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    Royal Jelly

    This column has been in process for over two years. It grew from thinking about the way Royal Jelly determines the life roles of bees. It is a special substance that goes to all bees—but some get more than others. What this fact of simple biology made me think about was something I see each day.  In our society there is a similar treatment, a special potion that admits the young person into the inner circle. For us, Americans in the 21st century, that special potion is learning to read.  Without it a child will be stunted and sterile—left behind and closed out. A child may become sad and withdrawn, or…

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    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.…

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    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…

  • 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…

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    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.

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    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,…

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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…

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    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…