The Ugly Truth About Teacher Professional Development: Reading Screening and Early Intervention

The Ugly Truth About Teacher Professional Development: Reading Screening and Early Intervention

A Very Large Challenge

One of the most powerful examples of the challenges of effective teacher professional development can be seen in our efforts to implement screening and early intervention for struggling readers.

Currently there are 35 US states that are either in the process of or have passed legislation mandating early identification and intervention for dyslexic students and other struggling readers.

Yet implementation has been slow.  In many cases change has been extremely frustrating and demoralizing for our educators–not to mention our struggling readers and their families.

Here Is The Context

The research is clear that both neurobiologically based dyslexics as well as those from impoverished communities, ESL students, etc. benefit from early screening and intensive, systematic and explicit reading instruction.  Frankly, over 40 years of reading research proves that it’s just good teaching.

But the data are abysmal.  By fourth grade, essentially one-third of our students in the US are below proficiency in reading.  Remember that from first to third grade, kids learn how to read.  From fourth grade on they read to learn.  So, by fourth grade one-third of our students are already behind and likely set up to continue to fail.  ( )

If you parse out fourth graders that are below proficient reading by race the numbers are alarming.  See Table 1 for information from the Annie E. Casey Foundation from 2016.

Table 1: Percentage of US Fourth Graders Below Reading Proficiency–2016  Annie E. Casey Foundation

Where Is the Disconnect?

The fundamental question is why, if we know so much now about the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia and reading struggles in general, why are so many children still suffering needlessly?

The answer lies in the disconnect between what the science of reading tells us and what educators are being taught in their university programs and professional development courses.  The science of reading reflects what we know about the science of language development.  Capacity for language mastery deeply informs a person’s ability to read and write.  And yet the majority of teachers are not trained to understand language development and the connection to reading proficiency.

In the US, over 60% of elementary teacher preparation programs still are not educating teachers about how children learn to read.

If by fourth grade, a child is reading to learn how can we not teach our educators how kids learn to read!

Virtually no secondary school preparation programs include curricula about reading and written language instruction in spite of the fact that dyslexia is a lifelong issue.

How can you expect an educational team to implement early screening and intervention when they aren’t given the education, training and experience to do so? 

The short answer is that they can’t.

Let’s Review What We Know About Effective Professional Development

Above we touched on the importance of getting the right content about literacy development and reading to our educators so they are armed with the information they need to screen and re-mediate our struggling readers.

Perhaps more importantly from a professional development perspective, we need to train our educators about the processes needed for effective change in the classroom.

In my first blog post in this series (Let’s put a link here?), I outlined what the Center for Public Information says about the Four Top Practices for effective professional development (  Let’s look at each one within the context of screening and early intervention for dyslexia and reading struggles in general.

    1. The duration of professional development must be significant and ongoing to allow time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with the implementation problem.The key here is that we need to acknowledge the substantial depth and breadth of training necessary to gain a level of understanding regarding effective screening and reading intervention strategies. But we can’t boil the ocean all at once. And we don’t want to overwhelm our school team.We need to think long term (e.g., multi-year), stick to the plan and keep it doable. The leadership team needs to prioritize the goals of the district and continuously communicate them to the whole team; not just the special ed group.Far too often the goals and objectives are derived from top-down decision making versus bottom-up collaboration. Input from the teaching staff and other school team members is absolutely critical. Both regular ed and special ed teachers, school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, learning specialists, etc. should be given the opportunity to provide input.Keep in mind that we’re using ongoing professional development to compensate for the lack of in-depth education and training in our university programs. It will take time.

      Pragmatically, there are several well-regarded, evidence-based training models for both screening and intervention. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. The costs will have to be embedded in the budget.Most importantly, though, there has to be adequate planning with regard to the process of providing the professional development and acknowledgement of evidence-based research regarding effective implementation.

    2. There must be support for a teacher during the implementation stage that addresses the specific challenges of changing classroom practice.I’m going to state the obvious: True change is really, really hard. The secret to maintaining change is making sure all invested parties are supporting each other in their efforts to make that change.It’s not the content about screening and reading instruction, it’s the process by which we implement it.Does the superintendent buy in? Does your principal? Vice principal? Master teachers and influencers?Is the leadership supporting changes in budgeting, scheduling, team development and collaboration time? Is the team abandoning current practices, meetings or assumptions that don’t support the change management?

      A key question to ask yourself is this: How is the team organized around changing classroom practice in ways that support or hinder our goals?

      1. Teachers’ initial exposure to a concept should not be passive, but rather should engage teachers through varied approaches so they can participate actively in making sense of a new practice.

        Very early in my first blog post about teacher professional development, I stated that the one-and-done professional development model does not work. That’s true. We know from the research that it may take up to 50 hours of instruction, practice and feedback to truly master a new teaching strategy. It could take 20 times of practice to really embrace a new skill.It’s ironic that many of us still employ the one-and-done model. What is needed is the same as what’s needed in reading intervention programs: systematic, intensive and explicit instruction!Ultimately, teachers and the rest of the school team need to own this process. My colleague Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher ) uses a great quote from a change management consultant:“Ken Blanchard says in Leading at a Higher Level (p.213):People often resent change when they have no involvement in how it should be implemented. So, contrary to popular belief, people don’t resist change — they resist being controlled.”
    3. Modeling has been found to be a highly effective way to introduce a new concept and help teachers understand a new practice.This is where I diverge a bit from the Center for Public Information.  The data from the classic Joyce and Showers study in 2002 (see below) shows that while presenter modeling is a part of the training picture, ongoing coaching and administrative support is clearly the key component in professional development training.

teacher professional development

How Can We Afford This Type of Training?

Historically, teacher professional development, even the one-and-done model can be very expensive and consequently cost prohibitive.  How can a district afford ongoing training and support?  How can a district afford changes in budgeting?

I think the answer to that question involves how we use all these new digital technology tools to maximize community building, share information across the team or district and save a TON of money.

I’ve been providing teacher training webinars, online classes and consultations specifically regarding dyslexia and reading difficulties for a few years now.

The model I employ has proven to be a very effective way to leverage a full range of digital media and communication tools to make this type of ongoing support for school communities reasonable and affordable for everyone.

In my next post, I’m going to discuss the tools and the multi-component platform I use to support school teams both nationally and internationally.

Please be sure to stay tuned!

2019-06-26T01:16:40+00:00By |Categories: Dyslexia, Parents|

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