Is Your Language Arts Program Working?
There are so many approaches and programs, how do you know if your teaching is on the right track?
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably seen the scary headlines about reading in the US. America's Reading Problem and The Pandemic Has Worsened the Crisis in School are just a few.
You've also probably heard the buzz about the #scienceofreading and how some publishers and programs have drifted from what decades of research and evidence have proven to work. If you haven't, check out Sold a Story by American Public Media.
You might also have started to hear about how schools are reacting. Even massive districts like New York City are beginning an about-face of pedagogy and programs (The Upheaval in Teaching Reading).
With so many headlines flying and changes afoot, how can you be sure you and your school are on the right track? What sort of changes should you be thinking about?
Outlined below are 6 areas to review to check if your language arts program is effective.
#1 - The Science of Reading
Is your program aligned with the Science of Reading? Do your programs and approaches follow the decades of evidence and research that have outlined best practices? Make sure to look beyond the marketing and media shared from the publishing company, and instead think about the models that outline the research in practice. Check out my "What is Reading" video for more details.
#2 - Domains of Language
Are you explicitly teaching all four language domains? Does your curriculum weave together instruction of each of the four domains, building connections and knowledge? We know that listening and speaking are the foundations of reading and writing, so it is essential that listening comprehension and oral language skills are continuously developed.
"There is a fundamental and reciprocal relationship among oral language (listening and speaking), written language, and reading." – The Center for Literacy and Learning
#3 - Developmental Continua
Do your teachers understand what is age and stage appropriate? Are skills developed in the appropriate sequence? Are students learning to read and reading to learn? Becoming skilled readers and writers is not unlike building a skyscraper. You would never decorate your office before laying a strong foundation, so why would you teach critical literacy skills out of order?
#4 - Systematic, Explicit Instruction
Does your curriculum follow a consistent, systematic scope and sequence, ensuring there are no gaps in learning? Is instruction explicit, following best practices? In order for your learners to develop skills in the appropriate sequence, they must be taught in the appropriate sequence. Because of this, systematic instruction is one of the most essential elements of a strong language arts program. Alongside systematic instruction, is explicit instruction. Remember, spelling is taught, not caught.
#5 - Consistent Assessments
Do you have a school wide assessment schedule that includes universal screeners, benchmark assessments, classroom based tools, and progress monitoring assessments? Does the data show progress for all students? Data-driven instruction isn't just an industry buzz term, it lets your educators know exactly what students have mastered, and what they need reinforcement with. Universal screeners also detect red flags early, allowing for early intervention to rewire the brain.
"Intensive instruction to improve reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself, creating new white matter that improves communication within the brain." – Carnegie Mellon University scientists Timothy Keller and Marcel Just (2009)
#6 - Creativity
Is creativity fostered? Are students building background knowledge? Do students see themselves as readers and writers? Are author's craft techniques taught? Creativity is the spark that brings literacy learning to life, building students' all important background knowledge and expanding the ways in which they view the world, and themselves.
Take the time to reflect on your own program. Is it what your students deserve?
This is an overwhelming process, but you don't need to travel this journey alone. Reach out for support analyzing your school and developing a language arts program everyone can be proud of. Who knows, maybe your school can be one of those positive headlines hitting news stands today!