Before Drinking the Kool-Aid, Check the Ingredients: The GLAD Classroom Model

I didn’t watch Game of Thrones until five years after season one came out. When season two of Serial came out, I was just starting the first season. Most health food crazes come and go before I’m willing to even look into them. I’ve learned that this is a pattern for me. Whenever people start losing their minds about something, I hesitate. In some cases, it’s without cause. (Note: The fact that it took me so long to fall in love with Game of Thrones is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.) However, there have been other times where this has served me well. For example, when (somehow) the all-denim outfit – the beloved Canadian tuxedo – started to make it’s run with a rise in popularity in the mid-2000s, I held off and watched as some of my friends attempted to rock something that turned out to be a fashion faux pa in retrospect.

What am I getting at? Well, in a roundabout way, the GLAD classroom model. If you haven’t heard of it, I don’t know how you’ve avoided it. GLAD stands for Guided Language Acquisition Design. It’s a classroom model that focuses on providing scaffolds for students with lower language skills so that they can access the content. It uses specific strategies and curriculum design modeled around the intentional use of language, conversations, visual aids, and repetition to help all students access the content being taught. 

This premise and amazing-sounding description has helped GLAD catch fire in the education world. The education system is losing its mind about it. Districts are going all-in, shelling out lots of money and devoting loads of training sessions to GLAD. It’s the silver bullet.

Or is it?

I’ve spent six days in GLAD trainings as of writing this. My instincts at this point are kicking in. I've studied it and watched it in action, but I can’t buy in. I’ve tried and tried. I’ve made lists of the positives to take away, and I’ve absolutely found positives, but as a whole, I just can’t drink the Kool-Aid. While it is absolutely possible that this could be another Game of Thrones regret for me later on, my gut instinct, my research into education and pedagogy, and the reflection I’ve done are telling me that GLAD is going to be the education’s world Canadian tuxedo – we might not say that it should have never happened, but we’ll probably all agree that there were probably better choices we could have made.

Again, I want to emphasize that there are strategies I’ve found effective. There are components that I will be bringing back to my classroom. Nonetheless, here are the reasons why I can’t buy in to the GLAD classroom model as a whole.

Concern 1. Extrinsic Motivation

GLAD teaches behavior. I really like that. They have their three standards: make good decisions, solve problems, show respect. They explicitly teach what certain positive qualities look and sound like. I loved that. 

And then the rewards showed up. Students who demonstrated the three standards would be given a “literary award” – intended to be an academic extension, but really just ended up being good materials for paper planes – and those awards were given by scouts, peers who were given the power to identify which students deserved the reward. When it came to the specific positive qualities and characteristics that were taught, teams were awarded points for demonstrating those characteristics. 

These two components served as the foundation of behavior management in the GLAD model. If you are unsure why extrinsic motivation can be such a harmful aspect in a classroom, please read the following articles.

Concern 1b. Lack of Inquiry, Creativity, and Choice

This section connects pretty closely to the previous section, but I wanted to separate it to make sure it is clear. The factors that contribute to intrinsic motivation and truly engaged students don’t seem to be a factor in GLAD’s approach to curriculum design and implementation. Here are the components that concerned me:

Concern 2. Focused on Whole-Group Instruction

I don’t mean to say that whole-group instruction is wrong. I think that there are times where it has a place in the classroom. However, my concern with GLAD is that when we now have the opportunity through blended learning models and personalized learning made possible with technological advancements to tailor educational experiences to each individual student, GLAD is pushing a whole-class model of content delivery as the foundation from which to address differences and varying abilities when it comes to both language and content. 

There’s that common saying about where you spend your time reflects what you care about. While GLAD does do small group instruction at times, the large percentage of time is spent in whole group instruction. There’s a reason why doctors don’t see twenty patients at once. It’s not effective. The education world knows the same is true with our classrooms, so instead of pursuing a model that continues with what we know doesn’t work well, we should instead be pursuing strategies and models that allow us to work with smaller groups of students and personalize educational experiences more authentically.

Concern 2b. Lack of True Differentiation

No student learns the same thing at the same time in the same way. If the education system embraced that reality, I think our schools would look very different. Many of our dropouts leave school because they are either so advanced in a specific area not emphasized by school that they don’t see school as valuable, or they are so far behind that they need time to get caught up and develop background knowledge but are never given that time. GLAD doesn’t address either of those students. The strategies employed in GLAD do a really good job of making sure the low-level students who are missing either language skills or background knowledge can participate and comprehend the content being taught. However, it doesn’t allow students to learn the background knowledge they are missing. They might understand the current content, but as a whole, they are still missing fundamentals that will be needed in the future.

On the other end of the spectrum, the students who have advanced experience, understanding, skills in the content being addressed are clumped in with the group. They are bored. They can’t skip ahead or pursue other routes because of the whole-class approach of the GLAD model. These students aren’t encouraged and inspired by education; they’re held back by it. A model that does that isn’t what’s best for any student. 

I’m not anti-GLAD. The explicit instruction on how to revise writing was phenomenal. The picture file card activity was an example of how to help students see patterns in information and make meaning out of them. There are definitely strategies in GLAD that are incredibly valuable in the classroom. If you end up in a GLAD training, you can absolutely learn strategies and ideas that will improve your classroom if you are looking for them. If you completely close your mind to everything, you won’t get anything valuable out of it, and there are a number of valuable components in GLAD. I’m not against the strategies, and I can’t even say I’m fully against GLAD itself.

What I am against are the pillars on which GLAD stands. They are outdated. We know that extrinsic motivation doesn’t improve long-term behavior outcomes. It doesn’t improve work ethic long-term. We know that in order to reach our most resistant students, we have to include choice, inquiry, and creativity for our students. We know that a factory model of education where all students do the same things, produce the same products, and are expected to learn the same things at the same time will never produce future leaders who can solve real-world problems creatively, identify and pursue passions that improve the world they live in, or develop an internal code of behavior that is founded in a sense of justice, civic responsibility, and compassion. 

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or to think the same way I do. All I hope is that before you drink the Kool-Aid, check the ingredients carefully. 

*Note: If you are a teacher who is using GLAD or are interested in GLAD, I applaud you for trying something new. You could have just stuck with what has always been done or taken the easy route and not tried anything for your students. You rose above that and tried to help all your students. Be proud of that.

Further Reading and Research: If you still are unsure about GLAD strategies and how they impact students, please read the following articles/studies. 

I am sure plenty of you would love to disagree with me, and I really do want to hear what you have to say. Without discourse, we will never grow or change, and I am always looking for ways to grow and change. Please leave your comments below.