Let's Stop Doing What Doesn't Work: Literacy Practices We Should Abandon

wendyz@michiganprincipals.org's picture

We are the Association for Secondary School Principals so much of the conversation in our state surrounding literacy hasn't really been in our purview – this being said, literacy is certainly everyone's issue. Last year, I had the opportunity to hear Professor Nell Duke from the University of Michigan speak about what quality literacy instruction looks like and also the practices that should be abandoned. She reiterated these in this Edutopia article.

As I listened to her speak, I found myself wondering how many of the practices she outlined as "not being effective" are still taking place in classrooms around Michigan? With that in mind, let's look at the practices Dr. Duke claims we should not be doing and see if you've seen them in your school.

Dr. Nell Duke's list of Literacy Practices We Should Abandon:

  1. "Look Up the List" Vocabulary Instruction

    This is just as it is stated, having students use their textbooks, tablets or even dictionaries to look up a list of terms. Dr. Duke cites research, which shows that students need to be actively engaged with material in the form of discussion or related concepts to gain an understanding of new terms.

  2. Giving Students Prizes for Reading

    It's commonplace to give students prizes and rewards for completing all types of tasks. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the research indicates that prizes are not motivating to students.

  3. Weekly Spelling Tests

    This is the age-old list of words that students are given and tested on. There is no differentiation in this approach and little to no student interaction with the meaning or application of the terms.

  4. Unsupported Independent Reading

    The act of simply providing students with time to read has not been proven to increase reading proficiency. In order to maximize independent reading time students need support such as teacher feedback and peer discussion.

  5. Taking Away Recess as Punishment

    There may not be formal "recess" in middle and high schools, but research shows students do better in academic learning when they have breaks of physical activity.

In many cases, teachers are creatures of habit in terms of how they deliver instruction. Some of the practices listed above have been done for so long that no one has even considered why they are done or how they are helping students to increase reading fluency or to build academic vocabulary. This is why helping teachers to stay current on best practice instructional strategies is part of the Principal's role as instructional leader. Principals who model best practice instruction during professional development help teachers to build their toolkit, as well as build credibility by showing that they both know and can deliver high-quality instruction.

As you visit classrooms over the next couple of weeks pay close attention to instructional strategies…do you see any from this list? Do the strategies being implemented result in students hitting the learning target stated by the teacher? Does each student task or activity result in evidence that students have or have not learned the desired material? Lastly, what supports or resources can you provide to teachers who may not be hitting the mark? Providing teachers with feedback on instructional practice is key to improving student achievement.