There are some programs I don't mind. I am a fan of Early Literacy Skills Builder as well as LLI (OK, for LLI I really just like the books it supplies to use as guided reading books. And it's software. And that it does encourage teacher thought).
But I still don't fully buy into the concept of using a program. I've had years of quality literacy training. I don't want to give myself too much credit, but I like to think of myself as a good reading teacher. Teaching emergent reading skills- it's something I can do. I understand how kids learn to read and I can design instruction based off what small skills and steps they need to take to get from point a to point b.
Now that I'm teaching in a program for children with Intellectual Disabilities I have to re-look at how I view teaching reading. I am teaching children whose parents and teachers decided traditional methods in a traditional classroom were not going to work, so it would be important for the child's education to be in another setting with different instruction. That's not something I can overlook lightly.
It doesn't mean I can't teach traditional guided reading when it is appropriate, but it does mean that I need to take into account the possibility that it might not be appropriate.
I'm torn between whether or not to use a program for a few of my students. We can do traditional guided reading- which I love and feel I am good at teaching. Or I can use a boxed program, or some combination of the two. The children in question are learning decoding skills, which is traditionally difficult for students with intellectual disabilities. The more we dive into practicing these skills the more I see just how difficult it is for my students. The special ed solution to this difficulty is to teach whole-language and teach specific words in isolation.
Despite my personal aversion to programs that teach words in isolation I want to do what is best for the children. Am I holding them back by trying to teach them to decode words? Or am I slowly building a strong base of literacy skills they will be able to use and apply to all words? Can I adapt my guided reading plans and a boxed program to give the students both whole-word instruction and decoding skills?
I realize what a gap I have in my understanding of how children with intellectual disabilities learn to read. I've been introduced to the programs but I've never been taught why these programs are chosen over others. What in the neurological development makes it difficult for children to learn to decode words and makes whole word instruction better? What is the research on these programs that shows the benefits of teaching one way verse another?
I don't want to limit my children's skills but I also don't want to limit their opportunities for growth. I worry that if I teach them using whole-word instruction that we can't go back and teach decoding principals. I want them to be able to understand sounds, rhymes, and word play. I don't want to give up on those skills just because they are in our program.
I'm trying to find a way to balance both the pre-programmed kit and the student-driven guided reading in order to give my students the best of both worlds.