Episode 27 - READ in Review 2021
Dr. Maryanne Wolf: We must come together and realize that together we will be better than if we are polarized.
Danielle Scorrano: Welcome back READers. You may recognize this powerful quote in voice from Dr. Maryanne Wolf, Dr. Wolf's words and I invite you to a special episode of READ called Read and Review: The Epilogue of 2021. READ, the Research Education and 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 childhood.
So, I thought I would do something a little different this episode. In fact, in this episode, I'm going to highlight some bookmarks that you've listened to and key themes for us all to reflect upon as we move into 2022. And it was so fitting for me to reshare the quote you just heard from my conversation in episode 22 with Dr. Maryanne Wolf, because this is what it takes, and this is where we start.
Now, I thought I would start this episode with one of my research and storyteller favorites, Dr. Brené Brown and I to connect with Dr. Brown in so many ways. Now I should say I'm nowhere in her league, but as I do examine different concepts, I like to take pieces of data or big trends and data research, findings, insights, and ideas around the world and connect them. To take two seemingly different ideas and to find different ways that they do connect to humanize.
Like Dr. Brené Brown, I do consider myself a storyteller. I love to fit these pieces of a narrative together to tell this story that is translatable, applicable, actionable, for us as humans, as educators. And for those of you that have been listening for a while, this is how it spawned READ. I love to tell the birth story of how the research education and advocacy podcast originated around literacy and other areas of childhood.
I actually thought though, I would start this episode a little differently with you by sharing a portion of a presentation that I delivered at the Haskins Global Literacy Hub Summer Institute from June of this year. I was so inspired by the presenters, the renowned experts in literacy and education research. And my thoughts from that summer are still just as timely today.
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Over the past several years, I taught reading at Windward to students with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia. My role as a teacher is why I find the presentations today so impactful for my learning.
It was never lost on me the profound responsibility that I had to teach READING, a skill that is not automatically hardwired in our brain as Dr. Maryanne Wolf and others have said today. We know that the science, the instruction, the strategies taught here today, are absolutely necessary for students we teach at Windward as well children with dyslexia across the country and world, AND it is effective for ALL kids.
We know that skilled reading requires a number of skills including decoding and knowledge of sound-letter correspondence over the reliance on using context clues to learn new words AND reading must be explicitly taught not discovered. Learning from our experts and advocates, I am inspired by our community of leaders of our classrooms and schools, especially during this vital time of both uncertainty and hope.
The impacts and implications of COVID-19 on us as educators and on our children- as students and tiny developing humans with big brains and bigger hearts, are serious. As we have focused on literacy today, we know reading is fundamental to everything we do, and is the foundation for academic and life success. I hope that today you learned effective, feasible and actionable strategies and practices to build your toolbox of instruction to support your students.
Recently, I was listening to Dr. Brené Brown’s podcast when she highlighted the word, integration. This wouldn’t be a podcast on reading without a little morphology lesson… Special shout outs to those folks at conferences I’ve attended including Nancy Mathers Ben Powers as well as our instructional leaders here at Windward who have taught me more about morphology… For the spirit of time, I’m not going to examine every morpheme in the word, but I’m sure you can find it online. Anyway,
The word, Integration means to bring together parts to make whole. In fact, the Latin root integrare means to make whole or to renew or begin again.
To me, this is the true meaning of why I started READ and as we are one month away from celebrating its 2-year anniversary. WOAH.
As a teacher, I eagerly sought to bring together different areas of expertise toward a whole picture of reading education, through the integration of Research, Education and Advocacy. And even more fitting and timely now, THIS is the time to do it. In a time when we recalibrate, renew, and begin again even as we are doing so much to face the effects of a continuous pandemic and as we look to reemerge in a more hopeful, supportive world for our kids.
So, this episode, the READ in Review, is a reflection, an integration, and a call for reinvention as we close 2021 and enter 2022. I look forward to you following along with me, and also want to make a call to action to all our READers to engage with me. What did you learn? What do you want to hear? What has inspired you? What can we as individuals and as a community do to further inspire change?
Let’s together reflect upon the story and its chapters from 2021 starting with bookmarks in research. See you after the episode, READers.
Top Bookmarks of the Year in Research:
The Science of Reading
DS: The current definition of the Science of Reading is multifaceted and comprehensive. I have been guided by the definition and framework developed by teams of experts and led by The Science of Reading: A Defining Moment. Some key highlights from their definition are that SoR spans multiple decades of research across a variety of research disciplines. The SoR tells us how skilled reading and writing develops, how and why difficulties learning these skills develop, and how to support and improve student outcomes using effective assessment, instructional, and intervention methods. You can check out The Windward Institute’s infographic that illustrates the SoR on the READ webpage.
In our conversation about the beauty of the reading brain, Dr. Wolf spoke to the INTEGRATION, and I want to highlight this quote, (INSERT Maryanne Wolf quote) “We must come together and realize that together we will be better than if we are polarized.”
Here’s more about what Dr. Wolf had to say about the reading brain.
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DS: When I read Proust and the Squid, I was so taken away by the poetic and scientific way that you tell the story of the reading brain. One of the specific things that you said that resonated with me is the power of language. When you look at the research in reading education and reading instruction, there is a research-based way to teach reading. So, when you talk to classroom teachers about reading education and reading instruction, what are those key elements that you're saying beyond the myths that reading must be taught that it's not something that's natural, that dyslexia exists and that there is a neuro biological basis of it. What do you say to a teacher that's teaching, reading in the classroom the next day?
Dr. Maryanne Wolf: So one of the things that I've learned is that the way we are taught to teach reading makes a lasting impact upon that person and that many of our teachers who do not have a background in the science of reading or the reading brain have the sense that to go in a different path from the way they're taught is being disloyal to wonderful teachers who taught them a particular method.
And so, I have to dispel another, if you will, myth that there is one and only one way to teach reading for everyone, and this involves absolutely everyone. When we look at what the evidence shows us, we can say with great certainty that children who have difficulties learn best or learn better with principles that we would call the foundational decoding skills that help open up the alphabetic principle to that child and that practice the letter sound correspondence rules that are often so difficult for children and individuals with dyslexia. So that is a must. But what happens is that if a teacher has been taught, what are often called whole language or balanced literacy approaches, they look at those decoding skills, the alphabetic principle as something that's antithetical to how they were taught and that they feel disloyal. And one of the things that I'm must impressed upon all teachers, whatever ways that they were taught, you can expand your knowledge, and that's what teaching should be about is the expansion of ever better ways of learning how to teach different individuals.
And so even though I am even have been called these wonderful names about the ability to teach the science of reading, you know, phrases like that. I always am talking about poetry too, because in, I wrote an article for the Kappa called the Science and Poetry of Learning and Teaching to Read. And this is an article I would like everyone to have because it's, it's accessible to everyone and it's inclusive of everyone.
People have to understand we do have a science and that it is informed by the reading brain, but that is not excluding the work on stories and authentic literature and the love of words. In fact, our very research within that science shows us that the more we know about those words, the better we read them, the faster we read them and the more elaborative our understanding of them is. So, when I talk about the science of reading or the neuroscience of reading or the reading brain, I try to do it in such a way that no one feels excluded, but that we all have something to learn. And so, in California, I think there's a group of teachers who are so dedicated, but who believed that the science of reading excludes them because they see it as a single, almost unidimensional emphasis on phonics.
And they believe that the unidimensional view, if you will, should be on stories and the induction of the alphabetic principle. And then there are those who really in the balanced literacy group who believe that if you put a little phonics and a lot of stories together that you will have the perfect balance combination. That too I have to say is not the best that we can do.
And so, my hope is that we literally use terms like comprehensive, systematic, explicit teaching all the component processes that are involved in reading, and that has an expanded version of foundational skills. And it has an absolute inclusion of the world of story and literature and vocabulary within it. So that we are we who studied the reading brain know, we know that all those areas are being activated, but we must teach those foundational skills to a, if you will, to their automatic levels so that we can add all of this. So, we're not excluding, we're gradually including and incorporating, but we have to be automatic enough to become ever more elaborate with all this knowledge. So, it’s a complex story at the base because the reading brain is complex, but at another level, it just breaks down this polarization that has gone on for far too long. We must come together and realize that together we will be better than if we are polarized.
Dyslexia and the Multifactorial Model
DS: The science points to clear indicators for the development of reading and points to effective methods to teach reading. But what happens when kids struggle. The next bookmark focuses on dyslexia with Dr. Hugh Catts in episode 18. Based on Dr. Catts’ research and his collaboration with other scientists across the field, he and Dr. Yaacov Petscher developed what he calls a multifactorial model for dyslexia. Here’s how Dr. Catts broke this model down and how it applies to kids who struggle to read.
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DS: You've conceptualized this model of dyslexia with Dr. Petscher as more of a spectrum. I want to clarify what this model is and the purpose of the framework of the multifactorial model.
Dr. Hugh Catts: It's easier with the visual image to show you what the model is about but let me give you a little background on the model. For many years in trying to understand dyslexia, we've approached it kind of from a single deficit notion. That is that there's a primary underlying cause for children that have severe and prolonged difficulties learning to read.
What our model does is, is an extension of what other people have proposed in the past is a notion that multiple factors interact to create the probability that you're going to have difficulty with learning to read. It's not an either-or type thing. So, these things, the genetic, neurological, biological factors that I'm talking about, don't combine to absolutely determine that you're going to have dyslexia. They just increase the probability that you're going to have it. And so, what we've begun to add to our notion of other factors that might affect the kind of the trajectory, if you will, of reading development or things like problems, outside language problems, that are outside the area of phonology, so problems in vocabulary and grammar, so forth. And when we look there, we find that most kids with dyslexia have some degree of difficulties with spoken language. It's not severe enough to say that they have a developmental language disability, but they have enough of it to increase their probability of having a reading problem when you combine that with other factors, primarily the phonological difficulties. So, looking at early language development is going to be an important thing to do. If we're going to identify kids that have a higher risk for reading problems. There's also some evidence that problems with vision could contribute to the likelihood of having a reading difficulty. We see problems with motion, sensitivity problems with attention span, some what's known as crowding to where some individuals will have a crowding phenomenon of the words or letters that are in the periphery will seem closer together and blur each other, if you will, make it harder to read. We don't understand that completely, but it looks to be something that's associated with dyslexia, attentional problems.
All right. Kids that have attention deficit disorder can, if they also have some other difficulties or other risk factors can go on to have reading problems. We've also considered the possibility that risk factors might also involve environmental situations or factors that typically we haven't thought about because we thought primarily about biological basis of dyslexia. Right. But if you have that biological basis and you also have environmental factors that are severe enough, they can increase your risk for having reading problems. So, my colleague Yaacov Petscher has become particularly interested in trauma and in looking at kids that have had adverse childhood experiences and how those experiences could have results in trauma, which affects their academic performance and in doing so can interact with other risk factors to lead to having a higher probability of having a reading disability.
DS: So, you're looking at a multiple number of factors that increase the probability. So, I was like, just conceptualize it as a yes and. As you're talking from an educator's perspective, if I'm looking at a child, I want to clarify and just ask some more questions related to the phonological basis and the word level reading. Do you can still consider factors like verbal working memory, rapid automatized naming, phonological awareness, phonemic awareness as major factors or how does that all fit into the framework?
HC: Yes. I would still consider them to be major factors, but one of the things that we've learned, if we're only going to look at the funnel object or aspects of language, we're going to miss quite a few kids that end up with dyslexia because their phonological problems may not be severe enough to indicate a risk if you're only looking at the phonological difficulties. So, the study had done a couple of years ago by Bruce Pennington, where he had two very large samples of children and found that if you looked at the beginning of kindergarten, kids who ended up with reading difficulties at the end of second grade often didn't have severe enough phonological problems to have identified them.
So, if we only look at phonology, we might miss kids who end up with reading problems. Now, as I said before, most of the kids who ended up with dyslexia or severe reading problems later will have some problems in phonology. It's whether they're severe enough for them to stand out. So that's why myself, Bruce, other people talk about looking at multiple factors to give you a better indication of risk.
And that's where the first one would come in would be something like rapid naming or language development, the vocabulary, syntax, visual abilities, attention, again, trauma, family history could be another early indicator. So we want to look beyond just phonological difficulties. If we're going to identify kids that are at risk for a later reading problem.
DS: Interesting point. I read 40 to 60%, right, is the likelihood of family history for dyslexia?
HC: Yeah, about anywhere from 40 to 60%. So, if you've got, if you've got a parent or a sibling with dyslexia, you've got a 45 to 50% chance of having reading problems. Now remember that saying of having severe enough of difficulty to have reading problems. But again, that's on a continuum as well. So, you might have a 60, 70% chance of having some problems in word reading. So, it's on a continuum. A family risk doesn't lead to either having a problem or not having a problem. The whole reading distribution, if you will, for kids at family risk is shifted down. So, the risk is shifted up, but their abilities have shifted down
DS: I just loved diving into this and digging into this. Just a side note, I did write about this model for our upcoming Beacon, which is our biannual journal. I have to tell you that often times when I learn at the end of the day, I just sit and either daydream or we'll just dream about the brain's inner working. So, I know over the next few days, I'm going to be dreaming about dyslexia and all the multifaceted areas of it. What do you mean by protective factors and what are some examples of protective factors that are part of the model?
HC: Yeah, so what we see is kids that seem to have the same degree of risk, if we look at their difficulties in phonology or language or background of traumatic experiences and so forth, we will view those two kids, let's say, for example, as being equally at risk. And we find out later on that one of them is a lot better reader than the other.
So, people have been interested in it and trying to explain that, and we don't or can't always explain it on the basis of severity. It's not the case that one individual has more severe risk factors than the other. So, what people have done in other psychological fields that have looked to other factors that might explain that positive factors in the environment that might reduce the probability that one would have a reading problem.
The general category of those is sometimes noted as protective factors, right? But there's really two different classes of factors that could act to reduce your probability of you having reading difficulties. The first is what's called a promotive factor, and a promotive factor is just the other end of a risk factor. So, let's say you have a phonological difficulty. And on top of that, you are late to develop oral language. You have limited vocabulary, right? We would think about language as being a risk factor for you. But on the other hand, let's say your language is quite good. So, you have a very good vocabulary, good understanding of spoken language, but you have a phonological difficulties. So, what the good language would do was it would promote better reading outcomes because you'd have a better vocabulary. You could use your vocabulary to help you learn words and so forth. All right. So promotive factors work both for the good and both for the bad. Protective factors on the other end work, primarily in the case, in situations to where there is a risk occurring. So examples of those, I mentioned this perseverance and passion, which some people call grit. Other people have studied things such as a mindset, the notion if you try harder, the belief that if you try harder and work at it, you'll get better. We've been interested in not how it works for all kids, but how it interacts with other risk factors. My colleague Yaacov Petscher has a bit of evidence suggests that kids that are at risk because of other factors and have limited mindset can actually have more negative outcomes in those with a more positive mindset. The place where I look more for, for protective factors have to do with kids having a family and teacher support. So, we know that that a child that has a teacher that understands what dyslexia is and the problems that the child might have, and takes that child under their wing, protects them from the negative consequences, kids teasing them. A teacher who doesn't put the child that was in a spot that is going to cause anxiety for the child, negative reactions to reading so forth. I consider that a protective factor, right. A parent who does the same. Those types of, of supports can, if you will reduce the probability that the child's going to have more significant difficulties learning reading. We don't know as much about protective factors, but we're interested in what those might be and how we can put those into play both in screening and in intervention.
DS: So, would you say that an evidence-based reading instructional program would be considered a protective factor or is that part of the model?
HC: Yeah, that's a good point. So, the best protective factor is really good instruction. So, if you have really good instruction and you're at risk, your probability of going of having a reading problem is going to go down significantly. If you're at risk and you not only have good let's say, tier one instruction, and you go into small group or even a one-to-one instruction with a skill interventionist, I mean, that would be the best form of a protective factor.
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DS: Dr. Maryanne Wolf summarizes this research pretty succinctly.
MW: The reality is that the study of dyslexia helps reveal the complexity of reading itself… weaknesses in the brain and genetic makeup were there well before [children] ever are entering the kindergarten door.
Top Bookmarks in Education and Advocacy
DS: There so much more research that has been explored from the past year like promise of translational science, the role of executive functioning for reading comprehension, and expanding our understanding of evidence-based practices and structured literacy. These are topics I want to explore in research in 2022. But how do we take this Research in application for Education and Advocacy?
When I spoke to Dr. Fumiko Hoeft this summer she talked about “democratizing education.” And it has to be through the lens of equity from the system to the classroom, and outside our classroom walls.
Democratizing Education: Lens of equity from system to classroom
DS: And when we talk about democratizing education, I think it’s important to emphasize for who education should serve. And that is that every, I mean every, child has the inherent human right for guaranteed education. Counteracting the systems that disproportionately impact based on race, disability, SES, and through a combination of these identities HAVE to be brought to the forefront.
I was fortunate to be at the International Dyslexia Association conference in October listening to Dr. Julie Washington and she talked about reading as an act of liberation and as a foundational civil right. I’m reminded of my conversation with Resha Conroy, the founder of the Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children where she addressed the real and pervasive inequities that exist for children of color, specifically Black children with LD like dyslexia.
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DS: You spoke about intersectionality, the intersectionality between race and literacy. And I've read Dr. Crenshaw's research and work who identified intersectionality to refer to how systems of oppression impact a person across various identities. We see it, how it specifically intersects people who identify across a marginalized race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Can you bring intersectionality to the forefront of this conversation, and you define it as it applies to race and students with dyslexia?
Resha Conroy: Right. So, so like you, you know, this term intersectionality is a term that was coined by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw and there's been work that's been done around it with a lot of her colleagues and it really. It can be applied to how we understand identities and not just identities, but multiple identities and how these identities can collide in a catastrophic way with power structures, right and the systems that house these power structures. So we can think about these power structures and then the one that we're really talking about right now is our educational system. And when you have these multiple identities, it magnifies. And it amplifies these inequities. And so, one way to really think about this is that, you know, very often, and sometimes it's helpful to do this, but we compare.
So, we'll compare a child with dyslexia to a black child and we'll compare their experiences, and it can be helpful sometimes for someone to, to frame something, to connect to it personally, but it really does, it, it's not helpful to the black child also has dyslexia because this type of comparison really. erases their experience, right. You're black and you have dyslexia, but if we're just talking about, okay, well child with dyslexia or for a black child, we're not thinking about what happens when you have both, what does that look like in the classroom? What does that look like in life? Right? What does that look like? If we aren't even identifying black children with dyslexia, they're essentially invisible. And it's also important because when we start to think about, you know, change, we start to think about policies and practices, not only do you want to recognize that people may have multiple identities, but you need to be able to look at outcomes based on multiple identities because you can draft or create policy or practice that addresses dyslexia. And you can create one that you believe is perhaps addressing inequities, but you have to measure these outcomes for individuals who are experiencing these compounded amplified inequities because of multiple social identities.
DS: Yes. You talked about the data. I think it's extremely powerful. I'm even just thinking of the snapshot of data that the National Council on Learning Disabilities (NCLD) came out with about even disparities in special education. When you focus in on intersectionality between disability status and race, how that can be compounded, which then reminds me of the school to literacy pipeline. So that's something that I, a lot of people have been talking about. I think for years it is a societal and it isn't its historical issue. And so, when you look at the school to prison pipeline, what is the role of literacy and equity as it pertains to pipeline?
RC: Yes. So absolutely the school to prison pipeline is, is not new. We are certainly understanding sort of the entry points to this pipeline as well as policies that can help students exit this pipeline so that they're, they're not fed into the prison system, but basically what we're talking about are our policies and practices that push children into, into the pipeline. So, you know, being in a school, in a community that does not have a lot of resources, certainly would do that, having a disability. So having dyslexia, which is, you know, a hidden disability. So, you know, it's not going to show up necessarily physically. So it's really easy to, it can easy to ignore being a child of color. Right. So, we start to think about you know, children of color. And we have the research around that where they, um, their behaviors are developmentally appropriate behaviors. They often are penalized for them at a harsh, in a harsher way than there, their non-black peers.
And so, the pipeline has a lot of entry points. And so any of those entry points, those factors can push you into it, where you start not to, to be seen in the school system. And you are basically when you are seen you're seen as a problem. And so, you're penalized for things that are out of your control, like having dyslexia. So, if you're in a classroom and it's expected that you're able to read, and you're not reading, you know, at some point, that dyslexia are going to morph into a behavioral issue. Right? And so, if it's morphing into a behavioral issue. And if you're a black child, and you know that if you, if you have certain behaviors in the classroom, you're going to be reprimanded in a harsher way, then you are forcing that child through that pipeline. Right. And so, you know, we see this with like zero tolerance policies in schools. We see this with suspension of children as young as preschool for behaviors that are developmentally appropriate. Children can be adultified and so they're penalized more harshly with, you know, school safety officers. So, you have school safety officers in a lot of urban school districts. And it really forces children to deal with the juvenile justice system, which then of course increases the likelihood that they are going to be incarcerated as adults. And there are a few studies that look at the population of incarcerated individuals.
The one that is mostly quoted is the Texas prison study. And so, in that study, what they found was that 80% of incarcerated individuals had low literacy or, you know, they were illiterate, however you want to define that. And of that same population, almost half of them had characteristics of dyslexia. So, they hadn't been diagnosed with dyslexia, but here we have this high proportion of incarcerated individuals who have dyslexia. And it tells you that if it's not addressed in school, it turns into behavior issue. The child, you know, doesn't feel like they belong at school. So, they, they act out or they act in, right, because it can also be low self-esteem, which of course is going to lead to decisions that are going to have a negative impact on your life and you end up, you know, in this pipeline.
The other interesting thing about the school to prison pipeline and some people will, if they're really honing in on dyslexia, they'll call it the dyslexia to prison pipeline, is that when we look at adult programs, and this is specifically adult programs, because if you're incarcerated as a juvenile, you're not going to be identified with dyslexia in the juvenile justice system, the practice is just not there to do that. But when they looked at adult programs for incarcerated individuals, when they infuse these programs with literacy, recidivism rates were reduced. So something happens and I argue that it's, it's something protective that happens when we introduce literacy into an individual's life that really allows for better outcomes.
And so the real crime here is that we're not infusing literacy at the other end of that pipeline in early education and in elementary school. We shouldn't have to do it in the prisons. We should be able to do that in our, in our preschool classrooms and in our kindergarten, first grade classrooms. And then we should have layers of protection. Catch children who are falling through the cracks so that we can, at any point along that journey, really infuse literacy into, into an effective practice into, into what their, you know, the child is receiving. It really just highlights how much we can do and how much, how much we know. And it's really becomes a matter of when we do it. Do we do it in kindergarten or do we do it when we have an adult who has already experienced this life of so many failures,
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Ms. Conroy’s episode powerfully examines intersectionality and the school to prison pipeline, and there are resources on her episode page for further reading and watching including a TED Talk by Dr. Crenshaw.
Speech language pathologist, Indigo Young, also spoke about the critical role of language and bias and how anti-oppressive language interventions and education provides a lens of equity and inclusion. Our April conversation is especially important in educational settings. She speaks to the centrality of race and understanding that difference doesn’t necessarily mean deficit or problem.
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Indigo Young: Racism is not special or rare or unusual. It is embedded within the fabric of our society. For anti-oppressive practice, we are acknowledging that students are living racialized experiences, sexualized experiences, and we can't ignore it because it's a part of who they are and a part of how they're experiencing school and the rest of world.
DS: Absolutely. And we were discussing, I was in a meeting earlier today, just how young, some of these experiences and acknowledgement of identity are truly embedded from such a young age. So I think it's really important work to intervene and incorporate that type of work with students in education. What you said that really resonated with me was this aspect of cultural sensitivity that's embedded in how we approach language. And I think of language, it's such a cognitively demanding process that integrates all the aspects of content and form and pragmatics. And with that as well, integrated, embedded, not supplemental is this aspect of culture that students bring and teachers and everyone working in educational environments. We actually spoke to Dr. Julie Washington last August, and she said something that really resonated with me. She said, one of the things that differs the most cross-culturally is language. Yet we judge people by the way, we use language. So as we think about how important it is, culture and language are and how we treat our students, how to practitioners, so either speech language, pathologists, or educators, approach learners who are diverse, linguistically?
IY: Yeah. Such an important topic, and a lot of the research shows that many speech pathologists don't feel that comfortable in working with linguistically diverse populations that, so this is sort of an area of weakness in my field that a lot of people are working to correct. Dr. Washington's words are correct that language is culture. And I teach, I co-teach a course, which is called Teaching Language and Literacy to English Language Learners. And so, we talk a lot about language socialization. So, you're always learning language in your social environment. They're inherently connected and it's really impossible to disconnect your socialized experience as you're learning language. And so, I think one of the most important things that educators can do is to question this idea of. Normal. I think that, and again, I can speak for my field in particular that in speech language pathology, we are often considering like a middle-class monolingual white language as the default and anything that's not, that is, you know, other or different.
I mean, we need to measure how different is maybe sort of shape it more towards what we feel most comfortable with. And so, I think what's really important is to like, just foundationally question that and say, whose language am I thinking is good language, whose norms am I using? Like, why is it important for this child to learn this particular skill and to make sure that we are truly working on problems and not just differences, but it's really hard. It's very, it's embedded into our school fabric and into our society about what good language means. And those are frequently coming from stereotypes about whose language is good a language is not.
Looking toward the system
DS: On a separate podcast I host with my professor Carey Borkoski from Johns Hopkins, we recently spoke to Dr. Kenita Williams who is the COO of Southern Education Foundation and she said something that resonated me and is applicable to how we think about equity in education. To loosely quote Kenita, she said the problem doesn’t lie in the people, it lies in the system. What do we do as a system? When Dr. Emily Solari was on the podcast in May 2021, we spoke about article published in The 74 million in June 2020, which I think is still applicable now and a call to a system. She calls on pushing multiple levers:
- Teacher preparation
- In-service professional development
- State-level adoptions of curriculum, assessments, and screening
- Teacher evaluation
Let’s in with Dr. Emily Solari.
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DS: One of the strengths that I immediately took notice to is your unique ability to tell a story. I connected to the research. And when you did write that article, it was on the 74 million websites in June, 2020. I'll have it shared on our website. I think it was an article that spoke to me on so many levels about the ways that the system of education should be addressing literacy in the United States and we're simply just not. And I remember when the national assessment of educational progress was released last year, pre pandemic, it was again that this reminder of the stagnant and dismal reality of reading achievement in the United States. And in the article, you referred to the NAEP scores, “A single test score does not fully reflect the complex system in which individual children are served and therefore should not be the only metric we use to determine reading success or failure. This was a critical conversation before COVID-19, but as even more urgent one now.”
And then you later wrote, “Our nation has been forced to see the great inequities and educational access and opportunity.” So, I want to unpack this article. You said there's not a single bullet and you did call for this widespread sweeping change across the system of education to push these multiple levers simultaneously. So, what are these multiple levers? Can you break these down and why is it so important that they are pushed simultaneously?
Dr. Emily Solari: Right. So, I think there's a lot of movement in reading right now and I want to recognize that. And there's a lot of different groups of people who are rightfully concerned about reading. This includes parent groups, it includes policymakers, it includes academics like myself, teachers, administrators. And the reality is, is that moving one of those groups, or policy, if we just do one of them, it's not going to change reading. We've seen this conversation sort of come and go over the years. It's often referred to as the reading wars. I think it's sort of the core of it is often referred to as the reading wars. But I think calling it, the reading wars, I think actually oversimplifies the issues because the reading wars really refers to sort of a quote unquote battle between whole language and phonics-based instruction.
And while that's a really important element here, we do need teachers to get professional development of how to teach kids to crack the code, right. They have to be able to teach phonics as well as all these other things. Just doing that is not going to change reading. So we have to think about how we're training our pre-service teachers. We have to think about the policies that are in place for teachers, things that I don't think, you know, it's really difficult to write all your ideas and in an Op-Ed. But things that I don't think I got very much into was how are we evaluating teachers. I mean, if you look across state systems and districts, just systems, and I'm not a huge proponent that teachers need to be overly assessed or evaluated. But the systems that we're using are not really aligned with the evidence-based reading instruction. So, it's like all of these things sort of have to come into place and change at the same time and unify around really one common goal. And the goal is that we want all kids to learn how to read and all kids deserve access to appropriate instruction.
Early, Universal Screening
DS: Dr. Hoeft spoke about the necessity and benefits of early screening to identify risk of reading difficulties and leverage children’s strengths. Attention all educational leaders and policy makers- Early screening is needed for ALL kids to thrive and we cannot forget the human, individual aspect to provide children their fundamental right. AND there is a larger economic aspect of early screening. Listen in.
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DS: Focusing specifically on dyslexia, as it relates to reading and literacy, if we are thinking about dyslexia and in the overall framework of kids who struggle to read, where do we even start to tackle that problem? Do we start with something like early screening? Where do we even just approach tackling dyslexia and how it relates to illiteracy in the country, in the world?
Dr. Fumiko Hoeft: We do know that individuals with dyslexia, have weaknesses that have been shown over and over and over that's related to the phonological and orthographic system in the brain. And we also know that it happens quite early, even if we'd look at children in preliterate brains or children before they haven't had formal exposure to learning to read that you do see some weaknesses in the phonological and orthographic brain systems. And we've shown it, compiling all the studies together and doing what's called a meta-analysis as early as 2016, but people have known this for a long time that you could be at risk, and we can identify these risks earlier.
So, I think that, as you said, it's very important to screen children early. And some people think that it means it's labeling children early, but I don't think it is. It's about identifying risks early. It's not that we're going to diagnose them with dyslexia. We're identifying the risks so that we can prioritize resources and help children. Also at the same time, this is an opportunity to identify their strengths as well and we can leverage that as we talked about already briefly. So, I think it's important not to think that this is a tool that will be labeling kids, but it is a tool that will help us identify children for their strengths and weaknesses so that we can better serve for our children's success.
So, I think early screening is very important. We do know from the literature and research that the return of investment is very high. If we can put in a small amount of money in early screening, or preventive intervention or evidence-based education, that is going to go very far with the same amount of money you put in later on. We also know that the effectiveness is very different. If you can identify risk earlier on say pre-K or kindergarten that, or compare to that, if you start in first grade or second grade. For every year that we wait, there's about 25 to 50% reduction in effectiveness. So why wait, especially if there's science that supports us and tells us that we can identify children's risk early on with a very high accuracy?
DS: I've heard in previous presentations, I think it was a recent IDA presentation, you gave it the economic value of it to that for $1 spent you get a 16 to $30 in return for the investment, what do you mean by that?
FH: Thank you for remembering the numbers, that's absolutely true. If you can give quality and evidence-based early education compared to, or non-evidence-based instructions early on pre-K and kindergarten that supposedly have a return of investment of 16 to $30. So, if it's the local economy, some people said that there's a $16 return of investment. If it's a global economy, there's $13 in return of investment for the dollar that you spend. Some people think that if you put in investments early on, then they're going to grow up to be very educated and go to somewhere else, New York or somewhere in London and work there. And it's going to not come back to your local economy, but that's not true either.
Implementing the Science of Reading and Supporting our Teachers
DS: The other key piece of the systems level is looking at how we implement the science of reading to support our teachers as school leaders, as practitioners, researchers, and policymakers seeking to enact change. We must look into our classrooms and we all have a responsibility to ensure that teachers are prepared to teach according to the science and the supporting practice, not just for struggling readers but for all readers. Here’s what Dr. Molly Ness had to say in our January 2021 episode/ 16 “Literacy as a Vehicle for Social Justice.”
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DS: You talked about policies to fund school libraries and librarians and giving them that instructional knowledge. I want to ask you about policy, towards reading instruction. I know we've talked about this at a previous conversation, and particularly when you look at New York City or New York State, or just across the United States. Reading proficiency rates are not great. They've been stagnant for decades. Two thirds of our nation's fourth graders are not proficient in reading. There's gaps and disparities across socioeconomic status. What do you say to that and what really, as you look into 2021 post pandemic, what are your hopes for policy in terms of reading instruction in New York City? In New York? Across the country?
Dr. Molly Ness: So I think in terms of policy, one of the things that I really want to encourage us to think through is really providing meaningful professional development for teachers at all stages of their career, pre-service all the way to mid-career and late career, about the science of reading. We see powerful results when teachers and school leaders and policymakers really spend explicit time and meaningful professional development, which isn't a one-shot deal kind of workshop provided by an outside person, but it's really meaningfully rich and embedded in practice and creating communities of teachers of learners.
MN: So I really want to have the science of reading be a language that is embraced at all levels of education all the way from teacher prep to policymakers and really deciding curriculum that is rich in content, as well as following the scope and sequence and explicit nature of the science of reading.
I really want us to move away from fixing a flawed idea to really investing in the science that we've already got and investing in the programs and professional development that really have emerged and are showing powerful results. I think we need to look to our colleagues in Mississippi and some of the work in Houston to see what happens when a district and an entire group of people all the way from parents pushing school leaders to make decisions and bringing in the science component that really examine student results with actual data. That's when we really start to see powerful change and the science of reading really taking off in terms of building our kids' reading achievements.
And, and I think when we start to have that, not just in pockets of the country, but really uniformly that's when we're going to start to be able to chip away at those statistics, which have been the status quo for too long
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DS: I love Dr. Ness’ work on book deserts, increasing access to reading, creating literacy rich homes and communities, and her leadership at The Windward Institute on the Science of Reading. We know that knowledge is power, and the investment and commitment from leaderships, communities, and cultures within schools must be there to implement SoR. I want to end this episode by highlighting two special leaders who spoke about the success in implementing SoR and supporting evidence-based practices on a global scale. First, let’s hear from Magdalena Zavalía about what she learned as a social entrepreneur to support the literacy outcomes in Argentina, featured in episode 17.
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DS: Why do you think it's important for all educators, policy makers, advocates to learn about research-based reading instruction?
Magdalena Zavalía: I think again, it's not about the 15% in the classroom that has a learning, you know, learning difficulty based on language issues or dyslexia. It's about better, more effective teaching strategies for all. I mean, all of our teachers said it in a very profound survey that we took of them the last session at the end of that year, I'm just a better teacher. And my methodology is just more effective. The way I communicate with kids, the way I teach concepts, any concept, the fact that the thought of an explicit instruction and concepts is of basic skills is so important.
DS: In terms of thinking about your work from a social entrepreneurship perspective towards improving these literacy outcomes, you've talked about this throughout, but can you summarize those key lessons that you learned about bringing about change?
MZ: The first one is you have to have a good idea and an expert. Science is so important. They have to have legs. Your ideas have to have legs. They cannot just be a romantic idea. They have to be real founded in research and then have the right people, the experts to really bring them to life. And then the second one is you have to have funding that will, that understands the research and will allow you to control the idea and how you implemented and execute it. And the third one is you have to definitely have I can mentality, almost feel like you're crazy every day of your life. And then things start happening and it's always bumpy. 2020 certainly was not something we expected. We expected to grow tremendously last year. We had lined up so many projects with local ministries of education and then prepare to launch to other places in South America this year. And it just didn't happen. 2020 kind of put everything to a halt. The program for the schools that already work with us was incredibly successful because as you know from Windward, direct instruction on zoom works too. The groups have to be smaller. You can’t have groups of 30 kids on the zoom. But we, you know, we worked with the teachers to create groups. And now that, you know, the fact that they were not at school allowed for the grouping because they had the time. So, we learned so much and it's been a very fruitful year that way. And our kids are still reading and still going. But in terms of growth and scaling, it's been very hard just because the mindset of the regulators and policy makers was not in implementing anything new, other than hoping to have the kids connected to the internet, which one in 10 families are connected to the internet in Argentina. The priorities changed so drastically that it's been a very challenging year for scaling, but I also think that we've learned so much that it's given us the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the next school year. The last one is measure. Always assess what you're doing and self-correct, if it's not going well.
DS: I love that. So good idea. Have the expertise and the science behind it. Ensure that you're connecting with funders that also know the science that you could really leverage that support in order to scale. I love that I can attitude. I want to repeat, you said always feel like you're crazy. You have that enthusiasm. That's contagious. And then again, science matters Magdalena right there. That is a key part of the research, and the science is that we need to have this data. So, I really appreciate those lessons.
MZ: Always be humble ready to self-correct for the things that are not working, because you can do it better.
DS: Always do it better. We can always do a better in our pursuit of mastery and also making our communities better.
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DS: Now we turn to our colleague in Mississippi and our friend Kristen Wynn, who also delivered the 2021 Fall Community Lecture here at The Windward Institute. She dives into coaching.
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DS: You talked a lot about coaching. I know you started out as a coach as one of 24, and now you're leading this coaching and the implementation of coaching. So, what is so unique about Mississippi's coaching model?
Kristen Wynn: Our coaching model, I would have to say is grounded in relationships. We understand the importance of building trust and rapport with teachers because our coaches are not coaches of administrators, they're coaches of teachers. And so, our coaching model is focused on six really key components. And so, we look at comprehensive coach training because as a coach, I need knowledge building myself. I need to know how to facilitate adult learning opportunities. I need to understand how to coach, I need to understand personalities. So, we really take time to do comprehensive coach.
It's also centered around goal setting and effective communication. And we talk about that early on with our coaches reporting and accountability. And then we look at educator development and collaboration and effective partnerships. So, with this focus on the foundation, being on the relationships and building rapport, you also have these key components of our coaching model.
DS: How did you build that out? I'm jumping ahead in a couple of questions, but I love the way that you map those out and provide that framework. Even just thinking about how effective coaching is individualized iterative nature. Research also shows this variability of implementation, especially at larger scale. I'm drawing back to the research and breakdowns and what coaches even think their roles are, how they spend their day every day. Even that coaches spend a lot of their time helping teachers with classroom management over literacy coaching, there could be breakdown and fidelity of implementation or coaching expertise. So how did these six components ensure you are maintaining that fidelity across larger scales?
KW: We ground our coaching model, our coaching framework in relationships. So, we take the time on the front end to meet with school and district leaders to discuss the role of the coach. And the district, the school and the school later. And they really appreciate that because we sit down and have this conversation, especially for a new district that we've added on our new school. And you may be new to having a state coach in your building. So, it's a common courtesy for us to sit down and just talk about, this is the role of the coach, these are the expectation for the district, this is the expectations of the school. We also have coaches meet with the principal first to review what we call a principal coach partnership. And it just lists, okay, coach, this is the coach’s role. And there are a series of questions that the coach can talk to the principal about.
So, what is your vision for literacy in your building? What are your goals? Where are you? Where do you want to be? So, they have this principal coach partnership because you have to build that relationship first. Because again, when you say this is our district meetings, the coach is not the principal. The coach is not coming in to be the administrator, they're coming in to be the support mechanism.
KW: So, then we meet and they do this principal coach partnership, but another layer to that is that finally the principal and the coach come together and they arrange to introduce the coach to the staff. So now we're looking as if we're this united front. This principal still may have a few apprehensions. They may still be, you know, not quite sure, but after they had the conversation, they understand the expectations of the coach. Now the principal and coach go together, and the principal introduces the coach to the staff and the role of the coach and then the coach and the principal and the staff members, however they decide, will have grade level meetings. And then there's a teacher, coach partnership agreement and how we work together. So, we really like to take time on the front hand, so really be transparent about what we're doing when we're coming in the building, and how we are a support mechanism and how we're there to help the administrator carry out their goal and vision for literacy within that building. We try to be strategic again.
DS: You and your team and Mississippi are giving me hope. So, with all of your successes, your lessons, the challenges that you navigated, what gives you hope about the future of reading education and just education at large?
KW: The phone calls from districts that say, we're going to make the change. My son and watching him as he's in school in Mississippi, I'm seeing the quality of education that he's getting. Teachers calling when we're asking for help, even with our high-quality instruction materials process.
And we had to do like a call for reviewers. And so, we had over 200 teachers respond to that. And it's just the willingness in Mississippi. Our teachers want to help. Our families want to help, our students are rocking it out. Even when I know we didn't really talk about this, but even our kindergarten data. We were looking at that over the past four years, pre COVID our kindergarteners come in and like a 5 0 2, which is puts them at emergent readers. You know, they know most of their letters, most of their sounds, but they're leaving kindergarten at like a 7 0 2 or 7 0 5, which they're ready. They're also in the transitional reader category. And so, to see the efforts of teachers to see the efforts of districts and it's all hands-on deck, that keeps me hopeful. That keeps me motivated to see change of practice. We just have identified a few of our schools in Mississippi that we will award Mississippi emerging science of reading schools. That recognition they have changed their school culture. And I know no one has really 100% mastered it, but when you start seeing the small changes, that impact student achievement, then you want to be able to recognize folks for that. So, all of that, and I know that was a lot, keeps me hopeful, gives me hope and keeps us going and wanting to do more for the betterment of our state.
DS: Really the lessons that you're sharing for the betterment of our country and the world.
Closing this Chapter
Beyond the School Walls
DS: Kristen your words, and all of our guest insights give me hope about what is to come in 2022. There were so many bookmarks that I want to close with a few highlights beyond the school walls that I look forward to exploring more in 2022.
Now as we look beyond the school walls, one of the things that I'm really curious about is how we leverage the promise of technology with the care deliberate planning would this intentionality as Dr. Ness has pointed to, I want to continue to explore the aspect of book deserts and how we provide increased access to literacy, rich environments. And of course, looking at literacy on a global scale, we know literacy is a basic human right world. And it is the responsibility of everyone. Let's say this again, everyone, educating children to ensure that they have fundamental access to reading, which includes high quality instruction in their schools.
I also invite you to join the conversation with me as we explore more practice-oriented topics in 2022, we know from the research that all teachers are language teachers, and it takes a community to actively and effectively teach reading. I look forward to discussing what this means, for instance, what does it mean for parents and guardians? What does it mean at the community level? I also like you to tell me what you like to hear and learn more about what topics are resonating with you and which ones did you bookmark. So, whether you are using your tiny Tim cup of knowledge or voice or pens, by joining together, across these disciplines and fields of expertise, we are refusing to operate within our own silos and refusing to accept the status quo of reading education. We are instead choosing to grow as learners and educators. We are integrating our knowledge and expertise as scientists, educators, practitioners, school leaders, and families learning together. We are truly igniting change for a brighter future, not just for the children we directly serve, but for all kids as 2022 comes, I encourage you to connect with me on social media and via firstname.lastname@example.org until next time readers.
READ in Review is the “epilogue” that highlights this year’s episodes with leading experts in research, education, and advocacy. Host Danielle Scorrano reflects upon her conversations from throughout 2021, centered around the theme of integration. The top bookmarks captured by our guests include current research in the Science of Reading (SoR) and dyslexia, advocacy for increased access and equity to high quality education, and an examination of the system to deliver the promise of education for all children. Join the conversation as we reflect upon the 2021 chapter of the READ podcast and forecast ahead into 2022.
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
Host Danielle Scorrano calls for the integration - a more wholistic and renewed relationship - between research, education, and advocacy, to empower all learners around the world:
"By joining together across disciplines and fields of expertise, we are refusing to operate within our own silos and refusing to accept the status quo of reading education. We are instead choosing to grow, integrate our knowledge, and learn together to ignite change for a brighter future - not just for the children we directly serve, but for all kids."
– Danielle Scorrano, host of READ Podcast
She highlights her top READ “Bookmarks” or themes from 2021 guests. Access each conversation and resources by visiting each episode page.
BOOKMARKS IN RESEARCH
1. The Science of Reading
The current framework for the Science of Reading (SoR) is multifaceted and comprehensive guided by the definition developed by teams of experts and led by The Science of Reading: A Defining Moment.
The Science of Reading:
- Spans across decades of research and across a variety of research fields
- Tells us how skills required for reading and writing develop
- Explains how and why difficulties to learn these skills manifest
- Identifies ways to support and improve student outcomes through assessment, instruction, and intervention
Access The Windward Institute’s free infographic on SoR here.
Dr. Maryanne Wolf draws on the science and story of the reading brain in episode 21.
"The reality is that the study of dyslexia helps reveal the complexity of reading itself… weaknesses in the brain and genetic makeup were there well before [children] ever entered the kindergarten door." – Dr. Maryanne Wolf, Episode 21
2. Dyslexia and the Multifactorial Model
In episode 18, Dr. Hugh Catts identifies the key components of the multifactorial model of dyslexia. Read more about the model here.
BOOKMARKS IN EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY
1. Democratizing Education: A Focus on Access and Equity
In episode 25, Resha Conroy, founder of the Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children, discusses the barriers to access high quality education for Black children with dyslexia and its implications of screening and intervention, with a focused understanding on intersectionality.
"The real crime here is that we're not infusing literacy in early education and in elementary school. We shouldn't have to do it in the prisons. We should be able to do that in our, in our preschool classrooms and in our kindergarten, first grade classrooms. Then we should have layers of protection and catch children who are falling through the cracks so that we can, at any point along that journey, really infuse literacy into effective practices." – Resha Conroy, Episode 25
In episode 19, Indigo Young connects racism and language socialization within the fabric of a child’s experience in education and calls us to question and challenge how we conceptualize how we teach language in our classrooms and schools.
"Students are living racialized experiences, sexualized experiences, and we can't ignore it because it's a part of who they are and a part of how they're experiencing school and the rest of world." – Indigo Young, Episode 19
2. A Systems Approach
In episode 20, Dr. Emily Solari we spoke about article published in The 74 million in June 2020 where she calls on pushing multiple levers:
- Teacher preparation
- In-service professional development
- State-level adoptions of curriculum, assessments, and screening
- Teacher evaluation
"The systems that we're using are not really aligned with the evidence-based reading instruction. All [aspects of the system] have to change at the same time and unify around one common goal. And the goal is that we want all kids to learn how to read and all kids deserve access to appropriate instruction." – Emily Solari, Episode 20
Dr. Fumiko Hoeft identifies the benefits of early, universal screening in episode 23.
"We know from the literature and research that the return of investment [on early screening] is very high." – Fumiko Hoeft, Episode 23
3. Supporting Teachers and Schools in the Science of Reading
In episode 16, Dr. Molly Ness calls to support teachers and school leaders in learning about the Science of Reading through increased investment in teacher preparation programs and continuous professional development.
"I want us to move away from fixing a flawed idea and instead, investing in the science that we already have and the programs and professional development that… are showing powerful results." – Dr. Molly Ness, Episode 16
Magdalena Zavalía and Kristen Wynn spoke about the success of investing in high-quality professional development, illuminating the evidence of translation and implementation of research into school and policy contexts.
Watch Kristen Wynn speak more about Mississippi’s investment and the Science of Reading at The Windward Institute’s 2021 Fall Community Lecture.
LEARNING FROM THE 2021 CHAPTER OF READ
"We must come together and realize that together we will be better than if we are polarized." – Dr. Maryanne Wolf, Episode 21
Stay tuned for future episodes in 2022 that focus on practice and issues beyond our school walls.
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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.