The approach is more important than the program.

When we first proposed working with students in a school or district, many school administrators asked us the same question: “What reading program do you use?” We answered, “None. We follow an approach to instruction rather than a specific program.” Many of our tutors asked us, “Where is the curriculum?” The answer to this question was “There isn’t one. We have an approach to follow, but not a curriculum.” The tutors wanted lesson plans, resources, and schedules. Even if we had a curriculum, it still would not give tutors a plan for what to do and when, or guidance on what would be appropriate for an individual student.

A curriculum has several components, including instructional content, resources, activities, expected outcomes, a sequence for teaching content, and assessment methods. I have seen a lot of curricula over the years, and some of them were really well developed. I also realized that any curriculum is worthless unless it matches what a student needs to learn next, how a student learns, resources that provide learning opportunities, and activities that are engaging to the individual students.

Even the best developed curriculum will not guarantee learning if it does not meet a student’s needs.

Does this mean you should abandon your curriculum? No. But do consider whether or not it provides appropriate learning opportunities and expectations for the students. We never used a reading program. Instead, we used an “approach,” a series of principles for effective instruction. The approach looks like this:

  • set up small learning groups,
  • develop positive relationships,
  • identify and use students’ interests to select learning resources,
  • assess students’ abilities,
  • identify next steps for learning,
  • address the six reading components every week,
  • integrate multiple reading components into single lessons, and
  • use learning activities that engage students’ interests and address the next step learning.

This approach is how we helped students make huge reading gains. You may find activities or resources from a reading program that will help you follow this approach. Even so, use your judgment about whether the program or curriculum does, in fact, help you follow this approach to meeting students’ needs. Most likely, you will need to modify or add to any reading program. Focus on the approach, and use the curriculum or program to help you implement it.