There are two ways to think of
reading programs. The first way is to think of a reading program
as a product -- something that you buy off-the-shelf and plug into your
curriculum. The second is to think of it as a curriculum -- something
that evolves and develops over time, and which is unique to your school
and customized to the needs of your students. In the literature,
these terms are often used interchangeably, and it can get confusing.
It is common to read about a school reform effort that used reading programs
such as Saxon Phonics or Reading Recovery as a component in their overall
To avoid confusion, I'll be clear:
I'm talking about off-the-shelf reading programs here -- "subprograms."
The problem with "subprograms" is
people confuse their campus reading curriculum with the campus' adopted
subprogram. Schools are often identified as "Reading Recovery" schools
or "Success for All" schools. When administrators are asked to describe
their reading curriculum, they might say, "We use Accelerated Reader here."
If the subprogram defines the curriculum, then a large percentage of students
will not become successful readers.
There is no subprogram that can
insure that all children will become successful readers. In fact,
I'll make a stronger statement -- I do not believe that a subprogram could
ever be created that would even come close to insuring success for all
readers. I base this on the firm belief that only a knowledgeable,
flexible teacher who uses assessment data to individualize instruction
can help all children.
As Dr. Reid Lyon, director of the
child development and behaviorial branch within NICHD, said in a public
policy forum presentation:
"...no one program, no one approach
is ever going to be equally efficacious, equally beneficial for all kids.
No way. There is no magic bullet out there. We have never,
in all the clinical trials we've been doing on reading instruction, found
a program that covered all kids that came in front of that program."
Lyon went on to say, "So what happens
when you're only reaching 60 percent of the children with the program?
Then the teacher has to be able to modify, adjust, influence the representations
that that program is giving, alter those in some way so that the program
and its contents connect with the internal schema, what the person has
in their heads so they get it. But how can teachers do that if they
don't know what it takes to learn to read?"
Reading subprograms, by their very
nature, are not responsive to the individual learning needs of children.
Reading subprograms can help certain students gain certain skills.
But when subprograms dictate reading instruction, some students are left
behind and other students are bored.
If EVERY child is to be helped,
then it is up to the teacher to take frequent diagnostic assessments, and
structure each child's instruction to complement the learning needs revealed
by that assessment. To do this, the teacher must have a very sophisticated
understanding of the process of reading acquisition and the cognitive development
that accompanies reading acquisition, and the teacher must have a very
sophisticated understanding of ongoing diagnostic assessment. Further,
the teacher must be adept at individualizing her instruction, moving students
around to different instructional groups dynamically, and the teacher must
also have a repertoire of powerful instructional activities at her disposal
that she can use to address each child's instructional needs. A reading
subprogram may provide some powerful instructional activities, but no reading
subprogram really helps the teacher to develop the sophisticated understanding
of reading acquisition and reading assessment that is necessary to use
those activities to their greatest potential.
And that, as I see it, is the problem
with subprograms. We believe at some level that the subprogram can
"fix" our struggling schools. Some even strive to create "teacher-proof"
reading subprograms. Now, we are turning to computers as surrogates
for powerful teachers. The explosion in computer technology and educational
software is wondrous, but computer software, no matter how good it is (see
is for Computer Programs), can not take the place of highly qualified
We are looking for solutions in
all the wrong places.
The only solution that will really
help all of our children to be successful readers is to address teacher
excellence (see H
is for Highly Qualified Teachers). Any reading initiative that
does not focus primarily on enhancing the teacher's understanding of reading
and reading acquisition is doomed to failure. Any initiative that
does not help teachers learn how to take continuous assessments of reading
development and respond to that assessment data with individualized instruction
is also doomed to failure.
Reading subprograms have come and
gone, but student performance has remained unchanged for decades (See N
is for NAEP). And there is no reason to believe that student
performance ever will change until we start seriously investing in the
professional development of our teachers. Preservice training and
teacher certification standards must change, but more importantly, schools
must make a commitment to enhancing every teacher's core knowledge about
reading and reading acquisition. As Allington and Cunningham said
in the final chapter of their excellent book, "Schools
that Work Where All Children Read and Write:"
Good schools are collections
of good teachers, and creating schools where all children become readers
and writers is simply a matter of figuring out how to support teachers
in their efforts to develop the reading and writing proficiencies of every
Professional Development "Programs"
There are some "programs" which
primarily focus on enhancing the knowledge and skills of the teacher (and
focus less on enforcing a rigid curriculum), and are therefore worth mentioning.
The Comprehensive Assistance Centers
across the country have begun developing what they call the Reading
Success Network to bring support to teachers trying to draw upon research
information to support their instruction.
The Professional Development Institute
(PDI) is promoting the Literacy
First Process nation-wide. Their mission is to work systematically
and collaboratively with school staff to enable as many children as possible
to read beginning materials independently by the middle of first grade
and to continue to read grade-level materials as they progress through
school. Their professional development strategy focuses on enhancing teacher's
knowledge-base, and on developing systemic solutions to literacy instruction
Schools seems to be devoted to a long-term school enhancement process
that focuses primarily on the professional development of the teachers.
This is a school-wide, systemic reform model, but as anybody who works
in reading knows, to have reading reform in a school, you must address
intervention at the level of the whole school and district, and the culture
of the campus and district must be examined.
Having finished my tirade about
subprograms, let me now back off a bit and say, there are some subprograms
that are better than others, and some subprograms are actually quite useful
when used appropriately. And while I firmly believe that our money,
time, and energy should be primarily dedicated to teacher professional
development, and while I also firmly believe that a subprogram does not
constitute a reading curriculum, I will say that there are some subprograms
that are useful resources even for the best, most highly qualified teachers.
When teachers are well trained to use assessment data to individualize
instruction, they may still turn to a subprogram to provide some structure
to that instruction. For example, if a student is having difficulty
with reading fluency, the teacher may take advantage of the computer program
called Reading Assistant (see
is for Computer Programs) to help that student practice reading with
fluency. Similarly, for students who need some instruction in letter-sound
relationships, the teacher may use the computer program called Read,
Write, and Type.
Kevin Feldman has written two useful,
short, informative documents describing different programs that have been
shown to help children develop good reading skills and habits. The
first is a description
of K-6 programs, and the second is a description
of programs that can be used to help older struggling readers to develop