Corrective Reading raising questions

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

I think if you asked them, most teachers would say that in addition to having their students excel in their studies, they would hope that they also feel empowered. In our daily interactions with students and in our lesson planning, we attempt to validate students’ experiences, affirm their identities and build trust in order to forge authentic relationships that allow us to teach them well.

Do we fall short some days? Absolutely. But the intent and the purpose of making real connections with students so that they can make real connections with their learning is there. Lately, I have been grappling with finding the intent and purpose behind the Corrective Reading initiative taking place in classrooms all across our city.

As I understand it, Corrective Reading is a direct instruction phonics program that promotes word and sound recognition, involves student repetition of words in a “call and response” format and requires the teacher to follow a scripted lesson plan and to use a snap, pencil tap or dog clicker to mark the rhythm of the lesson. I also understand that it was introduced in all the empowerment schools this fall and has been mandated for increasingly longer amounts of time since, now filling all literacy and math blocks and being reinforced in science and social studies classrooms (replacing science and social studies lessons).

Despite the very real issue of students reading below grade level and the necessity to be successful on the PSSAs, I have some questions about this particular intervention.

First, it concerns me that the program teaches reading fluency as separate from reading comprehension. As literacy teachers know, decoding instruction cannot be divorced from understanding material and strategies must be provided for both. I also have my doubts about how this program will actually lead to success on the PSSA, considering the test includes full reading passages that require students to understand context clues and make inferences – not just repeat and recognize word patterns. Finally, it concerns me that this program has been deemed best suited for students in schools which have been identified as requiring “empowerment” and “corrective action,” language which I find troubling in and of itself.

In addition to the questions this program raises for me in terms of student growth, I also worry about how teachers are being affected. My greatest concern is that schools will not be able to retain teachers who are required to ignore the humanity of their students and themselves in favor of a script and a dog clicker. Above all else, teaching requires the cultivation of a human relationship. To reduce the art of teaching and learning to discrete word lists must be demoralizing for both students and teachers.

Students reading behind grade level is a serious issue in our schools and one that cannot be ignored. However, there are other strategies available to promote literacy achievement. Literacy instruction has the potential to be empowering and critically engaging for all students.

There’s been some discussion here of the problem already. In future posts, I plan to chronicle some alternative strategies for literacy instruction going on in real classrooms across the city. I encourage other teachers to post their suggestions and strategies as well.