A Message from Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell:
We have long advocated for collaboration over polarization, rationales over labels, observation over rigidity and what we, as educators, need to continue to assure equitable literacy instruction for all children. In support of teachers, school leaders and children, this 10-post blog series offers clarity around mischaracterizations of our work. Throughout the series, we will address these misconceptions in order to set the record straight and offer a space for the education community to hear directly from us. Continue to join us here, on the Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ blog, as together we navigate to a place of clarity.
Question 8: What do you mean by “responsive teaching” and why is it important?
Responsive teaching is not a program—it's an adjective. We think that an effective design for literacy instruction must be cohesive, comprehensive, coordinated, and responsive. This has been turned into a label that is widely misinterpreted. We use the term “responsive teaching” as teaching that is based on the understanding that all children are unique, and that the instruction should be adjusted to address their strengths and needs. The teacher goes to meet the child and brings the instruction to the child instead of expecting the child to conform to a single path of learning. No one-size-fits-all script is sufficient. So, responsive teaching is a view of teaching reading as a process. The teacher observes, gathers data, looks for patterns in the reading, writing, and language behaviors, records these, and identifies priorities for teaching that build on students' strengths with instruction that expands to the student's existing reading and writing competencies.
Responsive teaching meets students where they are and takes them where they need to go next in their learning. It's a highly complex process. It's a constant cycle that takes place across multiple instructional contexts. The teacher would notice the language children use during oral discussion of books that they hear read aloud, what they write in their reader's notebook about books they've read, what they write in the writing process, what they write in response to reading in guided reading, read aloud, and their own choice books. So, the teacher is always gathering data across five contexts for teaching reading and five contexts for teaching writing, as well as a daily direct, explicit, and systematic teaching of phonics, phonemic awareness, and vocabulary and spelling.
So, you're really looking across the language arts with the best knowledge of how readers and writers and spellers develop over time. Just to be very clear, responsive teaching is not a label and it is not a relabeling of anything called “balanced literacy” or even “whole language approach” to literacy learning. We have always advocated for a child-centered, responsive approach to literacy learning, not a program-centered approach. A child-centered approach. One that focuses on observation and assessment rather than holding to a script is much more than a label. This approach, focusing on the child, enables teachers to be constructive, inquiry based, language based, and to engage each child's strength and curiosity.
With responsive teaching, educators can respond to and meet children where they are in their learning — to teach the child, not the program, not the book. In this way, teaching reading is a science, a science of observation, decision-making, and knowledge. And this is what we call responsive teaching.
This blog is part of the Just To Clarify FAQ audio blog series. Click below to navigate to other blogs:
Q1: Why have you chosen not to participate in the latest debate about how to teach children how to read and what advice do you have for teachers?
Q2: Can you clarify what MSV is and why you believe it is important?
Q3: Some have suggested that you support the use of guessing. Can you comment on this?
Q4: How does guided reading and the use of leveled texts advance the literacy learning of children and what role does guided reading play within a comprehensive literacy system?
Q5: In your view of early literacy development, what is the role of decodable texts?
Q6: Could you speak to the role of phonics and teaching children to read, and clarify your approach to phonics instruction?
Q7: Some people have referred to your work as “balanced literacy” or “whole language.” Do these labels accurately describe your work?
Q8: What do you mean by “responsive teaching” and why is it important?
Q9: Elevating teacher expertise has always been a hallmark of your work. What has led you to advocate so strongly that teachers are the single most important factor in a child's learning achievement?
Q10: Much has been said about the role of teachers in teaching children how to read, but what role do school administrators, coaches, and other teacher leaders play?