A NICE Framework for Choosing a New Approach
Hi there. It's brilliant to have you here with me for this episode of the Structured Literacy Podcast. My name is Jocelyn, and I hope that you are having a fantastic day. I'd like to begin this episode by acknowledging the Palawa people of Tasmania and the 40,000 year connection that they share with the lands and waterways of this beautiful place that I have the privilege of living in.
Today's Topic - NICE.
In this episode of the podcast, I'd like to share a framework with you that I think will be incredibly useful to help you make decisions about any new approaches you are thinking of adopting. At this time of year in particular, it's common to see schools eagerly order new programs, organise training, and generally get their ducks in a row ready for the new school year. But these are not decisions to be rushed. To help you take a measured, considered approach to decision making, not just about big things, such as choosing a whole school approach, but to smaller things, such as should we buy this classroom resource or tool, or should we attend this PL, I have created a framework called NICE, all caps N I C E.
NICE - N stands for Need
The N in NICE stands for Need. Do we need this thing? When I was growing up, when I asked my mum for something at the shop, she would ask me, "Do you need it, or do you want it?" I hated this question because most of the time, I didn't need the thing, I just wanted it. It was bright, it was shiny, I thought it would be fun. And when it comes to school spending, eh, not much changes. It's not unusual for someone to purchase a new thing for every classroom because it looks cool or they've seen other people talking about it on social media. The question of "do we really need it" often doesn't even come up. Then teachers get the new thing, and one of two things happens. The first thing is that it doesn't get used and sits in a cupboard; a complete waste of money. The second and even less desirable outcome is that the teacher goes about changing their classroom program and routines so that they can use the thing. They didn't need it. It wasn't even on the radar, but now that they have a bright shiny thing in front of them, they will change their entire schedule to fit it in, probably causing disruption to student learning and overcomplicating what is already a busy day.
When it comes to programs, the next question after "Do we need it?" is, "How do we know?" The first of these questions is usually easy to answer. For example, do we need an approach to teaching upper primary students about words? Well, yes, of course we do. Answering the second question is a little trickier because it requires a great handle on the data picture. In order to know whether we need something, we need to know what our problems are, and we need reliable ways of determining this. If your school is still using benchmark reading assessment, you don't have a reliable way of determining your student's area of strength, this is pretty hard to pinpoint. You can hear more about that inS1, E7 of the Structured Literacy Podcast. That episode's called 'Why It's So Scary to Let Go of Benchmark Assessment'. However, even if you've made the switch to a normed tool for reading or have analysed your NAPLAN language conventions results in detail, you won't have all the information you need to make robust decisions about that upper primary approach to learning about words. Not because those tools don't give you good information, but because they don't necessarily go far enough, and you won't have drilled down into the specifics enough. How do you decide on a path forward that meets your student's needs if you don't know how many of your upper primary students are still wobbly on phonics and how many can use a common suffixing convention to add a suffix to a base accurately? How can you organize a whole school approach to an effective literacy block if you don't know for how long you're going to need to split your focus in years three to six between phonics and morphology in semester one? From there, project how long it will be until you can drop the phonics, do a couple of words in a daily review and get into morphology in a deeper way. If you don't have specific baseline data to work from, you are just firing arrows into the dark and hoping you'll hit the mark.
Getting the answers to these questions, by the way, is actually quite simple. We have a free morphology-based spelling assessment available that will tell you which children can add a common suffix to a nonsense base word using particular suffixing conventions. It comes with a downloadable spreadsheet that, once you plug the data into the first sheet, Populates two other sheets, breaking everything down according to the particular suffix and the particular convention. You can find where to download that in the show notes of this episode.
To discover your student's phonics knowledge, just take the reading assessment from your school's phonics approach and use it as a whole class spelling test in Years 3 and 6. Ask students about phoneme-grapheme correspondences, real words and nonwords, and see what happens. If students can spell all of this, then they're all good. After all, if you can spell a word, you can read it. But if your students struggle with the spelling, more action needs to be taken. If this is something you'd like to do, I suggest you have a listen to Season 1, Episode 10, Your Upper Primary Phonics Catch-Up Plan. It outlines a process you might like to follow. Once you have robust data, you'll be able to determine what you need to do in order to move the needle on your results.
NICE - I stands for Impact.
This brings us to the second part of the framework, the I. The I in the NICE framework stands for Impact. What do you want your approach to shift in practice to do for you? Do you just want to be able to say that you've got a program and tick a box, or do you want to know that you are delivering comprehensive instruction that will have wide-reaching measurable outcomes for students? For example, you might take on a new spelling program. What's it going to teach? And you might be thinking, "Well, Jocelyn, that's a dumb question. If we get a spelling program, it's going to teach spelling." But here's the thing. Word-level spelling is impacted by four areas: phonics, orthography, morphology, and etymology. If your chosen approach deals with just one of these and skims the surface of others, then you are likely not giving your students a well-rounded view of how words work unless you're specifically addressing those other areas. But if you know what your students need and can target the areas that they need to develop, your chances are much greater than if you just throw some stuff into the mix and hope for the best. Schools and teachers who are Resource Room members already have access to lessons that cover all of this, and you'll be pleased to hear that we're continuing to build out all four areas of spelling knowledge throughout 2024.
Right now, if you're a Resource Room member, you have lessons and resources for the full alphabetic code that include teaching students when to use which particular grapheme for the phoneme /ay/, as well as that the grapheme <ch> represents the sound /k/ in words of Greek origin. You also have lesson resources for teaching about common suffixing conventions and how to use a range of prefixes, suffixes, and bases to understand how words work, not just in single lessons but across a four-day teaching sequence so that you've got a really robust approach at your fingertips. Once you know what your data is telling you, you'll know how to measure the impact. You'll know what you're looking to get out of the approach you're adopting or the change you're making.
The other aspect of impact to consider is, what are the wider impacts of our choices? While we don't want to overload the memories and capacity of our students, we can look at how adopting a new approach will positively impact learning beyond the area we are directly working on. For example, if you have a robust approach to phonics instruction that includes handwriting, decoding, encoding, and sentence-level work, you can reasonably assume that its introduction will support student development in writing foundations. If you choose to adopt our Spelling Success in Action series in Years Three to Six, you'll find more than just spelling. Research shows that morphology instruction positively impacts so many areas of literacy, and so I've chosen to add value to lessons by including sentence and text-level reading in the daily lessons. So not only will students learn about a new morpheme and how words are constructed with it, but they'll also think about these words in terms of their parts of speech, their function in a sentence, and their meaning, and so we've popped vocabulary in there too, and how they contribute to a text. Yep. We have text-level reading included in every unit of our three to six program. Learning words in isolation is okay, but I think that taking it deeper to go beyond that helps students really embed them into long-term memory for spelling, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. When you're considering the impact of your chosen approach, think about what's going to get you the most bang for your buck and what's going to have the greatest utility for students.
NICE - C stands for Confident.
The next part of the NICE framework is C, which stands for confidence. How confident are you that the time, money, and cognitive load that's being spent is going to get you to the impact you're looking for? There are different things that help us feel confident. It could be the reputation of a business or organisation. This could come from the fact that you or others have used a previous program or resource from that company, and it's worked well for you. It could be that we've used the approach in a previous school. Confidence can come from trialling an approach and evaluating its effectiveness, or it could come from the fact that you've done something similar in another part of your school life that's really worked well, and so it's not a big stretch from where you are now to where you want to go. Confidence can also come from knowing that what you're using has links to research, but please be aware that while we have lots of research, we don't have nearly enough about all the instructional components, so links are great and need to be there, but we don't always have direct research about all the practical aspects.
But how do you get all of that confidence if you're walking into new territory? My suggestion for you is to start with something low stakes that's reasonably priced. It's not good to go rushing in, spending a massive bucket of money, only to turn around in a few months and regret your purchase. It's not just that you feel bad, it's that you are now stuck with something that isn't serving you and your students, and you probably have to wait years before you can move to something different. You spend a bunch of time, but also teacher and student energy and cognitive load. So if you aren't feeling confident about the choices you have to make, consider something that will be relatively inexpensive and will give you the chance to have a go and evaluate for a time. Because remember, just about anything will get you a little bump in student outcomes for a little while. So it's important to be really specific about what you're targeting and what you are looking for.
If you're a Resource Room member, you have access to the range of resources that I've already mentioned. So, if you're looking for an approach to spelling in Years three to six, you can get started at an introductory level through the Resource Room and then go on from there. Very soon, we'll have the opportunity available for you to download a couple of units from Spelling Success in Action and try them out in your classroom for free, so keep your eye out for that.
NICE - E stands for Ease.
The final thing that I'd like to discuss today is the E in the NICE framework. That is the ease at which you take on what you need and the ease at which this will be sustainable into the future. If adopting a new approach requires teachers to be experts in that area before they can teach something, it's unlikely to be effective. If the approach is cognitively overloading and teachers feel overwhelmed just looking at it, it's unlikely to be effective. If the approach doesn't come with any sort of training or guidance and you just have to figure it out from a printed resource, it's unlikely to be highly effective. The flip side of that is if it does come with training and you choose not to do it, that's not going to lead to effectiveness either. Schools are busy places, and teachers and leaders already have enough on their plates. So please choose something, whatever it is, whether it's a simple resource bought out of a teaching catalogue or a whole school approach, choose something that's going to be easy to use.
The second part of the ease bit of the NICE framework is the ease of sustainability in the long term, and I have to say that budget must be a consideration here. Many people adopt a program, and they're happy with it, only to realize that the ongoing cost of training and resources is prohibitive. So when teacher turnover is a reality, and it is everywhere right now, trying to find a thousand dollars per person to send new staff to training, plus the cost of the relief teacher to cover them for however many days, means that many schools simply won't do it and over time, the effectiveness of the approach gets watered down. The cost of replacement resources also needs to be considered. If someone loses a book or gets coffee spilt on it accidentally, how much is it going to cost to replace it? If student numbers increase and you need to outfit new classrooms, including training new teachers, what's that going to cost? I'm not suggesting that we should expect everything to be free. I don't think that's realistic. Or that we shouldn't use approaches that are on the pricier side; quality teaching takes investment. I'm simply saying that leaders need to have a line in the budget every year for ongoing training and resourcing when you take on an approach. If the number that has to sit in the budget to make that happen makes your eyes water, then something else needs to be considered.
Today is the day to take action.
If you've been with us for a while now, you'll know that we have student, teacher and school wellbeing at the heart of everything we do. We also understand the realities and difficulties of creating sustainable, effective approaches to teaching and learning over time. That's why our upcoming resource, Spelling Success in Action 2 Prefixes and Suffixes, comes with training included for every teacher starter pack and every classroom pack, as well as a hard copy workbook for you to use when you make your way through the comprehensive course. A course, by the way, that is broken down into 20-minute chunks so that you can complete it in a manageable way. And then when you need to train new staff, it's only $170 per person, and they don't even have to leave the school to do it. I'm also conscious of the cost to parents and schools of consumable resources. And so, the student workbook that is used in lessons lasts for two years, which is $15 a year per student.
I'll finish off today by running through the four areas of the NICE framework for you so that you can use them in your next leadership meeting where you're considering your options.
N stands for need. What is our data telling us? Do we have the right data? Is it specific enough for us to determine that a change is really needed? And if so, precisely what change?
I is for impact. If we introduce this tool, resource or practice, what can we expect? How will we measure the impact of our efforts?
C is for confidence. How likely is it that the tool or resource we're considering will lead to the impacts we're hoping for? How confident are our teachers already in this area and what do we need to do to support them?
Finally, there is E for ease of implementation and ease of sustainability. Is this going to be a simple process? How much effort will be required? Do we have the budget to sustain it in the long term?
In answering these questions, you'll arrive at easier, better decisions. If you see that there's a need but you aren't sure of what impact you're looking for, take the time to drill down into the data. Once you have the data, if you aren't confident that the approach will help you move the needle, try something out for a bit. That could be just one classroom to start with before you jump in feet first. If the approach isn't easy to use, either in implementation or long-term sustainability, consider other options. Sometimes the implementation isn't easy, but the impacts are huge. In that case, it's worth considering. For example, shifting from balanced literacy guided reading to a structured literacy block isn't easy, but the positive impacts are enormous. Every school has its own unique contextual challenges, but every school can make a positive impact on student outcomes.
I hope that the NICE Framework supports you and your team to be able to grab those impacts with both hands and make the difference that I know you're striving for every day. Guess what, everyone, you've got this. That's all from me this week, I'll see you in the next episode. Bye.
Ready to take action to make every students a reader and writer? Join us in the Resource Room!