Wit and Wisdom 

I was asked to review the Wit and Wisdom reading program. Ultimately this is no easy task to do, as to the best of my knowledge, there are no existing studies of the topic. This means that by definition the program cannot be evidence-based and at best it can be research based (meaning the underlying principles are evidence-based). With that in mind, I have tried to analyze the principles of the program, as laid out by the creators, to assess the relative research strength of the program. 


According to the creators website, “Each module focuses on a topic or theme that builds students’ content knowledge through the use of rich interdisciplinary grade-level texts. Essential topics strategically reoccur, empowering students to deepen their understanding of core knowledge across Grades K–8. Wit & Wisdom leads students to develop reading, writing, speaking and listening, vocabulary, and language skills in concert. Instead of addressing standards one by one, in isolation, Wit & Wisdom arranges for students to practice required language arts skills in the context of module content. Instead of levelled readers that limit engagement and deeper learning, students are invited to read content-rich and complex texts that will build their knowledge of important topics as they master literacy skills. The selected core texts are wide-ranging and varied and provide a careful balance of literary, informational, and fine art texts.”


I interpreted these quotes to mean, the program's fundamental principles are: it’s cross curricular, it uses high quality complex texts (not levelled or decodable), and lessons try to teach multiple skills at once, rather than having one lesson devoted to one mechanical aspect of English language learning. To the best of my knowledge, none of these concepts have been evaluated by meta-analysis and these principles can therefore not be interpreted as evidence based. 


I read through the curriculum outline of the program and found the program used the following principles and pedagogies: repeated reading, vocabulary instruction, direct instruction, inquiry based learning, whole language instruction, comprehension instruction, providing background knowledge, and morphology instruction starting in grade 7. Some of these strategies are high yield according to the meta-analysis literature, including, repeated reading, direct instruction, and comprehension instruction. Morphology instruction overall is a high yield strategy, but current research shows a low impact in the intermediate grades. According to the current meta-analysis research vocabulary instruction, intermediate morphology instruction, and whole language instruction are all low yield strategies. 


According to Hattie’s 2022 meta-analysis, 81 studies on whole language found a mean effect size (ES) of .09, 536 studies on phonics found a mean ES of .57, 72 studies on repeated reading found a mean ES of .84, 353 studies on inquiry based learning found a mean ES of .46, and 652 studies on direct instruction found a mean ES of .59.  According to Ellerman’s 2019 meta-analysis of vocabulary instruction, 37 K-12 studies showed a mean ES of .21. According to a Filderman, Et, al 2021 meta-analysis of 64 studies, comprehension interventions showed a mean ES of .59. 

The most glaringly obvious problem with this literacy program of course is that it does not include any phonological instruction of any kind. The authors noted this and admitted that a good literacy program should require the direct instruction of foundational skills like phonics. However, they therefore recommend users of their program pair it with a foundational skills program for younger grades. Ultimately though, this is a whole language program, which is deeply problematic as phonics programs (at least for the early grades) tend to outperform whole language programs by impact sizes of 6.3 fold. While the mean ES of the principles used, is within an average range, the foundational concepts do not have sufficient research to find any ES, moreover of the principles that do have sufficient research, many of them are decidedly not evidence based. Therefore I must conclude Wit and Wisdom is not research based or evidence based. 


Grade: C+

The program is not research based, as most of the principles are not supported by meta-analysis data. 


Qualitative Grade: 4/10

The program includes the following evidence-based principles: fluency instruction, direct instruction, comprehension instruction, and morphology instruction. 


Filderman, M. J., Austin, C. R., Boucher, A. N., O’Donnell, K., & Swanson, E. A. (2022). A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Reading Comprehension Interventions on the Reading Comprehension Outcomes of Struggling Readers in Third Through 12th Grades. Exceptional Children, 88(2), 163–184. https://doi.org/10.1177/00144029211050860


Feng, L., Lindner, A., Ji, X. R., & Malatesha Joshi, R. (2019). The roles of handwriting and keyboarding in writing: a meta-analytic review. Reading & Writing, 32(1), 33–63. https://doi-org.ezproxy.lakeheadu.ca/10.1007/s11145-017-9749-x


Ehri, Linnea & Nunes, Simone & Willows, Dale & Schuster, Barbara & Yaghoub-Zadeh, Zohreh & Shanahan, Timothy. (2001). Phonemic Awareness Instruction Helps Children Learn to Read: Evidence From the National Reading Panel's Meta-Analysis. Reading Research Quarterly. 36. 250-287. 10.1598/RRQ.36.3.2. 


Elleman, A.M., Lindo, E.J., Morphy, P., & Compton, D.L. (2009). The impact of vocabulary instruction on passage-level comprehension of school-age children: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 1–44. https://doi.org/10.1080/1934574080 2539200


J, Hattie. (2022). Meta-X. Visible Learning. Retrieved from <https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/influences>. 


N, Hansford. (2021). Morphology: A Secondary Meta-Analysis. Pedagog Non Grata. Retrieved from <https://www.pedagogynongrata.com/morphology>. 


Great Minds. (2022). Wit and Wisdom. Retrieved from <https://greatminds.org/english>. 

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