Dr. Louisa Moats is my Common Core ELA hero. Not only have I taken her published LETRS training (If you haven’t, LETRS is not misspelled. It stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling.), but she is an author of the Reading Foundational Skills section of Appendix A.
So when she speaks out about reading, I pay attention. Recently, she was interviewed about the CCSS. Not surprisingly, I found myself cheering and pumping my fist in the air. The following are my thoughts.
First, Dr. Moats articulates the fear I’ve struggled with for the last 3 years. She makes the argument that higher level academic activities depend on the foundations built in earlier grades. She says emphasizing complex text is not beneficial for younger students who have not yet acquired the fundamental skills.
She hits the nail on the head. I’ve attended several professional development offerings that promote increasing text complexity for students. In my deepest heart this nagged at me: How can students ‘read’ the complex texts if they aren’t able to decode? How do I increase the rigor of comprehension when students can’t read a multisyllabic word?
Another aspect of this current educational reform that is a thorn in my side is the lack of research based strategies. As Dr. Moats says current guidelines have “turned away from critical, research-based methodologies on how to develop the basic underlying skills of literacy.” Both Dr. Moats and I hear silence when we listen for the phrase “research based strategies” that used to be the benchmark by which I measure any new approach. So what if this new idea is good? Says who? How has this method worked with other students in a similar demographic? Who knows! What I appreciated most about Dr. Moat’s LETRS training was the strong emphasis on solid research married with practical suggestions I could use tomorrow. (For even more about the lack of research in this time of change, check out Kathleen Porter-Magee’s Post about leveled libraries.)
But the two statements that made me jump up and down yelling ‘That’s just what I’ve been thinking!’ is the following: “Explicit teaching procedures are really being lost in this shuffle” and “We were making great inroads into beginning reading assessment and instruction practices between 2000-2008 that now are being cast aside in favor of ‘reading aloud from complex text’ — which is not the same as teaching kids how to read on their own, accurately and fluently.”
In my former life, I was a Reading Coach with the Federal Reading First Program. I’ve learned Reading First is a dirty word of late, so I usually demure when mentioning my earlier positions. Although there were problems with Reading First nationally, the data shows we did good work at the local level. Defending the program is for another day. Presently, I want to talk about the hallmarks of the program: research based practices with the goal of all students reading accurately and fluently at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. The program focused heavily on research, data analysis, and the 5 Components of Reading.
The research presented in the Reading First program was a rock on which I could anchor my teaching practices. It introduced the concept of extended reading instruction, which is the idea that students must be taught explicitly how to read, and there are research-based strategies to do so.
What I’ve encountered recently, with the dawn of the CCSS is vastly different. The message I’ve received from several CCSS-ELA professional development opportunities is this: Kids aren’t reading because they don’t like what they’re reading. Just give them something interesting (make it rigorous), give them time to read it, and they will now comprehend the text. I’ve even gone to a professional development class in which the presenter said (and I’m quoting here!), “Make sure to introduce a skill the kids can do themselves so they can work on it independently.” Why in the world would I introduce a skill that a child can do independently?! Why am I not teaching them a skill they desperately need, and one that, I as their teacher, am highly skilled to teach?
Why, with the introduction of the CCSS has decoding become a dirty word? Why, in the last 3 years, am I being guided away from explicit instruction of vital skills, and towards only independent practice? Why is using calibrated, valid, and research proven assessment materials falling out of favor? How can students read the new complex texts if they’re unable to decode?
As a teacher leader, I feel adrift in these changing times. It’s not because I don’t like change. It’s because the rock and anchor of my practice, namely research and instruction, is absent with every new training.
What I fear the most and what keeps me awake at night (really) is the fact that all the professional development I’ve attended lately in ELA diminishes the importance of decoding instruction. Teachers leave these trainings thinking decoding is dead. While this may not be the intention of the presenters, it is the message heard by the teachers with whom I’ve attended these trainings.
When we’ve disregarded decoding practice for 2 or 3 years, students will arrive in the intermediate grades unable to decipher the complex text they’re now required to read. As Dr. Moats says, ‘The standards call for raising the difficulty of text, but many students cannot read at or above grade level, and therefore may not receive enough practice at levels that will build their fluency gradually over time.”
If this has you as fired up as I am, I would encourage you to check out and upcoming PSESD Foundational Skills offering.
It is time not to just learn about the new aspects and shifts of the CCSS-ELA, but to revisit to what we know is the right thing to do: teach students to read.