Promoting Literacy for All Students
Issue 1: Teacher Preparation
Despite their dedication and commitment to their students, many educators were not taught about the cognitive processes involved in how children learn to read. (Please see: Scientifically-Based Reading). *This is changing in Rhode Island after the Right to Read Act and the commitment of dedicated staff to improve literacy in Rhode Island, but many teachers and administrators did not have the training and background knowledge in the Science of Reading or structured literacy. This makes understanding dyslexia a challenge.
Teachers may be aware of the five components of reading outlined by the National Reading Panel, but many teachers were not taught about the interdependent nature of these components of reading or the significance of phonological awareness and the cognitive processes involved in reading. Learning to speak is natural, learning to read is not.
The focus on teaching literacy skills was dominated by programs and consultants that promoted a "balanced literacy." A term that sounds well-meaning, but too often was not balanced and ignored the interdependent relationship of the sub-skills of reading. . Students in Balanced Literacy classrooms are often placed in leveled reading groups with minimal explicit instruction. Instead students participate in mini-lessons and are encouraged to use strategies that research has shown that poor readers use when they struggle to read fluently.
A comprehensive curriculum will have a foundational skills block the teaches foundational skills in a structured, explicit, and diagnostic way that includes teacher-led whole group and small group instruction and the ELA block will include time to build comprehension by building background knowledge with diverse texts and themes, by teaching language and text structures, and by using explicit vocabulary routines in an engaging way for students. Students should engage in speaking, listening, and writing to help build comprehension. Students that need additional support should receive interventions (MTSS). Note: Most RI schools were required to adopt High Quality Curriculum Materials that have moved away from balanced literacy. However, these programs vary and schools should always conduct a gap analysis to identify areas of weakness.
Teachers were taught to focus on comprehension skills rather than the components that influence comprehension (decoding, background knowledge, language structures, vocabulary knowledge, morphology etc.). Reading comprehension is the outcome of decoding and language comprehension.
Balanced literacy sounds like an effective approach, but has left too many students behind. (see NAEP Scores).
Poor preparation in the Science of Reading makes it difficult for educators to identify why a child is struggling with reading (see Assessing and Addressing Dyslexia). Many times parents are told their child is struggling with reading comprehension or fluency, but not decoding issues which cause the student to struggle to read fluently and comprehend texts. Reading comprehension is the end result of interdependent sub-skills (The Simple View of Reading). Many districts buy programs without investing in the necessary training to understand why children struggle with reading.
Many teachers were not taught about dyslexia
An entrenched belief system exists that schools must wait to identify a child with a reading disability until 3rd or 4th grade, interventions are provided after the most ideal time for remediation to occur. This is called the dyslexia paradox.
It is important to build a culture of reading in schools, but it is equally important to teach all kids to read.