• ADD,  Learning Disabilities

    The Chaos Curriculum and Learning Disabilities

    A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a colleague who teaches high school, and she told me about a recent incident that had left her thinking. One of her students was enrolled in a dance class (in-school) that was holding an open house, and the student invited my colleague to attend. As my colleague watched the class, she became aware that the atmosphere was one of calm and focus. The students were disciplined and respectful, yet the teacher and students seemed relaxed, and the students were clearly enjoying the class. My colleague was struck by the contrast between that atmosphere and the far more tense atmosphere of her own academic…

  • 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…

  • 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 found myself working with a girl whose…

  • 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…

  • Lucy Calkins,  Phonemic Awareness,  Phonics,  Reading Workshop,  Three Cueing System

    Does Lucy Calkins Know What Phonics Is?

    In response to Lucy Calkins’s manifesto “No One Gets to Own the Term ‘Science of Reading,” the University of Wisconsin cognitive psychologist and reading specialist Mark Seidenberg has posted a rebuttal on his blog. For anyone interested in understanding the most recent front in the reading wars, I strongly recommend both pieces. What I’d like to focus on here, however, are the ways in which Calkins’s discussion of phonics reveal a startlingly compromised understanding of the subject for someone of her influence and stature. In recent years, and largely—as Seidenberg explains—in response to threats to her personal reading-instruction empire, Calkins has insisted that she really believes in the importance of systematic phonics, a claim…

  • Uncategorized

    No, Lucy Calkins, Someone Does Get to Own the Term “The Science of Reading”

    When Richard and I were trying to come up with a title for this site while finding an available domain name that was catchy, relevant, and—most importantly—less than $25,000 a friend suggested that I check to see whether thescienceofreading.com was available. I did a quick search on godaddy.com, and alas, ’twas not to be. But as as my friend managed to pointed out (barely, through gales of laughter), Lucy Calkins is wrong: someone actually does get to own the term “the science of reading.” On the internet, at least. Just wanted to point that out.

  • Uncategorized

    Lucy Calkins vs. Phonics: the Common Core Creators Strike Back

    I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to finish my AP English book updates these last few weeks that I somehow missed a new front in the reading wars: Emily Hanford recently published another American Public Media article, this one casting a critical look at Columbia University Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins and her enormously lucrative and influential Units of Study program. Although Calkins claims to be in favor of phonics (when appropriate, as long as it doesn’t interfere with children’s love of reading), her guides for teachers promote a series of methods that effectively embody the three-cueing system. The cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg, a specialist in reading problems who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,…

  • Reading Instruction,  Three Cueing System

    It’s Hard to Solve Problems that People Don’t Know Exist

    Note:  if you’re unfamiliar with the three-cueing system and want the full background, see this post first. If you want the short version, it’s this: basically, the three-cueing system is derived from the observation that skilled use a variety of “clues,” including spelling, syntax, and background knowledge to draw meaning from text. Over time, that idea became profoundly distorted into the notion that children should be discouraged from using all the letters in a word to determine what it literally says, and should instead look at only the first/last letters, along with other contextual clues—usually pictures—to identify it. I’m simplifying here, but that’s the gist. So moving on… A couple of weeks…

  • Uncategorized

    Some Thoughts on the 2019 NAEP Reading Decline

    2019 NAEP scores have been released, and the results in reading… aren’t good. As the New York Times reports: Two out of three children did not meet the standards for reading proficiency set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the Education Department. The dismal results reflected the performance of about 600,000 students in reading and math, whose scores made up what is called the “nation’s report card.” The average eighth-grade reading score declined in more than half of the states compared with 2017, the last time the test was given. The average score in fourth-grade reading declined in…