CELL-EXLL, SFA, GLAD Are Too Much and Not Enough

Since a few years before NCLB really raised it’s head, standardized testing was already a fact of life for “Title 1” schools (law for “Improving The Academic Achievement Of The Disadvantaged”) and we started to have mandatory “Research-based literacy programs” thrown at us. In my area the big programs have been CELL/ExLL (Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning and Extended Literacy Learning), SFA (Success for All), and GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design)

These programs focus on literacy and English language skills for students that are behind. One positive outcome of how these programs were implemented was that a lot of money and time were spent to train teachers in implementing and utilizing them. Training models included 5 or more days of initial training, ongoing observation in classrooms where the program had already been implemented, and ongoing peer coaching/mentoring. Before, whenever we were given a new program to implement we were given fly-by-night training and support and then to everyone’s surprise the new program failed to live up to its lofty expectations – not the case with these programs – time and money were invested heavily.

So have our test scores gone up as a result? At first yes, but they have not even remotely kept pace with NCLB’s requirements with too few exceptions. Schools, teachers and students have worked hard, the programs were implemented well overall, but we have hit somewhat of a wall as far as raising test scores (and note I’m not even questioning here whether test scores and especially the kind of test scores we are pursuing are the end all we should be held accountable for anyhow).

So why have these programs and the hard work put into them failed to be the savior of our schools? For lots of reasons, and I’m not going to suggest I know all the reasons – but I will suggest what I feel are some of the most telling and worrisome ones.

Number one is that the way teachers are trained to implement these programs makes them WAY too time consuming. Teaching kids to be literate has to be a top priority for sure, but these programs take up the entire day to the exclusion of REAL science and social studies and art and the list goes on. Proponents of these programs will argue that you “integrate” those subjects into the program. Students read about those subjects as the reading material students use to learn to reflect on and write about and discuss – and by reciting poetry and shared reading and looking at pictures of those subjects students learn the science and social studies and whatever. I agree, to a small degree. Integrating those subjects into the literacy program makes nothing but sense – unfortunately it is not close to enough.

For reading and learning to really be accessible and meaningful students have to possess the schema necessary to make sense of what they read and learn about. In my experience, and in my opinion students need real experience like that gleaned from field trips, experiments, projects, art, sports programs, recess and PE – the very things programs like those mentioned above often cut from the curriculum (none of these programs cut these vital pieces by design – it just usually happens – although many Success For All schools either completely cut field trips or schedule one or two a year because of how the program works). The program designers would say you can still do those things – hence the problem. During my own training in these programs I would raise my hand and bring up that we had just seen a “typical” day’s schedule that a model teacher presented and I didn’t see REAL projects and other hands-on minds-on pieces. And every time – every single time the answer was the same – “Oh…you can or could do those things.” NOTE – not you SHOULD do them – you COULD do them. And every single example they presented NEVER included any active learning project, art, etc. – so the message given and received – NOT IMPORTANT!

My point here is that THOSE SCHEMA MAKING PIECES ARE AS IMPORTANT AND NECESSARY A PART OF LEARNING TO READ AND LEARN AS ANY THERE ARE because without them you might as well be reading word lists instead of a book. How long would you last reading a list of words the length of a book?

Learning to read without having those experiences is like learning to fish in your swimming pool – you can cast and bait your hook and reel in a lure and row a rubber raft around a little and maybe even fall in (not that that has happened to me mind you…) but you don’t really catch fish and you don’t spend time in a natural setting or deal with weather or rough water or smelly bait or catching a bunch of fish or none or any other actual aspects of fishing – good, bad or otherwise. In other words you totally miss out on the experience. Too many of the students that attend schools that use these programs have already missed the experience, that’s a big part of why they are behind – they need the experience to make meaning and to get excited about what they read and write about.

Again, these programs are solid programs, I’m not questioning their merits. It’s just that they are not enough and the way they are used now they take ALL the time necessary to get to the hands-on experiences. Not totally on purpose, but that’s what happens. They would be stronger programs if they included much more room for field trips and REAL projects that might go over the scheduled time (oh my!).

Learning has to be messy!

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2 thoughts on “CELL-EXLL, SFA, GLAD Are Too Much and Not Enough

  1. I just attended a four-day training in GLAD, because I had to. I was so depressed that I spent hours scouring the internet, looking for others who may have written about their discontent with the program. I could find tons of teachers who love it, many districts who support it, and you. I hope we’re not alone. Get the full details at my blog, senseitracey.blogspot.com. You’re right, students need real experiences and learning has to be messy.

  2. I can’t believe that I am responding to a post that was written 2 1/2 years ago…

    What we discovered at our school, after too many years, is that CELL/ExLL is not a literacy program in and of itself. It cannot, and will not stand alone. It is only the HOW, or the strategies we use to deliver the literacy instruction to students. For years we had teachers spending hours and hours of time developing their own curriculum, scope and sequence, and materials, or the WHAT of literacy instruction. Of course, our guide was the ever nebulous State Core Curriculum, but, can I tell you that, every teacher did their own thing, there was no collaboration, or consistency. Some students read the same books year after year in Book Clubs because they were favorites of the Teachers. There was never a meshing of the writing process and the 6 Traits of Writing. In short, it was a mess.

    However, I am happy to say that we did not “throw the baby out with the bath!” We still have strong P.E. music, art, dance, drama, technology,and experiential activities for all our our students, and it is interesting that our school is the only one in our district that consistently makes AYP in all areas!! Which just goes to prove your point…

    We fought for and now have a new basal program which gives every grade level a scope and sequence, leveled readers, and RTI and assessment materials [they now have a life in the evenings]! Of course, it is the beginning teachers who follow the basal the closest as they get their teaching feet wet, while the more experienced teachers and coaches help the with their CELL/ExLL framework delivery.

    My shorter reply to your post would just be: AMEN!!

    P.S. I hope your see this after all these years…