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 she tells children to look at the first and last letters in conjunction with the pictures. The fact that the sounds in the middle of a word also play a role in how it is said is not mentioned, ever.

This is pure three-cueing: if teachers are taught that reading is a “psycholinguistic guessing game,” then they will in turn make reading into an actual, literal guessing game.

I have to wonder: do the children understand that the words don’t say what they say because of what the pictures show? That is, do they grasp that if you took the pictures away, or changed the pictures, the words underneath would still say the same thing? I’d bet that at least some of them would struggle with that idea.

At any rate, it isn’t hard to imagine what will happen to kids taught like this when the pictures are taken away.

And remember: this type of teaching is being held up an an example.

Is this what Lucy Calkins means when she says she supports the teaching of phonics?