August 2, 2017

Are the Best Practices in Reading Really What's Best?



Examine exactly what are the best practices in reading according to Kylene Beers and Robert Probst in their book Disrupting Thinking.

"[Best practice is] such a popular term that it is almost meaningless." 

~ beers & probst, disrupting thinking


Many times teachers, myself included, claim that we are using "best practices" to justify and validate our instruction. But how many of us know the research behind these practices? Do we use these strategies just because we always have and because it is what we are told to do? Or do we implement them because we know they truly are best practices?

The strategies teachers consider to be best practices can often be contradictory. Someone may claim it is beneficial to implement round robin reading while another teacher is strongly opposed to that practice (as am I). In some cases, teachers actually do the opposite of what research supports. For example, research has shown that weekly spelling lists are an ineffective practice but yet many educators still use them.

Best practice is a concept discussed in depth by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst in their book Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. According to them, "we all want to say we're doing research-based best practices, but other times too many of us are willing to ignore what we know from research." 

Click above purchase the book (affiliate link).
This book is a game changer and a must read for all educators!
By far the best professional book I've read in a long time.
What are the best practices for reading instruction?

A majority of the research has come to the same conclusions about best practices for reading instruction. In some ways we as educators can over-complicate our reading instruction, but it really comes down to several key concepts that we need to implement. Students need to be given choice in what they read, and they need ample time to read.

Examine exactly what are the best practices in reading according to Kylene Beers and Robert Probst in their book Disrupting Thinking.
Chart from Disrupting Thinking
The above chart lists some of the best practices in reading according to Beers and Probst. Let's highlight 2 of those practices as they are the ones I feel are the most crucial.


Provide Student Choice


When my husband asks me to read some of his science research for work, I honestly cannot say that I'm highly motivated to read. It is not something I would choose to read myself, and it has no personal relevance to my profession. Do I read it? Yes, but slowly. Do I enjoy it? Not so much. 

If we as adults are more motivated to read the texts we choose, why would we expect anything different for our students? Richard Allington often refers to this within his research: "the evidence is clear that more choice enhances academic engagement and reading achievement" (What Really Matters for Struggling Readers, 2012). And isn't that what we want for our students?


Increase Volume of Reading


It logically makes sense that if you want to get better at something you need to do more of it. With sports, the only way to improve is by practice. The same holds true for reading. To become better readers, students need more time to read. Allington states, "there exists a potent relationship between volume of reading and reading achievement" (What Really Matters for Struggling Readers, 2012)


Examine exactly what are the best practices in reading according to Kylene Beers and Robert Probst in their book Disrupting Thinking.

What are the next practices for reading instruction?


While there can still be some inconsistencies among teachers about best practices, Beers and Probst suggest we consider our next practices: 

"If a best practice is rooted in what has worked in the past, a next practice speculates about what might be better in the future." 

Instead of striving to adhere to best practice, we need to be willing to take risks and try new ideas. This gives us the freedom to create innovative practices based on our students' needs. Will we be successful on our first attempts? Probably not and that's okay. 

Support from our administration is valuable in order to take these risks and innovate new ideas. I'm fortunate to work in a school with an principal who inspires and encourages us daily to take these risks. Andy Jacks has established a "Green Light" philosophy in which he tells us "yes" to new ideas we have. He trusts us as professionals to do what is best for our students. As a result, our students are very successful, because we are able to create engaging and memorable moments for them. (Check out his blog to find out more about the school culture he has established).

Examine exactly what are the best practices in reading according to Kylene Beers and Robert Probst in their book Disrupting Thinking.

So ultimately what it really comes down to is that the best practices are our next practices! Innovation leads to progress, but we can't be afraid of failure. Try, try, and try again. Maybe YOU will discover the next "best practice" in reading instruction for your students!

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Examine exactly what are the best practices in reading according to Kylene Beers and Robert Probst in their book Disrupting Thinking.

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