As a former middle school principal and current assistant to the superintendent for K–6 curriculum and instruction, I have witnessed the struggles that students face with reading comprehension. It became evident to me that our former approach to literacy—balanced literacy—was not grounded in research. Despite its popularity, the balanced-literacy approach has been proven to have critical flaws. This realization led me to explore evidence-based practices, and I discovered the effectiveness of structured literacy.
The alarming statistic that 70 percent of the prison population in the United States cannot read beyond a fourth-grade level highlights the urgent need for effective literacy interventions. Structured literacy has shown promising results in breaking the cycle of illiteracy and equipping students with the necessary skills to become proficient readers and writers.
When it comes to literacy, administrators must prioritize their role as learning leaders. Information is easier than ever to obtain through reading journals and articles, listening to podcasts, watching videos, and attending virtual or in-person conferences on literacy. Through these means, administrators can ensure that they are well-equipped to guide their schools in evidence-based reading instruction. This way, they not only are informed but also model a lifelong learning stance for their staff to emulate.
Learning How to Read
Structured literacy starts by laying a solid foundation in phonemic awareness and phonological skills. These foundational skills are crucial for children who have missed out on early literacy instruction or have struggled with reading and writing for some time.
By explicitly teaching these skills, structured literacy helps students develop a strong base upon which they can build their reading and writing abilities. Additionally, it’s essential to incorporate a knowledge-building component as part of the literacy block to demonstrate to students that reading is a vehicle for learning.
Administrators can facilitate the implementation of structured literacy by ensuring that teachers have access to high-quality curriculum and training. By establishing a common literacy block in the master schedule, administrators can emphasize the importance of structured literacy and provide specific skills and time frames for teachers to follow.
The adoption of a professionally written curriculum that incorporates all aspects of Scarborough’s Reading Rope can make a significant difference in student outcomes. A high-quality curriculum has two distinct advantages: It’s an all-encompassing document ensuring that all necessary components are there, and it frees up teachers to focus on their primary function—teaching.
Reading to Learn
Starting in third grade, there should be a greater shift to reading to learn. In structured literacy, the text becomes the primary source for knowledge, allowing students to explore interconnected ideas and concepts tied directly to vocabulary and writing development. By integrating these elements, structured literacy creates strong mental schemata around core concepts.
To support the implementation of structured literacy, administrators can provide specialized training and support to teachers. Moving from self-contained classrooms to a platooning concept allows for targeted professional development for a smaller group of teachers. This allows for teachers to focus on a concentrated area instead of trying to be a master of all subjects, which makes it easier for administrators to provide ongoing support and monitoring. Both of these are crucial for the success of any school-based initiative.
Addressing Reading Disabilities
Dyslexia is common in our population, with one in every five people having some form of it. Without proper diagnosis and interventions, individuals with dyslexia may be misdiagnosed with a general learning disability, leading to a lifetime of struggles.
As a school district, the implementation of a standardized screening process can help identify reading problems early on and provide appropriate interventions and support. Screening should take place starting in kindergarten and go through a minimum of third grade, and all newly enrolled students should go through a reading screening process. Many universal screeners are free, but there are also associated data aggregation tools starting as low as $2 per student.
School administrators are an essential piece in ensuring the success of structured literacy instruction. They can support teachers through providing guidance, training, and resources. By making informed decisions about curriculum and instructional practices, school leaders can promote reading success for all students.
Administrators must lead the way in implementing evidence-based reading instruction in schools. By embracing structured literacy and providing the necessary ongoing support and resources, administrators can empower teachers to effectively teach literacy. Together, we can break the cycle of illiteracy and pave the way for a brighter future.