In great literature there is an archetype of the “sage” who comes alongside the “hero” in moments of crisis to help them navigate the journey. Think of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings or Professor Dumbledor in Harry Potter. In the middle of all that is going on in education right now, wouldn’t we all want a wise sage to support us?
In our opinion, Jan Burkins, Kari Yates and their newest collaborator Katie Egan Cunningham have been and are being just that kind of gentle and guiding figure as we navigate the literacy landscape. The just released “Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Upper Elementary Classroom” is a must-read for educators who are looking to align their classroom practices with the ever growing science around reading, teaching and learning.
What is unique about their voice and contribution is their ability to speak to both the “head” and the “heart”.
Unpacking the Science: Head Work
Katie, Jan & Karie are able to present the research in a way that is accessible for busy educators, often including examples from their own lives that humanize the very “heady” science. Structure helps readers with comprehension (see shift 2!) and the book, divided into easily accessible 6 chapters, is formatted to help readers engage with, rather than be overwhelmed by, a lot of information. Like the first book, there is a dive into the classroom, unpacking misunderstandings, summarizing the science and providing some high-leverage instructional practices to try. We are eager to try out semantic gradients with some classrooms this year. (See shift 3!)
Acknowledging the Educator : Heart Work
Learning how to change your beliefs and practices, especially if they’ve been long held, is vulnerable, challenging work. It’s often easy to fall into one of two categories – either jumping into the deep end of a new “trend” in education without deeply understanding the complexities or ignoring new insights and information because it’s uncomfortable or unsettling. What the authors of Shifting the Balance do so well is address the genuine struggle to learn something and recognize the emotional and cognitive work that is involved. Always invitational, the book beckons readers to examine practices that might not be working for all kids.
The more we learn, the more we are convinced that teaching reading is a both/and not an either/or endeavor. Shifting the Balance models so well that we can grow in our learning AND be proud of our past work as teachers. We can embrace science aligned practices and artistically apply them to the diverse learners in our class.
We are grateful for this book and highly recommend it.
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