• Balanced Literacy,  Reading Instruction,  Reading Wars

    How Love Became a Weapon in the Reading Wars

    When I read almost any article about education, I cannot help but be struck by the language that is used—and not used—to discuss the goals of schooling. Teachers, for example, are almost invariably described as teaching students to love reading, or to get excited about reading—not to actually read, or to read well, or to become more reflective or thoughtful readers. The emphasis is squarely on the emotion surrounding reading rather than on the act of reading itself, or on the intellectual development it entails.   It seems to me that this has become such an accepted way to speak about education that its presumable implication—that obviously, yes, loving to read…

  • Balanced Literacy,  Lucy Calkins,  Reading Instruction,  Reading Workshop,  Three Cueing System

    The Three-Cueing System and the Most Disordered Form of Reading

    As I’ve written about before, what launched me onto this whole insane journey into the seamy underbelly of American reading instruction was my observation of high-school students who seemed incapable of reading in a linear, left-right manner; whose eyes raced randomly around the passage; and who also misread, skipped, and guessed without seeming to realize that they were doing so. So even though I’ve touched on this topic before, it’s so severe and so under-recognized that I think it merits a discussion of its own. Students who read this way are not simply “struggling”—they have been taught to read according to a theory that fundamentally misconstrues what reading is, and as…

  • Balanced Literacy,  Decoding,  Ed School,  Lucy Calkins,  Phonics,  Reading Instruction,  Three Cueing System

    Why Running Records and Leveled Readers Don’t Mix with Phonics

    Last winter, Lucy Calkins (via the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, or TCRWP) issued a rebuttal to the Achieve, Inc.-sponsored report asserting that her Units of Study fails to provide the sort of instruction that would result in all children learning to read—particularly those who do not already arrive in school with strong language skills. Entitled “A Defense of Balanced Literacy” it is, in keeping with Calkins’s previous major statement regarding phonics, a veritable masterpiece of half-truths, evasions, contradictions, misunderstandings, and distortions.  I don’t want to get pulled down into the weeds trying to offer a point-by-point analysis, but there is one major idea that I think is worth…

  • Balanced Literacy,  Common Core,  Reading Instruction,  Teacher Training,  Three Cueing System

    The Three-Cueing System Grows Up

    In a post written back in March, Valerie Mitchell posed the question of why teachers of native English speakers are increasingly adopting classroom activities designed for ESL students. As she pointed out, the fixation on scaffolds in the form of “visuals, vocabulary aids, graphic organizers, etc.” does not make much sense. For native speakers, the point of English class is (presumably) to help them express increasingly complex ideas in more sophisticated ways, not to teach them basic vocabulary in a language they have been surrounded by since birth.   I had no idea that this was such a widespread phenomenon until I read her piece, but once it was called to…

  • Uncategorized

    Some Advice for Parents Looking for a “Good” School District

    While searching online for something or other involving early reading instruction recently, I happened to come across what is perhaps the master list of Balanced Literacy strategies for decoding:  In addition to its ridiculous length (apparently more is always better), it seesawed so outrageously between the dangerously ineffective (“look at the picture”) and the absurd (how exactly are children supposed to “read fluently” if they don’t know what the words say?) that I couldn’t resist posting it on Twitter, where someone responded by asking “What is this, a manual for how to create reading problems?” Close, I said, but actually it’s from the Wayland, MA, public schools—Wayland being one of…

  • Ed School,  Reading Wars,  Uncategorized,  Whole Language

    The Detachment of Literacy from Reading

    In a 2017 interview with Columbia linguistics professor John McWhorter, the cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg (author of Language at the Speech of Sight) described the transition from discussions of “reading” to ones of “literacy” in education circles over the last few decades. I think that by now, the use of the latter term is now taken entirely for granted, but it’s not a minor point at all—it’s actually quite major, and it highlights the gap between public perception of the issues at play and the reality of them.  I suspect that when most people hear the term “literacy,” they understand it as a synonym for “reading,” in the sense that a…

  • Phonics,  Reading Instruction,  Reading Wars

    The Misunderstanding that Sparked the Reading Wars

    I just finished reading Anthony Pedriana’s Leaving Johnny Behind, an enormously important and under-appreciated book that I discovered by chance, thanks to a post on Facebook. (Social media certainly does serve a purpose other than being a black hole of procrastination from time to time!) The author is a retired teacher and principal who, quite by chance, found himself at the center of the reading wars: in an attempt to boost the reading performance of a class that was falling behind, Pedriana went against everything he had been taught and permitted one of the teachers in his school to implement a scripted reading program for a single short lesson each day.…

  • Ed School,  Science of Reading,  Teacher Training

    What Do Teachers Need to Know about the Science of Reading?

    The more time I spend trying to wrap my head around the world of early-reading instruction, the more I find myself becoming wary of the notion that teachers should devote a lot of their time to learning about the science of reading. I realize that might seem like a bizarre and contradictory statement given that so many of the problems in reading instruction stem from ed schools’ failure to provide research-backed training to pre-service teachers—not to mention the fact Richard and Ben and I are in the process of launching a training program based on, well, the science of reading—so let me explain.    I had already started writing this piece when I…

  • Common Core,  NAEP

    2019 NAEP Reading Scores vs. The Ladder of Reading: A Striking Correlation

    When the most recent set of scores from the NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress) were released in 2019, the results for Reading were dismal: only 35% of fourth graders were rated Proficient or Advanced, whereas a whopping 65% were rated either Basic or Below Basic (up from 63% in 2017). For eighth graders, the results were slightly worse: 34% percent Proficient/Advanced vs. 66% Basic or Below Basic (up from 64% in 2017).   Obviously, these scores do not paint a particularly  encouraging picture of American elementary and middle-school students’ reading skills. One of the major criticisms the NAEP is that the score ratings do not align—and are not intended to align—with…