In this episode
Welcome to episode 6 of The Six Shifts, with Jan Burkins and Kari Yates, co-authors of Shifting The Balance: Six Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom. In this series, Jan and Kari, with Stenhouse’s Dan Tobin, address misconceptions and misunderstandings that have discouraged educators from incorporating the science of reading into the balanced literacy classroom.
In this episode, Jan, Kari, and Dan dig into the fifth shift: Reinventing the Ways We Use MSV.
Listen to episode 5
About the book
In Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom, authors Jan Burkins and Kari Yates address this tension as a critical opportunity to look closely at the research, reevaluate current practices, and embrace new possibilities for an even stronger enactment of balanced literacy.
From phonological processing to brain research to orthographic mapping to self-teaching hypothesis, Shifting the Balance cuts through the rhetoric (and the sciencey science) to offer readers a practical guide to decision-making about beginning reading instruction. The authors honor the balanced literacy perspective while highlighting common practices to reconsider and revise—all through a lens of what’s best for the students sitting in front of us.
Meet the authors
Dr. Jan Burkins was an elementary classroom teacher for seven years and a literacy coach for seven years. She has worked as a part-time assistant professor, a district literacy leader, and is currently a fulltime writer and consultant.
Kari Yates is an author, speaker, consultant and staff developer with a passion for helping busy literacy educators thrive. Her experiences include classroom teacher, special education, Reading Recovery teacher, elementary principal and district literacy coordinator.
Read the transcript
Dan: Welcome to Chapter five of our podcast series on Shifting the Balance. Let's start with a broad question here. You're asking educators to change practices that they hold really dear and that's a hard thing to do. What do you say to teachers who are hesitant to take this on in the midst of everything else they have on their plates?
Kari: It's a powerful question, Dan and I think an important one. I mean, every day we see and hear from just really hard working educators who are doing their level best by kids, and yet they still see kids struggle to get this strong foothold as readers. And then we're at this place in time where we're being faced with evidence that suggests some of what we might have been doing wasn't aligned with what scientific research is showing the brain might prefer. That would be really easy to feel this defensiveness or even shame that we might have been doing it wrong. And this seems to be especially true when it comes to the conversation about three cueing systems or as we more commonly referred to it MSV, which happens to be the topic of this chapter.
Jan: And Dan you're right. It's not easy to make a shift. As a matter of fact, we've been joking around with the term, oh, shift, which we think would have been a good name for this podcast. But there is some vulnerability around considering that some of the practices we hold closest, may need revising, or even letting go of. We've really tried to shift our own thinking about this by saying, "Isn't it great news for kids, that there are shifts we can make to our practice that will help more of them learn to read well?" And who would we be? Who would we be if we adopted a practice so dogmatically, and declare that that was the end of any new learning or evolution in thinking. That's just not who we're going to be.
Kari: Yeah. And so I think, in a nutshell, it's this idea that we'll always stretch ourselves to the next opportunity for rethinking as long as we have kids in front of us, who we see still need us to discover a more effective approach.
Dan: Let's turn to the chapter on cueing systems chapter five, and reinventing the way we use MSV. That's been a hotly debated topic of cueing systems in recent months, and it's challenging both for teachers who align closely with the science reading and those who align with balanced literacy. Was this a particularly difficult chapter to write?
Kari: You're stating the obvious. You are understating the obvious. This chapter was hard. And I think, scary, quite frankly a little scary to write, and kind of emotionally draining. And we giggle about it a little bit. But it was hard. But honestly, on this side of it, we are really stinking proud of the work that we did. And we are truly excited about the insights that we had. And that we think can help educators and in turn help beginning readers.
Jan: And as you said, this three cueing systems chapter is really a bit of a high stakes chapter, when it comes to the current divisions in the field. And it's the chapter that both quote-unquote sides have big feelings about. And so we started with a fair amount of defensiveness around this idea ourselves. But understanding what needs to shift here is really dependent on the ideas that come before this one. So don't go get the book and get this really hot button chapter and turn straight to it and read it first. Because the ideas and shifting the balance are cumulative. And there's a reason chapter five is here towards the end. But as you dig into five, you're going to learn that learning to read words does involve making sense, but we have to shift the way we're thinking about it.
Dan: Can you talk about a couple of the misconceptions, you identified in the chapter?
Kari: Yeah. I want to highlight misunderstanding number one in this one, which is, we need to avoid telling students to sound it out. And as a balanced literacy teacher, I was myself strongly discouraged and have in turn discouraged other teachers from reliance or over reliance anyway, on the use of the prompt sounded out. Many of us have been taught to always prompt to meaning first. But it turns out, and it's hard to really face this one in some ways, but it turns out that we may have unintentionally been making learning to read harder for kids, by some of the prompting that we've offered them. And so we really tackle back here in chapter five and in misunderstanding one.
Jan: Yes, Kari you know that that idea that we were discouraged from using the prompt sounded out and in fact, those of us who were literacy leaders may even have been the ones discouraging. There was just almost this... We found ourselves in this place where it was shameful almost to say the word sounded out. English is a fun, logical language, where sound and phonology are critical. And so kind of reclaiming that prompt becomes a real opportunity for us. And this all leads us to misunderstanding number four, the idea that figuring out a word in the moment is the whole point of the problem solving work, when the real value of any encounter with a word and an effort to decode it is this accumulation of orthographic knowledge. But just it's just a jargony way of saying that children need to study the internal structure of a lot of printed words, in order to learn that certain strings of letters go together, and certain strings of letters don't. And if they figure out how to say the word in front of them, say by looking at the picture, for example, without having to really look at how the letters go together in the word, they make their word learning, actually slower. We're not saying of course to get rid of pictures in beginning reading text. By the way, that's how rumors get started. What we're saying is, prompt kids to use the sound structure in words to begin there. And then they can use pictures to verify and check what they figured out.
Kari: Yeah, to look at that print and to really maximize the orthographic learning opportunities.
Dan: So, this was a hard chapter to write. Will it be a hard chapter for teachers to read? And so, what's the payoff?
Jan: Great question.
Kari: Yeah. We truly had to do a lot of personal and humble internal work on this chapter. And we do anticipate the same will be true for many of our readers. The four misunderstandings in this chapter, build on key ideas from previous chapters. And they provide an invitation to really reconsider, reevaluate and reprioritize the ways we prompt readers as they navigate text. This is not necessarily an easy invitation.
Jan: There's a reason it's here towards the end of the book. This chapter, of course, it follows the same pattern as the previous chapters with the first half focused on clearing up some confusion. And the second half, of course, focused on actionable instructional routines and specific adjustments in the classroom. So, we will offer you some guidance about how to support children at the point of difficulty.
Dan: Thank you.
Jan: Thanks, Dan.
Kari: Yeah, thank you, Dan.