The summer learning season kicked off in beautiful fashion this past week. On the very first two days of summer break, the Guiding Coalition members from each building in Fort Madison Community School District spent two days assessing our data, prioritizing areas of concern, and developing a targeted action plan for the upcoming 23-24 school year. It was an intense two days, filled with a host of emotions shared by committed professionals. I am more energized than ever for the 23-24 school year… and beyond!
When digging into data, it is natural to try to explain it away: “Our scores look this way because the screener is faulty.” “Our scores look this way because we have a new curriculum.” “Our scores look this way because we live in a high poverty area.” If we allow ourselves to get caught up in excuses, then we don’t ever take ownership of the data and the actions (or inactions) that led to said data. When we don’t take ownership, we continue in the same cycle of low student achievement.
Throughout the two days of learning and planning, I observed many members of our Guiding Coalitions falling into the trap of explaining away the data. However, by the end of the two days, it was clear that each group had moved closer to accepting our current state, taking ownership of our contribution to it, and committing to making a change. My favorite quote from our fabulous Area Education Agency leaders summarizes a mindset to embrace:
Following the first two days of learning, 10 educators from FMCSD (some who participated in the first two days) attended a class titled, Digging into the Science of Reading and Dyslexia. Our FMCSD participants represented a span of teachers from preschool to 12th grade, including special education teachers. I couldn’t be more proud: this is a group of teachers who were both willing and able to give up more time away from families in an effort to improve their practice! And I couldn’t be more impressed with our fantastic Area Education Agency presenters: Jennifer Lamm, Amy Thacher, and Kara Veach.
Among the zillions of take-aways from these two days of learning, one of my favorites was a definition of the Science of Reading (paraphrased): “The Science of Reading is an ever-evolving body of research impacting reading instruction that is systematic, explicit, diagnostic, and cumulative.” One of the best parts of the Science of Reading movement is that practices are constantly being questioned… and they should be! This is what brings science to the Science of Reading: changing practices based on evidence. As evidence continues to pour in, we tweak our practice to match what is known based on research.
The following is a quick synopsis of my learning from Digging into the Science of Reading and Dyslexia:
- The Reading Wars: we have to know which pieces of each era are the pieces to move forward with
- The Science of Reading community is a community that is constantly questioning practice based on an ever-evolving body of research
- We must take care of our teachers!
- Move away from old practices that do not have an evidence base (and borrowing from Marie Kondo): Say thank you to them and move on
- Stephanie Stollar, founder of the Reading Science Academy, is a literacy expert worth following… and she releases weekly videos!
- Connections in the brain have to be made. They are made through instruction (systematic, explicit, diagnostic, and cumulative with multiple opportunities for deliberate practice)
- There is no research to support using Daily Oral Language Exercises (say “thank you” and move on!)
- When we ask kids to write, we are going to find out what they know
- The Writing Rope by Joan Sedita will be a worthwhile read!
- Content drives rigor
- Phonemic Awareness is both critical and QUICK
- If students think reading fluently means reading fast, that is on us – it is in how we presented it
- The Four-Part Processing Model, developed by Seidenberg & McClelland and explained by Carol Tolman, is a simplified model that explains how the brain recognizes words
- “It is simply not true that there are hundreds of ways to learn to read… when it comes to reading we all have roughly the same brain that imposes the same constraints and the same learning sequence.” Dr. Stanislas Dehaene, Reading in the Brain (2009)
- Dyslexia: The differences are personal. The diagnosis is clinical. The treatment is educational. The understanding is scientific.” Margaret Byrd Rawson – SOAR
A question that the 10 FMCSD educators continued to ask over the course of our two days together was, “How can we bring this information back to the rest of the staff?” I LOVE that question and fear that question! It’s easy to love because asking it means that these educators understand the immense value of our two days of learning and its implications for student learning. I fear the question because I don’t know the answer. My strongest hope lies in my request to have these three presenters share the information with our staff at professional learning sessions during the upcoming school year.
There is MUCH being done to bring this learning to a wider audience – this is the beauty of the Science of Reading movement. I’m proud to be part of a small group that is bringing The Reading League to Iowa: our application was accepted in May! We anticipate an official launch in early 2024. Our small group (President, Papae Wymore; Vice President, Stephanie Edgren; Secretary, Megan Kruse; Treasurer, Lisa Williams) have been meeting regularly since January, and are thrilled that over 90 educators from across this great state have expressed interest in joining the Iowa Reading League!