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Here’s to a new internal discourse…

I have been reading a lot lately about reading/writing strategies.  Teachers I speak with sometimes will ask, “What are the one or two strategies that I should be using in my classroom to help my students be successful in comprehending text?”  Over the years, I have struggled with a response, because there are so many sound/good strategies that support learning.  Today, I came across an article that I had put in my bag, at some point in time, with the intent to read when I had a free moment.  Well, today, I had a free moment and took the time to read it.  The article is from The Reading Teacher, September 1999, and entitled “In pursuit of an illusion:  The flawed search for a perfect method” by Duffy and Hoffman.  As I was reading, I came to a realization, one that I have probably unconsciously known all along, is that it is not the strategy, but the teacher.  More importantly a teacher that is “thoughtful and adapts quickly”.  In other words, a teacher that makes instructional decisions based on the needs of students, the very foundation that formative assessment is built upon.  We can put whatever “title or tag” we see fit, but it boils right down to it, a good teacher is one who, “thoughtfully and analytically integrates various programs, materials, and methods as the situation demands.”

Other quotes that are “dense”:

  • No single method or approach has ever been proven to be a cure-all
  • The answer is not in the method, it is in the teacher
  • Good teaching requires, “doing the right thing in the right way and at the right in time in response to problems posted by particular people in particular places on particular occasions” (Garrison, 1997, p. 271)
  • Explicit explanations are most effective when adapted to the instructional situation
  • “There’s no one way of doing things; there is no black and white thing you pull out and say, ‘This is how I do it every single time'” (Duffy, 1994, p. 116)
  • Effective teachers root their eclecticism in assessing students and analyzing situations before deciding what methods or material to use, in ongoing evaluation, and in thoughtfully adapting to the students and situation.
  • ______ (put any program in the blank) does not eliminate the need for teachers to assess students and to change prescribed methods when something different is called for
  • Effective teachers understand that different students require different methods at different times.
  • Do not hesitate to modify instruction or to even change methods entirely if that’s what needs to be done to be effective with a child at a given point in time.
  • Effective instruction requires thought and adaption, one cannot be “trained” to be thoughtfully adaptive.

Which goes back to my dilemma, I can put the best of the best strategies out there with a strong research base, but without a teacher willing to or able to thoughtfully adapt, am I wasting my time?

Thankfully Duffy and Hoffman offer some advice for this dilemma, which I hope to incorporate into future opportunities.

  1. Give examples of instructional situations that require methods to be modified.
  2. Teacher teachers how to solve problems in such situations.
  3. Provide instruction on a range of approaches and methods and how to adapt and combine them to meet various situations.
  4. Illustrate with case studies of teachers who have successfully combined programs and methods.
  5. Hypothesize about other modifications that might be necessary in different situations.

This article, although sitting in my bag for a long time, creates that internal discourse that will only make me better, and also creates that sense of urgency that will drive me and my work.

In the meantine, the article will be filed under “formative assessment” not “reading research”.


  1. Drinda Williams wrote:

    Lots to think about here, Kay!

    For me, this brought to mind the need to include the research base for any strategy. If practitioners are provided only the step-by-step “recipe” for a strategy, they are unable to be adaptive and maintain effectiveness. They may adhere to elements that could easily be modified to better serve students, or–and this may be more likely–they may change or drop elements of the strategy that are essential to its effectiveness. If they understand the theory and research behind a given strategy, they are better able to use it where it is needed, adapt it effectively, or simply set it aside as “not applicable” given the instructional problem.

    Monday, April 13, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Lori Beltran wrote:

    WOW—this is “dense.” This goes against the view that a “program” will save us. Why do we keep looking for a program to be the magic bullet???

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

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