Literacy Advocates Take Action
Emily Hanford has done it again. She and colleague, Christopher Peak, have poured blood, sweat, and tears into the podcast, Sold a Story, that reveals, once again, the cause of the literacy crisis in America. Hanford is the reason that I, and so many others, have shifted our way of thinking about reading instruction. For me, that shift has been HUGE, and for the last four years has impacted much of what I think about, read about, write about, and talk about.
Hanford started taking action to change America’s approach to literacy instruction with her first article released in September of 2017: Hard Words: How American Schools Fail Kids with Dyslexia. She continued taking action by releasing articles in three subsequent years: Hard Words: Why Aren’t Our Kids Being Taught to Read (September, 2018), At a Loss for Words: What’s Wrong With How Schools Teach Reading (August 2019), and What the Words Say (August, 2020).
Of course, there are many others that have been taking action to improve literacy outcomes for our students right along with and before Emily Hanford came on scene. Many of these folks are those noted on my Science of Reading Resources page and include: The Reading League, founded by Dr. Maria Murray (which now has affiliates across many states) with its phenomenal podcast hosted by Laura Stewart; Amplify’s Science of Reading: The Podcast, with it’s amazing host, Susan Lambert; Natalie Wexler, author of The Knowledge Gap, The Writing Revolution, and contributor to Forbes; as well as a plethora of other contributors to the field (so many that deserve mention!).
If you haven’t listened to the first three (of six) released episodes, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you do so. In these episodes, you will hear from parents like Corrine Adams who say, “I think a lot of people just expect that some kids will never read…” Uggggghhhh. That was me. Not that I expected that they wouldn’t read, but that they wouldn’t read well, and that was just the way it was going to be. Easy to believe when there are decades of evidence to suggest that very thing. I wrote about my guilty conscience in one of my early blogposts: Placing Blame: The Current State of Literacy Instruction – January 10, 2021.
In these first three episodes, you will hear about the perception that it is mostly kids from poor families that are not learning to read. You will hear about the misconception that kids just naturally learn how to read if their parents would just read to them enough. You will hear about Bruce McCandliss, professor at Stanford, who has conducted studies showing what happens inside the brains of struggling readers and what happens inside the brains of skilled readers. You will be reminded that “…you want to use the parts of your brain that are going to be most efficient and effective at helping you maps words into your memory.” This happens when we equip students with the tools to “crack the code,” rather than to guess at words.
Decoding Dyslexia Iowa
Speaking of taking action, the Decoding Dyslexia Iowa group put on a phenomenal two-day conference this past week. The Leadership Team from Decoding Dyslexia Iowa knows what it means to take action. They have hosted this conference since 2015; we were fortunate enough to attend for the first time this year. Nine educators from Fort Madison Community School District took action by committing to attending the conference even though it meant preparing sub plans, arranging to be away from students and from families, and arranging transportation to get to some high-stakes athletic events. Our group of nine included four of our reading interventionists, a general education teacher, two instructional coaches, and two special education teachers. We represented elementary, middle, and high school.
As attendees at the conference, we were treated to amazing conference presenters, including keynotes Dr. Kelli Sandman Hurley, LeDerick Horne, and Nina Lorimor-Easley. Dr. Kelli Sandman Hurley walked us through a dyslexia simulation which brought to life what our struggling readers go through every day. LeDerick Horne revealed the struggles he has battled (and won!) throughout his life and how incredibly important it is that we equip our students with the tools to self advocate. Nina Lorimor-Easley brought tears to the eyes of the 300 audience members as she told the story of her son and the social-emotional toll that he has endured as a result of his dyslexia.
Nina Lorimor-Easley’s presentation was enough to make me turn to our FM group and proclaim, “This is bull#*%!.” What did I mean? I meant this: it is bull#*%! that our public school systems are not meeting the needs of our struggling readers. It is bull#*%! that the long-term effects of dyslexia go far beyond struggling to read. It is bull#*%! that many of the presenters at the conference are now stay-at-home moms who pulled their children from the public and private school systems because their children’s needs were not being met. It is bull#*%! that many of these moms know much more about effective reading instruction than the educators that are leading our classrooms.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming teachers. I am blaming a system that has failed many of our students. I am blaming companies that are making oodles of money selling products that do not teach students to read effectively. I am beyond frustrated that the best that balanced literacy advocates can come up with as a response to Emily Hanford’s work is a blog post and a brief statement. Really, gang? That’s all you’ve got???
The nine of us that were fortunate enough to attend the conference will take our two days of learning and take action with the students that we serve and with our colleagues. We will continue to advocate for effective Tier I instruction that is delivered in a systematic and explicit format. We will continue to rely on the clear scope and sequence provided by the EL Education Curriculum’s K-2 Foundational Skills Block and K-8 content rich, knowledge-building Modules. We will continue to intervene effectively at Tier II and Tier III levels through targeted and explicit instruction and using research-based materials. We will continue to maintain consistency in our approach, and we will continue to keep relationships at the heart of our work.
An Update on my Mom
It continues to amaze me that so many people take action to offer love and support to our family as we continue to reel from Mom’s recent cancer diagnosis. My brother has taken on the important role of getting Mom to and from her appointments in Iowa City, which have become more frequent due to physical complications that have arisen: a rash caused by the immunotherapy and swollen lower extremities due to lymphedema. My dad tends to Mom’s needs as willingly and lovingly as he ever has. Pat, Mom’s amazing bartender, continues to work countless hours to keep the business up and running and has taken on additional duties to keep things afloat. My sisters check in on Mom regularly with visits and phone calls; Jenny is on top of the ever-growing list of medications and Katie is making a third (five-hour) trip home since the diagnosis four weeks ago. Faithful patrons continue to support the business, offer words of comfort, prepare meals for Mom and Dad, and provide hugs when we walk through the door. Community members continue to reach out with encouraging words. Yesterday, Mike W. stopped me as I was taking my Saturday run to give me the BEST hug and let me know how much he is thinking of our family and how much he holds my parents in high regard.
Taking action to support those in need can be as simple as sending a text, an email, or dropping a card in the mail. Taking action can be dropping in for a quick visit. Taking action can be offering a ride, a meal, or a quick hug. I am so thankful to people for reminding me about the importance of taking action – it means the world.