September 26, 2019

3 Lessons Learned from Implementing Evidence-Based Literacy Practices

evidence-based-literacy-practicesIn a recent episode of Podclassed titled “Putting Evidence-Based Literacy Initiatives in Action,” Laura Axtell interviewed an expert and two educators about implementing evidence-based literacy practices in the classroom. Here are three key takeaways that were repeated throughout the episode.

1. Stop seeing mainstream, intervention, and SPED as separate systems

Both the expert and the educators noted the need to shift our mindsets away from seeing mainstream, intervention, and SPED as separate systems. The most successful schools see each of these initiatives as part of a collaborative whole.

Successful schools also see the need to provide teacher training in explicit phonics instruction (also known as structured literacy) not only to SPED teachers but also expand the training for mainstream teachers. When mainstream teachers are trained to teach explicit phonics, schools experience significantly fewer referrals to intervention and SPED classrooms.

In connection to expanding the use of explicit phonics to mainstream classrooms, it is also important to use common procedures, routines, and language across the entire school system. This helps to reduce working memory issues and to make it easier for students to move from the mainstream classroom to intervention and from intervention to SPED. These common practices also make it easier to have more fluidity between these classrooms so students can move in and out as needed.

2. Determine if you have a healthy core reading program

To achieve the ideal balance between mainstream, intervention, and SPED classrooms, a strong core reading program needs to be in place. If this key piece is missing, intervention and SPED can get overloaded and exceed capacity.

To determine if you have a healthy core, first assure your school is following best practice. This would include using a reading program that uses explicit phonics to teach students how to read. Another key component would be that the program uses decodable texts (as opposed to guided texts) that are aligned to explicit phonics lessons to reinforce each skill that is taught.

On top of these best practices, you can know if you have a healthy core program by looking at performance metrics. When a healthy core reading program is in place, 80% or more of your students should be at or above grade level; and only 5% or less of your students should require an intensive level of reading intervention.

3. Learn from each other

If every teacher is trained in evidence-based literacy practices, then the most learning that will happen will come after the training⁠—from each other.

It’s impossible for one educator to retain everything taught in a training. But, when a culture of collaboration and problem-solving is in place, then the real learning will come as teachers and administrators work together to put training into action. One teacher might remember a key piece of the training, another will come up with a solution to an implementation challenge, and another might see a specific student need that might’ve been overlooked.

When collaboration is a habit, the most amount of learning will come from each other.

What have you learned as you have implemented evidence-based literacy practices in your classroom, school, or district?


The Podclassed episode referenced above featured Sarah Sayko, M.Ed., Deputy Director for the National Center for Improving Literacy; Josh Spangler, Principal at Maple Ridge Elementary School in Somerset, PA; and Tambra Isenberg, Reading Specialist at South Williamsport School District in Lycoming County, PA.

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