Educators are well acquainted with the pendulum that swings towards or away from particular trends or topics every 5-10 years. From explicit phonics to comprehension instruction to returning to “the classics” or going back to “the basics,” following educational trends makes us feel a bit like a dog chasing its tail.
In reality, the need that precedes the swing in a particular direction is usually a valid concern. For example, because whole language was mostly whole group instruction from trade books, it understandably preceded a move towards controlled vocabulary texts in small groups. This swing towards small group instruction, away from instructional level texts, was called for, but many of the positive aspects of whole language disappeared as guided reading mushroomed to take over more than its share of instructional time.
Not surprisingly, the drawback of too much guided reading and working with students in instructional level texts most of the time preceded the return to whole group instruction, heralded by the Common Core State Standards. Unfortunately, many of the decisions makers in schools and districts either have amnesia or weren’t around when we were reckoning with the limitations of exclusively whole-group instruction.
The problem is that every few years we ignore the needs of the whole reader as we treat a particular, albeit concerning, malady that is plaguing literacy instruction. This is a little like treating scurvy by feeding the patient nothing but oranges. Yes, the patient needs more vitamin C. If we ONLY offer the patient citrus fruits, however, we create other problems. When we go to treat the new problems, created by our narrow minded treatment of the scurvy, we abandon vitamin C, again. Eventually, we are faced with another bout of scurvy. Instead, we should offer the patient a balanced diet, taking special care that we include sufficient vitamin C, as well as all the other vitamins necessary for wellness.
We can’t help but think this pendulum pattern is ludicrous, even downright stupid.
So, please don’t abandon small-group and instructional level reading instruction in the name of the Common Core. We agree that guided reading and other experiences with instructional level texts were hogging the stage to the detriment of many readers. If we remove these experiences, completely, however, we will find ourselves treating the instructional equivalent of scurvy. Again.