In this installment of the Teacher’s Corner, we discuss the latest news surrounding a renewed push to ensure early reading instruction is aligned with the science of reading. This includes the recent review of Units of Study by Student Achievement Partners and their report that the program lacks alignment with research. Finally, we share our own recommendations for supplementing Units of Study with evidence-based practices and helping educators conduct their own reviews of reading programs and practices.
Last month, Student Achievement Partners (SAP), a nonprofit educational consulting group, launched a new initiative to commission literacy experts to review reading programs in an effort to highlight research-based practices that should be used in every elementary classroom and help educators make sound decisions about curriculum. This project comes amid relatively stagnant reading scores (despite a large body of research that scientifically proves how children learn to read) and a renewed push for schools to adopt reading curricula and practices grounded in the ‘science of reading.’
SAP’s reviews will be conducted in partnership with expert reading researchers, who will evaluate programs against available research in the following areas: foundational reading skills, like phonics and fluency; text complexity; building knowledge and vocabulary; and supports for English learners.
The researchers released their first report on Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study program from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Units of Study, more commonly known as “reading and writing workshop,” is one of the most widely used programs in the country, with 16 percent of teachers indicating they have used the materials in their classrooms, according to an Education Week Research Center survey. Expert reviewers noted the program’s strengths and weaknesses when compared to scientific evidence of how children learn to read. Overall, reviewers’ primary concern was that crucial aspects of reading instruction do not receive the necessary time and attention required to maximize student learning. This might be particularly problematic for children who are not well primed to read or who are not already reading when they enter school. (Note: The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project released a response to the SAP report in defense of the balanced literacy and the Units of Study program.)
Specifically, the SAP reviewers noted that the program
Many educators will still be expected to use Units of Study as the primary curriculum until states or school boards have time to make official changes. Here, we offer some ways to supplement those lessons and other, similar “balanced literacy” curricula to maximize student learning.
|SAP Concerns about Units of Study||Possible Solutions||
(Sample lessons mentioned below can be adapted for other grades as needed.)
|Insufficient time devoted to phonics||
|Use of the 3-step cueing system||
|Lack of challenging texts and appropriate text reading supports||
||Sample “Daily Reading Routine” and lessons for second grade|
|Lack of knowledge building and vocabulary instruction||
||Academic Word Routines in lesson plans for fourth grade|
|Inadequate English Leaner supports||
||Reading Tip Sheets for Educators|
Given the recent media attention, schools and districts are beginning to ask themselves if the reading curricula they’ve selected is, in fact, rooted in reading science. We encourage educators to conduct their own reviews to ensure the reading programs being used will address the learning needs of most students and are aligned with research.