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How Kyrene is Doing Reading RightPosted by Teaching & Learning Team on 10/18/2022 1:00:00 PM
Many reading experts across the country agree that a lot of schools are not teaching reading in a way that is supported by research in the science of reading. Read this post by Kyrene’s Elementary English Language Arts (ELA) & Social Studies Coordinator, Dr. Raquel Ellis, about how we have a research-based reading approach.
The literacy research community is currently having important conversations via social media about how reading is taught in classrooms. These discussions include people like Timothy Shanahan, Susan L. Hall, and Emily Hanford (all are great people to follow on Twitter, by the way). These exchanges can get a bit uncomfortable for educators like myself, especially since they often discuss how ineffective the teaching of English Language Arts is nationally. Curriculum leaders in other states have even gone as far to call reading curriculum and instruction a national “crisis” (Myracle, Kingsley, & McClellan, 2019).
Every time I read what the experts are saying is happening in schools, I get really excited that this is not the case here in Kyrene (although I do get sad that not all students in our country have access to a place with strong curriculum). Since we have adopted new ELA curriculum in Spring 2017, our district has been working hard to ensure that we are following what is known about quality literacy instruction. Below are two areas that we have prioritized in our curriculum and professional development.
Building background knowledge in history, the arts and science to support comprehension.
It is not common knowledge, but what students already know about the topic they are reading about is the strongest predictor for their ability to understand that book, article, or passage. Therefore, starting in Kindergarten, Kyrene students read texts that teach them about the world. Our students read and write about people and places both in the U.S. and across the globe, allowing them to explore history, geography, and economics in tandem with developing language arts skills. They discuss the contributions of different civilizations and how they have affected our lives today. Science units like plant life cycles, astronomy, animal classifications, geology, and chemical matter provide the foundational knowledge necessary to engage in hands-on projects and/or research. Students also read fiction, including multiple versions of the same fairy tale, contemporary stories, and poems. We intentionally spend several weeks with a topic so students gain the knowledge and vocabulary to be successful in understanding future texts they read. Read more about the importance of background knowledge here.
Systematic phonics instruction is happening daily in primary grades.
The findings of the National Reading Panel made it clear that explicit phonics instruction needs to be delivered to our K-2 students in a clear and coherent way. As education journalist Emily Hanford has noted, most schools across the country struggle with this. Kyrene has made significant shifts in how we teach phonics over the past five years. In addition to the instructional block where we build students’ background knowledge, Kyrene K-2 students have 60 minutes of foundational skills instruction that develops students’ awareness of the sounds of the English language and the spellings for those sounds. Learning is cemented by reading and responding in writing to text that reinforces sound-spelling relationships. Spelling tests measure the sound-spelling relationships that were taught, rather than memorizing random lists of words. K-2 teachers follow a curricular sequence so learning builds upon what previous teachers have taught. They also follow consistent routines so students have continuity across their primary grades experience, making learning easier.
Kyrene has so much to celebrate about how we have approached our science of reading-based curriculum and instruction. We look forward to sharing stories about the great things our teachers and students are discussing in the coming months.