I’ll start this article with a question “Where are the gaps in students’ reading abilities coming from?”. The traditional perspective would point to the teachers or the students themselves. Perhaps the teachers aren’t trained well enough in guided reading, or they need more training in phonics. Perhaps the student’s weak reading skills are related to their demographic background or their ability to learn. Maybe we need to change our perspective and recognize that students’ reading gaps result from the resources provided to teachers and parents to consolidate learning. Let’s take a look at some popular examples – the Letters and Sounds program, Jolly Phonics, Reading Eggs etc. They all advertise that their teaching methods and the order of their lessons and activities are based on scientific research. They provide a multitude of activities, games, videos, and songs for learning – all are very engaging for students.
The teachers are following the program and its’ prescribed progression, and then it’s time to practice and consolidate learning, to assess student learning and reading abilities. This is when teachers pull out the readers – the same readers sent home for additional practice, the ones parents are told their child should be able to read, the readers the school has chosen such as PM Benchmark to assess students. Teachers are shocked: why can’t the student read the book? The proper progression was followed, activities were completed, but the student can’t read the reader. Why not? Maybe simply because the readers don’t match the program.
The readers contain words the students aren’t ready to decode and sight words they have never been taught. Perhaps the reading gaps are not the teachers’ or students’ faults – the students can read books at their level very well, early readers that start at the beginning, with two words on a page – a sight word and a CVC word. Maybe if this was what an early reader looked like the student would succeed and these reading gaps would not exist. Maybe it’s time we change our perspective and revisit the real reasons for these gaps: the lack of proper resources to support what the classroom teacher is teaching. Supplementing the teaching program with relevant educational resources is crucial to successful student learning.