The issue is less stuff vs. reading than it is a question of what sorts of and how much of stuff. When stuff dominates instructional time, warning flags should go up.
In less-effective classrooms, there is a lot of stuff going on for which no reliable evidence exists to support their use (e.g., test-preparation workbooks, copying vocabulary definitions from a dictionary, completing after-reading comprehension worksheets).
In these classrooms, lower-achieving students spent their days with books they could successfully read.
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In other words, in too many cases the lower-achieving students receive, perhaps, an hour of appropriate instruction each day and four hours of instruction based on grade-level texts they cannot read.
No child who spends 80 percent of his instructional time in texts that are inappropriately difficult will make much progress academically.
These exemplary teachers routinely offered direct, explicit demonstrations of the cognitive strategies used by good readers when they read. In other words, they modeled the thinking that skilled readers engage while they attempt to decode a word, self-monitor for understanding, summarize while reading, or edit when composing. The "watch me" or "let me demonstrate" stance they took seems quite different from the "assign and assess" stance that dominates in less-effective classrooms (e.g., Adams, 1990; Durkin, 1978-79).
I must also note that we observed almost no test-preparation activity in these classrooms. None of the teachers relied on the increasingly popular commercial test preparation materials (e.g., workbooks, software). Instead, these teachers believed that good instruction, rich instruction, would lead to enhanced test performances.
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