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Disunity in Reading Instruction: The High Cost of Confusion

Categories: Curriculum & Access, Early Literacy, Education & Teaching, Educators, Learning Disabilities, Professional Development, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning, Teacher Best Practices, Whole Child Literacy

In this blog, we are discussing ‘three-cueing,’ and how this instructional strategy may not be as effective for beginning readers to learn how to decode printed text, especially for kids like Joey. 

Consider this scenario - Joey has a learning disability. His reading skills aren’t on grade-level. About 85% of his day is spent in general education. The remaining time, he spends in small group instruction. His general education teacher teaches the three cueing method prompting Joey to draw on context and sentence structure, along with letters, to identify words. 

In Joey’s inclusion class, his other teacher helps him decode words through an explicit, systematic approach with a scope and sequence to identify words through print to speech. When Joey goes home from school and tries to read to his little sister, he gets confused. Which method should his brain use to read the words in the story? He doesn’t know what to do. Consistency matters when it comes to effective reading instruction, especially for kids who need early intervention. Beginning learners cannot decipher which method is appropriate to use. 

Is Inconsistency in Reading Instruction Happening in Your School? 

Learning competing methods of reading instruction may be complicating Joey’s ability to learn “how to read” effectively, and causing self-doubt. Encouraging a child to look at a picture when they come to a tricky word, or to hypothesize or guess what word would work in the sentence, takes focus away from the word itself. This can interfere with the ability to use letter sounds to read through the word part-by-part, and their ability to recognize it more quickly the next time they see the word.  

One reason for low reading proficiency in many children today may be three cueing because this teaching methodology is missing constrained skills. Constrained skills must be learned early to initiate our brains’ ability to process  information. Examples of constrained skills are the alphabet, concepts about print, high-frequency word lists, and how to write our names. Phonics is considered constrained because once we have learned it, we don’t need to learn it again. 

The science of reading isn’t just about phonics, but phonics must be explicitly taught to ensure that the child can build on their knowledge agency through literature-rich interactive reading experiences, text-based vocabulary, and background information.

Consistency Matters

In a recent edWebinar with Dr. Terrie Noland, educators took a deep dive into disunity of reading instruction in schools, and how to implement a unified approach to instruction – one grounded in evidence-based practices aligned with the science of reading, brain-based learning, and whole child literacy – a concept that builds an ecosystem around the individual learner, taking into account not only their academic skills, but cognitive, social and environmental factors as well. “When a child is constantly flipping back and forth from this strategy to that strategy, their brains become fatigued,” says Dr. Noland. “That child needs consistency in early reading instruction." 

Dr. Noland recommends leading from where you are. 

  • Model literacy leadership by cultivating a shared understanding of the science of reading and brain-based learning. 

  • Build authentic relationships through credibility and humility. 

  • Encourage a curriculum, assessment and systems review to understand how reading is taught across all grade levels, and in all instructional environments of a school. 

  • Evaluate current schedules and how literacy is being taught throughout the day to introduce more reading time in every class. 

  • Grow your own knowledge, and build collective efficacy. 

  • Use positive affirmations, ‘We’re a team! We’re doing this together for the kids!

Shared Understanding Builds Foundations for Higher Learning

Inconsistency of reading instruction delays comprehension to move to complex text. Dr. Noland references the work of Emily Hanford, Executive Producer and Correspondent for American Public Media (APM). Her latest podcast “Sold the Story, How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong” investigates four authors, and a publishing company that have made millions selling curriculum that relies on three cueing - now a disproven theory of reading instruction.

“There is no blame game here,” says Dr. Noland. “Just a call for consistency to ensure baseline fundamental skills are taught to learn ‘how to read’. This will reduce confusion in teaching' methods, and compound essential reading skills that build on our reservoir of agency, create automaticity in reading, and cement the ability for lifelong learning.”

Listen to this edWebinar for a Continuing Education Certificate. 

Ready to influence others? Read this blog, “Flipping the Script on Low Reading Outcomes - Learn to Influence Up, Down, and Across the Aisle.” 

Learning Ally’s Professional Learning Services

Our Professional Learning Services are designed to strengthen educator’s instructional capacity, so they can deliver a deeper, richer learning experience and promote better academic outcomes. Our nonprofit partners with families, schools, and districts to share research, encourage new pathways to leadership, and expand instructional and teaching knowledge.

Valerie Chernek writes about educational best practices through the use of technology and the science of reading in support of teachers, children, and adolescents who struggle with learning differences. 

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