1. Diane Rheem: “Erin, how can schools make the best possible decisions with developing their curriculum?”
Erin: “Well Diane, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a large, inclusive group of educators and school stakeholders to consider both horizontal and vertical alignment of the curriculum, along with due consideration to state and federal requirements. The group needs to conscientiously reflect upon the objectives required for each grade level, and how to integrate those in a balanced way that builds year upon year. Reading objectives are not narrowly taught or learned, so curriculum decisions should reflect that. The decisions should always be made with clear annual goals in mind regarding what a student will be able to do by the end of a given year. The final curriculum absolutely must line up with the specific reading goals of the schools.”
2. Diane Rheem: “Tell me some common pitfalls in selecting programs to teach reading?”
Erin: “It’s funny you should ask that, because I recently read a Reading Teacher article by Peter Dewitz and Jennifer Jones that discussed that very thing. The main idea expressed was there is a need to be critical when selecting a program, and not to feel like fidelity to the program is more important than trusting the expertise of an excellent teacher to adjust it for the real needs of the classroom. A common problem in selecting new reading programs includes not making sure that the scope and sequence is basically aligned with your particular school district’s needs. It’s important to have a highly inclusive selection team that considers whether the program is in sync with state, federal, and even local requirements. So that means that lots of teachers are involved, and everyone is checking to see if the program is sequenced in a logical way that will work with the actual reading curriculum. For example, most programs do not come with enough texts for students to read, and so they should be supplemented with plenty of authentic literature from a multitude of levels and genres. It’s so important to remember that only the teacher will be able to differentiate for his or her classroom needs because he or she will have the data that’s needed to know students’ sociocultural backgrounds and needs. It’s terrible to see selection committees who don’t seem to realize that programs are “market-driven” and follow trends, so that needs to be clearly in mind. A pitfall would also be an approach that seems to believe an entire reading curriculum is going to exist in a single box or “program.” The committee should be a critical consumer. It’s important to ask if an excellent teacher will be able to use the program, but also know when to go beyond the script to supplement, modify, and meet his or her particular classroom reading goals for the year.”
3. Diane Rheem: “What other advice do you have for reading specialists as they work with schools to maintain a high quality reading program?”
Erin: “I would suggest that reading specialists work continuously to modify and improve upon the basal program. Dewitz and Jones suggest going beyond the basal and using authentic literature for children’s read alouds. Clearly this will change from year to year. Teachers also will need help to build up student prior knowledge because basals do not really enlarge this. So, it’s just very important for the reading specialist to make sure that the teachers know to have their students read widely outside of the basal, because it generally will not include enough text to improve comprehension. Reading specialists are aware that the volume of text being read is actually very important and has been a proven predictor of comprehension. A good reading specialist will point out when the basal program does not include something essential to a state requirement. An example recently cited was the required knowledge of text features that were not addressed in a core program. Overall, I recommend that a reading specialist stays vigilant about the changing needs of their readers, because often core programs are adopted for five or more years.
Dewitz, Peter, and Jones, Jennifer, (2012) Using Basal Readers-From Dutiful Fidelity to Intelligent Decision Making, The Reading Teacher 66(5) pp. 391-400.
Bean, R. M. (2009). The Reading Specialist: Leadership for the Classroom, School, and Community. Guilford Press.