Dick Allington is brilliant. He’s a wonderful researcher, but I consider his most brilliant feat to be making the research that’s out there so completely accessible to the rest of us.
He has written about the “Six T’s of Effective Instruction” before, but I think it’s worth summarizing here because it’s so brilliant. The excerpts below are all from his chapter “What I’ve Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers” in “RTI in Literacy – Responsive and Comprehensive”.
Allington argues that good Tier 1 literacy instruction has 6 common features:
• Time: Exemplary teachers balance out true reading and writing in their classroom as compared to “stuff”, which is what Allington calls the activities such as worksheets, test-prep, dictionary skills, etc. that aren’t real reading. In many classrooms it’s not unusual for children to spend only 10% of their day actually reading or writing, whereas students in exemplary teachers’ classrooms spend around 50% of their time really reading and writing. That’s approximately 150 minutes out of a 300 minute school day.
• Texts: “Students need enormous quantities of successful reading to become independent, proficient readers. By successful reading, I mean reading experiences in which students perform with a high level of accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.” Students need texts that they are able to read.
• Teaching: It sounds simple, but students need to be taught. Too many times, what teachers do instead is assign and assess. Allington promotes “the notion of active instruction – the modeling and demonstration of the useful strategies that good readers employ.” We can’t expect most kids to learn how to comprehend or decode or read fluently without being explicitly shown how.
• Talk: “We observed the exemplary teachers fostering much more student talk – teacher/student and student/student – than has previously been reported. In other words, these exemplary teachers encouraged, modeled, and supported lots of talk across the school day.” These teachers tended to ask more open-ended, thought-provoking questions than less effective teachers.
• Tasks: “Another characteristic of these exemplary teachers’ classrooms was greater use of longer assignments and less emphasis on filling the day with multiple shorter tasks.” The tasks these teachers asked students to engage in integrated multiple skills and strategies the students were taught, rather than isolating them. The researchers also found that students exhibited less off-task behaviors and more engagement because of the longer tasks.
• Testing: “Exemplary teachers evaluated student work and awarded grades based more on effort and improvement than simply on achievement.” In other words, teachers were looking more at the process the students underwent rather than the product. Struggling students were rewarded for growth and improvement in learning, and teachers often used rubrics to help students see their progress towards their learning goals.
Allington’s Six T’s provide us a succinct way to evaluate our own instruction and whether we’d measure up to the exemplary teachers he studied. When scientists are seeking the answer to a problem, the first thing they do is research to see if anyone else has found the solution. It seems that Allington has done the research, and now it’s just up to us to use it to adjust our own teaching.