We (I use this pronoun loosely) have made significant gains as an educational society in shedding light on the power of the Science of Reading/a structured literacy approach. Phenomenal resources like The Reading League, Amplify Science of Reading the Podcast, the International Dyslexia Association, and reporting from journalist Emily Hanford and author Natalie Wexler have made access to overwhelming information not-so-overwhelming. In addition to these resources, there are many, many books on the topic of structured literacy. The latest, Structured Literacy Interventions: Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties, Grades K-6, edited by Louise Spear-Swerling, is another must-read.
Despite the gains, we have a loooooong way to go in making structured literacy instruction the norm rather than the fringe. Just when I’m feeling good about the gains made, I read a social media post from a first grade teacher whose team is working collaboratively to bring systematic and structured literacy instruction to their students, only to be deterred by their administration who is questioning their efforts and their data which shows gains.
Of the many things we all need to remember about implementing structured literacy, topping the list of “things to remember” is that the benefits/rewards of our efforts will not happen overnight. This is a long journey that will involve lots of obstacles along the way. One of the most daunting obstacles is that we are asking teachers to “suspend their beliefs” about much of their approach to literacy instruction. To many teachers, this may sound like, “Everything you have been doing around reading instruction for the last ___ years is wrong. Start over.” Which can then lead to thoughts like, “I’ve invested so much time and effort into doing what is best for kids and now I am being told that it’s all wrong. I’m a terrible teacher.” OR “I’ve been teaching for ___ years; nobody is going to tell me what I need to change.”
When I think of my own journey, I can get a bit discouraged. I’ve been at this (this = learning about the Science of Reading) for just over 3 years, and I still have MUCH to learn. The majority of my career has been spent teaching middle grades (4th, 5th, and 6th grades). While in those classrooms, I didn’t have a clue about how to teach kids how to read… and I didn’t know that I didn’t have a clue. 🙁 I took those kids in, assuming they could all read (for the most part), and figured it was my job to build their love of reading. I had that art of teaching mastered…. but I was no where close to having the science of teaching mastered.
Where do we go from here, recognizing the many, many obstacles that stand in our way? We continue to work our a#$%! off to create environments where it is safe, as adults as well as children, to suspend beliefs, to fail, to learn, to improve, and to collaborate. We attend events like Aldine’s Virtual Literacy Matters Conference held yesterday (I am SO SORRY that I missed this one!); we immerse ourselves in the Science of Reading Resources; we give ourselves permission to fail; we create conditions so that the above-mentioned approaches can happen without teachers sacrificing so much that they have nothing left to give. Kareem Weaver, leader of FULCRUM, summed this idea up beautifully in a must-listen-to interview with the amazing Susan Lambert on Amplify’s Science of Reading the Podcast, Season 4, Episode 14 What it Takes to be a Literacy Education Changemaker: Kareem Weaver.
Kareem drops so many important points throughout the podcast episode. Some of my favorites that speak to the environments that we create, include:
This is big work
It will not happen overnight
Systems have to provide sufficient support to teachers
Systems need to provide enough time to implement [structured literacy] without breaking teachers
Then teachers need to listen when told don’t worry about this
You have to sell it – you can’t just present the data/info and expect the system to change. You have to sell it. “I didn’t sell it because my ego got in the way.”
“I was assuming that they [teachers] would suspend their belief…”
“If you can’t make the case, bring in somebody that they’ll listen to…”
We can’t function with curriculums that are “do what you want, when you want, how you want”
- I don’t care what your political affiliation is. I care about education and who is going to do right by kids.
Kareem’s last point was made in connection with the dangers that exist in the momentum being gained around the Science of Reading, one danger being that there is great potential for this whole issue to become polarized by politics. If that happens, as Kathryn Solow suggests in the Goyen Foundation‘s Jan. 27 blogpost referenced below, our kids lose. That is the LAST thing we want.
Might I second what Kareem suggests: do not let political affiliations get in the way of creating environments in which teachers are supported in creating effective structured literacy classrooms and students are fully, functionally literate. As Robert Rogers says at the end of his tweet, “Every person, R or D, benefits when kids can read.” Full stop.
@goyenfoundation Kathryn Solow, appreciate the insights in this blog. The least "echo chamber" aspect of my social media life is in reading advocacy. I follow many people whose posts I would never see if not for advocacy.
Every person, R or D, benefits when kids can read.
— Robert Rogers (@choirdoc) February 6, 2022
I continue to seek clarity around how to contribute to the above-described environment. As the instructional literacy coach in our district, I do not take this responsibility lightly. I remind myself often, during those middle-of-the-night bouts with sleeplessness as I worry about all of the above-mentioned obstacles, that I am so fortunate to have an amazing team of instructional coaches, administrators, and teachers to work with. I remind myself to focus on what I can control; I cannot control the thoughts or actions of others, but I can control my contribution to the environment in which we work.