To illustrate the power of instructional teams, the descriptions below characterize reading instruction in two schools. Can you guess which school uses instructional teams and which doesn’t? What differences between the teachers’ instructional practices point to effective teaming?
Reading Instruction in School A
- Kindergarten: Ms. Green was trained as a Montessori teacher; she believes in learning by doing. Her classroom is tightly structured to encourage learning, but she does not teach reading skills in an explicit way.
- First Grade: Mr. Maxwell uses phonics to teach skills in sounding out words. He believes that students should learn the sounds first before they start reading stories.
- Second Grade: Ms. Wilson believes in whole language instruction and integrates reading, writing, speaking, and listening lessons.
- Third Grade: Ms. Brooks, like Mr. Maxwell, teaches the skills of reading. Her approach is primarily to use skill worksheets and round-robin oral reading.
- Fourth Grade: Mr. Byron thinks that fourth graders no longer need explicit instruction in reading. He focuses primarily on helping students read their content textbooks in math, social studies, and science.
- Fifth Grade: Ms. Popper was prepared as a middle-school language arts teacher. From her perspective, reading young-adult literature helps fifth graders deal with the emotional transitions of middle childhood. She mostly asks students to read silently and discuss their reactions to what they have read.
- Sixth Grade: Ms. Morrison thinks reading instruction for sixth graders ought to focus on study skills, such as outlining, making predictions, and drawing inferences. Like Mr. Byron, she integrates reading instruction with instruction in a content area—social studies, in particular.
Reading Instruction in School B
- Kindergarten: Ms. White teaches the alphabet, simple sound symbol connections, and simple sight words; but she balances these skill-based activities with a lot of pre-literacy activities that focus on the meaning of written language. She reads aloud to students, talks with them about stories, and uses some language-experience activities.
- First Grade: Mr. Small continues with the balanced approach that students experienced in Kindergarten. He adds in more sight words and more complicated sound-symbol connections. Although he continues to read to students, he also asks them to read simple stories. He’s also showing students some other genres besides fiction—poems, recipes, and encyclopedia entries.
- Second Grade: Ms. Anthony also continues with the balanced approach. Her students read more difficult stories than the first-graders, and Ms. Anthony expects them to read to themselves silently rather than vocalizing what they read. She uses more nonfiction passages than Mr. Small uses with first graders.
- Third Grade: Like her colleagues, Ms. Carpenter combines phonics skill instruction with a lot of silent reading. Her lessons now put equal focus on fiction and non-fiction, and they’re beginning to work on helping students read for different purposes (e.g., to gather information from multiple sources, to learn how to do something, for enjoyment).
- Fourth Grade: At this point, phonics instruction in Mr. Lemon’s class occurs rarely and only when there’s a particular need. Instead, the major focus is on more complex comprehension activities and reading materials with more specialized vocabulary. Throughout the year, just like all of the intermediate-grade teachers, Mr. Lemon reads a book aloud to his students. He also schedules sustained silent reading.
- Fifth Grade: In Ms. Cummings’ class the focus continues to be on comprehension of increasingly complex fiction and non-fiction.
- Sixth Grade: Ms. McCutcheon uses even more complex reading passages with sixth-graders than Ms. Cummings did with fifth-graders, but the focus of instruction is similar.
The illustration provides a lot of detail—maybe more detail than is needed to prove its point. But notice how much more coherent the reading program is in School B than in School A.
It became more coherent through years of teamwork. You can see that the curriculum and teaching methods change in School B, but that the change isn’t random. It follows a logical sequence. That sequence reflects the collective wisdom of the school’s Building Leadership Team. That team also maintains on-going communication with each Teacher-based Team in the school to ensure that all teachers are well prepared to use the methods that the school has adopted and also that all students are making progress. Not surprisingly, even though both schools serve similar types of students—students primarily from low-income families—the reading achievement in School B far outstrips the reading achievement in School A.