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Retreat in the Reading Wars
posted by: Melissa | June 02, 2022, 01:31 PM   

There are few elementary educators who are unfamiliar with the name Lucy Calkins. Calkins rose to prominence alongside the curriculum she wrote with the Teachers College at Columbia University. Her Units of Study quickly became the poster child for the balanced literacy approach that has dominated reading instruction over the past several decades. Schools have increasingly integrated the methods that Calkins promotes even if they don’t adopt the whole curriculum, which is why it’s so problematic that mounting research has indicated the approach is flawed.

Researchers have found faults with many aspects of Calkins approach, including the reliance on leveled readers, the use of ineffective teaching methods such as reading workshops and, most egregiously, insufficient phonics instruction. While it seems that some students can succeed in a balanced literacy program, the students who can’t, fall quickly behind and are never given the intervention they need to catch up.

However, even as the research has mounted, Dr. Calkins herself has remained mostly immovable. A few years ago, she increased phonics instruction slightly, but not up to the recommended twenty-five minutes daily. Then, last week brought a sudden about-face as Dr. Calkins announced she has rewritten her curriculum for kindergarten through second grade that includes new daily lessons on phonics and an emphasis on richer, more challenging texts.

By conceding to learning science, Dr. Calkins has done a great service to the young readers in this country. Because of how influential her program is, we can hope to see the changes filter through schools across the country. Finally, there’s hope that students who have been struggling with reading will get the help that they need.

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