Come learn from four stakeholders renowned for their experience and expertise in improving children's literacy; two professors of education, an education reporter, and the head of one of Michigan's school administrator associations.
0:00:01 Christina Weiland: Good afternoon, my name is Christina Weiland, and I'm Professor of Education here at the University of Michigan. I direct the Equity and Early Learning Lab here at the UofM School of Education, and I'm a core faculty member at the Education Policy Initiative at the Ford School of Public Policy. And today, I'm so pleased to be able to welcome education experts and colleagues who are experts on early reading, and we're gonna engage in a really exciting discussion of the science of reading. As so many of you who are joining us today well know, this topic could not be more important to issues of educational equity and quality and to investing in the human capital of our country. It's also a topic that's attracted a great deal of conversation and media attention over the last year or so, and we're thrilled to be able to bring together such an interesting panel today with diverse topics and research on the subject. So first, we're going to hear from Professor Nell Duke from our University of Michigan School of Education. There's Nell. And Nell is well known for her work focusing on early literacy development, particularly among children living in economic poverty. In fact, in 2018, Nell received the International Literacy Association's William S Gray citation of merit for outstanding contributions to research, theory, practice, and policy.
0:01:24 CW: And after Nell's presentation, we'll also have the opportunity to hear from our esteemed colleagues, Pamela Mason, Karen Chenoweth, and Paul Liabenow, And to introduce them quickly, Pamela Mason directs the Language and Literacy Master's program and the Jeanne Chall Reading Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her professional and research interests encompass the interaction of text complexity and background knowledge, the interaction of literacy, learning culture and multilingualism, and school-wide literacy program implementation. Karen Chenoweth is a writer in residence at the Education Trust, a national education advocacy organization that works to improve the academic achievement of all children, particularly children of color and children who live in poverty. Karen's the author of the forthcoming book, Districts That Succeed, which will be published by Harvard Education Press. Paul Liabenow has spent 38 years in education serving Michigan's youth, and today he serves as the executive director of the Michigan Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, building a community of educators who advocate and lead together. So just a few notes before I hand it over. I wanted to let folks know that this discussion is being recorded. It'll be posted on our EPI website for those who wanna review it again or those who are not able to join today.
0:02:43 CW: The panel presentation will last about 50 minutes, but please do hang on tight. We will have time reserved for about 20-30 minutes for Q&A from the audience. And please do type your questions into the YouTube chat feature as we go. We're gonna collect them and then give the panelists a chance to answer them. So with that said, I'm happy to turn it over to Professor Nell Duke.
0:03:08 Nell Duke: Hi everyone. I'm so grateful for the opportunity today to talk with you. I'm gonna share my screen. And I'm talking about bringing the actual science of reading to policy and practice. So the science of reading is already a really contested term in our field, meaning that you see different people talking about this in different ways. And if you peruse Twitter, you see a vast set of different ideas about what this means. In this presentation, what I'll do is just offer three out of many points that I think are important about how the term should be conceptualized. So my first point is that the actual science of reading should encompass basic research, which is, I think, widely recognized, but also applied an implementation or translational research. And to illustrate that point, I'm actually gonna start by talking about allergy research, just to set a schema for different research types.
0:04:08 ND: So when we think about research that's designed to help address allergies that people have and their ability to handle them, one kind of research is basic research. And this kind of research typically happens in laboratory settings, tightly controlled conditions, isolating very specific variables, lots of work with cells and sometimes work with right... I wanna say rats and mice. Rice, sorry. Rats or mice, and so on. So that's basic research, and it's extremely important. It launches our understanding of issues, and what it allows us to do is to move on to something called clinical research. And in clinical research, what we do is take findings from basic research, package them together, and then actually test things in usually randomized clinical trials in medicine.
0:04:56 ND: So we see what happens when the allergy shots that we've developed are randomly given to some allergy sufferers and not given to other allergy sufferers, for example, and we see what difference that makes. So that's our clinical research component. Clinical research is still often controlled, but not controlled so tightly, and it happens in much more the settings where people live and work. And then we have a third category of research in public health and in medicine called translational research, and this is research that takes the findings from clinical research and then looks at how they play out in real ecosystems that are our daily lives. So it looks at things like treatment access. In the United States, good care for allergies is not randomly distributed; certain people of privilege, people who are white are more likely to get better care for their allergies.
0:05:47 ND: So that's a way in which systemic racism and classism intersects with treatment access. Looking at things like treatment compliance, so what happens if a lot of people get one of their allergy shots, but don't get the second allergy shot that they're supposed to get? What about that percentage of people for whom a particular treatment doesn't work, sometimes called the fail rate? And nearly everything has a fail rate, right? Even the vaccines that you're hearing about for COVID-19, you're hearing a fail rate of 5% to 10%, right? So translational research often looks at that and tries to see how that fail rate is related to other issues. What can be done around the allergy shot? So for example, are there ways to reduce the environmental allergens that people are exposed to in the first place? And how does that interact or not with the shots? And what are the interaction effects? And then looking also at cost benefit analysis, is all of this worth it? So these are three important kinds of research, and they work together. They're all really valuable, and they inform one another back and forth to really inform medicine and public health.
0:06:56 ND: So what I would argue is that an actual science of reading also needs these three kinds of research to be conducted and to be attended to. So we do have our equivalent of the basic research or lab research, which is, I would argue, research on the science of reading processes. And this can happen in MRI machines, like you see on the screen; eye tracking, actual work with children. It could even be in a school, but it's often under tightly controlled conditions one-on-one, trying out often shorter term interventions or testing very specific questions about how the brain reads words. So that kind of research is really important and essential, and it informs another kind of science of reading, which is the science of reading instruction. That is where we actually take things we're learning from basic research on reading processes and hopefully from actual experience in classrooms and other educational settings, and we put those together. And we do things like randomly assign children to two different approaches to phonics instruction to see which approach to phonics instruction works better, for example. So the science of reading instruction is absolutely critical to the actual science of reading, I would argue.
0:08:08 ND: And implementation science is also a critical part of the actual science of reading. So this is research that gets at issues like equity and access. So do particular interventions, for example, get used more in some places than others? Do they work better in some places than others? What kinds of cultural adaptations need to be made to instruction to make it work most effectively? Issues of fidelity and adaptivity, so what are the things that we want teachers to not change about the intervention? What are the things that we want teachers to adapt based on specific students or based on the context? The concept of treatment resistance, which is just a way of saying those... Sort of like fail rate, but those folks for whom a particular instructional intervention that usually works doesn't seem to work for them. What do we need to do in those cases? How does any of this interact with the environment around the intervention? So does the intervention work differently if teachers have put more emphasis on one thing than another outside of the intervention? Interaction effects, and again, cost benefit analysis, as with medicine, is an important consideration.
0:09:15 ND: So I argue that the actual science of reading requires all three of these components. One of the panelists you're going to hear from today, Karen Chenoweth, has really brought journalism to bear on the implementation side of the science of reading and other sciences as well. So looking at things like, what does it really look like in a school when all these factors come together to produce high levels of achievement for kids? And in particular in schools that succeed, she looks at something called improvement science and how that improvement science lens really has an impact on the efficacy of interventions. So the second point I wanna make about the actual science of reading is that it should reflect broad and deep expertise in science and cross-rule collaborations. Let me take that apart a little bit. So what you're seeing on your screen are a sampling of research journals. And inside these research journals, like scientific studies of reading, we have articles that report on research, scientific research on reading. And it can be on reading processes, reading instruction, or on the implementation side, as I discussed. And I would argue that an actual science of reading needs to be heavily informed by reading of this research, that we need folks who are conducting the research in these journals and folks who are regularly reading these journals to be major voices in any real science of reading.
0:10:42 ND: And a significant concern for me is that a lot of people who are talking about and advocating for science of reading have never actually opened one of these journals and read an article in their careers. And that's not gonna work unless we're teaming up. Right? So unless we have all stakeholders working together, more about that in a minute. I'm also concerned a lot of what I'm reading in science of reading is kinda out of date; citing major reports from 20 years ago, citing theoretical models that have since replaced. And that's just a communication issue that we have to tackle, because we wanna make sure that, just as in medicine where we would want the most up-to-date information, that we want the most up-to-date information in the area of the science of reading.
0:11:31 ND: And we also wanna be careful not to over-simplify the information that we have. Here's a wonderful quotation from Mark Sidenburg and his colleagues on this issue.
0:11:53 ND: So I think these are important words for us to keep in mind as we move forward collectively to try to advance a science of reading. This is a graphic from the National Institutes for Health, and although they're referring to a medical or public health context, I think the points here are actually pretty relevant to talking about the science of reading. We really need to place a high premium on the translational scientist. And that is somebody who does research, who read research, but also who can cross in boundaries spending time in schools and classrooms, spending time with policy makers, being a skilled communicator about science, being a systems thinker; that we need, I would argue, that group of people in the science of reading work just as we need that group of people in work on public health or in medicine. And I wanna draw your attention to one spot in this graphic, in particular, where it talks about team player.
0:12:52 ND: Because I think in education it is so critical that we build coalitions. And I'm excited to see some coalition building really happening around science of reading where we have coalitions of advocates, families, teachers, classroom teachers, reading specialists, literacy interventionists, and researchers, that we all have to be able to work together, valuing what each person brings to the table with a focus on the science behind reading. And toward that end, I wanna draw attention to another of our panelists, Paul Liabenow. Paul is really in touch with policy makers, with principals, with superintendents. And in our relationship, he's never hesitant to let me know, "Well, Nell, this is what I'm hearing happening. These are the questions that people are asking. Here's what people wanna know from a research. Here's how this research is getting twisted." And those kinds of conversations are just so critical to our being able to advance the work on a policy and practice level.
0:13:52 ND: So the third and final point that I wanna make today... Of course, I have hundreds of others I'd love to make. But given time, the third point I want to make is that the actual science of reading needs to encompass many contributors to reading. So it's really useful for anyone listening to this presentation or just involved or engaged with reading work to be thinking about the question, "What do people mean when they talk about reading proficiently?" So when you hear statistics like, "A third, two-thirds of American kids are not reading proficiently at fourth grade," or, "50% of kids in this state are not reading proficiently at third grade," What do those mean? It's very important that everyone can wrap their heads around where those statistics come from. It doesn't mean that they can't read words, individual words. Some of them can't for sure, and that's a huge issue, but there are other reasons why they may not be proficient we'll talk more about the minute. But first, just a great activity for anyone involved in reading science, I highly recommend, and I do this a lot with superintendents and policy makers as well, take a careful look at some of the released items from your state's third grade reading test, and then take a look at some of the released items from the National Assessment of Educational Progress fourth grade reading test, and look at those, study those carefully with respect to what do they require of young children.
0:15:21 ND: What do children need to know and what do they need to be able to do in order to perform well on those items? What cultural backgrounds are being privileged in those items? That's another point that's really important to be thinking about. When I engage in that activity... This is a box from an article that I wrote for the National Association of State Boards of Education. These are some of the things that children actually need to know and be able to do, areas that teachers need to develop in order for children to perform well on these third and fourth grade tests. So you're gonna see some things in here that look very familiar.
0:16:00 ND: Phonological awareness is critical. Decoding and word recognition, good word reading strategies, these are critical. You're not gonna get a lot of kids performing well on the state's third grade reading test or on [0:16:08] ____ fourth grade if they're not strong in those areas. But look at all these other areas that are also really important to success on these reading tests. And in fact, we know from research that there are substantial percentage of kids who are doing poorly on state reading tasks who aren't having a problem in word reading or fluency. Their issues lie elsewhere. And some people immediately go to language comprehension, but there are actually many different things that could be going on there within and even outside of language comprehension, such as executive function skills.
0:16:38 ND: So there's really a lot that goes into difficulty. So one of the things that I think was a real mistake in the policy work that we did in the early 2000s as a nation around reading... And for those of you around then, you know. We had the National Reading Panel Report, we had the big five areas of reading, and there was a huge amount of money put into professional development on those five areas of reading, and we saw districts being called on to replace their reading programs and put in evidence-based or scientifically aligned reading programs, which should sound very familiar 'cause it's a lot of the same things we're hearing now.
0:17:15 ND: And as you know from research, Reading First, No Child Left Behind didn't make a huge difference. I think one of the issues was that at the time we focused too much on what to teach and not how to teach it, and that's a really critical distinction. So it's not just, "Do we teach phonics," for example, it's, "Do we teach phonics the right ways?" It's not just, "Do we read aloud to children," it's, "Do we read aloud in the right ways?" And so we really need to focus not just on what we teach, but how we teach it in policy and practice. And on the screen, you're just seeing some publications that I've been involved in where the major thrust has been, "Okay, you're teaching these things, but not in the way that research suggests would be most helpful for kids."
0:18:02 ND: An approach we've taken in Michigan through the LiteracyEssentials.org work is that we have developed practice guides. They're short, six pages or so, guides that suggest specific practices. So not just what to teach, but how to teach it. Specific practices that we believe should be implemented in every classroom every day. So for example, this is from our K-3 item. There are 10 practices in our K-3 guide, but you're seeing on your screen four of them. So we're saying, "Every day you should read aloud to children and in a certain way, every day you should have differentiated small group instruction, every day we should be building phonological awareness and providing explicit instruction in letter sound relationships." So that may be one way forward, is to really focus on core practices that we should be seeing in classrooms. There are a lot of implications of all of these many contributors to literacy and to reading in particular, and one of those is that we need to be thinking about the whole day. So we need to be thinking about, not just the reading education that happens in what we think of as a reading block, but what's happening in our writing instruction, what's happening in our science instruction when texts are involved, what's happening in our social studies instruction when texts are involved and so on.
0:19:17 ND: Clearly, we need to extend teacher preparation so that teachers know more about the science of reading, and yet, we've gotta be realistic. I've argued in writing that teaching a diverse classroom of first graders is probably more like being an ER physician in terms of the complexity, but teachers get far less training than ER physicians. And that's not likely to change any time soon. So being realistic, but extending teacher preparation as much as we can do. And then, deeply extending the professional learning that occurs throughout teachers careers, and especially through coaching, which has a very compelling research base behind it, lots of studies we could share on that. And finally, just the need with all these contributors to differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. Kids struggle with literacy for many different reasons, and so our interventions have to be adjusted accordingly. And here, I'll draw attention to our third panelist, Dr. Pamela Mason. And Dr. Mason, as was said, is the director of the Jeanne Chall Literacy Lab. I had the opportunity to be a supervisor in that lab many, many years ago. And I don't know whether this has changed, but when I was there we had children coming into the lab whose strengths and weaknesses in literacy varied so much, one from the next. And our job was to be diagnostic and really to address the needs of every kid who came in that door.
0:20:42 ND: And so part of what that would look like, and these are just examples, is if you have a learner where the issues are primarily around content knowledge and vocabulary, you're gonna use a different intervention than a child where there's a lot of need around phonological awareness and phonics and so on for different aspects of literacy. So getting more sophisticated as a field about differentiating our classroom instruction and differentiating intervention, I see as a high, high priority. So to sum up, the actual science of reading would encompass basic, applied, and implementation or translational research; it would reflect broad and deep expertise in science, so people who read a lot of research journals and a lot of research studies around reading, not just basic reading processes, but the whole nine yards; and lots of cross-role collaboration, us working together as coalitions to try to improve reading. And finally, the actual science of reading should encompass many different contributors to reading, some of which I've shared. And I'll stop sharing now and head to our next presenter.
0:21:55 Paul Liabenow: So, good afternoon. First of all, let me thank all of you for joining this afternoon for this conversation dialogue around the science of reading and education policy. I've been in the work of K-12 for now 38 years, serving as a teacher, principal, and superintendent of a local district, and have a lot of change over my nearly 40 years of work in K-12. By the way, I find it admirable that so many of you have joined us today, a large number have have signed up. I hope that you stay dialed in. But a special thanks to Dr. Nell Duke, Dr. Mason, and Karen, for their advocacy and bringing their expertise to this conversation about ed policy. We need these experts more now than we ever have had in our nation's history. As I said, I've been at this for a better part of four decades and have seen lots of conversations and studies around literacy that have brought great attention to the need to improve student achievement in this space.
0:23:04 PL: And then they sort of fade away over time. And today, I think we're at a turning point in our education policy debate related to illiteracy across the country, particularly across Michigan. And so I beg of you, please get dialed into advocacy around this conversation. We need you, each of you, every one of you, more than ever before, to advocate and bring increased attention to the fact that a large portion of our student population, and perhaps even a greater adult population, are not proficient readers for whatever reason, as you heard Nell speak to. But the impact on our country's economy, our quality of life, and our national security is in question. As you well know, we need proficient readers that become critical thinkers to discern fact from fiction.
0:23:58 PL: It's more apparent today than ever before as we face unrepresented vitriol in the political arena, and as we begin to actively address diversity, inclusion, and equity in our country. For heaven's sakes, we still have book deserts in our country, and even in Michigan. We have to address it. I'm still a young man at age 63, and I've experienced a lot of change in my 38 years, both here in the United States and in several countries around the world. And I'm convinced that in Michigan we need to double down on our demand for more teacher training, more coaches, more school principal literacy leadership training, and that we treat illiteracy as a state and national epidemic. And that may sound harsh to you, but it's real. It's a real threat. And then we need to treat this as a disease and not band-aid the symptoms. Unfortunately, we have not done a great job over the course of several decades, but the good news is that we're making great gains, and the essential practices that Nell spoke to earlier are a big part of that. We must use current brain research around oral language acquisition, early childhood development that has been gathered over the course of the 15 to 20 years and apply that to the teaching and learning of reading and mathematics.
0:25:18 PL: I've personally observed school districts and classrooms where the science of brain development applied to reading instruction is resulting in amazing long-term sustained improvement in student achievement in reading and writing. I'm pleased to say that Dr. Michael Rice, Michigan State Superintendent of Instruction is leading a valiant charge with his team in this space, making gains, along with GLN and the development of the literacy essentials. Curriculum directors across the state supporting literacy coaches and training for classroom teachers in the literacy essential practices have led to great gains, and we're documenting very positive student achievement results in many locations, but we need to replicate those gains in every part of our state. The current unprecedented pandemic is growing the learning and achievement gap like we've not seen in recent history. That makes the education policy discussion around funding, training, and resourcing more important than ever. Providing quality literacy instruction so that every child, teen, and adult in our country are proficient and joyful readers is our moral imperative.
0:26:55 Karen Chenoweth: Okay. Hi, this is Karen Chenoweth. And I was really struck by your final words, moral imperative, because those are words that Molly Bensinger-Lacey talks about. And I wanna tell everybody about Molly Bensinger-Lacey. She became principal of Graham Road Elementary in 2001, so this goes back a ways. Graham Road mostly serves the children of low-income recent immigrants in Fairfax County, a suburb of Washington, DC. Fairfax has long had a balanced literacy curriculum, and Molly never questioned it. But what she did do was look at the data, and very few students met state reading standards. Many of the teachers blamed the family's poverty for the fact that the kids couldn't read. Molly believed the students were capable of high achievement, and she led teachers through a systematic process of inquiry about things they could control.
0:27:58 KC: So for example, teachers noticed that many of the kids didn't really seem to accurately hear or be able to produce the sounds of the English language. This made sense, only 20% of the students actually spoke English at home. So most of the kids were speaking other languages at home. So one of the reading teachers researched phonemic awareness, and the teachers started addressing it. Teachers noticed that their students had trouble connecting the sounds to the letters, so someone research phonics, and the teachers started addressing that issue. Similarly, they noticed that their students often simply didn't understand the words on the page, so they started addressing vocabulary and background knowledge.
0:28:42 KC: Five years later, five years after Molly got there, just about every sixth grader was meeting state reading standards, and 60% exceeded them. This wasn't because Molly brought a tremendous knowledge of the science of reading to her school. Her training was as a music teacher. But she brought a deep belief in the ability of students, and she knew how to lead teachers through a long and what I can only imagine was a rather painful learning process. So now, let me tell you about Seaford School District. Seaford is in southern or lower Delaware, and is one of the highest poverty districts in the state dominated by the low wage poultry industry, which has been hit very hard by COVID. In 2013, Seaford was one of the lowest performing districts in the state; two of its four elementary schools where on the Priority Plus list, which is the list you don't want to be on, and a third was about to go on it. The fourth was performing well in comparison to those schools, but not great by state standards. White kids in the district were doing okay, but Black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities were doing horribly.
0:29:58 KC: That year, 2013, Dave Parrington became superintendent and brought with him Cory Miklus as his assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Miklus had originally been trained as a whole language teacher, and his first teaching job was in a balanced literacy school, and he found even that a bit shocking. He worked hard, but he was never as successful with all his students as he had set out to be. He was a principal when his district got a Reading First grant. And maybe overall Reading First didn't produce the kind of results that everybody had hoped for, but in some places it did, and he found the training eye opening. The training was provided by University of Delaware Reading Researcher, Sharon Walpole, who later oversaw his doctoral dissertation. So Miklus brought a huge store of knowledge about reading instruction to Seaford, which meant that he knew that the district's reading curriculum was inadequate. But like at Graham Road, many teachers were blaming the district's low performance on the kid's poverty. Neither Milus nor Parrington, nor the principal's Parrington had hired believed that, but they had a steep leadership challenge to confront that belief. In the meantime, Walpole had developed a new reading program that incorporated a lot of what we know helps kids learn to read.
0:31:34 KC: Nell, actually listed some of them; reading out loud to kids every day, all kinds of things like that, Miklus knew he couldn't just impose a new reading program on the district though. It had been battered by program after program in previous years. So he brought Walpole and her team in to provide reading instruction training, first to the paraprofessionals. So they talked about the reading science, the science of reading instruction with the paraprofessionals. And then they introduced a few lessons with novels, which the teachers and students loved. Teachers provided feedback to Walpole, some of what she incorporated into her program. And within a year and a half or so, Seaford had fully adopted Walpole's program, Bookworms.
0:32:24 KC: I'm not a program person. I'm not pushing Bookworms particularly, but a lot of the teachers and the principals in Seaford credit Bookworms with really helping them achieve. In 2019, a higher percentage of Seaford's third graders met state standards than in the state. All groups of students had improved, but African-American and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities, had improved fastest and way out performed their counterparts in the state. We don't know what the 2020 assessments would have shown, 'cause they didn't give them because of COVID. But they were well on the way to really being a high-performing district. And I tell those two stories to illustrate there's more than one way to go about leading improvement in reading instruction, but beginning with a deep understanding... Beginning with a deep understanding of the science of reading helps avoid a lot of trial and error, but what is truly needed are leaders who believe in the capacity of students to learn, teachers to teach, and know how to lead that kind of improvement process.
0:33:38 KC: So that... I believe we now go to Pamela Mason. I'm so looking forward to her.
0:33:47 Pamela Mason: Thank you, Karen. As a Nell Duke mentioned, I am the Director of the Jeanne Chall Reading Lab, so I am going to bring my mentor, Jeanne Chall, into this space. This is from her seminal work from 1967. "My belief that the choice of beginning reading method is important does not lessen in any way my conviction about the importance of good teaching. Indeed, as we learn more about the teaching of beginning reading, we may find that a poor method in the hands of a good teacher produces better results than a good method in the hands of a poor teacher. But this is not the point. This inquiry may not find that good teaching is obsolete. Good teaching is always needed, but a good method in the hands of a good teacher, that is the ideal." I have dedicated my career at supporting good teaching and good teachers. I came out of my program and went into public education as a director of reading and then return to the academy to support the teaching of teachers and reading specialists. So in terms of having good teachers, good teachers need support.
0:35:14 PM: Every teacher, I believe, wakes up every morning and says, "I am going to do the best job I can do for all of my learners today." And sometimes we hit, and sometimes we miss. So how can we support good teaching? We can support good teaching through having reading specialists and literacy coaches developing communities of practice, professional learning communities, so that we are constantly growing and learning about our own practice, about our students, and from each other. Many of our other professional fields have these requirements. And so we need to, again, support teachers in a policy way with school budgets so that the reading teachers are not seen as just interventionist. And some are and are very well needed in that role, but for the most part, they need to be the literacy leaders; they need to be the literacy cheerleaders, they need to be the people who pull together teachers to investigate best practices and what's working. As well as literacy coaches who, again, can provide that ongoing professional support for teachers so that they can do right by their students and so that they can implement Universal Design for Learning so that all students have multiple ways of accessing text and multiple ways of expressing how they have made meaning from texts.
0:36:45 PM: So that brings me to how students engage in text. I'm very committed to culturally sustaining pedagogy. Children need to see themselves and be seen in what they read and how they read it. They need to be seen as learners from a strength-based perspective so that their home languages, be it the English, they're L1, L2, L3, or sometimes L4, and also for our dialect speakers, so that they understand that they bring a lot of knowledge around literacy and about how language works and how language is used to the school house. And so we want to privilege what they know and their funds of knowledge in terms of building not only children who know how to read and know how to read well, but want to read; wanna read for entertainment, wanna read for information, wanna read to connect with other parts of the world and also their own world. So that's very important, that students feel heard and engaged, and that teachers have those communities so that they are in spaces where they can take risks and then re-examine their practice. What worked? What didn't work? What will I do differently next time? And so I look forward to speaking with the rest of my panelists about some of the points that we have all made. Thank you.
0:38:22 ND: Okay, now we're going to move into a group discussion with all of the panelists. So here they come. Great. Just an opportunity to react and respond to each other's comments. Don't all talk at once. [chuckle] I'll just jump in and say that I think that your comments pointed each of you to some really important points. I'd love to underscore many of them. But quickly, Karen, I really appreciated really talking about that process, that ongoing process of inquiry. And no matter how much a group of teachers already knows about the science of reading, there's always gonna be room for improvement, and they're always gonna be new studies coming out that tell us new... I mean, a groundbreaking study came out this summer, right? New and important studies are coming out all the time, and so we need to have... That ongoing inquiry cycle that you described needs to be central to the work of PLCs. Pamela, talking about cultural sustaining pedagogy. There's science there too, folks, and that science intersects with reading education. And so just remembering that. When we're talking about a classroom setting, we're enveloping reading instruction in a whole context; the context of what the texts are, how the teacher treats and interacts with children, how the teacher thinks about families and they're worth and their assets and values and so on. So I'm really glad you raised that topic.
0:39:57 ND: And Paul, people, I think, really resonated with your final point in particular about the moral imperative. And also, I wanna draw attention to the joy of reading. There's some really important research that shows an interaction effect between student motivation and the efficacy of phonics intervention. So what we see is that when we can teach phonics in a way that's motivating and engaging for kids, and it is absolutely possible, that amplifies the effects of phonics instruction. So I was really glad, Paul, that you brought up a joy of reading as well. Other reactions to what you heard? How about you, Pamela?
0:40:35 PM: Well, I think that... Paul, I've been with you on the front lines as being a school leader, so I understand the importance of good policies. And I think sometimes, as reading educators and school leaders, we can get oppressed by the accountability as well the assessments, and that we really need to use those to inform what's going on in our schools, but also to move beyond them and not be teaching to the test because then we lose what Nell just talked about was the joy of reading, that the teachers are very tied to those accountability measures. And if we have joyful readers, we will have skillful readers. So I really resonated with that, that we need to have good accountability measures, and the policies need to be there, but we also need to move beyond that.
0:41:27 PL: So I'm impressed with each of your comments, but particularly with the conversation around implementation science. And Dr. Mason, that's part of your expertise. My concern here in Michigan and across the country is that we don't really dial into the science of best practice as we're trying to move or scale our improvement. We keep falling back into what's comfortable often, even after a training. And so, I believe that much like learning to play tennis and learning muscle memory, we need to keep coming back to our administrators and teachers multiple times with practice and support, and not belittle them if they don't get it the first round. We often expect everyone to make sense of this very, very complex process of learning to read, and we're often critical. But we have to be giving more grace and continue to come back and provide supports along the way until larger numbers of teachers become masterful.
0:42:40 PM: I agree with you, Paul. I used to tell my teachers, "The good news is your principal is a reading specialist. The bad news is... "
0:42:50 ND: Your principal is a reading specialist. [chuckle]
0:42:52 PM: True. You missed your context clue. But I think that's where our professional learning communities come in, so that... Guskey has a model of teacher change, and his model is you change behaviors in teachers, hopefully they will then... That will result in better student outcomes. And then you change their hearts. So you start with their minds, their practice, and then their hearts. And it's just, as you said about learning a new tennis swing; it's hard, it's uncomfortable, it's clunky, and you hurt a little bit more in your shoulder than you did before. And, "Why do I have to do it this way?" And so teachers need to be able to be in a supportive environment from their administrator and having a literacy coach who can be their peer partner, their collaborative colleague, and say, "Okay, this is what you wanted to do, this is what you did, this is how we can see how you might wanna make adjustments." And it's kind of this iterative process, and it's not you turn a switch and all of a sudden "tada" you're teaching totally differently. But they need the supports; they need the time for professional development, they need the common planning time for their professional learning communities, and they need that other facilitator; the reading specialist or the literacy coach, to make sure all of that's happening.
0:44:16 KC: It seems to me one of the focuses needs to be on not so much diagnosing teachers, but helping teachers become better diagnosticians of their own practice. So one of the things that I've observed is there's a very powerful question that can be asked at every level; classroom, school level, district level, state level; and that is, "Your kids are doing better than mine, what are you doing?" And to be able to get to that level of being able to ask that question, you need a huge amount... You need an awful lot of systems under that, right? You need...
0:44:58 PM: And a large amount of trust.
0:45:01 KC: You need trust, you need a whole system of trust that if I say, "Boy, your kids know more letters than my kids do," or whatever the issue is, that that's seen as a very professional conversation, not as a confession of weakness and vulnerability. If I, as a kindergarten teacher, say, "Boy, your kids know more letters than my kids do," if the principal's response is, "That will be reflected in your evaluation," That's the end of that conversation, that never happens again. No improvement ever happens in that school until there's a new principal. Right? So you need trust, you need time, you need common assessments that everybody agrees are reasonable assessments, and you need ways to display the information, the data. Data has got a bad connotation, but you need that information, you need that common information system. When teachers can get to the point where they can say, "Boy, I thought I was teaching x, but my kids didn't learn it. Your kids learned it. What did you do?" That's when you actually get to improvement. And helping teachers become better diagnosticians of their own practice, I think, is really powerful. And so, I had more stuff I wanted to respond to in all of your presentations, but that's what occurred to me right now.
0:46:36 PL: Coincidentally, that brings me to just a couple of points. And I've observed reading instruction techniques and different pedagogies in four or five different countries. I keep coming back to a couple of local districts in Michigan that have done remarkable work, moving classes, cohort groups from a 35th percentile to the 80TH on some of the high stakes tests, and it was sustained over time. But it started with the principal and teachers building relational trust so that when someone should have been my classroom, if I'm a classroom teacher, I'm not in fear and trepidation of a negative evaluation, but honest, supportive feedback about improving my practice. And so even Michael Follin speaks to this regularly about how our teacher evaluation system doesn't do that for us. So we need to move our focus to building teacher capacity in relational trust, I believe, again, before we're gonna scale mass improvement in reading and writing.
0:47:43 KC: And math and everything else.
0:47:46 PL: Yeah.
0:47:49 PM: Yeah. Karen, your point about assessments, we need to make time for more formative assessments so that can inform instruction rather than everybody's doing everything every which way until the high stakes test, and then you get the results the next year. Or at least in Massachusetts, we get the results in September for the children that left us in May, and it's kind of like, "Okay, can I have them back for a couple of months so I can do something with this?" But it's kind of like, "Alright, we'll pass it along, pass the data along." But if we have the formative assessments that all the teachers are using, and then they can have those conversations, "How did your children do? Okay, how can we work together to make sure that all of our children are moving along at a steady rate toward the standards for the end of the year, high stakes testing?"
0:48:39 KC: Well, I don't wanna say that the state assessments aren't useful in this kind of way, because you can always study those assessments and say, "As a school, we're really kind of weak on measurement." That's a classic, right? In terms of math, everybody in America tends to be very weak in measurement, because we don't spend enough time on it. So yeah, we really need to spend an extra three weeks, let's build in an extra three weeks. And you can use those state assessments in really powerful ways, just not as day-to-day instruction. That requires the kind of formative assessments that you're talking about.
0:49:27 PM: Yes, I remember as a principal, we looked at our state assessment and we didn't do so well on poetry, and so I said to the teachers, "Why didn't we do so well in poetry?" And they all said, "April is poetry month. The tests are given in March. We haven't gotten to poetry yet." I said, "Quick fix! We're gonna weave in poetry."
0:49:51 KC: February.
0:49:55 PM: So you're right, Karen, we can make school-wide decisions based on the summative evaluation assessments. And I wasn't trying to discount them, but agreeing with you that for the day-to-day practice, we need the formative assessments and then we can look at ourselves, our schools, and our districts as a whole with the summative assessments.
0:50:18 ND: I'm just so struck in listening to you all talk about how different what you're describing is from the typical professional development models that we see in this country. We have that drive by PD, a day or two in August, and then...
0:50:33 KC: The principal saw somebody at a conference and brought them on into teach yoga or mindfulness or something.
0:50:40 ND: Often people... Yeah, it's totally external, not a sustained focus on a single area, tying evaluation off in professional learning in ways that really distort either one of those things. And again, I wonder... I do, I keep turning to medicine and to public health, not that it's perfect either. But something that comes to mind for me is the consult, that it's not atypical at all, it's common for one doctor to seek a consult from another doctor. And we just need much more of a culture, I think, of that and of sustained studying and inquiry of our practice around data to improve and just not... Finding that to be often the exception rather than the rule. Paul, I'd like to ask you to talk a little bit more about principal's roles in this. It sounded like, and what Karen shared, the principals were absolute key leaders, and then what you shared, the districts where you've seen great girls, again, the principals were key leaders. A challenge for me is that so many principles I know don't have a really great grounding in the science of reading, where again, I mean reading processes, reading instruction, and implementation science. What are the policy levers or what are the levers we can pull around that issue?
0:52:02 PL: So we're pressing a legislature hard and we're receiving the benefits of an appropriation to do some work around principal literacy leadership. And that came in part as a result of some research that we did in partnership with Michigan State University in surveying principals across the State of Michigan, where we found that roughly 84% of current practicing principals did not have a lot of course work, and certainly did not have expertise in early childhood development and reading, early reading. And that 45% of the principles that responded to the survey, and we had upwards of 400 respondents out of our 1300 membership; of that group, 45% had never been an instructor in a pre-K 5 building. So they were learning as they went. And oddly enough, I had a conversation with a principal that called and said, "I really need help." And they said, "Well, welcome to our membership. What can we support you with?" And he said, "Well, I was an athletic director in high school for the last 15 years, and I've been transferred to a pre-K 2 building. So my learning curve is really steep." And not to be offensive, I said, "We need to do some support for you immediately so that, number one, you begin to love the work and don't bail out on us because we need you."
0:53:40 PL: And indeed it worked out well, because he had both a love of learning himself, and loved kids. So the end of that story was a good outcome. That's not always true. That's not always true. And so we need to support literacy leadership in a bigger way, so that the principal becomes the resident expert. And I'm not talking about the macro view. I'm talking about understanding phonemic awareness, morphology, phonemic awareness; all of the pieces that go together to make for high levels of fluency, and then supporting improved comprehension. We're not there yet. We're making great gains as a result of the work around the literacy essential practices. I'm delighted with that. It's some of the best work I've seen in my near 40 years of work in K-12. So congratulations to GLN and the Department of Education and Nell and the rest of your team at UofM and Michigan State that made this so.
0:54:54 ND: So Pamela, I'd like to dig a little deeper into the area that we touched on a little bit, but around just the diversity of kids profiles of strength and need. And it just... It's so complex, and yet we've got busy classroom teachers with 26 first graders in front of them, and as Karen pointed out, not necessarily the formative assessments that we might want them to have to inform that day to day instruction, and as Paul pointed out, may or may not be able to rely on the expertise of their principal. So just can you talk us through a little bit some of your advice about how to address the profiles of strength and weakness that we see in classroom instruction? What are some of the tips there?
0:55:48 PM: Well, first of all, you can't be a single teacher to 26 children every day, all day. So let's just disabuse ourselves of that notion. So get rid of the guilt. Take a deep namaste moment breath and say, "Alright, so what are the important skills that everybody needs to know at this particular time? And then where are different children along that journey? And then try to do the best that you can in terms of grouping by similar needs, and also some heterogeneous grouping so that children are engaged in other activities together, like partner reading, where we're not asking the more skilled reader to be tutor, but just to serve as a role model so that we can, again, create within the classroom a community of learners.
0:56:35 ND: And that all of the children have some strengths that they can bring to the table, so that we get rid of the three reading groups; the eagles, the robins, and the vultures. And even if we don't call them that, all of the children in the classroom know who's who. But if we're constantly moving children around and re-grouping them, then we can support them around areas of need, say in guided reading groups or focused skill-oriented groups, but then also have them working together collaboratively at centers so that, again, they're kind of getting and rehearsing what they need, but also extending their learning in areas or strength.
0:57:17 ND: Wonderful. I mean, music to my ears; needs-based groups that are flexible, that are constantly changing. Partner reading, heterogeneous grouping, I love to hear all of that. Karen, what do you wanna add to that?
0:57:33 KC: So what I wanted to say is that still presumes an individual teacher with isolated idiosyncratic practice. And I think as long as we talk... As long as we build our schools around that, we will fail children. We won't fail all children, we will fail some segment of children. Because it is impossible for any individual teacher to know everything in order to teach all their children all the time. And even the superhuman teacher is gonna have a relative with a heart attack one year and will not be at peak efficiency. So I think we have to talk about how schools marshal all the resources within schools to support classroom teaching, and that starts changing the dynamic, and that requires... We can't just sort of say, "Well, we don't have the principals right now." Yes, we don't... Principals at this moment do not know how to lead those processes. We need those principals. As long as we leave teachers on their own, they will always fail some students. And it's not because they're not working hard, they're working hard.
0:59:02 KC: It's not because they don't care, they care. It's because it is impossible. We're asking the impossible. It's only possible when you muster all the resources of the school together. So that's my rant. Sorry.
0:59:19 ND: No, Karen, I'm so glad you said that. And indeed, reading the research on highly effective schools, one of the common findings is that they have a more collaborative impact model, every kid is everybody's responsibility. I do quickly wanna just warn the audience though not to interpret that as departmentalization or platooning where different teachers teach literacy, as teach math, as teach sciences, teach social studies with young children. There has been research on that, and that actually is a negative impact on children.
0:59:50 KC: No, but it does mean... Right.
0:59:54 ND: Karen was point out...
0:59:56 KC: It does mean bringing all the resources to bear, so that teachers are not on their own.
1:00:00 ND: Absolutely.
1:00:01 PM: I agree, and it's not only, Karen, within the classroom, but how can the physical educator use some of the academic language so that they're hearing cause and effect, or they're hearing... So they're hearing those conceptual terms. How... And when they're doing art, are they doing contrasting colors so that we can bring that very important literacy, oral language, into all parts of the day so that children are, again, being surrounded and being able then to connect with, "Oh, okay, I'm supposed to compare this book with that book, The Berenstain Bears with Goldilocks. Okay, I know what compare means because I've heard it four different ways from four different teachers."
1:00:48 PL: So, I have to agree with Karen for the most part, believing that we have to differentiate. However, I believe that when we apply best practice to an entire group of students with differentiation, the outcome is going to be more positive because we're using the best practice for the entire group with, again, differentiation, much like a surgeon does when they've learned a more effective way to treat an illness. So we tend not to do that. We have great neuroscience and learning science that we can apply to our work. Think about this for a moment. I started with a bag phone, and many of you are not old enough to know what a bag phone is. It sat in the seat next to me, it had an antenna and a wire hook to the top of my car. And then I had a flip phone. And now I have a 10x, and I'm about to purchase the latest version of an iPhone. Think about where we've come with just pure science and in medicine, yet what we've learned in terms of pedagogy and instruction and reading and mathematics we haven't applied well to practice. So my question to the three of you is, how do we move as organizations, as schools, as districts, and as a country more rapidly to that end?
1:02:22 ND: Well, that is a fantastic question, how do we get there more quickly? But I'm being told in the chat that it's also a time for us to pivot to some audience questions, so maybe we'll be able to weave those together. So Chris, did you wanna jump in here?
1:02:37 CW: Hi. Yeah, I am back, Chris Weiland, University of Michigan, the moderator. So I'll be reading some questions from the audience. And please keep them coming. We want to get as many of these from the audience. A lot have been coming in, and we've been filtering them as we go. So I'm gonna start out with one that has to do with some movement on the ground from the policy level that's been happening, and it is about the impact of a policy in Arkansas; the new law about using the science of reading that bars materials that include references to the three cueing system, which is essentially really outlying most currently available reading curricula. Will policies like this work to improve reading in your opinion?
1:03:27 ND: The screen here, so we can all turn responding. But no, I don't see the policy lever of banning things to be a particularly helpful way to move the field forward. What policy lever I think works much better is to afford substantial resources to professional development and coaching to help support teachers as they learn to do something differently. That's where I put my energy, but my collaborators here on the panel may disagree. Others?
1:04:04 KC: I would say we'll have to find out, right? We'll have to... In five years, will Arkansas be in a different place than it was? In which case, all the other states should say, "Boy, your kids are doing better than ours, what are you doing? Oh, maybe we should do that." I'm really a pragmatist rather than a theoretician. I think the theory is really important, but when Nell was talking about the research I was thinking about, also in medical science, we've known since 1840s, the 1840s, that doctors who go from patient to patient without washing their hands spread infection. We've known this, it's very well researched. We don't have to do any more basic science. The fact is, and maybe the coronavirus has changed this, but doctors do not wash their hands between patients. Study after study after study shows this. So what do you have to do to get them to act on the research? These are not people who are unfamiliar with the research, that's not the issue. The issue is actually implementing the research. So maybe that'll work, I don't know. If it does, that's great. If it doesn't, then five years will have gone by and children will not have been served, and that will be horrible.
1:05:32 PM: I guess, Karen, that's where I would weigh in. I think that's kind of the pendulum swinging to another far end. And in terms of thinking about myself as a skilled reader, when I come across a word that I don't know I use the letters and the sounds, and I use the context clues, and I use meaning. So I'm using a lot of different cueing systems to get me where I need to go and to understand new vocabulary. So that really just limiting children to just one way of accessing that connection between print and words and oral language makes me a little nervous. And if five years go by, that's a lot of children who may be ill served. I understand, with all good intentions, but I think that that's a little bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Maybe we just need to change the temperature of the water a little bit.
1:06:37 ND: Well, what I've tried to argue, Pamela, is that what we need to sort out when we're cueing is what are we cueing for. So when we're trying to cue for kids to identify a word then we want kids focused on the letters in the word, but when we're trying to cue them to understand what a word means, that's when our cue should be focusing on, "Let's use information around the word to help us figure out what it might mean." It's kind of a recent article, I'm just trying to sort these out. And I think it actually... I know you agree, Pamela. It just illustrates, again, this is complex stuff. You can't get this from a headline. You can't get this from a half an hour PD somewhere. This takes ongoing professional learning and coaching to really in the moment always make the best choice for a reader to help them move forward in all these different respects.
1:07:29 ND: If anybody's interested in the article, it's in Ed Leadership, this month's issue. But I just think that what you're seeing and hearing is pointing to that this is complex stuff, and if our policy levers don't shift to provide teachers with the amount of professional learning opportunity that they need to really grasp this, we're gonna be in the same place in five years that we were the last five years, to Karen's point. Paul, did you wanna weigh in at all?
1:08:00 PL: Well, I don't mean to pivot, but we have a $15 billion education budget in Michigan, and I contend that we need to spend a larger portion of it on some real basic needs, and that is reading instruction training for teachers and principals. It becomes a no-brainer for me. I'm a business owner as well as having worked in K-12 for a number of years, and I hear from businesses in the industry that are concerned about trying to hire employees that are collaborative, critical thinkers, and extremely proficient skilled readers. And yet, what are we doing? We're still nibbling around the edges. We need to double down and make this the conversation around the dinner table like we did 15 years ago around early childhood. We went from a $20 million expenditure to $120 million and tripled the number of slots we provided for great start readiness. Let's do the same around reading and training and support of our classroom teachers.
1:09:05 PL: Let's not blame them. This is about responsibility as leadership. We tend to just blame and point fingers. Let's stop doing that and put our money where our mouth is and provide support and training.
1:09:21 CW: And to bring another question in that's following up on your doubling down point, Paul. So how can we get the important science around the science of reading into the hands of teachers who were not taught science of reading in college or in their certification program? And also busy classroom teachers don't have time to deeply read all the new studies; they see the headlines, they feel pressure to change practices. How do you combat knee-jerk reactions and move them to that science?
1:09:53 PL: The professional development planning needs to be written into every school improvement plan, and it needs to be time-lined so that nothing else can push it away. So you think about all of the opportunities we have for professional development, there are hundreds... And those are the things that push out good training and constant and consistent training and support in content areas, oddly enough. And so it's really about planning first, funding, resourcing, and then not moving off from that center line until we get to the result we desire. We chase fads. We're looking for a silver bullet. It doesn't exist, it's just simply hard work. We have to admit that and get down to doing the grind of learning what is best for instruction and teacher training and principal training.
1:10:50 KC: So in the book that's coming out in the spring, I profile a district, a little itty-bitty district in southeastern Oklahoma; basically no resources. The superintendent came in, he was the fourth superintendent that year, so a mess of a district. He kinda cleaned up the finances and the physical plan for a while, and then he looked around and he said, "Well, we're really low performing. So what do I do?" So he looked up another school district near him that was high performing, similar demographics, and he went over to them, and he said, "I think your teachers are cooking the books. I don't think you're really getting those high performances." And the superintendent in that district said, "Well, come let me show you around." And he showed him the three-year-old program where they talk about language, and they learn words, and they do a lot of phonemic awareness. And he went to the four-year-old program. He went to the kindergarten. And he looked around and he said, "I've been doing it all wrong." He was like Your guy, he was a secondary science teacher by training. He didn't know anything about reading. So he sent his teachers over systematically, the kindergarten teachers, the four-year-old teachers. And they learned from each other. And over the years, they now have shared a lot of knowledge and information. But he gave them the time, he gives him the space, he trusted them that...
1:12:31 KC: He didn't say, "Well, why don't you know how to teach reading?" He said, "Well, I guess we don't know how to do reading. Let's go find out." That's what we need. That's the kind of leadership we need. We can't expect everybody to be a reading expert now. We can expect everybody to be trying to be better, and that's what we can expect. And by the way, they're both high-performing now, so... I'm sorry. That's another rant.
1:13:03 PL: We don't always need to spend more money, we need to spend our money differently.
1:13:08 KC: Yes. That's what I was trying to get at.
1:13:15 CW: Another question from the audience. We need to identify children with dyslexia to ensure they get the correct intervention. They become disillusioned with literacy really quickly. What are your thoughts on this? And particularly, I'll add to this that I know that there is movement on that in some states at the policy level. So it would be interesting to hear the panels thoughts.
1:13:32 ND: Great, thanks. I think Chris is absolutely right, there's a lot of policy activity around dyslexia nationally, and I think there's a lot that's good about that. I wanna remind everyone that kids struggle with literacy for many different reasons. So dyslexia is one and clearly one that we need to address, but there are a number of others. I think I alluded to do a study out of North Carolina looking at kids who score not proficient in North Carolina's third grade reading test. 31% to 39% of those kids, depending on the grade level, did just fine, met their benchmarks in nonsense word reading, in phonemic segmentation fluency, and in oral reading fluency. That means that whatever reason they're failing that third grade reading test in North Carolina, it doesn't have to do with problems in word reading and fluency.
1:14:28 ND: So keeping in mind that we need legislation, and we need professional learning to address many different causes of reading difficulty, of which dyslexia is one, is really important. But moving into dyslexia, that's exactly right, the implication in the question that catching kids early and providing intervention early is much more efficient economically and in terms of human capacity and human capital than waiting a long time to intervene for kids with dyslexia. So the trick for us in school is to, as quickly as possible, figure out whether we're dealing with dyslexia, dysteachia or ateachia. So let me try to sort out those, and admittedly I made up those other two terms. But I'll explain the distinction I'm making. So dyslexia, if you take, for example, the International Dyslexia Association's definition, dyslexia is a neurobiological situation that really influences, makes very difficult, the process of processing phonemes or sounds and being able to spell and to read words. And individuals who have dyslexia are gonna need really high quality instruction, both in the regular classroom setting and extra support, in order to become effective readers and scholars.
1:15:56 ND: And depending on whose estimate you read, most researchers and scholars tend to estimate that the proportion of the population who has actual dyslexia is probably 5% to 10%, maybe 15%, but not more than that, right? So this is a subset of people who have dyslexia. Then there's this dysteachia. So what is that? Those are kids who are struggling to read and spell words because they got very poor instruction. And we've got a lot of dysteachia going on, my friends. What those kids need may be intervention to make up for poor teaching, but we can prevent them from ever getting dysteachia if we provide really high quality tier one or classroom instruction. And that's why so much of my work and Paul's work, and well, actually this whole panel's has really been on improving classroom instruction, trying to improve classroom instruction so fewer kids need that additional support. So that's dysteachia. I think the biggest challenge for us right now is what I'll call ateachia, which is you haven't really had phonics or phonological awareness instruction at all.
1:17:06 ND: And so what we have, for example, in Michigan... I know we're not alone in this. We've got lots of kids who come to kindergarten in Michigan, and they haven't had any pre-school, none at all. Or they've had pre-school, but the pre-school hasn't really worked on phonological awareness development or letter knowledge, basic alphabet knowledge. And so that kid, at the beginning of kindergarten, could look a lot like a kid who has dyslexia, but you have to sort that out. Because the kid who just hasn't had the instruction yet, with proper instruction, is gonna move forward very quickly and just regular classroom instruction should be enough; maybe some brief intensive intervention, but they're not gonna need the same kind of ongoing support. And so I think, as a field, getting more sophisticated about those different categories is really important.
1:18:02 ND: And one of the major tools that we can use to get better, more sophisticated, about those categories is high quality early childhood education that have attention to phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge development, then really good core classroom instruction in kindergarten with extra support for kids who need it, but not going overboard. 'Cause kids need lots of other things too, right? So really high quality instruction in kindergarten for kids who need it, and then toward the end of kindergarten, it will start to become really apparent who is gonna need that really intensive additional support because what they really have is a neurobiological condition.
1:18:44 ND: So that's my current take on the situation. I wish I could say we have this magic test that you can give kids at the beginning of kindergarten and it will tell you whether it's ateachia, dysteachia, or dyslexia, but actually the screeners aren't yet able to make those distinctions as people like Nadine Gaab and [1:19:03] ____ will tell you. Right now you can't actually sort that out. Sorry, that's a long-winded answer, and I hope it was a little bit helpful. Do others have anything they wanna add?
1:19:15 S?: No.
1:19:18 CW: Okay. Well, thank you. Another question from the audience is around the moment that we're in right now, given that many teachers are teaching remote or in these hybrid models where the kids aren't at school the whole week. That's probably most problematic for the kindergarteners and first graders who are just beginning to read. What advice do you have for applying the science of reading in this moment?
1:19:46 ND: I have a lot to say, but I wanna give other people... Pamela, Paul, Karen, anything you wanna say about this topic?
1:20:00 KC: So I'm starting to do a podcast where I'm hoping to hear from expert teachers. I think it's really difficult at this point. So I don't have any advice. I'm hopeful I will have some observations from experts in a few months.
1:20:20 PL: I've had the privilege of working with my four grand littles; a three-year-old, two six-year-olds, and an eight-year-old. My wife is with them every other week and supporting their learning, and I found... And by the way, our teachers are remarkable, and so are the administrators. As I spoke earlier, I was on the phone with a principal last night that was finishing up delivering meals last night at 9:00 PM. Our teachers have done remarkable work in spite of the pandemic. It doesn't change the fact that we need to support them in professional learning if, again, we hope to see marked change. But beyond that, they need some training in teaching virtually or remotely in terms of how to deliver instruction differently, how to engage students differently; quite frankly, to keep them engaged for three to six hours in a day. Imagine trying to manage a herd of 26 kindergarteners for the better part of six hours. Good luck with that. And so they need to be given a lot of credit, some additional training. And quite frankly, the $500 bonus they received in current legislation should be quadrupled at minimum. Just saying.
1:21:46 PM: I would weigh in a little bit, Nell, before you do to just say that in terms of the distance learning and developing early reading skills, I would be mindful and intentional about phonological awareness; and think about a lot of games, a lot of wordplays, limericks, thymes, jokes, so that you're playing with language, you're hearing the different ways that words rhyme. And then the children will learn how to map those onto the graphings. But if we're learning... Thinking about our emergent readers, God bless you, Paul. I don't know, sitting with six hours with such young children and screens would be hard. And I would say go deep and in short bursts rather than trying to drag it out over all six hours. But again, that playfulness with language and that inquisitiveness, that curiosity about how language works can be done remotely through songs and games and poetry. [1:22:50] ____ good first teaching.
1:22:51 PL: Yeah, thanks for being more specific, because indeed the teachers that are working with my grand littles are including music, rhymes, poetry, and quite frankly, jokes and laughter. And that helps bring them back after the virtual recess. So congratulations to teachers that are really engaging their students in very innovative ways.
1:23:19 ND: Yeah, I wanna add my congratulations, Paul. I just think that US teaching force has got to be lifted up as just heroic in the efforts that teachers and administrators are engaged in; and families, honestly, to continue to support children's learning during this time. And we all just honor all of you. I'll say briefly that my tack is, "Let's take instructional practices that we know work face-to-face and figure out how to adapt them for an online environment." So that's been my emphasis, and Pamela already gave you a great example of doing that. And at my YouTube channel I have a few videos about myself and colleagues trying to do just that, so you can kinda see what it looks like to try to adapt effective practices for an online environment. But I'm the first person to say, not easy. So again, huge thanks to our educators out there.
1:24:24 CW: Great, well, so I'm gonna do one last very quick question. I may be bowling here for one or two of you. But for folks who are teachers or principals who do not have time to read lots and lots of research right now, how do they discern when something is really backed by the science of reading versus something that just has some research connections?
1:24:47 ND: I'll kick it off. I'll just say the first thing is don't trust that it says science of reading, 'cause every day I'm reading stuff that's labelled "science of reading programs," articles, blog posts where they have a bunch of things wrong from research. So definitely don't go by that. I would say one key thing is, is it written by either a researcher or someone who's spending time reading actual research studies; not synthesis, not secondary analyses, thirdary tertiary analysis, but actual research studies. Are they citing studies from research journals? That would be one litmus test that I would suggest using. Others?
1:25:27 PL: I would encourage you to read Nell, Dr. [1:25:31] ____, and Karen. Those are my best sources. And I think that you'll probably provide them some sources for your books, current and past, and then find podcasts. Because teachers can dial into a podcast just before passing out at the end of a long day and/or on their drive to and from work. I find that to be helpful. But identifying, again, as Nell said, the best research as opposed to someone's new and exciting idea.
1:26:06 PM: And I would just put in a plug for the International Literacy Association, that there are many free resources. You don't have to join. It would be nice if you could or your school could, but there are leadership briefs and policy briefs that are free. So it's LiteracyWorldwide.org, and they will really give you some synthesis of research and policy briefs that are based on research.
1:26:36 CW: And Karen, I wanted to just... You mentioned Bookworms, that's a curriculum that's written by a researcher and heavily informed by research. It's a good example of something where I think there's a higher level of trust. But, sorry, what were you gonna say?
1:26:49 KC: Well, no. So I always hesitate before naming any kind of program, because I think programs are tools that help people solve problems. They don't actually solve the problem themselves. But Bookworms, I have seen it in action. It was developed to incorporate a lot of research in a way that actual human beings can implement, which so many programs are really very difficult. There's so much stuff there that teachers just get lost. This, it's highly scripted, and so not every teacher enjoys that. But once teachers kinda go with the flow and say, "Oh, okay, yeah, but we get to read these great books. We get to talk about some really great literature," they seem to like it.
1:27:54 ND: So a good program plus culture, that's what you really are aiming for. And there are quite a few programs out there. I am a fan of Bookworms, but I always worry that... I think, Paul, you said there's no silver bullet. There is no silver bullet, there are just lots and lots of hard work. And so Bookworms is a way to cut out some of the work. That's how I would put it. You can cut out some of the work with a good program, it's still a lot of work.
1:28:37 CW: So that's a great point to end on. We are out of time. I wanna thank all the panelists for joining us today. This has been a terrific discussion for really drilling in to what the science of reading really means, what it means for learners going forward and in this strange COVID time where teachers, as Nell said, are really heroic. So we're gonna be following all of your work going forward. We will be posting this video, as we said, for folks who have [1:29:03] ____ will be able to access it, and we really thank everyone who was able to join us today.
1:29:07 PL: Thank you all.
1:29:08 PM: Thank you.
- Christina Weiland
- Karin Chenoweth
- Nell Duke
- Paul Liabenow
- Pamela Mason
- literacy instruction
- literacy rates
- Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction
- k-12 reform
- education reform
- education policy
- education sciences
- national reading panel
- Big Five areas of reading
- curriculum and instruction
- teacher training
- child development
- needs assessment
- covid-19 impact
- teacher quality
- formative assessment
- high-stakes testing