Mandated, highly scripted reading resources cause teachers who understand research to feel conflicted, and rightly so. There simply isn’t a single program that can meet the needs of all our students, especially if we want them to be proficient, enthusiastic, lifelong readers.
So, what can we do if our district has invested in a one-size-fits-all program? First, it is vital to remember that following a program with fidelity will not meet the needs of all students. When used thoughtfully and strategically, however, in combination with the structure of Daily 5 and the CAFE system, meeting their needs is completely possible.
The key is to begin with assessments. It is essential that a good diagnostic assessment is not only administered but evaluated, for it is this data that drives our instruction. One good diagnostic assessment enables us to determine a child’s Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Vocabulary strengths and needs. Personalized goals, based on individual need, are established and recorded in a conferring notebook (either paper or online), and instructional decisions are made by comparing where our students are in relation to expectations and standards.
If everyone or almost everyone needs to master a certain skill, concept, or strategy, we teach it to the whole group. If only a handful of students do, we teach it in a small group or one-on-one.
Then we look at the required resource. Instead of blindly following the scope and sequence, or parroting the script, we evaluate the lessons to see how they can meet the instructional needs of the students in front of us. Although our whole-group focus lessons can often come from the manual, they usually need to be divided into smaller time increments. So instead of doing one long lesson, we may do the comprehension target during one focus lesson and the phonics or vocabulary portion in a second focus lesson. Since brain research indicates that the average age of our children matches the number of minutes they can maintain higher-level thinking during direct instruction, this mode of dispensing content matches their development.
Here is what we keep in mind when looking at the resource for whole-group instruction:
- What portion of this lesson is vital to my students, and what can I eliminate so it is brain compatible in length?
- Do the majority of my students need this skill or strategy? If not, I will teach it in a small group or individually.
During the literacy block, students are provided with extended amounts of time to read and write independently. Students may read the resource for a portion of that time if the level of the text is a good fit. Basal texts are notorious for having vastly fluctuating text levels, and our experience has shown that the most extensive growth comes when students practice in good-fit books that have been self-selected. Therefore, we spend a great deal of time training our students to choose books that they are truly interested in that they can read with a high degree of proficiency.
The bottom line is that it’s vital to look at the resource with a discerning eye. We honor our employers by using the program, but by using it strategically and intentionally, we honor the students in our classroom, which is the highest honor of all.