• Decoding,  Fluency,  Phonemic Awareness,  Reading Instruction,  Vowels

    On “Word Callers” and Vowel Sounds

    One of Richard McManus’s favorite stories about a student involves a young girl who was brought to the Fluency Factory to prepare for a private-school admissions exam. She was clearly very bright, and when she was asked to read aloud, she did so quite fluently. Richard assumed that she’d ace the test with little trouble. When he told this to her mother, however, the woman’s response was that her daughter sounded fine but in fact understood almost nothing of what she read.  Richard was baffled. Luckily, though his friend Jean Tucker—a speech-language pathologist, reading specialist, and creator of the Spell of Language program—happened to be visiting that day and overheard…

  • Ed School,  Reading Instruction,  Science of Reading

    Teaching Reading Isn’t Rocket Science

    In the summer of 2020, the well-known researcher Louisa Moats published an article in AFT magazine entitled “Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science,” in which she laid out the daunting series of challenges involved in turning children into skilled readers.  For the record, I have immense respect for Dr. Moats; and from what I know of her LETRS program, it seems extraordinarily well done and highly effective. She’s done more to advance SoR-based approaches and to train teachers than almost anyone else around.  And yet, I have to disagree with her on this one—or at least with her (or perhaps an editor’s?) title.   To be fair, the type of reading Moats…

  • Balanced Literacy,  Decoding,  Dyslexia,  Ed School,  Fluency,  Learning Disabilities,  NAEP,  Phonemic Awareness,  Phonics,  Precision Teaching,  Reading Instruction,  Reading Wars,  Science of Reading,  Teacher Training,  Whole Language

    The Special Education Bubble

    The reading world was recently rocked by an article from esteemed reporter, Emily Hanford. The longtime maven of whole language, Lucy Calkins, admitted she needed to change her Units of Study after decades of context clues, guessing at words, picture walks, and dismissing the science of reading. Of course, Calkins promptly responded with a statement that essentially tried to take credit for always being a phonics-minded practitioner (despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary). When you look at the latest NAEP data, the influence of decades of whole language-oriented instruction being the dominant pedagogy in the United States is readily apparent. According to this new data, roughly 63%…

  • 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…

  • Uncategorized

    Reading in The Age of COVID

    Unprecedented. That’s a word we hear a lot these days. Unprecedented times? I think we can all agree the times are unprecedented. Before this year I can’t recall ever having heard the word used so copiously. I fell victim to the virus, or so I’m told by the amazing medical professionals at my local ER, and was laid up for eight weeks in one room. I would rate the experience somewhere between Christopher Nolan’s Doodlebug and Five’s journey through the Apocalypse on The Umbrella Academy (both of which I reviewed during quarantine).The scenario of students infecting their teachers with the virus that everyone is talking about? I lived it. Before…

  • 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…