BREAKING: A few ideas about teaching reading!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, 2018

Reading is a culture:
Is the third time the charm?

If so, three renowned experts have discussed the rise in public school test scores, in just the past few weeks.

First, Arne Duncan did so at the Washington Post. Duncan was education secretary under Barack Obama.

This Monday, we offered a similar post, in reaction to Natalie Wexler's bogus claim about reading scores in The Atlantic.

We've been writing such posts for the past dozen years. Later that day, Kevin Drum followed suit.

If the third time was the charm, this information would start appearing widely, wherever journalism is sold.

In fact, this information won't travel at all. No one will call attention to this information or distribute it any further. We'll discuss this puzzling phenomenon in a Friday post, naming one new major name.

For today, let's discuss something Drum said in his Monday post. He said he doesn't know anything about the best way to teach reading:
DRUM (4/16/18): ...Last week I promised to write again about the latest NAEP scores, and today Bob Somerby reminds me to do that. Bob and I may have a fraught relationship, but one thing we agree on is a tiredness over the knee-jerk narrative that interprets all test scores at all times as evidence that American schools are failing. So let’s take a look.

Over at the Atlantic, Natalie Wexler has a piece titled “Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years.” Her theory is that it’s related to the way we teach reading, and I had it open in a tab over the weekend but eventually closed it because I don’t have any special knowledge of how best to teach reading. However, Bob points out that the first order of business is to see if it’s even true that American students have flatlined over the past 20 years, as Wexler claims.
Drum went on to note the fact that reading scores actually have improved. Math scores have improved substantially more, but that's another story.

According to Wexler, how should we be teaching reading? We don't know what she said! After her bogus opening premise, we stopped reading her piece. What would you have done?

Drum said he doesn't "have any special knowledge of how best to teach reading." It's possible that we do. In the interest of keeping hope alive, we'll offer a brief rumination.

Around the world, it has generally proven easier to improve math scores, harder to improve scores in reading. As a general matter, we'd say that's true for the following reason:

Reading is largely a culture. On the general level, math is more a set of definable, teachable learnings.

Kids who read "below grade level" will often come from "low-literacy" homes. There aren't a lot of books in the home, if there are any at all. These kids, though loved, haven't been read to from birth by their parents, as is often the case in higher-literacy homes.

When these kids arrive in public school, reading isn't part of their personal culture. By way of contrast, we still remember seeing a relative of ours, at Thanksgiving the year she was 4, pretending to read the New York Times as she sat on her parents' living room couch.

The adults around her had always done that. She wanted to do it too.

Reading is a culture. When kids are way "behind" in reading, their schools and their teachers should look for ways to make reading part of their personal culture. In their classrooms, they should be surrounded by piles of books—books about topics that interest them; books written at "reading levels" they can actually handle.

Children need to be smothered in books. They need to have plenty of time to read those books, both on their own in some hidden nook and also out loud with their friends. This is a normal part of middle-class culture. Kids from lower-literacy backgrounds don't get these experiences at home.

Children need to be introduced to the culture of reading. If they're invited to read lots of (readable) books about lots of (interesting) topics, the ability to "comprehend" what they read will tend to follow. They'll struggle to understand what they're reading.

Kevin hasn't been a public school teacher. We have been, right here in Baltimore. We taught loads of fabulous kids. They deserved to be smothered in (readable, interesting) books.

Having said these things, we'll now say something else—no one cares about any of this. More precisely, liberal journalists don't care about this, or about low-income kids in general. They've made this quite plain through the many long years.

Tomorrow, we'll return to Arne Duncan's op-ed column to discuss his thoughts about "raising learning standards." On Friday, we'll return to the topic of liberal disinterest in low-income kids. We'll also discuss the impossibility of forcing accurate information into our national discourse.

Nobody cares about low-income kids. That includes Rachel, Lawrence and Chris, even Jonathan.

Absolutely nobody cares. Could anything be more clear?

16 comments:

  1. Bob’s right about parental involvement in teaching children how to love to read. I myself have a pretty good memory of sitting next to my father (lower middle-class Army guy) as he helped me struggle through a children’s book. I’m pretty sure my love for reading started there.

    But I don’t know why he expects “Rachel, Lawrence and Chris, even Jonathan” to actually care. That’s not why they’re paid the big bucks. They don’t give a f**k because they’re paid not to. Apparently Drum does care, but MJ can hardly be considered a msm outfit.

    Of course, that’s exactly the point. I feel for Bob. He really does care, and I would be delighted if he could find a venue to more effectively get his points across. Perhaps if his relationship with Drum weren’t so “fraught,” he could at least nudge into a more mainstream audience with his views on this topic.

    Leroy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Chris" I assume is Chris Hayes...he has children, so I suspect he does care about educational issues, at least in his role as father. Somerby has no idea what Hayes does in his spare time to get involved in educational issues. Somerby has no children. And we have no idea what, if anything, he does nowadays to help the children he claims to care about, aside from writing blog posts that feature prominent trashing of others he claims don't care. He used to teach kids, 40 years ago. Usually, people who genuinely care about an issue do something locally in their community to help. And, as you say here, they don't spend their time bitching how others don't care.

      What was Somerby's approach as a teacher? Did he use standard methods to teach or did he improvise? Did he have success stories? Did he teach reading? Why did he quit teaching to become a comedian? Etc..

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  2. Great piece. But unfortunately, it's not part of middle class culture any more. Parents don't read and don't have piles of books around. They don't read newspapers.

    They pound on keyboards. Millennials.

    Worse, libraries everywhere are weeding their collections down to half-full shelves. The great sense of discovery that we once had upon visiting the library is disappearing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Early reading with kids is half of the solution. The other half is about giving kids a variety of early experiences.

    Unlike math, reading involves mapping words to their referents in the world. The more words a child knows, the broader the experience of the world needed to form mental representations that link to vocabulary. In order to do that, kids need to have had those experiences. They need to have met dogs and cats, seen elephants and giraffes somewhere (TV, zoo, or pictures in books), have a postal worker who brings mail, eat oatmeal, visit grandma, and so on. That's why kids books always have pictures.

    Middle class kids have lots more experiences of the world because their parents take them everywhere, to the market, on vacations, to work with them, to the museum and the zoo and NASCAR races and baseball games and movies. That makes it much easier for them to acquire those bigger vocabularies that allow them to visualize what is happening in the books that are being read to them.

    Initially it is about objects and things but later it is about more complex ideas and concepts, abstracts that don't have referents in the world but encode relationships. A child who starts out with limited concrete experiences and not much reading will be unable to understand what is being described when it gets to more abstract ideas. And the gap in progress is exponential not linear as kids get to the higher grades where language is used in more sophisticated ways to talk about things that are not in front of anyone but must be conceptualized.

    In contrast, math is much more limited in terms of what its symbol system encodes and can be grasped without broad experience. This is why kids can become very good at limited things like computer coding, chess, music or math, but aren't typically very good at humanities or social sciences until early adulthood, because these depend on broader experiences they won't have had access to in childhood. Prodigies in poetry are rarer than prodigies in math.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Reading Makes Your Child Smarter

    Reading is known to have numerous benefits. It increases your world knowledge, enhances your vocabulary, and works to improve your reading comprehension abilities.

    But did you know that reading can actually make you smarter?

    In fact, reading not only can make a child smarter, the very act of reading can even help to compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability in children by building their vocabulary and general knowledge! This is a finding reported by researchers Cunningham and Stanovich in a report titled "What Reading Does For the Mind".

    The simple fact here is that reading can make your child smarter, and that learning to read early on is directly linked to later success in life.

    1) Did you know that your child's vocabulary at 3 years old predicts his or her grade one reading success? [1]

    2) Did you know that vocabulary and reading ability in first grade strongly predicts grade 11 outcomes? [2]

    3) Did you know that your child's reading skill in grade 3 directly influences high school graduation? Studies have found that children who cannot read proficiently by grade 3 are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers! [3]

    >> Give your child the best possible head start. Teach your child to read today. Click here to learn how.

    But how do you teach a young child to read, and isn't that the job of the school and teachers?

    You can't be more wrong...

    With the right tools, knowledge, and techniques, teaching young children to read can be a simple and effective process. I'd like to introduce you to a fantastic reading program called Children Learning Reading, a super effective method for teaching children to read - even children as young as just 2 or 3 years old.

    The creators of this program have used it to teach their four children to read before age 3, and by reading, I mean real, phonetic reading.

    I can understand if you find that hard to believe... In fact, I had a difficult time believing it myself as well... that is, until I saw the videos they posted documenting the reading progress of the their children - not to mention all the videos other parents have sent in showcasing their children's reading progress after using the Children Learning Program. After learning more about their methods and techniques, it became clear how it's possible to teach young children to read effectively.

    It is truly within your ability to teach your child to read in a relatively short period of time spending just 10 to 15 minutes each day.

    >> Click here now to watch the videos and start teaching your child to read.

    1. Vocabulary Development and Instruction: A Prerequisite for School Learning
    Andrew Biemiller, University of Toronto

    2. Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later.
    Cunningham AE, Stanovich KE.

    3. Double Jeopardy How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation
    Donald J. Hernandez, Hunter College and the Graduate Center,

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