How to Organize Daily Literacy Instruction, Part IV

  • Classroom organization Adolescent Literacy Secondary Education
  • 10 June, 2014
  • 9 Comments

Over the past few weeks I have been explaining an organizational plan that is a better alternative than Daily 5. Although I appreciate an approach (like Daily 5) that structures time for teachers, I believe it is better to do that around the outcomes rather than the teaching activities. Teachers need activities, of course, but they need to keep focused on what they are using those activities towards. A complaint of most of the big names in education is that teachers get too bogged down in methods, activities, approaches and the like, and lose sight of the purpose of those actions.

Here I will provide responses to many of the questions that have come up.

Won’t it get tedious if I structure the day in the same way everyday?

Perhaps, but that isn’t what I have recommended.  You definitely could use my scheme in a repetitive manner and there are both benefits and drawbacks to that (as the question implies). However, the issue is whether you are spending enough time focused on the right goals, and how you organize that in a day is up to you as a professional. Thus, if you plan on spending 45 minutes on words in your first-grade, that does not mean that you have to teach words from 9:00AM-9:45AM every morning. You definitely could vary this day to day. However, you also could break up this time into smaller chunks.


Shouldn’t I integrate instruction?

Again, perhaps, but because the boundaries are not firm across these categories, it is possible to be very flexible. A fifth-grade teacher might decide that she needs more than 30 minutes to teach a good comprehension lesson—since the texts that students are reading are more extended than that. She could teach reading comprehension every other day, instead of every day, which would allow an hour for such a lesson (writing would usually get swapped with reading comprehension in such a structure). Or, what if the teacher was teaching comprehension, but found out—right in the middle of the lesson—that more vocabulary work was needed. The teacher could provide that instruction and even out later, by providing more or less instruction in one of the other categories.

My school requires that we all teach reading at the same time (in a 90 minute block at the beginning of the day), so I can’t do this.

You could use the required block and add additional time later in your school day. However, I’m not a big fan of your school’s approach.  It makes it more difficult to provide intervention services to the struggling readers (if everyone teaches reading at the same time, then if a student is pulled out during that time he/she gets less reading instruction). 

I'm a secondary teacher and we don’t have a reading class. I don’t see how this can work?

Many secondary schools have taken this plan on successfully. It requires cooperation among the various departments, however. Typically, we work on a weekly basis. That would mean that we need to provide 10 hours per week of literacy work (2.5 hours of vocabulary, 2.5 hours of reading comprehension, 2.5 hours of writing, and up to 2.5 hours of oral reading fluency—depending on the students’ fluency levels). Each department agrees to provide some portion of this weekly experience and then some horse-trading is done to ensure that there is sufficient time for everything.

My school requires that we all teach reading at the same time (in a 90 minute block at the beginning of the day), so I can’t do this. 

You could use the required block and add additional time later in your school day. However, I’m not a big fan of your school’s approach.  It makes it more difficult to provide intervention services to the struggling readers (if everyone teaches reading at the same time, then if a student is pulled out during that time he/she gets less reading instruction). 

 I’m a secondary teacher and we don’t have a reading class. I don’t see how this can work?

  Many secondary schools have taken this plan on successfully. It requires cooperation among the various departments, however. Typically, we work on a weekly basis. That would mean that we need to provide 10 hours per week of literacy work (2.5 hours of vocabulary, 2.5 hours of reading comprehension, 2.5 hours of writing, and up to 2.5 hours of oral reading fluency—depending on the students’ fluency levels). Each department agrees to provide some portion of this weekly experience and then some horse-trading is done to ensure that there is sufficient time for everything.

We are required to implement our core program with fidelity. I don’t see how I can do that if I follow this scheme.

I very much like the idea of following core programs with some kind of fidelity, but this isn’t always possible because of time considerations. Typically, core programs offer more instructional activity than fits in a 90 minute block or (even in a 2 hour space). Teachers, in such cases, may follow with fidelity the parts of the program that they teach, but what about the parts they have to omit? This plan helps teachers to make the decisions of what to keep and what to drop. If there is too little instruction, of course, then the teacher could follow that with fidelity, but then would need to supplement.

 I find myself agreeing with your approach, but I still love the activities that my students have been doing through Daily 5. Isn’t there a way to compromise?

Like you, there are particular activities that I want to have in my classroom. For example, as a primary grade teacher, I read to my students every day. I did this, not to teach them to read, but as a tone setter for my classroom and as a way of exposing students to particular cultural artifacts (I loved reading Charlotte’s Web to them, for instance). If I were teaching in the primary grades today, I would still read to my students, I just wouldn’t count it as reading instruction and wouldn’t let it take the place of instruction in decoding, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, or writing. Isabel Beck and Moddy McKeown have certainly shown how I could translate that kind of teacher read aloud into an effective vocabulary lesson for the younger kids, so I could perhaps count it that way, but I might not make that choice either. That’s the real benefit of this approach—it keeps you focused on learning outcomes and it keeps you in control of the choices.

 What about Common Core?

Common Core sets the learning goals; the goals that your instruction should focus on. All that I have done is to categorize these goals, and matched them with time expenditures. For example, many primary grade teachers look at the CCSS and conclude that they are suppose to teach more comprehension than decoding. My plan allows the teacher to protect sufficient amounts of time to make it possible for students to learn to decode. Review the CCSS standards (including the detailed items including in the appendices) and distribute them across the categories that I have emphasized.

 I’m a pull-out reading teacher. Should I use this plan in my teaching?

I expect interventions to either be especially targeted (like a pull out fluency program only for students lagging in fluency) or individualized. My scheme requires the teacher to balance literacy instruction in his/her classroom, but an intervention teacher should be aimed at balancing the child. If Hector is strong in decoding and fluency, then the intervention teacher should aim at comprehension. If Sylvia is weak at decoding, then the intervention should be aimed at strengthening this weakness. This plan makes sense if a student is low in everything, but if there are stronger and weaker patterns of skills, try to even the child out by building the weak spots up (that isn’t a good way to go in a classroom, because the teacher simply has too many kids with different needs—thus, addressing all of the needs equally is the surest way to higher achievement).

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Anonymous
Apr 01, 2017 01:44 AM

One state education department is providing a primary grade curriculum (that is being widely adopted) described as follows:

"...curriculum for grades Pre-K-2 is made up of three components: the Listening and Learning strand and Skills strand and Guided Reading and Accountable Independent Reading...

"The Listening and Learning strand lessons, comprised of teacher read-alouds, class discussion, vocabulary work, and extension activities, build on the research finding that students’ listening comprehension outpaces their reading comprehension throughout elementary school...

"The Skills strand teaches reading and writing. Children practice blending (reading) and segmenting (spelling) using the sound spellings they have learned through a synthetic phonics approach. Handwriting, spelling, and the writing process are also presented in the Skills strand.

"Guided Reading and Accountable Independent Reading (GRAIR) is additional literacy time within the school day where teachers can work with students in developmentally appropriate groupings to meet their individual needs. This is an opportunity for the favorite traditional read aloud work, literacy based centers, and immersion in text, where teachers can facilitate student choice from existing leveled libraries based on interest, availability, and readability. The purpose of this time is to build independent, interested, and capable readers."

As I research the curriculum further, I find that a combination of read-aloud and phonics instruction serve as the primary means for developing reading skills, with an emphasis on the importance of building background knowledge and vocabulary as a means for improving comprehension.

Should the teaching of comprehension strategies not be more explicit in these early grades? Daniel Willingham has written that:

"Teaching reading strategies is a low-cost way to give developing readers a boost, but it should be a small part of a teacher’s job. Acquiring a broad vocabulary and a rich base of background knowledge will yield more substantial and longer-term benefits."

What is your opinion on this three pillar approach to teaching reading, and the Willingham point about teaching comprehension strategies vs. vocabulary and background knowledge?

How important is background knowledge in your opinion?

Timothy Shanahan
Apr 01, 2017 01:44 AM

The plan that you describe from New York has three strands: oral language (vocabulary, listening comprehension); skills (blending, phonics, handwriting, spelling, writing); and reading comprehension.

I don't have big problems with the overall structure (the three parts), but like you, i have plenty of concerns about what is encouraged within. Mainly because it ignores what is known about effective reading instruction. Except that these three pieces do not seem equally important so one wonders about the time decisions teachers might make from this.

For instance, treating the writing process as a "skill" like spelling or decoding, rather than as a language/interpretation activity flies in the face about what is known about writing (and the nature of what CCSS calls for). Of course, someone could teach writing well even if placed in that category, but the time management issues seem exacerbated rather than helped.

I'm surprised that phonological awareness is not stressed, as it has been in the research and the CCSS standards.

Also, like you, I would consider the research findings that emphasize the value of teaching students reading comprehension strategies early on. The National Reading Panel and the What Works Clearinghouse have independently concluded that the research demonstrates the effectiveness of this research. Explicit teaching of comprehension should definitely have a place.

Requiring the teaching of synthetic phonics over analytic phonics is fine (they both work), but why make that kind of decision for teachers if there is no difference in outcomes.

My biggest concern is treating listening as co-equal to reading. That makes sense early on, and less sense in Grade 2 (and even in Grade 1). Listening skills do not translate to higher reading achievement. The scheme claims to recognize that listening comprehension outpaces reading, but it ignores the kind of time needed to teach reading.

The lack of emphasis on oral reading fluency could do some real harm (this is a big instructional need) that is proven by research, and yet, no mention here. Read aloud is good, but does it include repetition? feedback?

It would be great if New York tried to align its requirements with research findings instead of doing whatever their curriculum staff feels like doing. Perhaps local districts (unlike the state) will be more focused on success than compliance.

Kai Musing
Apr 01, 2017 01:45 AM

Interesting. This is Core Knowledge Language Arts you are talking about, right?

The resources are all available for download at the Core Knowledge website. I won't argue with you on the science, but when looking at the teacher's guides and resources it seems like there's a lot more in the skills strand. Decodable books, sound chaining activities... seems like a lot of phonemic awareness practice to me.

And to answer the first point, about comprehension - the first week of the kindergarten book requires the teacher to ask comprehension questions (explicit and inferential) of students about the read aloud story, including modeling how to find the answer. Of course, that's not student reading nor them doing comprehension work on their own.

There's more explanation here:
http://www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/resource/attachments/overview_of_the_core_knowledge_language_arts_program.pdf

Page 84 (going by page numbers printed) of the pdf talks about decodable books and practice for reading.

You say: "It would be great if New York tried to align its requirements with research findings instead of doing whatever their curriculum staff feels like doing."

1. Phonemic Awareness - seems like there's a lot of practice in there
2. Phonics - systematic synthetic phonics (not better than analytic, but still phonics), also in there
3. Vocabulary - systematically taught through content and Beck's three tiers system
4. Comprehension - initially taught through oral reading/read aloud, then reinforced through decodeable books and other activities
5. Fluency - this is the most interesting one - I would say that the decodeable books part of this is fluency practice, but I could be wrong

And truthfully, it's not NY's staff, but the Core Knowledge Foundation that did all the work in this first edition.

I'm finding your comment a little harsh, that's all.

Please let me know where I'm thinking in the wrong directions.

Timothy Shanahan
Apr 01, 2017 01:46 AM

You might be right and if so, I'm sorry. Remember, I was responding to the summary of the curriculum without a review of that curriculum itself. Your email intrigued me: I went and looked at the Core Knowledge website. Again, I have not reviewed the curriculum itself, just their descriptions/ summaries. The skills component sounds fine (except for the fluency part), and I couldn't find any kind of reading comprehension in their description. That doesn't mean that it is not there but they stress listening comprehension over reading comprehension and I don't think that is a good idea. I also don't understand the emphasis on decodable text throughout. I do like the content emphasis of the program (its real strength in my view). I've asked the What Works Clearinghouse to review the research on this program

Anonymous
Apr 01, 2017 01:47 AM

ART 1:

In exchange for federal Race To The Top grant money New York has adopted the Common Core State Standards, Common Core-aligned curricula, Common Core-aligned standardized tests, and new teacher evaluations based on the resulting data. For common core-aligned curricula, NYSED turned to two non-profits—Core Knowledge Foundation and Expeditionary Learning—to produce and make publicly available a K-8 English language arts curriculum. In 2012, NYSED announced:

“Four contracts have been awarded to develop pre-kindergarten through fifth grade curricular materials with associated professional development aligned to the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards. The contracts, valued at $12.9 million, will be funded from New York State’s federal Race to the Top (RTTT) funds.”

Since then, Core Knowledge Language Arts and Expeditionary Learning curricular materials are available to the world, free of charge, made possible by taxpayers like you and me. You can download the materials on www.engageny.org. Any parent or school in the state with a computer and printer can get their hands on a free and complete K-8 language arts program. Or so it seems. While the K-2 and 3-8 programs are more or less free, whether they’re complete or not is a different story.

An effective core-reading program is a necessity for classroom teachers—novice or expert—who are tasked with teaching kids to read. Research says that effective reading instruction includes explicit, direct teaching of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. So that’s what we want to see from any new common core-aligned reading programs that were putting in the hands of teachers—especially the novice teachers who haven’t developed the expertise that comes with years of experience.

Unfortunately, it seems that both Expeditionary Learning and Core Knowledge have ignored some of this widely accepted research on effective reading instruction. According to the Core Knowledge Foundation website, the program is composed of two parts called the listening and learning strand and the skills strand. You won’t find mention of a third strand, called GRAIR, on the Core Knowledge Foundation’s website. GRAIR stands for guided reading and accountable, independent reading, and it was added on to the K-2 core-reading program that NYSED purchased from Core Knowledge Foundation (perhaps when NYSED realized some important parts were missing from the product it had purchased). NYSED explains it on www.engageny.org like this:

“It is also important to note that NYS has added the critical GRAIR component to the Curriculum…Guided Reading and Accountable Independent Reading (GRAIR) is additional literacy time within the school day where teachers can work with students in developmentally appropriate groupings to meet their individual needs. This is an opportunity for the favorite traditional read aloud work, literacy based centers, and immersion in text, where teachers can facilitate student choice from existing leveled libraries based on interest, availability, and readability. The purpose of this time is to build independent, interested, and capable readers.”

Continued...

Anonymous
Apr 01, 2017 01:48 AM

PART 2:

To build “independent, interested, and capable readers,” Core Knowledge Language Arts, which NYSED paid a handsome sum for, isn’t enough. It needs to be supplemented with “additional literacy time within the school day where teachers can work with students in developmentally appropriate groupings to meet their individual needs.” Sadly, both Core Knowledge Foundation and NYSED provide no meaningful curricular materials to accomplish this critical component of the program.

The CKLA program, when used alone, is insufficient, and that's according to NYSED. When implemented according to plan, the listening and learning and skills strand, taken together, account for about two hours of instruction per day. The third strand (GRAIR) extends the duration of literacy instruction further. That’s fine, because extra instructional time is beneficial and necessary for struggling readers. But when it comes to a complete core-reading program, Core Knowledge Foundation says two strands and NYSED says three.

This disagreement conflates the guidance being given to teachers and confuses the implementation of an effective, research-based core-reading program. How many teachers and schools are unaware of the subtle note NYSED made on www.engageny.org, adding the “critical GRAIR component to the Curriculum.” And for all that money we (the people) spent, we couldn’t have been given some guided reading and independent reading curricular materials?

At least things are different with Expeditionary Learning, right?

Wrong. NYSED paid Expeditionary Learning for its 3-8 English language arts curriculum. Here’s what NYSED has to say about the Expeditionary Learning curriculum:

"The New York State Common Core–aligned ELA modules for grades 3–5 were designed to help teachers build students’ capacity to read, think, talk, and write about complex texts. The modules fully address the reading standards for both literary and informational texts, the writing standards, and the speaking and listening standards. Foundational reading and language also are addressed within the context of the module lessons; these standards are more heavily emphasized in specific module lessons within Module 2B.

"However, the 60-minute module lessons alone do not represent enough time to comprehensively meet the Foundational reading and language standards. To ensure that students receive adequate support building foundational reading and language skills, as well as sufficient time to meet the volume of reading required by the CCSS, research suggests that an additional block of literacy instruction and skills practice is needed."

Anonymous
Apr 01, 2017 01:49 AM

PART 3:

This information was posted to www.engageny.org on Thursday, January 24th, 2014, in the middle of the 2013-2014 school year. As with the missing GRAIR strand from the CKLA program, the extra literacy block needed to supplement the Expeditionary Learning program is critical, but no real curricular resources are provided, just some words of guidance.

To me, this seems like an explicit acknowledgement by NYSED that neither program is complete, and that based on research, more instruction in foundational skills is needed than what either program provides.

You're right that CKLA claims to hit on most of the major elements, and Dr. Shanahan is also correct. Fluency instruction is lacking: a fluency packet is available from CKLA starting in second grade. In K and 1, there are only one the decodable readers, and there is very little explicit instruction in reading comprehension strategies, more so listening comprehension. With it being so clear that additional reading instruction is necessary to meet the standards, it seems fair to say that both programs are lacking, or incomplete.

I agree with Dr. Shanahan about the background knowledge aspect of the CKLA program. Everything Daniel Willingham has written about background knowledge makes sense to me, but I don't believe it should come at the expense of a, b, and c. CKLA isn't awful, but as NYSED points out, it isn't enough. Expeditionary Learning isn't awful, but as NYSED points out, it isn't enough.

Where does that leave schools that followed the CKLA teacher's guides and didn't keep up with the evolving guidance from NYSED? When I look at the CKLA and EL websites, they don't offer the same guidance. Again, I think this conflates the guidance being given to schools. It is a problem of sending mixed messages. It took me a month or two of close reading to come to these conclusions, but I'm now convinced (and in agreement with NYSED) that both programs are inadequate, and probably not worth paying money for, considering the better options available to schools. In urban settings, many schools require a Spanish parallel for their dual language program. Not surprisingly, neither EL nor CKLA provide schools with a Spanish parallel.

NYSED did pay millions of RTTT taxpayer dollars for these core-reading programs, and the bottom line is that they are incomplete. I won't get into the relationship between Amplify Learning, Core Knowledge, et. al. My focus is on how this affects teachers and students, not corporations. And in the case of teachers and students, it's not awful curricula, but it's not complete.

Anonymous
Apr 01, 2017 01:49 AM

PART 3:

This information was posted to www.engageny.org on Thursday, January 24th, 2014, in the middle of the 2013-2014 school year. As with the missing GRAIR strand from the CKLA program, the extra literacy block needed to supplement the Expeditionary Learning program is critical, but no real curricular resources are provided, just some words of guidance.

To me, this seems like an explicit acknowledgement by NYSED that neither program is complete, and that based on research, more instruction in foundational skills is needed than what either program provides.

You're right that CKLA claims to hit on most of the major elements, and Dr. Shanahan is also correct. Fluency instruction is lacking: a fluency packet is available from CKLA starting in second grade. In K and 1, there are only one the decodable readers, and there is very little explicit instruction in reading comprehension strategies, more so listening comprehension. With it being so clear that additional reading instruction is necessary to meet the standards, it seems fair to say that both programs are lacking, or incomplete.

I agree with Dr. Shanahan about the background knowledge aspect of the CKLA program. Everything Daniel Willingham has written about background knowledge makes sense to me, but I don't believe it should come at the expense of a, b, and c. CKLA isn't awful, but as NYSED points out, it isn't enough. Expeditionary Learning isn't awful, but as NYSED points out, it isn't enough.

Where does that leave schools that followed the CKLA teacher's guides and didn't keep up with the evolving guidance from NYSED? When I look at the CKLA and EL websites, they don't offer the same guidance. Again, I think this conflates the guidance being given to schools. It is a problem of sending mixed messages. It took me a month or two of close reading to come to these conclusions, but I'm now convinced (and in agreement with NYSED) that both programs are inadequate, and probably not worth paying money for, considering the better options available to schools. In urban settings, many schools require a Spanish parallel for their dual language program. Not surprisingly, neither EL nor CKLA provide schools with a Spanish parallel.

NYSED did pay millions of RTTT taxpayer dollars for these core-reading programs, and the bottom line is that they are incomplete. I won't get into the relationship between Amplify Learning, Core Knowledge, et. al. My focus is on how this affects teachers and students, not corporations. And in the case of teachers and students, it's not awful curricula, but it's not complete.

Timothy Shanahan
Apr 01, 2017 01:50 AM

Thanks for your detailed information about these programs. I appreciate it.

Let me add a couple of comments: Background information is important in reading (or in comprehension generally). We base inferences on what we know, we disambiguate confusion with it, and we use it to guide the storage of memory. What you know matters. However, despite some very interesting claims about this by various friends of mine (e.g., E.D. Hirsch, Susan Neumann), I know of no experimental study showing that increasing student knowledge about the world improved their reading. During reading lessons, we lose important opportunities to help kids to take in their culture. I definitely agree that kids should read (and know) more history and science and I'm a fan of the literary canon, too. We definitely should make certain that kids are learning from what they read, but we also need to teach them to read. These programs seem to be based on the idea that reading just happens; maybe that appears to be true in some upper middle class homes, but such an approach definitely will not be sufficient on the near west side in Syracuse or in the Bronx, etc.

Like you, I'm stunned when states/school districts buy a program that they have never seen before. These programs seem partial to me (like a good supplement); not likely adequate to raising literacy levels significantly higher. Teachers in New York will still need programs aimed at teaching reading.

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

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How to Organize Daily Literacy Instruction, Part IV

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