SST 1 BLOG POST: Why Structured Literacy is effective and why schools should use this approach

Why Is Structured Literacy Effective and Why Schools Should Use It ?

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by Debbie NagelRegional Early Literacy Specialist, State Support Team 1

“Structured literacy (SL) emphasizes a teacher-led, highly explicit and systematic approach that effectively addresses foundational literacy skills, a core need of children with dyslexia as well as many other struggling students. Also, in all components of literacy, SL emphasizes teaching that is clear, systematic, and unambiguous to the learner—all important qualities for students experiencing difficulty.”(Spear-Swerling, L. 2018)(Brady, S. 2011)

Structured literacy along with being explicit and systematic is also cumulative, interactive, diagnostic, mastery driven and instructionally sound. 

Structured literacy instruction can be very engaging to struggling students. A multi-sensory and/or multi-modal aids in the development of fluency and automaticity of foundational skills in a very engaging way.  Explicit teaching has been criticized as “drill and kill” that dulls interest and creativity, with typical literacy practices presented as inherently more engaging to children. Little research supports this view (Archer & Hughes, 2011)  (Spear-Swerling, L. 2018). Think: Drill for skill. 


Buyer Beware
There will be a need to be a critical consumer while looking to purchase curricula programs and approaches to structured literacy. As popularity gains momentum and SL continues to be a “buzzword” many publishers may endorse their programs as aligned to SL when in truth they are not. There are several programs and approaches that include some features of SL.

A one “best” approach does not exist for all children with dyslexia or other learning problems.  (Spear-Swerling, L. 2018) Sadly, many programs, materials, and instructional approaches are not aligned to a structured literacy approach yet are widely used in schools across Ohio.  

“Reading children’s literature with beautiful pictures or extended opportunities to write for pleasure can indeed be motivating—but not for students who cannot decode or write well enough to enjoy them. Helping children to succeed at literacy is a key way to motivate and engage them, as well as to prepare them for ongoing, higher-level literacy learning.”(Spear-Swerling, L. 2018)

Structured Literacy is for All Learners
Structured literacy approaches are much more successful than many typical literacy practices for meeting the needs of children with dyslexia and other literacy problems. (Moats, L. C. 2017). “SL prioritizes teacher-led, explicit instruction in all important components of literacy. Initial phonics instruction uses a phoneme-grapheme (encoding) and grapheme-phoneme (decoding) level approach. Texts and other materials are well coordinated with the phonics program.” (Spear-Swerling, L. 2018).

There is a misunderstanding that Structured Literacy instruction is only for tier 2 and 3 instruction and is specialized for children with dyslexia. SL programs are grounded in research around the science of reading. These approaches make reading easier and more accessible for ALL children, not only those with dyslexia. When used in the classroom these methods make ALL children better readers resulting in fewer struggling readers. 

The future is bright as the knowledge of the Science of Reading and Structured Literacy gains momentum. Higher education institutions and professional development opportunities provided within districts have the ability to train educators in this effective instruction while being supported with appropriate instructional materials and curricula. When given both the necessary training and appropriate instructional materials our educators will be prepared to reach a much larger percentage of their students including students with dyslexia,  other struggling readers including students with disabilities.
Let’s start a movement.  

Do you have questions for Debbie? Send her an email.


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