In elementary school, I remember participating in a reading incentive program with a simple premise: The more books I read, the more points I’d receive toward a reward. Because of the reward, my classmates and I were highly motivated to spend our free time reading. What’s not to love about a program like that?

There was just one problem. I could read a long, challenging chapter book slightly above my reading level in the same amount of time it took my classmate to read a dozen quick, easy books below his reading level. Who earned more points? My classmate. What did I learn? Quantity beats quality. Don’t challenge yourself.

The program had a fantastic mission, but there was an unintended consequence for me and many other students. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens often in schools. The only way to avoid it is for teachers to take the time to scrutinize the practices and programs they put to use in their classrooms. Are we doing things out of habit or because others are doing them? Or are we doing things because they truly promote learning? A good educator is one who observes and adjusts—constantly and relentlessly.

A recent Edutopia article by Nell K. Duke, “What Doesn’t Work: Literacy Practices We Should Abandon,” discusses this idea in relation to literacy. It’s been shared nearly 100,000 times since early June. While many of the literacy practices described in the article arose with the best of intentions, studies have shown that these practices often don’t make optimal use of instruction time. It’s up to educators to reclaim this valuable time and make it count.

We want to highlight three of the practices Duke mentions. She asserts that “look up the list” vocabulary instruction, weekly spelling tests, and unsupported independent reading should be abandoned in favor of more effective approaches, and we agree. Our research-proven programs offer great solutions.

On vocabulary
Research supports that the ideal way to build vocabulary is through the practices we’ve incorporated into our Take Aim at Vocabulary program—practices such as semantic mapping, learning affixes, and having repeated exposure to words in context. These practices solidify word understanding much more effectively than looking up a list of unrelated words in the dictionary. For teachers who aren’t looking to implement a new vocabulary program but want to encourage independent word learning, we recommend our highly effective Splat-o-Nym app, which incorporates research-proven word-learning strategies into a fun, independent game.

On spelling
According to the research, an approach that encourages students to analyze and use their spelling words is more effective than a spelling test. Furthermore, students of different spelling abilities should receive different lists of spelling words. These reasons and more are why we developed our Signs for Sounds spelling program. This program employs the best research-based practices for teaching spelling and allows differentiation for individual students or small groups. It’s as easy for teachers to administer as a weekly spelling test, but it’s much more effective.

On independent reading
Independent reading time without teacher input can lead to the phenomenon I described at the beginning of this article. Students might gravitate toward the easiest material available and thus sacrifice greater improvement in literacy. Unmonitored independent reading time in school can be especially problematic for struggling readers, who might spend the time just looking at pictures. These students would fare far better if they spent their valuable classroom time using Read Naturally Strategy programs like Read Naturally Live and Read Naturally Encore. These research-based programs raise reading achievement quickly and motivate students enjoy both learning to read and reading to learn. Students work in individual levels with high-interest reading material to optimize progress.

As Duke mentions in her article, there’s no reason to abandon a practice if you’ve thought critically about it and have determined that it’s working well. But if you’re worried that something you’re doing is wasting your students’ time, it probably is. This coming school year, we implore you to let go of these time wasters and employ practices that actually get results. We’d love to talk with you about how Read Naturally can help. Get in touch to request free trials of our research-proven programs.