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Implementing Explicit and Systematic Instruction...It Matters!

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

If you are new to reading science research and structured literacy implementation, then you definitely want to take about 2 minutes to read this quick and to the point blog post. Explicit and systematic instruction are instructional strategies that will truly make a difference, quickly, in your students' growth...and name one teacher who doesn't want that???

In case you haven't heard about it, explicit and systematic instruction are huge buzz words right now in the reading science research and instructional world. If you've been teaching a minute, these terms are not new to you, but maybe you just need a refresh to make sure you're maximizing your instruction.

These are super important, "must-do" strategies to implement and "get right" to really help students get growth quickly. And the best part is....they are very do-able. It's been my experience that with intentional and strategic tweaks here and there, and with lots of practice and patience, most teachers will get right up to speed!

If you are still fairly new to learning about science of reading instruction, this is a simple structured literacy instructional tweak that gets major bang for the buck. It's worth spending a little bit of time to learn and implement well!

I remember when I first started learning about science of reading instruction, I kept hearing the words explicit and systematic over and over. I knew it was important and I knew according to John Hattie's research that it yielded a high effect size. But, as always, I kept thinking...what does this really look like in classroom and how can teachers implement it correctly.

Learning curves stink, and teachers don't have time to waste. Chances are you already do some components of it, you may just need to be a little more intentional to see the growth that you want to see. Explicit instruction will work for all grades and all subject areas!

Take out some paper or your phone to jot down a few notes. You can really start tomorrow!

Explicit Instruction

According to Anita Archer, explicit instruction guru and author of the book Explicit Instruction, Effective and Efficient Teaching, "explicit instruction is instruction that is systematic, direct, engaging and success oriented." She also affirms that explicit instruction has been validated time and time again through research for general education and special education students.

In other words, teachers who teach explicitly present concepts in a crystal clear way that explains exactly what students need to know to be successful. It may include examples, models, graphics, non-examples and many opportunities for planned cumulative review. Basically, when teaching explicitly, nothing is left on the table.

When teaching explicitly, nothing is left on the table. Instruction is crystal clear.

Teachers implement the gradual release model which is a teaching strategy that includes direct modeling, guided practice and opportunities for independent practice once students have shown success with the scaffolded practice. Instruction is intentionally planned (no winging it allowed) and teacher talk is minimal. Students are actively engaged and there are many, frequent multisensory opportunities for students to practice applying the new concept. The teacher teaches with urgency so that no time is wasted and he/she circulates the room like her hair is on fire providing immediate specific feedback while students actively practice.

If you'd like to see examples of explicit teaching, Anita Archer has great examples on her website. There's an entire library there for different grade levels; definitely check it out!

Explicit Teaching is NOT Discovery Learning

As a former gifted and talented and STEM teacher I understand and advocate for discovery learning. However, there are time when discovery learning is not appropriate. There is a time and a place for discovery learning, and teaching students to become skilled readers is NOT one of them, no matter what level of support they need.

Systematic Instruction

If you're like me, you love a good system or an effective way to "step-if-y" instruction!

Systematic instruction is simply instruction that is presented following a clear scope and sequence. This means concepts are explicitly taught in a developmentally appropriate organized order from easier to harder so that skills may grow upon each other. A good systematic curriculum will build a strong foundation that provides lots of support opportunities before moving on to more advanced skills.

Instructional routines should also be taught in a systematic routine. Teachers should have a "system" when teaching specific concepts or strategies. For example, phonics instruction should be taught first by introducing a sound to students. Also, I encourage including encoding (writing) in your systematic instruction.

Systematic PhonicsTeaching Example:

1. Explicitly teach a new, specific sound and practice hearing and identifying the sound until mastery. (Start with phonemic awareness)

2. Explicitly teach how to verbally "spell the sound" by teaching the corresponding grapheme (letter or group of letters) that represent the sound. Encoding component: practice writing the spelling of the sound.

3. Combine the new grapheme with other graphemes that students have previously learned. Practice reading the new words until mastery. Encoding component: Practice writing words that include the new grapheme. Only build upon skills that have been previously taught.

4. Practice reading phrases first, then sentences that include words with the new grapheme. Encoding component: Practice writing phrases and then sentences that include the graphemes and words.

5. Move to connected or decodable texts that include the new grapheme and builds upon previously learned phonics skills. *The GOAL is to get to the text component as quickly as possible. Encoding component: The expectation will be that students use the new grapheme in their writing. Cumulative review is key to making learning sticky!

There is so much more I could share about explicit and systematic instruction because it truly works and can explode your students' reading outcomes, and that makes me excited for coaches, students and teachers!

MORE TO COME...I'll be creating a FREE Literacy TV video about explicit and systematic instruction this month. To get access to it, sign up to receive access to all my free Literacy TV series!

WORK WITH ME: If you'd like to meet with me one on one or with your school or district to learn more about how to tweak your current literacy instruction to include explicit and systematic instruction, please email me. I'm happy to set up a free call with you. I'd love to help you make an instructional plan!

Happy Coaching and Teaching!

Michael @ Principal Teacher Co.

IG: principalteacherco

FB: Michael Singletary Coaching

FB Group: Principal Teacher Co. Literacy Leaders (Please Join to Collaborate!)

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