The Importance of School Leaders in Reading Instruction

Having served as a middle school principal and now working as an assistant to the superintendent for K–6 curriculum and instruction, I have personally seen the challenges that students face when it comes to reading comprehension. It became clear to me that the traditional approach we had been using—balanced literacy—was not backed by research. Despite its popularity, the balanced-literacy approach has been proven to have significant shortcomings. This realization led me to explore evidence-based practices, and that’s when I discovered the effectiveness of structured literacy.

The fact that 70 percent of the prison population in the United States has a reading level below that of a fourth-grader highlights the pressing need for effective literacy interventions. Structured literacy has shown promising results in breaking the cycle of illiteracy and equipping students with the necessary skills to become proficient readers and writers.

When it comes to promoting literacy, administrators need to prioritize their role as educational leaders. Access to information has never been easier, with reading materials, podcasts, videos, and virtual or in-person literacy conferences all readily available. By utilizing these resources, administrators can ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to guide their schools in evidence-based reading instruction. This not only keeps them informed but also sets an example of lifelong learning for their staff.

Mastering the Art of Reading

Structured literacy begins by focusing on building strong foundations in phonemic awareness and phonological skills. These fundamental skills are crucial for children who have not had proper early literacy instruction or have been struggling with reading and writing for some time.

Through explicit teaching of these skills, structured literacy helps students establish a solid base from which they can develop their reading and writing abilities. It is also essential to incorporate a knowledge-building component within the literacy block to demonstrate to students how reading facilitates learning.

Administrators can support the implementation of structured literacy by ensuring that teachers have access to high-quality curriculum and training. By creating a designated time in the master schedule for literacy instruction, administrators can emphasize the importance of structured literacy and provide teachers with specific skills and timeframes to follow.

Adopting a professionally developed curriculum that encompasses all aspects of Scarborough’s Reading Rope can have a significant impact on student outcomes. A high-quality curriculum serves a dual purpose: it ensures that all necessary components are included, and it allows teachers to focus on their primary role of teaching.

Reading for Knowledge

Starting from the third grade, there should be a greater emphasis on reading to acquire knowledge. In structured literacy, the text becomes the primary source of information, enabling students to explore interconnected ideas and concepts directly linked to vocabulary and writing development. By integrating these elements, structured literacy helps students form strong mental frameworks around core concepts.

To facilitate the implementation of structured literacy, administrators can provide specialized training and support to teachers. Transitioning from self-contained classrooms to a platooning concept allows for targeted professional development for a smaller group of teachers. This enables teachers to focus on a specific subject area, making it easier for administrators to provide ongoing support and monitoring. Both of these factors are crucial for the success of any school-based initiative.

Addressing Reading Difficulties

Dyslexia is a common condition, affecting one in every five individuals. Without proper diagnosis and interventions, individuals with dyslexia may be mistakenly identified as having a general learning disability, leading to lifelong struggles.

As a school district, implementing a standardized screening process can help identify reading difficulties early on and provide appropriate interventions and support. Screening should start in kindergarten and continue through at least third grade, with all newly enrolled students undergoing a reading screening process. Many universal screening tools are available for free, while data aggregation tools associated with screening can be obtained for as low as $2 per student.

Establishing Policies

School administrators play a crucial role in ensuring the success of structured literacy instruction. They can support teachers by providing guidance, training, and resources. By making informed decisions about curriculum and instructional practices, school leaders can promote reading success for all students.

Administrators must take the lead in implementing evidence-based reading instruction in schools. By embracing structured literacy and providing necessary ongoing support and resources, administrators can empower teachers to effectively teach literacy. Together, we can break the cycle of illiteracy and pave the way for a brighter future.

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