The effect size of a strong curriculum is larger than that of many other common education reforms. High-quality instructional materials can help boost teachers’ content knowledge, improve teaching practice, and save teachers time (teachers in the U.S. spend an average of 12 hours per week searching for or creating their own materials). The cost of better instructional materials is often no higher than the cost of less effective materials.
High quality instruction includes curricula, teaching practices, and learning environments across the system. Delivering high quality instruction starts with identifying the academic and early learning standards, behavioral expectations, and social and emotional competencies valued by the community and that lead to college and career readiness. Educators use rigorous and relevant academic and social and emotional curriculum aligned to these values and standards. To develop learners’ academic, behavioral, social, and emotional knowledge, skills, and habits, educators employ high leverage evidence-based teaching practices, delivered through an agreed-upon instructional framework. Educators use Universal Design for Learning principles and culturally responsive practices to inform the development and delivery of instruction in well-managed classrooms to reach, challenge, and engage every learner.
High quality teaching practices are more likely to positively impact learners when delivered in settings where learners feel safe, supported, and proud to be themselves. Educators ensure learner identities are positively represented in curricular materials and throughout the physical environment. Through words and actions, educators convey messages of high expectations and care for each learner. Educators respect and take time to learn about beliefs, practices, and experiences of learners and families. Educators use this understanding to design and deliver instruction that helps learners achieve success in mainstream society while sustaining their identities, home culture, and language.
Wisconsin’s Framework for Equitable Multi-Level Systems of Supports - 8
Explicit instruction and structured literacy and aligned instructional materials benefit all students.
A significant portion of WI schools used balanced literacy practices and instructional materials, which have an effect size of 0.09 - less than 25% of a typical year's growth. Common examples of balanced literacy curriculum resources include Fountas and Pinnell and Lucy Calkins. In addition, many WI school districts are using district or teacher created curriculum resources which have not been evaluated or studied.
The Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at UW-Madison is partnering with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to learn about the use of high quality instructional materials in English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and Science and publish a statewide curriculum map at WI Instructional Materials Matter which is searchable by many criteria. Additional resources for quality and alignment checks are also available on the about page.
How to Teach
Good pedagogical practices apply to reading just as they apply to any other area of instruction. It is worth mentioning that, in addition to being arranged systematically and receiving some isolated practice, skills should be integrated with each other, so that phonemic awareness and phonics reinforce each other, reading and spelling are practiced as reciprocal skills, and morphology and syntax connect decoding, spelling, and vocabulary.
All skills should also be implemented in the reading and writing of connected text as soon as possible, beginning with decodable text and sentence creation and moving on to include less-controlled text and longer pieces of writing.
Mnemonics (linguistic, spatial, visual, physical, and verbal) have the potential to accelerate learning (0.8 effect size). In particular, the visual and spelling rule aspects of the phonics portion of curriculum materials should be reviewed.
Multimodal techniques (also called multisensory) have not been fully studied for their efficacy. Analysis of the research currently available on the effect of modality shows it may have the potential to accelerate learning. Many educators find that engaging multiple senses at once (e.g., saying sounds during letter formation or spelling) assists in moving information more accurately and quickly to long-term memory.
To employ structured literacy in the service of students, educators need to be practiced in classroom instructional techniques as well as have solid knowledge of the structure of the English language. Developing a technical, more detailed understanding allows teachers to diagnose where the breakdown is occurring and better match their response to the cause.
Being a skilled reader does not ensure that a teacher has all the knowledge needed. Teachers are often individuals who have learned to read without much effort themselves, and may need to engage in professional development that brings a conscious awareness of the reading and spelling process.
Three Critical Questions
With that in mind, districts should ask three important questions when looking at any curriculum components.
First, is the curriculum aligned to the Science of Reading (SoR) and all five essential components of reading as outlined by the National Reading Panel?
This necessitates adoption of a knowledge-based curriculum.
Curricular pieces may be vetted through third-party research or your own literacy framework.
The Reading League Curriculum Evaluation Tool is useful for reviewing curriculum resources through the lens of The Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Rope.
The WI DPI Foundational Reading Skills Tool (FRST) is useful for program self-assessment.
Second, how quickly can the district scale the program to meet the needs of all readers?
Third, can the district sustain the program over time from an implementation and professional development standpoint?
Mistakes Districts Make
Allowing opinion to drive decision-making - Districts should try to avoid reading war-type conversations that drive “faith-based reading decisions” where teachers “believe” there is one best program for all students. Instead, align material adoptions to the student reading profiles that exist in your district to ensure teachers have the necessary curriculum and pedagogy to meet the needs of every student, and are empowered to contribute to equity through literacy.
Adopting materials without a clear plan for implementation and support for teachers - Many quality products purchased collect dust in classrooms because plans for implementation, training, and accountability did not exist.
Failing to consider sustainability - Factors such as administrator and teacher turnover rates play a huge role in the sustainability and thus viability of some approaches and curriculum.
With that said, certain universal truths apply:
The faster your district adopts materials and instructional practices fostering the development of orthographic mapping, the better off students will be in terms of academic achievement and social emotional health.
Make sure to align to the SoR in areas of vocabulary and comprehension as well. The SoR is too often thought about as only phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, and fluency. Vocabulary and comprehension instruction also need to be carefully aligned to the science regarding language development, content, background knowledge, mental models, and both micro and macro comprehension skills.
Decodable Text and Leveled Readers
Universal Design for Learning
The goal of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is to give all students an equal opportunity to succeed by offering flexibility in the ways students access material and show what they know. Accommodations such as text-to-speech technology or voice-activated writing assistance that might otherwise be available for students with disabilities only through an IEP or 504 Plan are universally available to all students under UDL.
Universal Design for Learning should never replace evidence-aligned reading instruction and intervention.
Dual Credit, Advanced Placement, Start College Now & College in the Schools
Students with dyslexia should have equal opportunity to participate in Dual Credit, Advanced Placement, Start College Now, and College in the School courses. With appropriate accommodations, dyslexic students can excel in these programs. Participation can also support the development of self-advocacy, use of assistive technology, and study skills necessary for post secondary education.
IEP and 504 teams should work with Disability/Ability Service Specialists at local technical colleges and universities to determine whether a student’s current IEP or 504 plan is sufficient, or if the student should contact a Disability/Ability Service Specialist to request an accommodation plan.
Digital Content & Delivery of Instruction
Digital content and digital delivery of reading instruction and intervention must be considered carefully. Technology has the power to greatly increase and scale access to quality curriculum materials and pedagogy. Hattie's research shows evidence that technology can have a positive impact and potentially accelerate learning.
0.78 - Interventions for students with learning needs
0.58 - Interactive video / multimedia
0.54 - Technology with learning needs students
0.44 - Technology with elementary students
0.36 - Online and digital tools
0.30 - Technology with high school students
0.29 - Technology in reading / literacy
Regardless of the format, curriculum must be aligned to the Science of Reading (SoR) and all five essential components of reading as outlined by the National Reading Panel.
Assessment and instruction with digital resources must be implemented and monitored by a teacher trained in SoR.
Screening, diagnostic, and outcome reading assessments should be used to evaluate effectiveness and adjust or adapt as needed.
Technology should be leveraged to ensure students with dyslexia have access to appropriate accommodations and assistive technology.
Podcasts & Videos about Curriculum
Background knowledge and education reform - S1-02 Science of Reading: The Podcast, Robert Pondiscio
Visible Learning for Literacy: Maximizing Teacher Impact and Accelerating Student Learning - EDVIEW360, John Hattie, author and education researcher
Additional Resources about Curriculum
Clarity about Fountas and Pinnell - Reading Matters: Connecting Science and Education, Mark Seidenberg
Influential authors Fountas and Pinnell stand behind disproven reading theory - APM Reports, Emily Hanford and Christopher Peak
Influential literacy expert Lucy Calkins is changing her views - APM Reports, Emily Hanford
Never Heard of Lucy Calkins? Here's Why You Should Have. Forbes, Natalie Wexler
Corwin Visible Learning Plus. (2021, August). Visible Learning Metax. https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/
International Dyslexia Association Central Ohio. (2020, November 2). Dyslexia Screening, Intervention, and Teacher Training Roadmap 1.0: A Guide for School Districts Serving Learners with Dyslexia. https://coh.dyslexiaida.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2020/11/Dyslexia-Roadmap-Guide-for-School-Districts-single-page-copy.pdf
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2020, January). Massachusetts Dyslexia Guidelines. https://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/dyslexia-guidelines.pdf p 80.
The Reading League Wisconsin. (2021, July 20). Wisconsin Foundational Reading Skills Tool [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=493z8DnPI-U&t=1s
Readsters [The Reading League Wisconsin]. (2021, October 16). Decodable Text Linda Farrell Michael Hunter Oct 2021 [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ANZdw7-0J0&t=2s
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2017). Dual Enrollment & High School Students with Disabilities. Northcentral Technical College. https://www.ntc.edu/sites/default/files/2019-02/dual-enrollment-students-with-disabilities.pdf