Jimmy Brehm is Vice President of Academic Planning and Solution Development at Scholastic. In this blog post, he shares why establishing an organized structure for literacy instruction is critical, and how this framework can be built.
There are undoubtedly many joys to experience being an educator—the smiles on the students' faces, the positive energy students bring to the hallways and classrooms, the amazing perspectives only children can offer, the incomparable feeling of seeing a student achieve a goal you always knew was possible. With these joys also comes the high expectations teachers set for themselves, as well as the ever-changing standards set forth by policy makers, district leaders, administrators, and parents.
The looming question, “Am I doing all I can to ensure each child is achieving at his or her highest potential?” often lends itself to further question, “Are my students going to be reading on grade level or beyond by the end of this school year?” This anxiety becomes further complicated by the understanding that at any time teachers may be asked to throw out all newly established routines and replace them with the next innovative idea. However, the growing body of scientific and educational research does not have to lead to apprehension. Simply put, organization is the remedy for this uneasiness, and organization will ensure continuous growth and implementation of best practice.
In my previous experiences as a building and district leader, as well as in my current role partnering with districts across the country to help align professional learning and resource solutions to academic needs, I have found when an organized structure for instruction exists, research can be a motivational tool for meeting the diverse needs of learners. Additionally, when frameworks are clearly established, research can be empowering and energizing.
What is a Framework?
Throughout the past year working and learning from home, we have become especially well acquainted with the idea that our homes contain separate rooms, each with a different purpose, but all functioning together to provide a place to live. In the design of our literacy classrooms, we must provide a structure with intentional areas of learning for different purposes, and these areas must work together to provide a place for all students to achieve.
When a strong framework is in place and understood by all, the decision of where and when to allow new research or resources to be implemented is less of a struggle, as it becomes simply an update rather than a full reconstruction. Appropriate data can be collected and analyzed, and effective improvements can be made in a timely and cost effective manner. We remodel the parts of the structure most in need, with the best resources available, within the budget we have.
In building our literacy frameworks, the foundation must be solid in order to ensure modifications become easily manageable. The tenants of high-quality literacy instruction advocated for by Patricia Cunningham in the late 1980’s, the National Reading Panel Report in the 2000’s, and prescribed by researchers such as Dr. Ray Reutzel in 2011, hold consistent: the literacy framework should include time for phonics and word work, shared reading for comprehension, fluency practice, and an abundance of writing.
If an educator finds that the literacy framework is built on a foundation that is deeply flawed, such as one that dismisses explicit instruction in the pillars of literacy, then by necessity it should be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. When that framework is built on what we know to be true about the teaching and learning of literacy, we can take new research and improve our literacy "rooms," or components, strategically, intentionally, and in a manner that is empowering to schools and communities.
Building a Framework
I recommend including six components in your literacy framework. This framework can be established and used in all K–12 classrooms when we see the components as flexible in time and intensity based on the level, data, individual student, classroom, school, or district need. These components can be improved deliberately over time as research guides us in our efforts for continuous improvement:
- Interactive Read-Aloud: Educators read from a complex text and model the behaviors and metacognitive strategies of a skilled reader while engaging students in accountable talk.
- Shared/Close Reading: Students and teachers with 1:1 access to the same text explore the texts together, discussing the author’s purpose, exploring character development, examining cause and effect relationships, etc.
- Phonics/Word Study: Students receive explicit whole group instruction beginning with recognizing sounds, moving to letter-sound correspondence and blends, and progressing to morphological word study. Students are provided time, often with support from a research-supported adaptive digital program, to access, practice, and show mastery of foundational skills in the decoding, encoding, and understanding words.
- Writing: Teachers write, and/or use mentor texts, to model practices of authors within a writing genre or mode and then provide students equal or greater time to be an author of their own design.
- Teacher-Facilitated Small Group: Students receive in-the-moment feedback from the teacher as they navigate reading text and responding to feedback from the teacher that is based on each student’s individual needs.
- Independent Reading: Students, using self-selected books, read independently or with a partner, incorporating learned skills and building knowledge through joyful reading of a variety of texts.
By utilizing successful research-based practices, along with local achievement data, educators can establish a strong framework of instruction, and then clearly define and communicate that framework and its components school- or district-wide. Overall, when goals for student outcomes are organized into a solid framework of instruction, translating up-to-date research findings into classroom instruction and school-wide decision making becomes straightforward and anxiety is greatly reduced. As focus shifts to planning for the new school year, a time that will bring opportunities for focused improvement, begin by establishing a strong framework for instruction that will bring research into practice this academic year and beyond.