There are three questions teachers need to ask when critiquing a literacy program for use in their classroom, according to literacy expert Sharon Callen.
Finding the right literacy program is essential but can often be difficult for school leaders. No matter how effective a program may seem, if teachers have the wrong combination of programs or approaches, it can ‘waste time limits and minimise student opportunity for learning’.
That’s why literacy expert Sharon Callen explained on Episode 57 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy that teachers need to constantly ask questions and critique programs and strategies.
“We want to keep our eyes on what’s working and what’s not working for our students,” Sharon said.
“In fact we can be scientific in our view of literacy. Science is about asking good questions and using those questions to find evidence or explanations that help improve an endeavour.”
Sharon elaborated on three core questions.
The first question to ask is; is there a pattern based on language, culture or skill level of students who are well-served by your current curricular approach?
Sharon encouraged educators to consider this on a collective school level as well as the classroom.
“So how would a rebalancing or reintegration of instruction help you better serve students that are not in this group? So if we think about who is served by what we’re doing, who isn’t served, and then is there a way to rebalance or reintegrate to serve all students?” she said.
The second query is to look at whether all students are engaged in meaningful practice.
“So who isn’t this yet working for, and who is coasting at the moment? And if we’re saying, ‘yes they’re engaged in meaningful practice’, then we need to ask are there ways you might make such practice even more engaging, more meaningful and more inclusive?” Sharon said.
Part of ensuring students are engaged is to make sure educators themselves understand the approach and can explain and demonstrate better than the program itself.
“You might feel that the program is dependant on how much you know about it. So you need to learn from what it is explaining and demonstrating so that you can do that specifically to meet your students’ needs right now at this time,” Sharon said.
“If it is explaining and demonstrating something better than you can, then there’s that’s the opportunity to learn, so next year when you do this again, you won’t be relying on that program. You will have your own knowledge to do your own mini lesson.
“But demonstrating is important. We can sometimes default to a YouTube video that explains something, but it isn’t necessarily demonstrating how a reader or a writer uses it in their own writing.”
Providing sufficient time for students to practice and engage in the content is also key.
“So how can I keep the explicit instruction, the modelling and the explaining piece to a certain amount of time that’s in balance to how much practice time they’re now going to have? Because that will make all the difference,” Sharon explained.
An extension to this is to ask ‘if on the other hand, students are practicing isolated skills without opportunities for integration or reading without building skills for more complex engagement, what missing instruction or opportunities for integration could you provide?’
“So it’s really about getting us to look through this lens. And I think these are big questions and good questions for schools, or teams within a school, or classroom teachers or leaders of literacy in any way to ask,” Sharon said.
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