Scripted Programs: NOT a “Quick Fix”

The following post was inspired by two thought-provoking blog posts that I highly recommend you drop everything and read:

Re-envisioning Professional Roadblocks as Opportunities for Success written by Dr. Mary Howard and Roman Nowak

The Reading Teacher – Teach Readers, Not Programs.  written by Laura Robb

Sometimes I feel disheartened about what I see happening in literacy education.  I question whether some of the instructional decisions being made to improve high-stakes test scores are in the best interest of our students.  The adoption of scripted reading programs as a “quick fix” for our young readers is a decision that causes me to feel greatly concerned about our students’ literary futures.  I am concerned that adopting reading programs may unintentionally cause more harm than good.  I am concerned that programs being used by schools aren’t fostering a love for reading in our students.  I am concerned that scripted programs may cause teachers to feel helpless and eventually apathetic.

Commercial reading programs ignore the strengths and needs of our students.  Programs that have planned read-alouds with scripted questions don’t know the class that is in front of us.  Teachers know their class best and can craft questions that will effectively lift their students’ comprehension. When approaching the teaching of small group reading instruction with preset lessons that work through a scope and sequence of skills there is no thought given to what the child needs as an individual.  When teachers are freed up from the program to teach responsively they can use each child’s strengths to build on their weaknesses.  When teachers are taught to be careful observers of their most fragile readers they can provide them with the appropriate teaching and prompting needed to accelerate their progress and as a result, help them to “catch-up” with their on-grade level peers.

Requiring teachers to follow a program sends a message to teachers that they don’t know how to be responsive to their students, that they aren’t capable of creating their own powerful lessons, that they aren’t smart enough to do the thinking to help their students make the most growth.

As educators, we work to build student agency to help students to take control of their own learning,  become problem solvers, and to become critical thinkers.  What about teacher agency?  When teachers are required to follow published programs with fidelity it causes them to teach blindly without any reason to think critically about their moment to moment decision making and provides no purpose for reflecting on their teaching practices.  To read more on the topic of fidelity to programs I urge you to read Tom Rademacher’s post Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching.

Often published programs over-emphasize the importance of phonics in learning how to read.  While we know that phonics instruction plays an important roll in reading, it is not necessary to spend copious amounts of time teaching phonics skills.  The following is a quote from Best Practices:  Bringing Standards to Life in America’s Classrooms in regards to phonics instruction:

“It is important to remember that even the very conservative National Reading Panel (2000) prescribes just ten minutes a day of phonics activities.  We also must remember that the majority of children, 60-80 percent by most estimates, can learn all the phonics skills they’ll ever need from ample reading and (especially) from practicing spelling in their own writing.  Indeed, many children crack the alphabetic code at home before ever coming to school…in a responsive and balanced k-12 reading program, phonics amounts to less than 5 percent of the instructional efforts teachers make.”

Meaning should always be at the forefront of any reading instruction that students are receiving.  Students should always have motivating, interesting,  authentic texts in their hands that encourage them to think about the purpose and message of the book.

When I start to feel discouraged I check out the activity in the professional learning networks that I belong to on Facebook and Twitter,  I read research articles and seek as much knowledge as possible, so that I can understand and be informed.

We don’t grow when things are easy;

we grow when we face challenges.






6 thoughts on “Scripted Programs: NOT a “Quick Fix”

  1. The phrase “with fidelity” makes me cringe too. I feel the same way about scripted writing programs as well. For those of us who are responsive and keep up with our professional growth, these scripted programs will always be offensive to our practice. Unfortunately, there are many teachers who don’t do this, and this is who these scripted programs are for. Requiring ALL teachers to use these programs “with fidelity” is no more responsible than it is to teach the same thing to all students, regardless of their abilities. Thank you for this very thoughtful post, inspired by two amazing professional educators!


    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on our post. I look forward to a time when school districts spend more money on inspiring professional development exploring reading theory and best practices in reading than on “quick fix” reading programs.


  2. Pingback: The Struggles of a Reading Teacher – Literacy Pages

  3. Thomas Kero

    Thank you for this. My school just reintroduced scripted reading after an eight year hiatus. New admin, new rules. You effectively summed up the discussions staff has been having, and I will share your blog with my colleagues. I especially liked the idea that meaning must always be at the forefront. After all, what else drives a reader to read?


    1. I am sorry to hear that your school has moved in this direction. Unfortunately, there seems to be a movement back toward scripted programs nationwide. I think that if we stay current on best practices in literacy teaching and speak up for our students we can hopefully bring the focus back to our students rather than programs. Thank you for your comment and I wish you the best!


  4. Pingback: Optimizing Literacy Instruction for our Special Education Students: Part 2 – Literacy Pages

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