Being Informed Rather than Influenced: The Impact of the Science of Reading

I hope everyone is doing well as we all continue to navigate through the coronavirus pandemic across the world. Like many of you, our school year was interrupted by the pandemic and our delivery of instruction shifted from the physical classroom to a virtual classroom. Thank you to all the students, parents, teachers, and educational leaders who have worked tirelessly to make this transition work in such a short amount of time for everyone involved.

I was hopeful I would be able to bring you actual data to show the impact our shift to the science of reading had on our literacy achievement at McDonald Elementary School. I was excited to share what growth we were making and hopefully convince other educational leaders why shifting to the science of reading is worth the effort. The data piece might have to wait until next year, however, that doesn’t mean we can’t measure the impact in other ways! I’m excited to share with you the teacher perspective on how the science of reading has impacted their knowledge base and pedagogical practices.

Informed rather than Influenced

Being an educational leader, we all make changes based on what we believe is in the best interest of our school. An example of a literacy change I focused on with our faculty was how we taught students how to decode. Prior to us aligning our teaching with the evidence base, not all of our practices were aligned. Our teachers did encourage students to sound out words, however, they also encouraged students to look at pictures, take their best guess, and get their mouth ready. At some point in their careers, our teachers were lead to believe strategies such as looking at pictures, guessing, and getting their mouth ready made sense and worked when decoding words. That is an example of being influenced rather than informed. Now that teachers are informed, their pedagogical practices have changed.

Impact of change: What teachers have to say

How has the learning about the science of reading impacted teacher’s classroom practice? Here is what McDonald teachers had to say.

After being exposed to the reading research and frameworks like the Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Reading Rope, what is an instructional practice you have changed as a result of this information?

Kindergarten teacher: “I have made sure that I continue to focus on phonological awareness and phonics instruction in whole group and in small group settings to help with the decoding portion of the Simple View of Reading.  In small group instruction, I am able to focus more on specific skills in these areas to better support my students. Instead of using the leveled “Guided Reading” books in small groups, we are using decodable readers.  These books help to apply the phonics skills in context, and it helps build fluency. We no longer teach picture clues and other cues.”

First Grade teacher: “Decoding has become a conversation in all subjects and something my students enjoy discussing. Learning how to decode a word is the practice we use rather than memorizing. We have started to “map out” new words and find the sounds that follow the rule and then discuss the part of a word that doesn’t. Our phonemic awareness program has been useful for readers at all levels.”

Reading Specialist 1: “What was once referred to as “guided reading” I now call “small group reading” and understand that in these small groups they may be organized by skill deficit to receive remedial attention to phonological awareness, blending etc.”

Reading Specialist 2: “The framework points out the essential components for effective instruction.  I feel with this knowledge, you don’t have to depend on a “program.” 

Takeaways:

  1. Relying on decodable readers instead of leveled text. No longer rely on cueing.
  2. Having conversations about dissecting words across all content areas and mapping out words.
  3. Organizing small group instruction by skill deficit.
  4. Using the theoretical frameworks as a guide for effective instruction and not depending on program.
  5. A focus on phonemic awareness

How has the Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Reading Rope helped support how you assess your students’ reading growth and development?

Kindergarten teacher: “We now include phonological awareness assessments that follow the progression of skills taught through Heggerty.  We continue to assess letter names/sounds, CVC words, nonsense words, etc.   We also use more oral comprehension assessments than in the past to ensure that our students are progressing in both decoding skills and language comprehension.  We are also not going to be using the Fountas and Pinnell benchmarking.”

First Grade teacher: Something new I am assessing is nonsense words for all my students on a regular basis.  This has been a practice that I assessed on Tier 2 and Tier 3 students only in the past.

Reading Specialist 1: The assessments we are using are providing a thorough understanding of our students’ individual needs so that we can adapt instructional strategies. We are able to  develop a teaching plan based on these assessments.

Reading Specialist 2: The Simple View of Reading asks the question, is a child having difficulty due to a speech/language issue or a decoding issue.  If it is a decoding issue it will affect their fluency which affects their comprehension. These are all intertwined. When a child has systematic phonics based instruction they will have strategies to decode words more efficiently and read more fluently which leads to better comprehension.

Takeaways:

  1. Using assessments to understand students’ needs. Especially for phonemic awareness. Teachers have started using Kilpatrick’s PAST test.
  2. Understanding the benefits of nonsense word assessment for all students. (Chapter 7 of Kilpatrick’s Essentials book).
  3. Creating tier 2 and tier 3 plans based on the assessments we are using. Along with a decoding survey we have used in the past, and the PAST test, we started assessing students’ oral language comprehension.
  4. Understanding the importance of systematic and explicit phonics instruction.

These teachers recognized areas where their classroom instruction did not align with the evidence base and changed their practice. These teachers also changed how they assess their students and how they build tier two and tier three intervention plans. As a building leader, this is the type of impact we dream of! This information is for novice and veteran teachers alike. The four teachers I’ve mentioned have been teaching a combined 65 years!

Building leaders, I share all of this with you because this shows how much of an impact embracing the science of reading can have on teachers. The overall impact the science of reading has had on our building is huge. It will change how they teach, it will change how they assess, and it will change how they meet the needs of struggling readers. Having teachers who are informed rather than influenced will translate into improved literacy instruction and outcomes for our boys and girls.

2 Thoughts

  1. Ernie,

    You are a true credit to the profession! Thank you for advancing the science of reading through instructional leadership. I commend your commitment to excellence with research-based practice in literacy.

    I am very excited to be able to work more closely with you in my new role at AIM. You and your teachers continue to impress me as they work through the Pathways to Proficient Reading course. You are doing a beautiful job of bridging the research to classroom practice.

    Like

  2. In education, especially at the elementary level, we need more (no, not more but ALL) principals and administrators to realize and understand that they are the catalyst of change in their school. I am a Special Education teacher and I work diligently on reading with my students, and yes I use different strategies for teaching reading, much of which is already aligned to your research, but I really have no say in the direction our district moves our General Education teachers towards. I wish all educators who have the most important role in teaching reading could read, research and begin to understand what science has taught us about students learning to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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