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…
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…
- Decoding, Dyslexia, Fluency, Learning Disabilities, Lucy Calkins, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Precision Teaching, Reading Instruction, Reading Workshop, Science of Reading, Teacher Training, Three Cueing System, Whole Language
A Child is Not a Mollusk
In some sense, without evidence-based instruction, a child could be more like a mollusk in that they will withdraw from the learning process and build a shell to protect themselves from the emotional anguish of feeling less-than in the classroom.
- Decoding, Dyslexia, Fluency, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Reading Instruction, Sight Words, Three Cueing System, Whole Language
Tipping The Scale on Fountas & Pinnell
Fountas and Pinnell, as well as other balanced literacy programs, places a great deal of emphasis on this guided approach to reading and group work because, fundamentally, they see reading as a social activity, rather than an individual’s ability to decode text, something that happens in the confines of the brain in the reading circuit.
The Science of Reading: 5 Key Concepts
The Science of Reading has been in the news a lot recently, and not surprisingly, many people (including a lot of teachers) find the sheer amount of information it involves overwhelming. So, the basics: the Science of Reading is not a movement or a belief system. It is a vast body of research based on hundreds of studies conducted by dozens of researchers over many decades, and involving fields in the social and hard sciences such as psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. While researchers still have questions about the exact processes by which skilled reading develops, a sufficient number of studies have produced similar results to allow them to conclude that…
10 Signs of a Decoding Problem
Written English is a code in which letters and groups of letters are used to stand for sounds, and to be able to read, children must learn to break it—literally, to de-code it. Although skilled reading involves many factors, decoding ability is the foundation on which it rests; after all, it is impossible to pay attention to meaning unless one knows what the words say! The following list is intended to indicate some key warnings signs that may indicate a decoding problem. It is not, however, intended to be used a source for any particular diagnosis. Keep in mind that children learn to read at varying rates, and that some…
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…
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…
The Three-Cueing System and Its Misuses (or: The Biggest Problem in Reading Instruction You’ve Never Heard of)
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference on the science of reading held by John Gabrieli’s lab at MIT. It was, if nothing else, an eye-opening experience—not always in good ways, but certainly in ways that laid bare the problems involved in implementing broad changes to how reading is taught in the United States. At the reception after the conference, I happened to be introduced to Nancy Duggan, one of the founders of the Massachusetts chapter of Decoding Dyslexia, an organization that advocates for screening and support for dyslexic students. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned one of the stranger reading problems I’d seen among my students—namely,…