main concern is to have as many children serviced as possible. I have seen groups of eight to twelve students receiving “intensive” instruction. That size is way too large to meet the needs of students with difficulties. The schedule also might not allow for children to be seen every day, especially in districts with many low-performing students. Throw in the assembly performances, trips, fire drills, and other special days, such as “Movie Day” right before a holiday, and, before you know it, the children have received very little worthwhile time on task. Then, the reading teacher or special education teacher may or may not have had training in implementing the specialized program, or, even worse, decides to pick and choose the parts that are easy to use and leaves out the “multisensory” part. I remember teachers who did not want to bother taking out the letter tiles to build words since “it was a waste of time” and their students just “played” with the tiles. There are also teachers who do not enjoy using a program because they find it boring, even if it is beneficial for the student. It is much more fun to have a “literature circle” and read “real” books. Meanwhile, parents are left to wonder why their child is not making progress. They assume, as do many administrators and teachers, the program is not working. Well, I ask you, do you think it is the program or the implementation of the program? This is not what intervention should look like. I can honestly say, having worked as a regional reading coach in districts across Long Island, and as a tutor for children from some of the highest performing ones, this scenario is all too common.
In thirty years of being an educator, the stories are numerous, both heartwarming and yes, heartbreaking. It is my hope that the High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching Blog will enlighten readers, raise questions, and serve as a resource to those who are left confused, frustrated, and disgusted by the mixed messages given by politicians, school district officials, and publishing companies.
(High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching is located in Plainview, Long Island.)
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