Today, we offer the second in a series of posts about questions that readers have asked about Who’s Doing the Work?. In particular, we offer some insights into the phrase “next generation literacy instruction.”From agency to automaticity, from fluency to phrasing, from schema to summative assessment, the language of literacy is chock-full of words that are vague or mean different things to different people. In fact, Kim once attempted to collect the jargon used in language-arts-speak to create an online literacy dictionary! And what’s more, like any language with lots of speakers, the language of literacy is always growing because there is often a need to describe a new idea or to more precisely describe the nuance of an old idea.
As speakers of “literacy,” we have recently begun talking about next generation literacy instruction, a term we introduced in Who’s Doing the Work? Because “next generation” has been used in connection with other things, such as science and Star Trek, its familiarity makes most feel pretty certain about its meaning. Because the context is different, however, people sometimes ask us to clarify exactly what we mean when we refer to “next generation literacy instruction.”
In Who’s Doing the Work?, we write that the term next generation is used “in reference to conventional practices that have naturally evolved as educators respond to student needs. Next generation reading instruction requires us to scrutinize our lessons through a lens of student independence/dependence and involves identifying places where we are assuming student work that students could do if we let them”(p. 5)Ultimately, our goal is always to help students transfer new learning to independent reading. In our work as consultants, however, when we began looking closely at some conventional practices, we began to notice that there were places where most of us were doing too much of the thinking work for students
For example, if during guided reading, we were working with a student who was trying to figure out the word “parakeet” in the sentence, “The parakeet sang in the cage,” our instinct would be to say something like, “What would make sense?” or “Look at the picture.” We realized, however, that if such responses are our default and students don’t learn to ask these questions for themselves, then our teaching isn’t transferring. By adjusting our response to instead say something like, “What can you try?” or “What can you do to figure it out?” we empower students. We instill an inner narrative that teaches them that they have all the tools they need to solve their own reading challenges. This is “next generation” instruction, the natural evolution from what we used to do to a more evolved implementation of read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading.
So, in sum, next generation literacy is about being more discerning about how we help students. Rather than always rushing in to rescue students when they struggle, we advocate carefully assessing the situation and responding in ways that allow students to “practice the messy work of figuring out what to do and when to do it.” And what’s more, we advocate for lots of time to practice. When we offer students opportunities to practice new skills and strategies in read aloud, shared reading, and guided reading, they are infinitely better equipped to apply new learning when they reach independent reading.