The Future of Early Literacy

Literacy expert Lucy Calkins has recently made headlines by revealing changes to her popular Units of Study for Teaching Reading program. This early literacy curriculum is known for its reliance on the “three-cueing” approach.

Also known as MSV, three-cueing encourages children to read an unfamiliar word using a combination of meaning, structure, and visual cues. In other words, children are not necessarily required to decode the words on a page. They can make guesses by using context clues, studying pictures, or deciding whether the word “sounds right” in a sentence.

Critics argue that three-cueing has no basis in reading science because it relies on so much guesswork. It could even be detrimental for children’s literacy development, since it pulls attention away from the word itself. That’s why many educators are pushing for direct phonics and decoding instruction in early literacy programs. Education Week breaks down the controversy in this article.

It is unclear whether Calkins is rethinking the three-cueing approach altogether, or if Units of Study will just have minor changes in order to appease critics. However, the sudden shift has sparked a lively discussion on the future of early literacy instruction. Educational publishers will need to revisit their existing programs accordingly.

Further Reading


Is it Time to Reinvent Early Education?

In this opinion piece from The Atlantic, educator Erika Christakis argues that the U.S. should rethink its traditional approach to early education. School has remained largely unchanged over recent decades. Even during pandemic-era learning, the fundamentals are the same:

  • Students are grouped in classes by age.
  • Teachers lead short periods of instruction on standalone subjects.
  • Few opportunities exist for independent learning.
  • Most school time is spent indoors.
  • Schools overburden educators by also asking them to guard children’s mental and physical well-being.

The author cites several recent studies suggesting that this model is outdated and is even detrimental to young children.

What would a new model look like?

Christakis believes early education should be more engaging and less test-focused. More time would be spent outside, and mixed-age learning could be curiosity-driven. A shift in community responsibilities would also allow teachers to focus solely on teaching instead of having catchall “custodian functions.”

What would this change mean for publishers?

Publishers would likely need to overhaul existing resources in favor of:

  • Cross-curricular units that teachers can customize
  • Digital tools that support student inquiry and collaboration
  • Performance assessments or portfolio-building support instead of traditional tests

Are U.S. schools ready for this kind of change? What other resources would educators need?

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