School Committees

Issue 2: Curriculum and Instruction Does Not Align with the Research


Curriculum and Decoding Words

Structured Literacy is an essential component of word-level reading (decoding) to help students understand the structure and meaning of our language. Some schools may have a formal phonics program, but the rest of their English Language Arts programs rely on leveled-literacy. Why is this a problem? In one part of the ELA block, students may be taught how to sound out words to decode, but the strategies they are taught in other portions of their literacy block teach strategies that conflict with the lessons of the phonics block. For instance, students are placed in leveled readers exposed to word patterns they have not been taught. Students are then told to use picture clues or context clues to guess/identify the unknown word, sometimes called "problem-solving." This practice turns many students into compensators instead of fluent readers.

Curriculum and Language Comprehension

Many popular reading programs focus on independent reading in leveled books preventing some students from accessing grade-level text. Leveled literacy often lacks thematic units that build content knowledge and too often does not explicitly teach vocabulary, syntax, and language structures. Reading comprehension strategies have a place in teaching comprehension skills, but explicitly teaching the components of language comprehension is important to make learning equitable for all students. Vocabulary knowledge, syntax, and building background knowledge are important components to support reading comprehension once students learn how to decode words fluently (especially important in schools with high multilingual populations). A curriculum that aligns with scientifically-based reading would include complex and content-rich texts, read alouds, and the explicit teaching of vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge.

Key Takeaways

  • Reading relies on a student's ability to quickly and effortlessly read the words on a given passage and connect those words to vocabulary they have heard or were taught.

  • Has your district used the K – 2 Curriculum Materials Review: Foundational Skills for Reading created by RIDE?

  • Are educators teaching the foundational skills for reading in a diagnostic and prescriptive way? What evidence can the school provide that they are finding children with weaknesses in the foundational skills and addressing those weaknesses?

  • If students are struggling with word-level reading, teachers will need data on the phonological awareness skills needed for decoding words to identify appropriate interventions (not a one-size-fits-all model).

  • Tier 1 instruction should have explicit systematic phonics for decoding and systems for progress monitoring. Language comprehension can be strengthened through read alouds, explicitly teaching vocabulary, syntax, and language structures with a content-rich curriculum.

  • Decoding words should not be the only focus of curriculum and instruction, but it is a component that is often misunderstood leading to poor reading proficiency. Mastery of skills should be the goal for all students. Dyslexia falls on a continuum.

  • Use this helpful guide to ask questions about your district's literacy curriculum created by the Right to Read Project.

Warning Signs

If teachers are using the following methods to help students decode words, they are essentially teaching children to bypass orthographic mapping making word-level reading challenging:

  • Use picture cues to decode new words

  • Asking question prompts like "what word makes sense in the sentence?" (This technique is often called "problem-solving") to identify unknown words instead of teaching them the structure of language

  • Look at the first letter (then guess/"problem-solve")

  • Look at shapes of words

  • Asking students to "memorize" whole words/sight words/power words as core instruction in early stages without paying attention to sound-letter correspondence

  • Students spend a large amount of the ELA block on leveled books

Beware of curriculum that asks students to look away from the word when they don't recognize it!

Problems with Popular Reading Programs

Is it a Good Idea To Teach The Three Cueing System?

LLI as a Reading Intervention-"no discernible effects on alphabetics (foundational skills needed for decoding) for beginning readers."

Does your child's school use Lucy Calkin's Reading & Writing Workshop? Read her letter about how this program effects dyslexia (She admits dyslexic children should receive OG/OG-Based interventions

Responses to Lucy Calkins

Experts say widely used reading curriculum is failing kids

Does the Units of Study Reading and Writing Workshop Align With Evidence-Based Practices?


Does your district use leveled reading instruction and interventions?

Achieve the Core- What About Leveled Reading


Correcting Misconceptions About Sight Words and Reading Acquisition

What is orthographic mapping? Learn how students map words to their long-term memory.

Using the structured literacy to identify "sight words" to promote orthographic mapping.

Many early literacy programs encourage students to memorize words. These strategies do not help students attend to the structure of our language. These strategies do not support orthographic mapping.

Dyslexia connection-students with dyslexia will struggle with prompts that ask if something doesn't look right, sound right, or make sense. They need explicit instruction and a lot of repetition to help support orthographic mapping. Poor readers use pictures for clues when they struggle to decode a word, this should not be a recommended strategy.

A Parent Shows the flaws in her child's early literacy program.