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A Guide to High-Quality Structured Literacy Materials

A Guide to High-Quality Structured Literacy Materials

“Teaching aligned with the Science of Reading requires high-quality materials, not specific programs.”
Dr. Laura Tortorelli, Associate Professor at Michigan State University


Navigating through reading curriculums and materials can be daunting, making it challenging to decide which ones to implement and which ones to set aside. How can we ensure we have the necessary research-based resources to teach our students effectively?

In a recent Just Right Reader Science of Reading Symposium, Dr. Laura Tortorelli explained how to bring high-quality instruction into classrooms by examining curriculum and resources through a structured literacy lens.

What is structured literacy?

The International Dyslexia Association first used the term structured literacy to refer to programs that teach reading using instruction grounded in the Science of Reading research. 

Effective structured literacy instruction and interventions involve explicit and systematic teaching of foundational skills like decoding and spelling and other crucial literacy components such as vocabulary, comprehension, and writing (International Dyslexia Association, 2019).

Dr. Tortorelli dives deeper into structured literacy in this brief research snippet. [0:54]


Why are high-quality instructional materials important for student achievement?

A growing body of research suggests that curriculum significantly impacts student learning. 

Several studies have found numerous advantages of switching from a low-quality curriculum to a high-quality curriculum.

  • more opportunities for rigorous instructiondeeper student engagement, and additional learning

  • larger, more cost-effective impact on student achievement than other interventions (Steiner, D., Magee, J., & Jensen, B., 2018)

  • stronger partnerships with families supporting learning at home (Chu, E., Clay, A., & McCarty, G., 2021)

Access to high-quality instructional materials offers teachers an important advantage: time. 

Teachers often spend numerous hours searching for or creating materials themselves. Studies indicate that teachers dedicate between 7 and 12 hours per week to this task, resulting in inconsistent instructional quality (Goldberg, M., 2016)High-quality materials enable teachers to allocate their time to other productive tasks, such as lesson planning, individualized student support, professional development, etc.


What teaching practices and materials are used in effective structured literacy instruction?

Given that high-quality instructional materials are essential and daily instructional time is limited, evaluating curriculums, programs, and instructional materials is critical to equip educators with the necessary tools to teach reading effectively.

Whether you are a district leader exploring a new curriculum or an educator deciding which materials to use, refer to Dr. Tortorelli's guidelines below when making instructional strategies and resource decisions.


Phonological Awareness and Alphabet Instruction

Effective phonological awareness and alphabet instruction is intensive, fast-paced, and supportsorthographic mapping.

Let’s review:

  • Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate spoken parts of words.
  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.

Look for curriculums and materials that:

Prioritize

  • Phonemic blending and segmenting
  • Integrating Phonological awareness and alphabet instruction
  • Letter (or more) a day
  • Explicit handwriting support and practice

Avoid

  • Oral-only activities
  • Emphasis on songs and rhymes rather than phonemic awareness
  • Emphasis on letter names rather than sounds
  • Letter a week
  • Crafts, songs, or stories rather than direct/explicit instruction
  • Little repetition or review
  • Little handwriting instruction or practice time

 

Learn more about phonological awareness and alphabet instruction. [01:51]

 

Phonics & Spelling Instruction

Similar to phonological awareness and alphabet instruction, phonics and spelling instruction supports orthographic mapping and theopportunity to connect words to their meaning

Let’s review:

  • Phonics involves teaching students to understand how sounds (phonemes) connect to written letters (graphemes) to form letter-sound relationships (alphabetics) and spelling (orthographic) patterns.

Look for curriculums and materials that:

Prioritize

  • Support and practice decoding and encoding words letter by letter and part by part, including high frequency words
  • Meaning/context used to confirm decoding attempts
  • Spelling and phonics instruction are integrated

Avoid

  • Multiple strategies taught for word recognition
  • Meaning/context used in place of decoding
  • “Sight word” flashcards
  • Spelling words that are much harder than phonics words
  • Teaching nonsense words
  • Limited opportunities to practice in text or writing

 

Learn more about phonics and spelling instruction. [02:30]

 

Multisyllabic Decoding Instruction

It is important to introduce students to multisyllabic decoding instruction, including prefixes and suffixes, starting as early as first grade.

Let's review: 

  • Multisyllabic wordswords that have more than one syllable, or vowel sound.
  • Morphology: the study of words and their parts
  • Morpheme: smallest units of meaning, like prefixes and suffixes

 Look for curriculums and materials that:

Prioritize

  • Morphological instruction, particularly derivational suffixes(-tion, -ity)
  • Support for decoding new long words in text
  • Integrates decoding and vocabulary strategies

Avoid

  • Slow instructional pace 
  • Focus on syllabication rules rather than decoding
  • Not enough morphology
  • No connection to vocabulary

 

Learn more about multisyllabic decoding instruction. [01:38]

 

High-Quality Texts to Support Literacy Instruction

Authentic and culturally relevant high-quality texts that align with instruction significantly impact reading achievement. In other words,the texts students practice with make a difference.

Look for curriculums and materials that:

Prioritize

  • Texts that align to instruction 
  • Texts that feature diverse characters and culturally relevant and familiar settings and stories
  • Informational texts included in instruction
  • A large volume of texts to practice with
 Avoid
  • Texts leveled by numbers or letters
  • Grouping or labeling kids by text level
  • Expectations for independent reading in kindergarten or first grade
  • Separate phonics instruction and reading practice

 

What makes Just Right Reader Decodables special?

With engagingClassroom Libraries andTake-Home Decodable Packs, students have many opportunities to practice their decoding skills in an authentic reading experience, which allows them to become stronger readers.

Just Right Reader Decodables

Our Decodables feature:

  • An extensive library of 700+ titles 
  • Engaging and relatable stories withdiverse characters and vibrant illustrations that motivate students to keep reading
  • Research-based, rigorous phonics scope and sequence that aligns to all phonics programs and curriculums 
  • QR codes that link tomemorable video lessons in English and Spanish
  • Personalized Take-Home Decodable Packs that extend phonics practice from school into homes


What tools are available for assessing reading programs and materials?

Dr. Torotelli recommends utilizing reputable rubrics to evaluate reading curriculum and materials to ensure they contain high-quality resources for effective structured literacy instruction. 

 Click here to watch the full symposium replay with Dr. Laura Tortorelli.

 

 

 

 

 

References 

     Chu, E., Clay, A., & McCarty, G. (2021). (rep.). Pandemic Learning Reveals the Value of High-Quality Instructional Materials to Educator-Family-Student Partnerships. Retrieved from https://cprl.law.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/Publications/CPRL_2021_Fundamental%204_Final.pdf. 

     Goldberg, M. (2016). Classroom Trends: Teachers as Buyers of Instructional Materials and Users of Technology. K-12 Market Advisors. Retrieved from:https://mdreducation.com/reports/classroom-trends-teachersbuyers-instructional-materials-users-technology/

 International Dyslexia Association. (2019).Structured Literacy: An introductory guide

     Steiner, D., Magee, J., & Jensen, B. (2018). (rep.). What we teach matters. How quality curriculum improves student outcomes. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1S67iToy0kHfOaya3QMvJaxyvRofb9Btd/view. 

  Dr. Tortorelli, Laura. Associate Professor at Michigan State University.
Symposium onThe Science of Teaching Reading: How Structured Literacy Can Empower All Students, March 8, 2024. 

     Young, Alanna Bjorklund. “High-Quality Curricula: A Cost-Effective Way to Increase Student Learning.” November 2018.https://edpolicy.education.jhu.edu/high-quality-curricula-a-cost-effective-way-to-increase-student-learning

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