Buyer’s Remorse

If you know me personally, you know that I have been obsessing over all of these re-watch podcasts about old TV shows… and if you know me through my blog, you know that I have been obsessing about teaching spelling and Structured Word Inquiry. Well, my new obsession with constantly listening to podcasts, along with my fascination of Structured Word Inquiry and the Science of Reading research has led me to this pivotal moment in my teaching career.

About 3 weeks ago, a parent passed along the link to a podcast that she thought I might find interesting as I am currently completing a Master’s of Education focused on Exceptional Learners. I don’t think she knew how much I had already been learning about the Science of Reading and the professional development I was doing around teaching spelling… but she was right, I was VERY interested in this podcast. Some would even say I became obsessed.

So what’s it all about? Sold A Story is a podcast in which Emily Handford shares her research and investigation into 4 authors who developed popular reading programs. The podcast discusses how with the help of a publishing company, these authors became highly influential in the world of education and with the way in which we teach children to read. Sounds great right? Well, what if I told you that these 4 authors and their programs were not based on the research or science of how children actually learn to read? Or that these reading programs were actually doing more harm than good? Hmm… not so great. Before I go on about the podcast and my feelings – if you have not listened to Sold A Story yet, I HIGHLY suggest you listen to it before reading the rest of this post. Teachers, parents, or anyone who grew up in the educational system over the last few decades… THIS PODCAST IS FOR YOU!

Throughout the podcast, you hear clips from teachers who share that they were seeing “results” from these reading programs or that this was the way everyone was teaching and it was “working”. There were parts these methods that sounded so silly to me – the idea of a three-cueing system in order to teach reading!? I had a very hard time believing that I could EVER fall into that sort of trap like the educator’s in the podcast…

…that was until episode 3 when I heard the names Fountas and Pinnell.

I remember learning about the Fountas and Pinnell reading program and their levelled readers when I was doing my Bachelor of Education. I thought it sounded like an amazing, well organized program that could easily be implemented into my classroom as a new and young teacher. I didn’t think to do any of my own scientific research about how children learn to read and compare it with the methods in the Fountas and Pinnell program. This was because I, like so many of the educators who were interviewed in the Sold a Story podcast, assumed that a reading program that is being pushed by educational institutions would have already been vetted based on the current research.¬† I used these sorts of levelled readers in my classroom and proudly watched as my students starting jumping levels. I bought into the idea that this is how children learn to read… and now, I absolutely have buyer’s remorse.

While my students¬†looked like they were all becoming fluent readers with their levelled books, I decided to focus my time on finding a spelling program to implement in order to help them develop their writing skills. If you’ve been around my blog before, you know that I have been studying Structured Word Inquiry. This professional development has led me into many webinars, book clubs, Facebook groups, and email threads with educators who are using English orthography and Structured Literacy (i.e. the principles from the Science of Reading research). The more I learned about English orthography and ways to teach spelling in my classroom, the more I realized that this way of teaching spelling was influencing my students’ reading just as much as it was influencing their writing. Over the last 2 years, I have completely shifted away from the levelled readers in my own teaching methods and have been focusing on spelling patterns, phonological awareness, and grapheme-phoneme correspondence. Prior to hearing the podcast, I decided to shift away from levelled readers and more towards a method of teaching literacy that just made more sense to me and to my students.

As more and more educators started sharing information about the Science of Reading online, and through the 6 episodes of Sold a Story, I realized that this shift was much bigger than just me deciding to change up the way I was teaching in my classroom. This was a necessary shift in order to provide my students with the literacy instruction they deserve.

It’s hard to listen to the podcast and think about how many educators (myself included) were fooled by a few influential authors. We can choose to sit here feeling frustrated, defeated, and honestly embarrassed by the information that has been uncovered in this podcast… Or we can choose to pivot the way we teach and create positive change in our education communities. I have taken small steps to pivot my own teaching, but now with this podcast, I am ready to take giant leaps and spread the word to everyone and anyone who will listen.

Thank you to Emily Hanford and Christopher Peak for your investigation and work that has gone into the podcast.

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