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Responding to Students' Literacy Needs

Over the last few years, questions around literacy intervention have swirled around in my head, and these questions can often be categorized into a few areas that raise concerns as to whether or not we have what it takes as a literacy community to ensure that ALL students are provided excellent literacy instruction. As a school administrator and literacy professional developer/researcher, I have come to anecdotally recognize four key areas that need to be addressed in order for us to achieve success: (1) the urgency to diagnose and remedy reading difficulties, (2) a tendency to focus on adults instead of kids, (3) the occasional self-promotion over best practices, and (4) a misunderstanding of Response to Intervention (RTI).


Let's address the elephant in the room. Because this is my first blog post, and because my passion for literacy instruction leads my everyday research, teaching, and learning...it is with a notable trepidation, yet excitement, that I have a forum to address these four issues that I believe can make a lasting difference in the lives of our future readers and writers, and I am sure these are not the only factors worthy of ongoing literacy research.


Why are we in such a hurry to diagnose and remedy reading difficulties without getting to know our students? I reflect on a time where I was caught off-guard by a colleague in a school hallway who wanted to know what "programs" to purchase to address students' reading needs with a reminder that "budgets were due." Imagine if we had the same urgency for quality conversations and meetings with teachers, administrators, and literacy experts? Schools that have the highest gains in reading achievement also have a focused-eye on monitoring students' progress in literacy. In essence, the silver-bullet isn't your solution. We have come to this conclusion how many times in education?


My second favorite "no" is: "Who is this for?" Interventions were made for students, not for adults. First of all, you would hope that these purchases were made based on piloted studies and a review of reading research, but, even when that is the case, adults tend to latch onto programs instead of practices. When a Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) kit is unpacked at a school, instead of asking, "Who will use this?" (i.e. adults), let's ask "Who needs this?"


If you've stuck with me this far in the blog you know that there are times when products and personal beliefs are voiced louder than best practices. For example, I recently attended a PD workshop where the trainer informed a room full of attendees that guided reading was only ever supposed to be a "temporary scaffold" for students. That kind of message could have damaging results, especially if interpreted by teachers as a short-lived solution. This contradicts the research findings that show guided reading can be a real game-changer for students when (1) students actually have time to read, and (2) teachers use data to plan intentional instruction. I dedicate this first blog to my last group of third grade students (a picture below from when frosted tips were still cool). These kids loved guided reading and taught me so much about learning from the kids you teach.


Finally, let's stop misunderstanding Response to Intervention (RTI). A tier does not equal a person in a building. The tiers represent intensity of intervention, and these intensities are not limited to one individual or program. What matters more is empowering our teachers and interventionists. I continue to rely on Mary Howard's book RTI From All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know when having a fresh and honest look at my own observations.


Summarizing the words of a mentor (@WallInPrincipal), let's just do what's best for kids.


Thank you for your time and I look forward to your professional feedback! (@DrKennethKunz)


Ken Kunz


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