Almost every day there’s another report attacking teachers for how they teach reading. It divides parents and teachers. It’s also dangerous at a time when there’s a teacher shortage and teachers are banding together to try to save not only their profession, but public education.
I don’t like to see my profession criticized so harshly by those who don’t teach and who have never taught. I fear that with this animosity towards teachers, those with minimal teacher preparation will end up in classrooms pretending to be teachers.
However, I also know parents with children who have dyslexia or reading and writing difficulties. Having taught students with such disabilities in middle and high school, I understand how frustrating it is for young people to struggle with reading and writing.
But everyone focuses on phonics while there are many other variables that could be problematic for children when it comes to reading instruction.
Here’s what’s being said and my questions and concerns about two of those areas.
Children with dyslexia don’t get intensive reading instruction based on science.
What happened to resource classes? For years public schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels offered smaller classes involving intensive remedial reading for students with reading and math disabilities. Resource classes should be provided under IDEA.
A student who struggled with reading in the general class was tested by the teacher, special education teacher, and the school psychologist. If they were found to have reading disabilities or dyslexia, they would qualify for special education and attend a resource class one or two hours a day for intensive reading instruction. They attended general classes for everything else.
Resource classes were the places to get intensive phonics. As a resource teacher, my school district in Florida offered professional development in the latest phonics programs. My undergraduate program at Central Michigan University in elementary education (and special education) also covered phonics instruction.
Dyslexia was not unknown, but it was considered rare. Programs like Orton-Gillingham have been around since the 1930s. More research and a better understanding of dyslexia has come about through the research of those like Sally Shaywitz, MD and others. There seems to be an increase of dyslexia. One in five children present this reading difficulty. But not all children have dyslexia. It is not a school-made problem, but schools should be places where children can get help with reading.
The resource teacher collaborated (the word we used) with the general education teacher to modify the student’s classwork in other subjects too. By modify I mean provided the student instructional support even when they weren’t in the resource class. Resource classes are smaller classes, so students get more individual attention.
I fear that, since IDEA reauthorizations, parents see resource classes as unacceptable and want their children in general classes which are much too large for individualized instruction.
They want all children to get remedial reading (intensive reading instruction) but not all children need it. I have known children who wind up working on lots of phonics worksheets when they already know how to read and comprehend. This is just as unfair to those children as not providing phonics to children who need it.
Not all children have dyslexia. But those who do require attention.
Education schools do not teach teachers how to teach reading.
Along with the negative reporting, some teachers confess they never learned to teach reading. How worrisome! What university did they attend?
If a college took your money and was supposed to prepare you to teach, and didn’t, you need to hold that school accountable. If you admit you didn’t learn how to teach reading, please state the name of the school you attended. That way educators can look at the school and the school can review your accusation and either fix the problem or challenge your claim. Every teacher should also do student teaching under the supervision of a qualified teacher who understands how to teach reading for several months before they take charge of a classroom.
One worry is that few universities teach teachers to work with students who have learning disabilities.
Years ago, “Learning Disabilities” was an actual certification that teachers were required to earn through much coursework and study. This prepared them to teach students with reading difficulties as resource teachers. I think this important area of study was lost with IDEA reauthorizations and the push for inclusion.
Now, general education teachers get a blanket class and little preparation to teach specifically to students with reading disabilities and dyslexia. It is amazing to me that the teachers I know individualize their instruction as well as they do. But it is unreasonable to think that general education teachers with class sizes of thirty plus will be able to effectively assist children with reading disabilities or dyslexia.
I have never understood why the category of learning disabilities was removed as an area of such specified study in universities. I wish reporters would look into this.
I am also concerned by all the online and for-profit schools, and quick degree programs, that don’t seem to be accredited. And please don’t think that a Teach for America novice is going to adequately teach reading with five to six weeks of training. Nor will any computer program sufficiently teach reading. Technology can be helpful but it is not a cure-all for reading difficulties.
It’s imperative that universities bring back the Learning Disabilities area of study, and that fast-track programs to make teachers be ended. For-profit schools also cry out for oversight.
Many other concerns exist when it comes to the teaching of reading. I will try to touch on more in the weeks to come.