WHAT REALLY MATTERS WHEN WORKING WITH STRUGGLING READERS ~ Richard L. Allington
The Reading Teacher Volume 66 pp. 520 – 530, 2013
“When I was a graduate student, one of my professors told us that it took 50 years for research findings to influence daily classroom practices! I recall that my peers and I were aghast at that thought. “Surely he is wrong. Surely he is too pessimistic,” we said to each other during our class break. Now, 40 years later, I tell my graduate students roughly the same thing.”
I was one of those grad students in the class break conversation with Dick (yes, he is Dick to me – he was in our wedding party). Too many students have not learned who could have learned. The time is now to influence daily classroom practices in ways that will increase student learning!
Here is what Dick recommends and I agree with:
“It Is Not a Lack of Money That Prevents Us from Teaching Every Child to Read –
Before you throw up your hands and shout, “I’d love to provide what research says is necessary but we don’t have the money to do that,” let me point out a few money-saving opportunities that could well provide the money you don’t seem to have. The following is a list of fairly common instructional options that currently use the dollars (and time) that could be spent to provide the research-based instruction that all children deserve.
■ Eliminate workbooks—No study has ever identified completing workbook pages as effective practice (Anderson, Brubaker, Alleman-Brooks, & Duffy, 1985; Cunningham, 1982; Fisher & Hiebert, 1990; James-Burdumy et al., 2010; Lipson, Mosenthal, Mekkelsen, & Russ, 2004; Turner, 1995). In addition to having no evidence of producing positive effects on reading achievement, workbooks are consumable and thus an annual expense (Jachym, Allington, & Broikou, 1989) that we could tap to fund evidence-based practices.
■ Eliminate test prep—What test prep is good at is generating profits for the test publishers (Glovin & Evans, 2006). However, no research has demonstrated that test prep actually improves performance on standardized tests of reading development, much less fostered improved reading behaviors (Guthrie, 2002; Popham, 2001). Again, test prep produces annual expenditures that could be instead invested in research-based practices.
■ Eliminate paraprofessionals from instructional roles—Following the advice of the federal Title I program noted earlier, reducing annual expenditures for paraprofessionals also provides funds that could be invested in research-based practices.
■ Eliminate expenditures for computer based reading programs—Although computer-based reading programs have become this decade’s most popular educational fad, no research supports the expenditure of education dollars on computers, computer software, or computer-based reading curriculum (Campuzano, Dynarski, Agodini, & Rall, 2009; Slavin et al., 2011).
Eliminating money wasted on things that don’t really matter seems the most logical place to begin our effort to teach all children to read. In many schools, eliminating all of the aforementioned items from our current expenditures would provide between $250,000 and $500,000 annually to fund research-based instructional efforts. In addition, eliminating things that have never made a positive difference in reading outcomes would mean that we would also have time to implement the many research-based instructional improvements that all readers need.
We can change the future for struggling readers. However, to do so requires that we rethink almost every aspect of the instructional plans we currently have in place. What benefits children who struggle with learning to read the most is a steady diet of high-quality reading lessons, lessons in which they have texts they can read with an appropriate level of accuracy and in which they are also engaged in the sort of work we expect our better readers to do.
The instruction we currently provide struggling readers too often focuses on isolated lessons targeting specific skill deficits. Too often these lessons involve the least powerful instructional options as we expect struggling readers to complete worksheet after worksheet, skill lesson after skill lesson, and engage them in round robin oral reading activities. We’ve known for two decades that when classroom reading lessons for struggling readers are meaning focused, struggling readers improve more than when lessons are skills focused (Knapp, 1995). Nonetheless, skills-focused instruction still dominates the lessons we offer struggling readers.
One thing that every educator who reads this article might do is to respond to each of the following characteristics of research-based reading lessons for struggling readers:
■ Do we expect our struggling readers to read and write more every day than our achieving readers?
■ Have we ensured that every intervention for our struggling readers is taught only by our most effective and most expert teachers?
■ Have we designed our reading lessons such that struggling readers spend at least two-thirds of every lesson engaged in the actual reading of texts?
■ Do we ensure that the texts we provide struggling readers across the full school day are texts that they can read with at least 98% word recognition accuracy and 90% comprehension?
■ Does every struggling reader leave the building each day with at least one book they can read and that they also want to read?
We can teach virtually every child to read. Now the question that we face is this: Will we use what we know to solve the problems faced by the children who struggle to become readers? Unless you were able to respond positively to each of the five questions just posed, then there is work to be done. However, the time has come to recognize that struggling readers still exist largely because of us. If every school implemented the interventions that researchers have verified and if every teacher who is attempting to teach children to read developed the needed expertise, struggling readers would all learn to read and become achieving readers. However, it remains up to us, the educators, to alter our schools and our budgets so that every child becomes a real reader. I hope we are up to the challenge.”
The quotes above are from the article: WHAT REALLY MATTERS WHEN WORKING WITH STRUGGLING READERS by Richard L. Allington from The Reading Teacher, Volume 66, pp. 520 – 530, April 2013