Why am I thanking ReadWell today on a writing blog?
It made me a better teacher just by using it, and it taught me so much about great program design.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a leveled reading program that introduces a few new sounds and sight words with each level (there are 39 levels or “units”) and has an engaging story that incorporates the new words. Every day has a practice drill as well as a story reading and discussion time. There is a quick fluency assessment at the end of each unit.
Before you read further, I acknowledge that some teachers hate ReadWell. I believe this is because they have been forced to use it in ways that cancel out its effectiveness, such as having 3 large fixed reading groups – high, medium and low – in each classroom.
The beauty of ReadWell is that the lessons move up so systematically and the assessments are so quick and so often, that it’s easy to place students in the “just right” group. This amazing feature provides the flexibility for every student to be engaged and succeeding. It solves the problem that teachers constantly face – how to differentiate instruction when there are so many ability levels. When you aren’t meeting students’ needs and the work is too easy or too hard, they will let you know, often by acting out.
It’s one thing to have a tool that allows for so much possibility and it’s another thing to put it all to use. I grew up in the era where having a 3-speed bike was considered cool. I didn’t have a 10 speed bike until high school. The bike I have now has more than 10 (I don’t even know how many – 15?). The reason I don’t know is that I still treat it like a 3 speed bike, using my few favorite gears. As someone who takes short bike rides for fun, that’s no big deal, but if I was to be a serious bike commuter I would want to learn how to make the bike work better for me in order to maximize my speed and efficiency.
Considering that curriculum is just a tool to accomplish something – in the same way a vacuum cleaner, a bike or a computer is a tool – do we want the model that will have more possibilities or less? For curriculum, I would hope for more. The three speed bike model for teaching reading should be obsolete.
When I was teaching first grade several years ago, our school took full advantage of the possibilities of ReadWell. We had 13 reading groups between three first grade classes. This was possible due to a “walk to read” model and an hour every day of flooding grades K and 1 with paraprofessionals for reading instruction. I owe thanks to my wise principal who understands that when you support the younger grades in reading, the payoff is huge later on. Besides 10 groups in various levels of ReadWell, we had a group in ReadWell Plus (extra units 39-50), a group beyond ReadWell who read and discussed chapter books, and a very small pre-ReadWell group who were working on letter and sound recognition and phonemic awareness.
The groups were always fluid and every month or so we would move some students around according to their progress and pace. We had high-needs groups which worked for the full hour with a well trained para. We also had groups which met for 20 minutes with a teacher and then did appropriate seat work and independent reading. Group size was no more than 6-8 students.
ReadWell allowed us to do all this because of how it was designed. We were allowed to use it to its maximum potentional. Only after ten years of teaching did I finally encounter a curriculum that allowed for maximum flexibility and effectiveness. It inspired me to design curriculum to do the same. So many exciting things to learn… thank you ReadWell!