8 Reasons the 'Same Page' is a Great Place to Be
If we were to go for a visit to many a local school we would likely find a great deal of variation in reading instruction from one classroom to the next. It’s not uncommon for one teacher to be using one program for phonics and decoding and another to be using something different. Even if both of these programs are evidence informed, this difference in programs and approach is problematic. In far too many schools, teachers are left on their own to ‘figure out’ how best to teach reading. This is unfair on students and teachers alike. Let’s look at why it’s a good idea to get everyone on the ‘same page’ in reading instruction.
Having every teacher use the same approach for phonics and reading instruction means that no matter whose class a child is in, they receive the same high-level of instruction. Children receiving quality, evidence informed instruction shouldn’t be left to chance. Inconsistency is the enemy of continuous improvement.
- Instructional time year to year.
As children move through the grades, there is minimal loss of instructional time. When everyone is doing something different, children waste time at the start of each year getting used to a new method of teaching and a new way of thinking about how our language works. When you have consistency, every class can just ‘pick up where they left off’
- We can measure impact.
Common teaching approaches and common assessments enable us to reliably measure progress within and across classes. They also help us get on the ‘same page’ about progress targets and have a clear vision about what our strategic improvement agenda is. It is incredibly powerful to sit down with a team of teachers and examine the cohort data, knowing that we all have a common understanding of what we are looking at and what lead to this point. As an instructional coach or leadership team, this helps us to identify teachers who are performing well and those who might need extra support in their practice.
- Supporting our strugglers
It is much easier to identify students who are at risk or struggling and then support them. Common understanding of the ‘milestones’ we are looking for or observations that might be red flags during assessment (such as difficulty acquiring basic phonemic skills) mean we can intervene immediately.
- Professional learning is more effective
When we are all doing something different (even when it is similar), it’s really hard to provide focused, targeted professional learning for the team. Great professional learning involves developing common language and common objectives. I also involves opportunities to practise instructional routines and observe each other’s classrooms to see what great performance looks like. Sure, we can do this if we are working towards a set of guidelines, but it still leaves the individual teacher to figure out the finer points of instruction on their own.
- Weathering staff turnover
When we can point to exactly “what we do here” and provide clear guidance, it is much easier to weather the storm of staff turnover. This is so very important in remote or hard to staff schools who see high turnover from year to year. When you have a new teacher join your team, you don’t have months or a year for them to come to a certain level of proficiency in reading instruction. They have to hit the ground running. An established program or set of practices means that you can be very clear about what is expected and support your new staff to do great work from the start.
- Thinking about differentiation differently
Essentially, differentiation is the way we respond to the needs of our students. Different school and class contexts may well call for different approaches to meeting those needs. While all students should receive the same, high level of instruction, it isn’t always viable for one teacher to support the wide range of student need in their class. In these cases, it might be worth thinking about sharing a cohort of students across a number of teachers for a period of time each day. Far from being the old ‘streaming’ and a land of low expectations for the ‘bottom’ group, this flexible grouping is a chance for all students to receive fully guided instruction in phonics and decoding exactly at their point of need for as much time as possible. When you have some students working on the basic code and learning to blend, some students beginning to learn the extended code and some students almost (or actually) reading anything they pick up, it’s not possible to meet all students needs within the one decoding lesson. Some students are left behind, others are bored and not being extended. The alternative of small groups is equally unsatisfying because the minute we break into small groups we lose instructional time and some of our students are left to their own devices.
- Implementing updated instruction is easier
Because the writers of a program or tool have already put a great deal of thought into the sequence of content and instructional routines, teachers are able to just focus on instruction. They don’t have to interpret research, slowly construct their understandings, figure out what this looks like in practice, engage in trial and error and spend all that time doubting themselves in order to teach well. A program or tool doesn’t remove decision making or the need to build knowledge and skills, but it does give teachers and students a ‘jump start’ in shifting practice from balanced literacy to evidence informed instruction.
Working towards consistent practices in literacy instruction has enormous benefits for both students and teachers. If you have a great program in place, ensure that you are working with it with fidelity. Spend time practising, observing and coaching each other. If you don’t have a program and would like to take steps to get on the same page in phonics and decoding, click here to learn about the Reading Success in Action Lesson Sequence.
Whatever your program or resource, know that consistency in implementing evidence informed practice creates creditability AND leads to continuous improvement.
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