Five things that can lead to success in K-2 Literacy: A look at the old and the new (and they are both the same)
By Doctor Sam Bommarito
Regular readers may recall my Jan 11th blog post where I talked about the Shanahan/Berger podcast. It was done through Amplify. Folks who signed up for that podcast got a whitepaper from Amplify entitled Five leadership practices that drive success in K-2 literacy. It was written by Krista Curran, SVP and General Manager for Assessment and Invention. It reports on the results of interventions done in 11 schools where “mCLASS data showed exceptional growth in student literacy”. Details of all this can be found in the Amplify document, which was distributed by their website. What caught my eye was their overall conclusions about what “school leaders, teachers and other staff” did to contribute to that success. Here are the 5 things they listed:
While recognizing the limits and limitations of a single study done with a relatively small N, I find the above conclusions intriguing. They reminded me of another project I was involved in a very long time ago. Back in the late 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s I was part of a Title 1 program in a “next to urban” district in St. Louis. As a matter of fact that district bordered on Ferguson. My building was Title 1, sometimes Chapter 1, depended on the year. We were twice given the Secretaries’ Award. That award went to Title 1 programs showing exceptional gains by their students. Winning the award meant the buildings in the district were in the top 1/10 of 1 percent of all Title 1 programs in the nation in terms of improving student’s achievement scores and other factors considered in giving the award. My building always had 90% plus free lunch, the yardstick used by Title 1 to determine what buildings would qualify for Title 1 services. The year I did my dissertation work, the first graders in my building had Gates-MacGinitie reading scores that were one full standard deviation above what one would expect in a building with that free lunch rate. In point of fact, their median score was at or near the 50 %’ile. What we were doing was working and working very well. I would point out that the measure of comprehension we were using measured vocabulary knowledge (about ½ the items) AND comprehension (the other ½), unlike some measures today that measure mainly decoding with some attention given to vocabulary and little or no attention given to directly measuring reading comprehension.
As I think back to the project I participated in and looked at the 5 points listed by this recent report it hit me that the teachers, staff and administration at my building (and the other elementary buildings in the district) were doing all the things mentioned by this recent report. Our tact may have been somewhat different in terms of interventions. We moved from a basal instruction, using a basal well known for it’s strong phonics program, to a guided reading/workshop model, a model that has some critics and doubters. However it REALLY worked for us and did so over a number of years. I always note (tongue in cheek) that the year after I left, my building’s reading scores went down dramatically. What changed was not the fact I left but rather the fact that new leadership came to central office and readopted the basal with the strong phonics program. Over the next few years reading scores went down dramatically. The district took years to recover from that change over. For readers of this blog- when I talk about “word callers” (and some folks take me to task for using the term) I’m talking about children who don’t comprehend because decoding was overstressed and comprehension was virtually ignored in early instruction. I worked with such children for years. I found those children thrived in the workshop environment. In this blog, I’ve often called reading recovery the bumble bee of the literacy world. According to some theories it should not fly at all. Yet it does. Shall I give a similar name to my old Title 1 project? By some theories it shouldn’t have worked at all. Yet in fact in worked better than most of the projects of it’s era.
Two thoughts here. One is that my district’s story serves as allegory for those who would ignore comprehension and focus entirely on decoding in the early grades. Based on my experience that is not a particularly good move for developing great readers (though it may develop great decoders). The other thought is that as folks design literacy programs might do well to look hard at the conclusions of the recently published white paper. I think it outlines ideas that all sides of the current reading debate could live with. As a matter of fact I would predict they would thrive if they used them. So I hope I’ve given my readers some food for thought here.
Next Week I hope do a blog entry on Missouri Reader’s upcoming issue. It on the theme “Poetry- the Game Changer”. The theme comes from an article David Harrison wrote as the anchor piece for the issue. Glenda (my co-editor for the Missouri Reader) and I are presenting the key ideas from this issue on March 1st, at The Missouri Write to Learn Conference held at the Tan Tar Ra resort, Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. Here is a link to the conference: http://www.writetolearnconference.com/
Next week also marks the 1st anniversary of this blog. The blog has had 10,000 readers since starting. WOW! Thanks to all of you who have come to visit over the past year. Please do keep coming!!!
Happy Reader and Writing
Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, protector of bumble bees and other such amazing creatures)
Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.