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Choosing a Reading Curriculum

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Choosing a reading curriculum? Is your head spinning yet? There are literally hundreds of options; preschool reading curriculum, reading curriculum for struggling readers of any age, special education reading curriculum and on and on. The following are some items you may not see other publishers suggesting you consider.

Reading For All Learners was designed originally to be a reading curriculum for special education settings where children need a carefully designed structure to support reading. Teachers working with the program quickly realized the same carefully designed teaching sequence would be an effective reading curriculum for any learner regardless of ability. Whether you are choosing a kindergarten reading curriculum or a reading curriculum for any elementary aged learner here are some suggestions on what to look for. Regardless of whether you are looking for a homeschool reading curriculum or selecting a program for a district-wide implementation there are some very important factors influencing the level of success you will experience.

1. Cost – Innovative and Effective are NOT synonyms Virtually every week we read or hear about the new silver bullet that is going to solve every reading problem for every kid. Unfortunately, education is littered with materials that came in exciting new forms, often coming with sparkly new devices, and innovative new approaches. Most of these materials are initially embraced enthusiastically. Later, when the reality of the oversize invoices and the undersize results are seen, the exciting new program is quickly swept under the rug. One unfortunate outcome of this cycle is the wasted time, money and hope that can never be recovered. The most unfortunate outcome is the possible damage to self-esteem and lack of progress experienced by the kids involved. Quite frankly, we have seen this cycle happen so many times we now cringe whenever the word innovative is used. Effective reading instruction does not require an expensive reading curriculum.

2. Research Basis – Put your skeptic hat on “Scientific studies prove…” How often do we see or hear that line used each week? Whether it is used to support a claim for hair tonic or amazing educational gains, it can’t always be true or we would all have Ph.D.’s and lovely thick heads of hair. So how can you sort fact from fiction? Here are some great questions to ask about research studies from Education Week:

“Was the study conducted in a district that will allow school officials to observe the intervention in action? The opportunity to meet with those doing the implementation, as well as firsthand observations, can clarify nuances and success factors that would be lost in a written report.

Do the players in the study—both students and teachers—represent what your district looks like? If they don't have the same socioeconomic, cultural, and educational backgrounds, the findings may not be transferable.

Can the company easily explain the product or service, and the confirming research, to a variety of stakeholders? If the methodology is too obscure, or the program seems counter-intuitive, it will be harder to rally the support that is an important predictor of success.

How meaningful are the measures used for each benefit claimed? For example, before-and-after gains are relevant only if both measurements are done with the same test, or tests designed to be compared. Also, a state-test passing rate or score may not be sensitive enough to measure what the product or service is designed to teach or facilitate.

The study claims gains in achievement, but compared to what? If there’s no comparison group, you can’t tell if the product or service improved on what a district was already doing. And the comparison is meaningful only if both groups were similar at the start of the study, or if statistical adjustments were made to compensate for differences.

Was the study conducted, written, and released or published according to professional standards for design integrity and research ethics? Ask the company how well the study conforms to guidelines from the American Educational Research Association, the American Evaluation Association, the Software and Information Industry Association, and the What Works Clearinghouse.

What type of effectiveness research has been done by a third party? For supplemental products, has a white paper been done to tie it to other research? A case study is nice for anecdotal research, but is it also backed by ample data?”

Robin L. Flanigan, Education Week, April 22, 2013

Interested in seeing the research supporting Reading For All Learners? Good, we want you to be a skeptic. We have a fairly large library of data and articles written by others we can share. Give us a call at 435-755-7885 or drop us an email and tell us about your learning setting and we’ll find data for you that is both relevant and unbiased.

3. Ease of Use – How much extra free time do you have? Louisa Moats (who we are big fans of by the way) authored, Teaching Reading is Rocket Science for the American Federation of Teachers in 1999. We would tend to agree with her. After experiencing first-hand what has gone into the design of Reading For All Learners, designing effective instruction is rather complex. However, you don’t necessarily need a PhD in aeronautical engineering to pilot a well-designed rocket ship. Neither do you need a PhD in reading instruction to be an effective teacher, provided, you have a well-designed reading curriculum as a guide. When you are examining curriculum options pay close attention to the complexity of the program. What a struggling reader most needs is a person who cares enough to share their time. The rest can be taught in a very short amount of time. A great example of this is the READ Alliance in New York City. The READ model relies on high school and junior high students as tutors and for more than 10 years and has helped thousands of struggling readers make substantial gains.

4. Student Confidence and Dignity - Attitude matters We have worked with countless teacher and parents over the years who have been confounded by the same problem. Once a student has experienced failure, especially publicly or for an extended period serious damage has been done to the student’s self-confidence. “I can’t do it.” is far too common. Who can blame these kids. After listening to peers snicker, overhearing parents and teachers express frustration or question intelligence for a very long would damage anyone’s confidence and dignity. Here are two ways Reading For All Learners and very few other programs can help. 100% Decodability – A key part of every lesson is the sound and word practice section before every story. In these sections students get a chance to practice words they have learned in the past and be introduced to any new sounds and words in this lesson. These items are practiced until the student has mastered them. Once the student begins reading the story for the lesson they are already setup for success. An exhaustive analysis of the content of the stories and the practice section ensures a learner will never be introduced to a new word in a story they haven’t practiced. This level of decodability helps build confidence. Little Books – Closing the back cover of a book is indeed a satisfying experience. An experience that many struggling readers never experience. We designed Reading For All Learners using 141 skill appropriate sized books for a reason. While many programs use one or more large, intimidating textbooks our small books are designed to make progress visible to both the learner and the teacher. Being able to say to a student “You just read a whole book!” especially their first complete book is a huge confidence builder. Being able to pull out all 27 books in the kindergarten level set and say “look at all the books you read!” goes even further. The visibility of progress to everyone; parents, teachers, siblings and grandparents provides ample opportunity for praise and positive feedback. Once a learner turns “I can’t” into “I can” their whole world changes for the better.

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