Lessons Learned In Combat

Why Scripted Reading Programs Are Like Crack

It’s a wobbly analogy, but still.

In trying to help the teachers at my school feel a little less overwhelmed by their efforts to differentiate their instruction, their content, their assessment, and their everything else, a kind but (in my opinion) misguided former special education teacher offered her take on the situation. “The teachers at my school were similarly overwhelmed,” she told me one day last week. “In my former district, the administration addressed this problem by purchasing a Harcourt Brace reading program that differentiated everything for the teachers. It was great! Tiers 1, 2, and 3 were all mapped out for them. The teachers were hesitant to accept the program at first, but they are all so happy now and feel a lot less overwhelmed.”

I nodded my head and smiled, as is my wont, but due to the fact that I barely know this person, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my scripted programs = crack cocaine analogy. Some of you have heard it. Bear with me while I step onto my soapbox.

You see, crack (and other drug) addicts often have some underlying issue or problem, which they deal with by self-medicating themselves (rather than face the problem head-on in a supportive, therapeutic setting). I know this because I watch Intervention every week.* Sometimes the addict really and truly does need some form of medication; sometimes they need a great deal of therapeutic coaching; sometimes they need both. But all crack does is help them feel better; it doesn’t help make the underlying problem disappear.

Teachers, by virtue of their profession, are often faced with problems as well. It may be that they have a handful of students who are at risk of reading failure, and they aren’t sure how to help them. It may be that they aren’t as strong at teaching math as they are at teaching social studies–but are expected to do both, and to do both well. It may be that they have a pocket of students who are bringing the rest of the class down with their off-task behavior. If you ask me, there’s an underlying issue in each of these instances that needs to be addressed. This isn’t a negative judgement; believe me, I’ve been there in more ways than one. It’s just an opinion I’ve formed from my ten years of teaching experience.

If teachers fail to address the underlying issue head-on–say the issue is that they don’t have enough experience prompting students appropriately when the decoding process breaks down– giving them a script to follow is akin to giving them crack. It may help for a while, but it’s not really getting at the deep, down problem that teacher has, which is that he or she does not know enough about decoding, word attack skills, and/or English orthography to feel truly comfortable helping the majority of students escape from a decoding strangle-hold.

However, if that teacher is engaged in a supportive, therapeutic process whereby he or she is taught to use a wide range of decoding strategies and when to use them (and more importantly, why to use them in which instances), then that teacher is much more likely to be able to efficiently and effectively problem-solve whenever a student encounters a “tricky” word. Of course, that teacher will always experience moments of doubt or bafflement–e.g., “What the hell do I do now? This kid is hopeless!”– but at least they have some strategies that they can rely on in the majority of cases. The crack/scripted program addict only has the crack/scripted program to rely on. What happens when the crack/scripted program gets accidentally left in the car under the Goldfish crumbs and curled-up copies of Us Weekly? Mental paralysis, that’s what.

I rest my case.

*Shawna wishes to thank the producers of Intervention for her surface-level understanding of drug addiction.


1 thought on “Why Scripted Reading Programs Are Like Crack”

  1. I have teachers I work with that BEG for scripted programs. BEG. I try to tell them how lucky we are that we aren’t forced to use them, but they are just looking for someone to tell them what to do and teach. I use some parts of scripted programs (the short stories from Junior Great Books for example) but don’t follow them they way they are meant to be followed. So much of reading instruction and reading comprehension happens during conversations. I don’t want to be boxed in and forced to say what someone else thinks!


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