A director reflects on the transition to the “science of reading”

It is difficult to change entrenched practices in education, even if they do not benefit all students. But what makes it so difficult to evolve towards better approaches? And how can school systems begin to address some of these challenges?

These questions are at the center of the recent Education Week project on putting the ‘science of reading into practice’, released in July. The stories examine the national movement to align early reading instruction with evidence-based evidence about how young children learn to read.

Decades of research have shown that the most effective way to teach beginning readers to recognize words on the page is to explicitly teach them how letters represent sounds and how to mix those letters into words. But many schools in the United States downplay this type of instruction or intersperse it with other ineffective strategies for learning to read.

In the past two years alone, 18 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation requiring classroom instruction to follow research. The series of stories published this summer examines what is driving this effort, where it might succeed or fail, and why.

Earlier this month, social media producer Hayley Hardison and I spoke with Sherri Miller, principal of Lacy Elementary School in Raleigh, NC, at a Twitter Spaces event that went in-depth on how this movement is unfolding in North Carolina. The state recently passed a law requiring sweeping changes in the way schools teach reading.

Miller, whose school is featured in the Education Week seriesspoke about the history of reading instruction in the state and why changing the approach of schools is such a massive undertaking.

“Your philosophy on reading is as deep as religion,” Miller told me last spring. “I’ve had many games with people where you go around and around. It’s a bit like politics in our country.

Here are some takeaways from the September 7 conversation:

Most school systems employ a patchwork of strong and less strong instructional practices. Miller explained how North Carolina created its own training for teachers in evidence-based reading practice two decades ago, with the goal of improving outcomes for students with disabilities. But adoption of the course varied from district to district and even school to school, meaning receiving this evidence-based teaching was “hit or miss” for students, Miller said. . The goal of these statewide mandates is to standardize access to high-quality education, she added.

Understanding research is one thing. Putting it into practice is another. Many states, including North Carolina, require teachers to complete training called Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, more commonly referred to as LETRS. The two-year course gives teachers a deep grounding in reading research, but this doesn’t always translate to adoption of new practices or increased student achievement (read more about the research base behind LETRS, see this story). This is where teacher support is crucial, Miller said. “I’m done with Unit 8, but what does it look like in my classroom?” she asked. This is where coaches come in, she says.

Change can be an emotional process. Teacher practices are “deeply rooted,” Miller said, the result of years in teacher training programs, hours of professional development and guidance passed on by mentors and promoted by literacy celebrities. Communication with teachers and their support must be well planned, she said. Otherwise, asking teachers to change what they do could feel like an attack on their professional credentials.

To learn more about what schools are doing to overcome these barriers, listen to the entire Twitter Spaces conversation here:

And check out the full collection of Education Week stories about putting the science of reading into practice.