Episode 28 - Coherence, Consistency, and Curriculum of Reading Instruction with Louise Spear-Swerling, PhD

Episode Summary

In the first episode of 2022, Dr. Louise Spear-Swerling, a leader and trailblazer in reading education, joins the READ Podcast. Speaking from her background and expertise as a professor, teacher educator, author, and researcher, Dr. Spear-Swerling identifies evidence-based practices that support structured literacy and clarifies common pitfalls of implementation. Listeners will understand how curriculum, coherence, and consistency are fundamental to supporting schools and teachers deliver high quality reading instruction for all students.

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Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.” 

What is Structured Literacy?
Structured literacy refers to the set of research-based practices that emphasize explicit, structured, and sequential literacy instruction to support reading development. These practices are essential for students with reading difficulties and diagnosed disabilities and benefit all learners. Key features include:

1. Explicit, systematic, and sequential teaching of reading
2. High engagement between students and teachers
3. Purposeful selection, teacher modeling, and curriculum resources that demonstrate examples and non-examples of skills, strategies, and patterns
4. Practice and review
5. Decodable text
6. Teacher feedback

"Structured literacy is an umbrella term for a family of explicit teaching approaches that are based in current knowledge of what's effective in reading instruction, particularly for students who struggle or who are at risk in some way."

Read more about structured literacy in Dr. Spear-Swerling’s article Structured Literacy and Typical Literacy Practices: Understanding Differences to create Instructional Opportunities (2018)

What should school leaders and teachers consider in effectively implementing explicit, structured reading instruction?

1. Curriculum
A research-based core reading program should be explicit, sequential, and structured and include the key features of teaching word level reading such as phonics, phonemic awareness, comprehension, and language skills.

Teachers and school leaders should be cautious about programs that encourage students to guess at words, use pictures, or apply strategies of multiple cueing. 

Curriculums that also rely on high student choice of reading or leveled readers are not going to be effective for teaching reading.

"I think that the difficulty of teaching early reading and phonics is often underestimated."

2. Consistency from School Leadership
School leadership should maintain the consistent and steadfast commitment to explicit, structured literacy instruction throughout the school, especially when choosing core curriculums, and they should ensure that teachers are supported with materials and resources to implement this instruction.

"Leaders should be looking for programs that have a lot of explicit, systematic teaching with a clear sequence of skills for teachers to follow, not just the common core standards."

3. Coherence in Professional Development
Professional development should encompass research-based principles such as

  • sustained duration of professional learning
  • the integration of presentation and modeling of content with teacher practice
  • high collaboration
  • access to coaching and high-quality feedback

"I sometimes hear claims that a knowledgeable, competent teacher can teach well with any curriculum. I don't believe that's entirely true. Some curriculums make it really hard to teach effectively."


Read more about the Science of ReadingLearn more about Structured Literacy from Dr. Spear-Swerling

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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.