At any point in my somewhat lengthy career in the field of literacy education there has been a gospel of sorts about what is true and right and necessary to ensure that all kids learn to read and write well. If we teachers weren’t applying the tenets of that gospel in our instruction, we were the focus of head shaking, sideways looks, raised eyebrows and, quite possibly, the subject of murmurings in the staff room.
The problem is the gospel is ever changing. Over time, different practices, materials and systems have been understood as proven, research-based, best practice, evidence-based, developmentally appropriate, etc.
Carefully orchestrated basal readers crafted for various elementary ages or grades of children have evolved in my lifetime into leveled books, scientifically assessed to be along the continuum of from 26 to 1,350 points of difficulty useful in providing a natural sure-fire, stair-step of challenges for developing readers.
Group instructional practices have changed from whole class to individual educational programs, from round robin to directed reading, from three groups to five to three again. From self-contained to resource to team teaching to pull out, to…infinity and beyond!
We have shifted from quarterly informal individual assessments and authentic observations of kids and their books to complex computerized gauntlets of testing, reporting, analyzing, judging and prescribing. Authentic assessments are one current choice under analysis and we know those are headed for heavy tweaking.
At any point in time there is the “OMG, you just have to XYZ with/for/to your kids.” But the XYZ always seems to morph into a have to which then evolves into used to and eventually ends up in the round file of never agains.
With a gospel that’s a constantly moving target, it’s no wonder so many teachers burn out and go into counseling or administration or exit the school doors altogether.
So, does anything stay the same? Ever?
Why YES! Yes, it does. At least one thing.
What never changes is that children who are taught in ways that get them excited about reading and reading material they enjoy, and who are given time to leisurely read for their own edification end up as capable, lifelong, happy readers.
Such lifelong readers become, by definition, lifelong learners…and the nurturing of lifelong learners is the single immutable goal for any good literacy curriculum. However we choose or are required to teach reading, whatever books we use, whenever we assess kids’ progress, we must bring children to the simple but robust habit of enjoyable, independent, daily interactions with books and other reading materials that come from genres and topics they choose on their own.
Whatever else we do, THIS must be our Golden Rule.