A critic who charges that children aren’t reading well and teachers need to learn about the Science of Reading, also says children must read sooner than they did in the past. This new ideological construct promotes standards that many children will not be capable of achieving. It also sets children and their teachers up to fail.
The idea that children need to be reading sooner is not new. Common Core State Standards are about this new reading reality.
The Fordham Institute is no friend to teachers or public education. Their recent report “Why is it so Hard to Improve Reading Achievement?” by Timothy Shanahan is not kid friendly either and raises concerns.
Shanahan, is a literacy specialist and a leading critic of how reading is taught. He introduces us to an imaginary teacher who is succeeding at teaching her students to read. Parents like her. All seems well. Let me repeat. Her students are learning how to read.
But he states that’s not enough. He portrays the teacher as old fashioned, not wanting to change to improve reading achievement. He wants her to focus on “the last mile.”
…a veteran second-grade teacher, Ms. Jones. She’s always received good evaluations from her principals, the parents are happy to have their kids in her classroom, and whatever this or that test may say, she can see that her students make progress. They can read.
Now, the leveraging starts. We want that teacher to teach more phonics, or less. We want her to build knowledge instead of reading skills, or to work with harder books. Leveraging thrives on urgency, and its black-and-white rhetoric often sounds like, “If teachers don’t do what we say, kids won’t learn.”
But Ms. Jones has fifteen-years’ experience that tells her that the rhetoric is BS!
Achieving the levels of reading that we have in the past is insufficient. Ms. Jones has done well, but if today’s boys and girls only read as well as her students did a decade ago, they’re being disadvantaged.
“Ms. Jones, we need your help. Studies show that kids can do better in reading if they receive a substantial amount of high-quality phonics instruction. Research also shows that hasn’t been happening in enough classrooms. We know you’ve been successful in teaching reading, but the goal line has moved.We need to get kids to higher levels than in the past, and that’s going to require some changes. Doing what we ask won’t change everything (and it’s not a criticism of your past efforts), but it will be better for your students and we all want that.”
Shanahan never mentions students with disabilities who may need different approaches to reading. That’s a different conversation from moving the goal line, which would make learning to read and school more difficult.
He never specifies what he is asking teachers to do. He implies teachers need to teach more phonics.
Shanahan does podcasts for the digital program Amplify. He doesn’t mention that here either. But there’s much concern on the part of parents and teachers about online instructional reading programs. The Science of Reading promoters seem to support the unproven, controversial Common Core State Standards.
There’s no proof these programs will better assist students, especially students with reading disabilities. Students with reading problems need resource classes where they get extra help.
But this idea that children must achieve more advanced material sooner is a concern. It’s why kindergarten was remade into first grade, why we no longer see play, including recess, and why so many other classes in the curriculum are shoved aside. The obsession is reading.
More importantly, children, all children, need to see reading as an enjoyable activity.
Pushing children to read at a harder level, before they’re ready, is unreasonable. Many children might wind up hating reading. Some might appear to have disabilities when they don’t. It’s one-size-fits all on steroids, and it has the potential to create a real reading crisis.
Maria N says
And remember, Common Core re-defined math as well. Children had to read and write way more than before as part of the mathematics instruction. Further, they had to articulate abstract thoughts as they were made to describe HOW they arrived at an answer, leading to the very real possibility that mathematically inclined children were hindered by their inability to describe their thinking. Mathematically-inclined students looked less mathematically competent, and language-inclined students looked more mathematically competent. Someone decided that you can’t do well in math UNLESS you could describe your thoughts about how you do math. Intellectual introverts were pushed to the back of the class, to make way for the verbose no-nothings, IMO.
Over time, the impact is real. Our high performing district has eliminated some higher level math classes at the high school because children were not well prepared in math, appeared to not do as well since scores were muddied but he marrying of ELA and Math skills, and even college acceptance rates in some of the most competitive schools has gone down. But the experts will cover this up, and say the standards were just “more rigorous.” On a positive note, writing scores increased across the board, and even more for males.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Maria. I tend to focus on reading and language arts since that’s where I taught, but math is a concern too. I hate to hear about drastic changes due to Common Core.
Glad to hear about writing scores, but based on what?
Good point. Scores on the state tests, of course. But that is not saying much. The art of writing, editing, revising, and writing more is all but gone.
My school district strives for all the children to be below average, and is now testing whether preschoolers are “proficient” in reading. It’s not working. Math is a disaster in the younger years. Reading isn’t much better. I don’t see how children are supposed to improve their reading with the school district always allowing all students a listening option. The Chrome books aren’t helping either because so little text fits on a screen. My district can somehow afford Chromebooks but can’t afford to buy enough paper copies of novels for the kids to read as a class book. Digital Promise seems to be making education worse.
Nancy Bailey says
I’d like to see that preschool proficiency test. It sounds bizarre.
I agree about the overuse of Chromebooks and Digital Promise.
Shanahan is likely a very persuasive sales person and nothing more. He’s the type that gets an idea and decides he is completely right no matter what research says, then sells his idea enthusiastically to monetize it.. And the companies who associate themselves with this kind of a sales person are giant sales organizations who are focused on one thing – the bottom line/profits!
The idea that children should read earlier has absolutely no basis in science and No real research I have ever heard of a spouse is this idea.. Any person who pushes this idea onto the publishing companies who then push it onto school districts is a dangerous person.
Shanahan would do well to spend time in a kindergarten classroom for a year or five or 10.
Nancy Bailey says
I can think of MANY so-called experts who write about reading who I’d like to see spend time in a real classroom in a public school. Thanks, Phyllis.
patricia blauch says
I feel like I’m drowning this year. I teach 3rd grade and have 17 students. Seven of them are reading at a 1st grade level and only one has been previously retained. Six of the seven are diagnosed ESE. The only services they receive is 15-20 minutes a day of phonics. I compromise my writing time to try to provide meaning based guided reading lessons for as many as I can and not neglect the 10 who are on or above grade level.
Nancy Bailey says
Patricia, That’s tough. I don’t think critics outside the classroom understand the difficulty of coordinating instruction with individual plans and trying to address each child’s academic and behavioral needs.
If you have an admin., counselor, or another teacher who is understanding I’d discuss this with them. Perhaps they can get you an asst. or even a parent volunteer.
If that’s not possible, I’d look into a program that will fairly address the range of students that can be done as a group.
To work individually and with groups, you might put a large puzzle or some group art activity that will keep students at one table busy, while you work with another group or individual.
Just some suggestions. If you email me I can send some book titles and resources that might help.
Hang in there. Take care of yourself.
V. Coffey says
I think the NAEP scores speak for themselves. We aren’t doing a very good job of teaching ‘kids who are dependent on school to learn’ to be critical readers. As a classroom teacher for 10 years and a literacy specialist/coach for 15, I’ve seen little change. We continue to ride the same Ferris Wheel. I applaud Shanahan for pushing us to have hard conversations. When we continue to instruct the same (or in some cases not instruct) we continue to get the same results. Pockets of success really isn’t good enough.
Nancy Bailey says
So your only focus is the controversial NAEP scores, and you believe you haven’t done a good job teaching reading for 15 years? So working towards those Common Core State Standards didn’t do it for your students?
And you discount all the other variables that could be the cause of reading difficulties in school (including CC) and in society.
Oh how I wish you’d advocate for every poor school in America having a great school library and qualified librarian instead of pushing children to read beyond what’s deemed reasonable for their development.
You make such bold generalizations, while following Shanahan. I’m wondering if you know the history of the National Reading Panel and Reading First.
I’d also like to know where you got your teaching degree and what you studied in college.
But thanks for your comment. It was good to get early in the morning. I won’t need so much coffee because of it.
P.S. When you get a chance, let me know the system, the tech your school district will be purchasing to improve reading scores. The price tag would be interesting to know too.
J. Wilson says
Thank you for bringing up the importance of quality school libraries directed by a certified teacher librarian. We have lost the enjoyment of reading and turned it into a mundane chore.
Dave Raudenbush says
One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how the digital tools I’m asked to use to assess students might be able to tell me that a student has a problem, but they can’t tell me why the student has a problem.
What caused this child to fall behind in reading to begin with?
If the child has an IEP, that information might be in the documentation, but it might not. All depends on when and where and who tested the child and how committed the testers were to get junior in or out of a program.
Perhaps Johnny or Janey suffers from ADHD, or ADD, and other issues, and for behavioral reasons missed out instruction regularly while sitting in timeout or the principal’s office.
The child may have lived a transient life, frequently changing schools. The lack of continuity often has consequences.
Fixing problems is often much easier if you know the cause. That’s basic, right?
So how do you gather that information. Often the answer is simple: talk to the child. Build a relationship… reader to reader. The mentor reader to novice reader relationship is far more productive then the teacher student relationship for this purpose.
Relationships take time. The more you get to know the kids, the more you will be able to help them.
The mentor reader needs to be deeply reflective about every conference with every child.
If you take the time, usually solutions to every problem present themselves.
But you won’t find this advice in any software, web-based doodad or scripted program.
It’s natural, organic and authentically reader based.
And it’s the only thing that works.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you!!!!! This is so important. Thank you for posting, Dave!
Rick B says
You have identified the fatal flaw that the data lords conveniently overlook.
Standardized test scores give zero feedback regarding the why., rendering them virtually useless.
So children with disabilities need something ‘different’ besides phonics instruction to learn to read?
What is this something different?
Nancy Bailey says
It doesn’t mean harder or more advanced. The point.
There are many approaches to teaching reading that any qualified reading instructor would know. That includes working with students who have LD.
I like this description.
Dorothy McDonald says
Too often what we do is, when a student isn’t reading well after being given a lot of phonics instruction, we give them more phonics! If phonics doesn’t work, give them even more phonics. Every student teacher should memorize “There’s more than one good way to teach kids how to read!” And the way that works for one kid may not work for the kid in the next desk. For the “more phonics” enthusiasts I suggest they try to sound out the word “the”.
Nancy Bailey says
I agree. Thank you, Dorothy.