Therapists’ duty of care means we must recommend evidence-based teaching0 Replies
A local school leader recently contacted me ask that my colleagues and I delete one of the recommendations we often put in assessment reports, because it is prompting parents to question the school’s teaching approach.
The recommendation reads:
(Child name) should not be taught using a ‘whole language’ or ‘balanced literacy’ approach (Reading Recovery, Leveled Literacy Intervention, Guided Reading, PM Readers, Running Records, etc.) as this approach does not control adequately for word structure and phoneme-grapheme correspondences, and encourages the strategies of weak readers, such as guessing and rote-memorising words. This approach is not explicit or systematic enough in its teaching of sound-spelling relationships or word structure.
The school leader explained that her school system requires staff to use approaches we recommend against, so our reports were putting their Reading Recovery teachers and other staff in a difficult position.
We have no desire to put anyone in a difficult position, but our duty of care is to our clients. We must make recommendations which are in their best interests, based on the best available scientific evidence.
It’s completely unfair to a child to have one set of adults teaching them to sound words out, and another set of adults teaching them to memorise and guess words. Memorising and guessing words are the habits of weak readers, but are encouraged when high-frequency word lists are used as spelling lists, and children are given predictable/repetitive texts containing spelling patterns they’ve never been taught.
Undoing bad habits and building strong foundational skills is hard work, especially when we only see clients for 40 minutes once a week or fortnight. They’re at school five days per week. It would be professionally irresponsible not to tackle this issue in our reports.
I agreed to send the school leader evidence supporting our recommendation, but this is the second request of this type, so it probably won’t be the last. Answering the question in this blog post, and linking to it in our reports, should help parents argue kindly and clearly for science, and help school leaders learn about reading research, and discard programs and practices that don’t help children thrive.
- May et al (2023) Long-Term Impacts of Reading Recovery through 3rd and 4th Grade: A Regression Discontinuity Study found that Reading Recovery had a long-term a negative impact on children. There is also a plain-English article explaining this research here.
- The Centre for Educational Statistics and Evaluation’s (2015) Reading Recovery: A Sector-Wide Analysis showed children in Reading Recovery made modest, short-term improvements which weren’t maintained over time.
- The Pedagogy Non Grata website’s analysis of Reading Recovery is here.
- Five From Five (2019) Reading Recovery: A failed investment explains that Reading Recovery is a weak intervention because it fails to sufficiently target phonemic awareness and phonics.
Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI)
- Research its authors call the independent, gold standard evidence for LLI received funding from the program’s publisher, and was published on a university website, not in a peer-reviewed journal. The valid, reliable, objective measure of progress used in this research – DIBELS – showed that LLI was not effective. Children only improved on the subjective, LLI-devised measure. Here’s a video explanation.
- Pedagogy Non Grata’s Effect-Size-based meta-analysis of LLI research is here, which concludes, “The program is not research based”. The author discusses this analysis in this video.
Fountas and Pinnell Classroom
- The Pedagogy Non Grata website’s analysis of F&P Classroom research is here, which concludes, “The mean effect size found was negligible”.
- Ed Reports’ 2020 evaluation of Fountas and Pinnell Classroom is here.
Other balanced literacy strategies/resources
- The Pedagogy Non Grata website’s analysis of Lucy Caulkins’ Units of Study is here.
- Pedagogy Non Grata found no peer reviewed research on balanced literacy.
- Prof Pamela Snow’s 2017 blog Balanced Literacy: An instructional bricolage that is neither fish nor fowl, says balanced literacy is poorly defined, and in practice means eclectic teaching.
- US Reading Panel expert Timothy Shanahan rejects Instructional Level Theory here. Edublogger Karen Vaites expands on this and provides research links here.
- The Five from Five website explains that levelled reading schemes’ books for beginners encourage word memorisation and guessing, the habits of poor readers, as they contain many words beginners can’t yet decode, e.g. this example from the PM Readers.
- The US Reading League has a Three Cueing Systems and Related Myths video lecture online.
- Articles by Dr Kerry Hempenstall about three-cueing/multicueing are here and here.
- A/Prof Dennis S Davis et al’s 2020 ITE-insider perspective on cueing systems called Is It Time for a Hard Conversation about Cueing Systems and Word Reading in Teacher Education? argues it’s time for educators to stop using cueing. Yes, please.
Science of Reading
- American Public Media journalist Emily Hanford’s* six years of reporting on this issue, including her podcast Sold a Story, can be found here. Recently interviewed in New Zealand, home of Reading Recovery (now rapidly being replaced by Better Start and other programs), Hanford said this:
- The Australian Education Resource Organisation website has an Introduction to the Science of Reading.
- Pedagogy Non Grata has done a meta-analysis of research on the science of reading and writing instruction, and has an easy-to-understand beginner’s guide to reading research.
- Prof Pamela Snow’s SOLAR: Science of Language and Reading article summarises the process of learning language and reading, and has a very useful reference list.
- US Edweek’s How Do Kids Learn to Read? What the Science Says video is a plain-English summary.
- Profs Castles, Rastle and Nation et al’s (2018) article Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert is another useful overview.
- Prof Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain is a classic text, and his key ideas relevant to effective instruction from a 2023 talk are summarised here.
Switching to evidence-based teaching
- Prof Pam Snow wrote Leaving the Balanced Literacy habit behind: A theory of change in 2020.
- Pedagogy Non Grata has an article about the impact of the many US state laws targeting literacy here, and the author is interviewed about it here. Research shows 97.5% of children can be taught to read at grade level with the right core instruction, and intensity and type of intervention.
- US Teacher Crystal Lenhart wrote a great letter explaining to parents why her school made the switch away from Fountas and Pinnell reading levels, leveled readers, Guided Reading and three-cueing, towards science-based literacy teaching, which many other schools have used as a template. You can hear her discussing her school’s experience and her letter in episode 161 of the Melissa and Lori Love Literacy podcast, or watch it on YouTube.
- There’s now a massive teacher-led movement for evidence-based teaching in Australia – see Reading Science In Schools, Think Forward Educators and Sharing Best Practice. There is lots of useful information on the Literacy Hub, Five From Five, ULD for Parents and AUSPELD websites.
I hope leaders of Australian schools still using balanced literacy (an ill-defined mishmash of things that work, and things that don’t, some of which can be harmful) find the knowledge, resources and inspiration to switch to science based teaching of reading and spelling in 2024.
* No, Emily Hanford and Pedagogy Non Grata’s Nathaniel Hansford (who writes/speaks as Nate Joseph) are not related.