• Uncategorized

    Reading Is a Four-Dimensional Problem

    When I first got interested in the problems involved in teaching reading, I quickly discovered reading was a often viewed as a “three-dimensional problem” because it does not develop linearly and involves such a complex interplay of skills. That struck me as an accurate metaphor, and until recently, I never thought to question it. Recently, however, I’ve begun to think that turning children into good readers isn’t as complicated as it’s been made out to be—it’s worse. Let me start here. A while back, a colleague told me the following anecdote: a college classmate of her partner was visiting from San Francisco, and the three of them had dinner together.…

  • Phonics

    Names, Places, and… Phonics

    For as long as I can remember, people have mangled my last name: “Metzler”, “Metzer,” “Metzger,” “Meltzler”… I’ve gotten them all. And if they don’t want to mispronounce it, they usually ask me to say it for them—an understandable request, but also one that always struck me as a little odd because “Meltzer” (MELT-zer) is perfectly phonetic. The question of stressed syllables aside, there is only one way it could be pronounced. Curiously, I never thought about the connection between this phenomenon and phonics until very recently (yesterday, to be exact), but now that the thought has wormed its way into my brain, I’m convinced there’s something there. Not long…

  • ESL

    Why Are We Teaching Our Children to Read Like ESL Students?

    Permit me to ask a disturbing question:  Why are we teaching our children to read as though English is not their first language?  I have been a world language teacher for more than a decade at one of the more prestigious public high schools in the nation. Oddly enough, teaching students a second language gives me an interesting window into their first; but allow me to start at the beginning of my teaching adventure. I was a mid-life career changer who completed a master’s degree at New York University. My plan was to parlay my fluency in French into a high school teaching gig.  However, when I entered their degree program, NYU…

  • Phonics,  Tutoring

    Why I Care So Much About Phonics

    In 2009, I was a twenty-something who had recently left an administrative job at Columbia to tutor full-time. I hadn’t set out to focus on English—my B.A. is in French, the subject I started out tutoring—but I eventually realized that adding English to my repertoire would open up a lot more job opportunities. Sure enough, that’s what people mostly hired me for; and since most of my students were in high school, I inevitably ended up doing a lot of SAT prep. The more I tutored, the fewer skills I realized I could take for granted in my students, but one day I nevertheless found myself working with a girl…

  • Fluency,  Precision Teaching,  Tutoring

    The Learning Metric

    Charting—Navigating Life Changes and Learning Part 1 We know when we get in a car and step on the accelerator that we are moving—we can see the instruments and feel the acceleration. But when we send our child to school we don’t have that same experience. We don’t always know what is happening, and there are no immediate updates. But there could be! What if there was a way to see whether a person is learning—learning to a high level—while the process is going on. What if this instrument for navigating education were simple, accessible and transparent? What if this instrument made it possible to gauge human performance at every…

  • Fluency,  Precision Teaching

    Building a Learning Momentum

    I have been strongly influenced by several behavioral scientists over the years; Murray Sidman, Ogden Lindsley and Tony Nevin, along with my personal guru, Eric Haughton. These researchers helped me better understand the critical nature of positive reinforcement immediately linked to a behavior. Because reinforcement is so critical, and because the absence of it in early school experiences is so damaging, I am writing this column. My daughter Caitlin was one of the youngsters who had an early bad experience at school. By the beginning of October in first grade Caitlin had stomachaches five days a week, but woke up without pain on Saturday and Sunday. Her face showed the…

  • Dyslexia,  Fluency,  Learning Disabilities

    The Residue of Failure

    One of our students, lets call her Rose, has flourished all summer. Every week she has grown stronger, more able in everything she works on. Her successes have brought her the most charming, lovely smiles, and she practically glows as she works on her reading. As we work with her we each find ourselves raising the bar, expecting more, and constantly getting it. Sometimes she seemed like Icarus, spiraling continuously upward, flying higher and higher.  Her work had been so amazing, her progress so rapid, that we never saw the residue of failure, lurking in the shadows of her mind. Until one day, in raising the bar, Amy, asking for more…

  • Uncategorized

    10 Reasons the Three-Cueing system (MSV) Is Ineffective

    I’ve written a lot about the problems with three-cueing approaches to teaching reading recently, but given that it’s a topic many people remain unfamiliar with, I thought it would be helpful to lay all the major issues out in one place. Here is how the three-cueing approach (also popularly known as MSV) is supposed to work:  Students memorize a number of common “sight words”: short, high-frequency words such as are, can, we, and it. They also learn to focus on beginning letters so that they can use the initial sound in a word to help them identify unfamiliar terms. The first books they use are repetitive readers that typically include one non-sight word…

  • Phonics,  Uncategorized

    The Lasting Danger

    “In the simplest terms “Whole Language” is a method of teaching children to read by recognizing words as whole pieces of language. Proponents of the Whole Language philosophy believe that language should not be broken down into letters and combinations of letters and “decoded.” Instead, they believe that language is a complete system of making meaning, with words functioning in relation to each other in context.’ Dr. Monica Bomengen I planned a different column to begin with, but this column, the one I wanted to write, would not leave me alone. I had a week in which thoughts about this topic seemed to permeate my waking mind. So here goes. If you…

  • Uncategorized

    The Say and Spell Exercise: A Secret Worth Sharing

    I am now sharing a secret that has had an immense impact on many of our students.  I feel this exercise is so important that I am going to share it with this column, and thereby give it to anyone who reads it. Some years ago, I had a student who was struggling with reading—he was an 8th grader who was reading at 5thgrade level– and reading very slowly. We taught him decoding skills quickly, and his ability to read challenging materials improved rapidly. But we couldn’t celebrate, because his reading fluency remained mired at 100 wpm. We tried having Chris come up through our easier materials to build his reading speed, which…