• 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…

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    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…

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    The Haunting Face

    It was the face more than anything else–the face that got up on Monday looking sad and pinched. It wasn’t the stomachaches at first; it was that face. Caitlin had always been in constant happy motion. The best hugger, the best climber, the most loving and thoughtful little girl. Now that happy face was sad from Monday to Friday every week. She was in first grade.  Now she is about to turn 30. She has been married for two years to a wonderful young man, she has her doctorate in Physical Therapy, and she IS a working physical therapist. She decided that she wanted to be a PT when she…

  • 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…

  • Fluency,  Precision Teaching

    The Master of Learning

    In 2000 the National Reading Panel (NRP) published their findings—a thorough piece of research on the issues of reading instruction in the USA. The findings are interesting reading, and of course, twenty years later, the changes that the panel recommended have been never been fully implemented. The Panel recommended Phonics, Fluency, Phonemic Awareness, and Comprehension as essential elements. Most reading programs now say they offer fluency in their systems and that they offer all of the critical elements. Now, as the reading wars heat up again, whole language systems are making the dubious claim that they offer everything that the NRP recommended. Of course, long before the NRP recommended fluency,…

  • 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…

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    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…

  • Uncategorized

    Pictures Aren’t Power

    Lest anyone should conclude that my depiction of the deplorable state of American reading instruction is exaggerated, I direct you to the video below. If you’ve ever wondered why so many children struggle, this pretty much says it all; you basically get to watch reading problems being created in real time. Notice that a couple of times, children attempt to use the letters sound out words, but the teacher reminds them to focus on the pictures instead. The clear message is that sounding out words is a strategy to be avoided. The only times she acknowledges that letters have something to do with how the words are said is when…