By Christina Cassano, Assistant Professor, Salem State University
In my work with teachers and reading specialists, I am frequently asked questions regarding published literacy programs. Specifically, teachers and reading specialists want to know how to best modify the one-size-fits-all lesson to meet the needs of a range of learners or to make changes to make the lessons more developmentally-appropriate.
It is important to remember that you know the needs of the children in your classroom far better than any publisher. Trust your expertise! To help you with making changes to lessons, I’ve outlined a three-part approach that can help teachers and reading specialists consider if modifications are needed and how to make them quickly and effectively.
Begin by asking yourself these questions:
- Is the lesson requirement a reasonable expectation for my learners given their current knowledge and skills?
- Does the lesson target what my learners need to learn in a way that is developmentally-appropriate? That is, is it asking them to say, do, or produce something that is not appropriate for their age, grade, or phases of development?
- Is the lesson using best practice to support literacy development?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you need to use your knowledge of developmentally appropriate instruction and best practice to support the needs of your learners. Here’s an example:
A common approach used by most publishers is to teach alphabet knowledge by focusing on one letter at a time (e.g., Letter of the Week). Although children may make some gains, research indicates that this approach: 1) takes far too long to introduce all of the letters; 2) does not support the diverse needs of learners; and 3) fails to provide opportunities for children to learn to discriminate between and among visually similar letters (see McKay & Teale, 2015 for more information) or click here for more information.
There are several ways to modify this lesson to better support young learners. First, use formative assessment information to determine which children need to learn the focal letter. Second, plan for small group activities by including visually similar letters to teach alongside the focal letter (e.g., E/F, M/N, p/q or d/b) work. Lastly, consider ways to also target children’s social – emotional development by planning activities that require them to work cooperatively (SEL7 or SEL 8).
For example, creating letter-sound books is one way to support both alphabet knowledge and collaboration (McKay & Teale, 2015). For this activity, children work in small groups to identify objects in the classroom, school, or playground that begin with their focal letter. The teacher helps children take photos of these objects and arranges them in a book that can be shared with the class and with family members. Although there are many other ways to complete a classroom alphabet book (e.g., drawing pictures, bringing items from home), the children will have the opportunity to learn from each other, work collaboratively, and become actively engaged in an activity that meets their individual needs. For more ideas on alphabet activities click here.
Sometimes the lesson requires some modifications to better support the needs of children with specific learning challenges. Although a complete review of strategies is beyond the scope of this article, Reading Rockets offers a comprehensive list of modifications based on student needs. Click here for more information.