Science of Reading vs. Balanced Literacy has caused debate in homes, academic, and social media circles. SOR proponents have lamented the effectiveness of Balanced Literacy. Balanced Literacy advocates have argued that SOR focuses too much on phonics.
While I’ve never stated a side in the debate, I didn’t realize until recently that I was a Science of Reading(Structured Literacy) teacher my entire career.
Let me explain my journey.
2017-2018: The Origins
In the middle of my second year of teaching, my students were doing well on assessments, but for them to achieve mastery, they’d need to improve on smaller TEKS(Standards). To instruct on these skills, I decided to teach them “explicitly” a week at a time.
The result: 91 percent of my students passed the Reading S.T.A.A.R.(State Assessment). 64 percent were proficient and 25 percent mastered.
In addition to the explicit teaching of skills, I asked my students to engage in Repeated Reading(Fluency) throughout the year. Fluency was embedded in my instructional block, as well. My students actually led choral reading routines. Unbeknownst to me, fluency is a core part of a proper literacy block.
2018-2020: The First Criticism
Building on my second year, I kept with the same practices–Fluency and Explicit teaching. That approach again yielded high outcomes…83.4 percent of my students met their MOY(Middle of the Year) MAP Growth measure.
Around the same time, I received my first criticism. In a meeting, I was told: “You need to do more groups.”
Me: “I have the best scores on the grade-level”
Admin: “We’re not talking about data.”
3rd year Mr. Short was confused. 7th year Mr. Short empowered with the knowledge of the various methods of teaching reading understands that they were Balanced Literacy proponents. (We used The Units of Study.)
The next year, I taught 2nd grade and evolved my literacy practices…incorporating all components of that the National Reading Panel outlined for a functional Literacy Block.
- Word Power(Explicit Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary Instruction)
- Repeated Reading and Choral Reading(Fluency)
- Intentional Read-Alouds, Explicit Skill Teaching, Writing About Reading(Comprehension)
- Showing Videos Before Reading Passages(Background Knowledge)
Adding to that, I created an intervention structure(T.I.D. E.)built around screening kids for decoding, spelling, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and then intervening, developing or enhancing them. (All the articles are on my website.)
By the end of the year, half of my students read above grade-level. Two read a Level T(5th Grade). According to MAP Growth, they grew 2.0 years in Reading and 2.4 years in Vocabulary.
Even with the accelerated growth, I was told: “You’re engaging in bad practice.”
2020-2021: Coronavirus and Discovering Myself
After that experience, I didn’t teach most of this year but spent time researching and recovering. It was during this time that I grew to understand why I faced so much opposition…I was a Structured Literacy teacher working in a Balanced Literacy environment.
Eventually, I got back to the business of educating…tutoring and simultaneously experimenting with a structured literacy intervention method. The student(a 2nd grader) who I tutored went from a non-reader to excelling as a reader in five months. She’s still doing well.
2021-2023: Fully-Formed Structured Literacy Teacher
At the beginning of the 2021-2022, I accepted a Reading Interventionist position(although I taught as well the first semester).
Utilizing a structured literacy approach, my intervention students grew exponentially…2.0 years on average. Several students grew six and seven levels. That’s in only 20 weeks of intervention.
Following that school year, I created a resource: Phenomenal Intervention(The Playbook).
During the middle of the next year, I presented my method for the first time at Lit Con 23(The National K-8 Literacy and Reading Recovery Conference). Showcasing a Structured Literacy approach at a Balanced Literacy conference was nerve wracking but I received a tremendous response.
Attendees raved about my presentation. One group of people went so far as to say they’d fly me out to present to their district. They’re doing so and I’ll present on May 26th.
A comment from my presentation sums my structured literacy journey up best: “It’s new but I like it.”
I’m a Structured Literacy teacher and proud of it.
Be Phenomenal, Mr. Short