Let’s Improve Reading… Again

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Depositphotos 11694579 l 300x204 Let’s Improve Reading… AgainWhen I was in first grade, I was taught to read using a system called, “I.T.A.-The Initial Teaching Alphabet”. Never heard of it? No wonder. I.T.A. used a fake, Latin-ish type of alphabet with somewhere between 43-45 symbols-depending on the year you started the program. Each symbol represented a single sound in the English language making it a type of phonetic reading without it actually being reading. Confused? So were the students. As far as I understand, it died a valiant death when people caught on that it was a waste of time and its’ graduates couldn’t spell properly even years later.

Both my under-graduate and graduate degrees in Elementary and Early Childhood Education taught me only to use the “Language Experience Approach” for reading. We were told that phonics was “boring”. Children would be motivated for reading success if they were presented with their own life experiences in books and stories. Time was spent with each student who dictated to the teacher the happenings in their lives and then they could read all about the life they had already lived.

Not only was this system labor intensive and required added hands in the classroom to take dictation, but it also rarely advanced student vocabulary or knowledge of the world at large. Students may have improved their drawing skills as they illustrated their own books, but true growth in reading and achieving a real education was limited.

Teaching Kindergarten for many years, my principal insisted on the basics. We used phonics books and programs. He felt that once the basics were achieved, we could be as creative as we wanted to advance and encourage reading. You know what happened? In 10 years of teaching Kindergarten, every student I ever taught was able to read something by graduation!

As our testing scores continue to drop, once again schools are being presented with “new and improved” ways to teach reading and math. In 2003, Mayor Bloomberg mandated the use of “Balanced Literacy”. This is a student-led approach where children can choose books based on their individual interest and help each other through challenging vocabulary and ideas working in groups or in class discussions. Balanced literacy is based on the idea that children are “natural readers and writers; teachers needed only to create the conditions to unleash their talents.”

Especially for immigrants with limited English knowledge, this approach was considered a way for students to feel successful in their studies. Unfortunately, state testing found that this system seems to have failed the very students it was geared towards helping to succeed.

Now, there is another new kid on the block; the Common Core. This technique demands that students generally read non-fiction at or above their grade level. Lessons focus on fewer topics in greater depth. Critical thinking is developed through the use of abstract lessons showing how learned skills could be applied to the real world.

Unfortunately, after the first year of using the Common Core, a school in New York had a whopping 85% of their nearly 350 students fail state exams, the school’s worst performance on record.

In a generation where most writing is done through Cyber abbreviated texting and fewer and fewer books, newspapers and magazines are found in the home, is there an “ultimate” way to get our next generation reading, calculating and critically thinking? I would love to hear your thoughts ’cause this ain’t no topic to LOL about

Depositphotos 11694579 l 150x150 Let’s Improve Reading… Again

8 Responses to Let’s Improve Reading… Again

  1. Katie says:

    Personally I feel it depends on the individual student and how they learn best. I also feel it depends on exposure in the early years and the importance of education in the home. I like to teach phonics, it’s important as well as reading strategies, and giving the student the opportunity to choose from a variety of books as well as having leveled books available. Most of my students grew at least 5 reading levels this year and all but 5 left reading at or above grade level, 3 of which have learning disabilities and 2 the home support was lacking.

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      I assume you are teaching kindergarten or 1st grade. You must be an excellent teacher with such success. I agree that the home environment needs to compliment the school environment. I wonder how many homes do that today.

  2. Dawn says:

    Frank Smith has authored a couple of books on reading (and math). I am a public school teacher who decided to home school my children over 10 years ago – then the reforms were Goals 2000 and Outcomes Based Education. I believe we have lost touch with what children need and what they are developmentally capable of, especially K-3. My own children had no reading lessons, no formal reading instructions. I simply read to them an with them. They started reading books (real books, not the leveled readers in schools that are boring and robotic sound when read) around age 9. They were never forced to read, coersed to do spelling or lessons, never tested. They currently LOVE to read. My 10th grader started public school in 7th grade. In 8th grade she received a Literature award for having the highest grade in Literature Links, out of 435 students in 8th grade. She was probably the student who started reading the latest and had never been tested prior to starting school. She is now going into 10th grade and is an honors student with a 3.8 GPA. I truly believe she would not be the student she is today if she attend elementary school. She she spent hours playing when she was 5, 6, 7 years old – that is what children should be doing.

  3. Jack Glick says:

    The use of synthetic phonics is the secret. I give private lessons in English. Jolly Phonics blending videos have helped me to teach children how to read after 2 lessons. Believe it or not it works.

  4. Sharon Joffey says:

    I through teaching in the classroom and privately tutoring students individually feel that the phonetic approach is the best reading approach. Yes some will argue that there are so many deviations to some of the letter sounds and rules but compensating that it still works the best. My youngest son unfortunately when he was in K had the open book whole class approach when he would come home and tell me what he was doing for reading I was completely appalled. Needless to say he was a bright child and I taught him his letter sounds BUT because of the classes approach it even spoiled his spelling of words. Anyhow that discipline flew in and out quickly because many others felt like I did about it. My Autistic and/or slow learners will learn the phonetic way it takes much repetition but everything basically that they learn requires that. You teach and reteach the sounds and the sight words and eventually more and more of them will stick and stay with them. I have had the privilege to work with child who just turned 5 and will be starting K in Aug. She came to me knowing basically nothing had not attended any type of pre-school. So I taught from a clean slate how to write and spell her name, recite the alphabet, count her numbers, print lower and upper case letters correctly. While I taught her the letter formations I thought why not also teach her the letter sounds and some of the sight words that start with those sounds and/or some short word families. So I did and she took off on it. So perhaps the learning of when to start reading should start now when the child is starting to learn to write the letters like I just did with my student and move it along faster. Suggestion I am seeing it working. The joy of reading is something that you have it or you don’t. In my family one of my sons and I love to read. My husband and my other son not so much. So that depends you can’t make someone like it if they don’t. You can’t get me to like football because you like it, it just doesn’t work that way. The same with critical thinkers I am sure that with the people you work with some think one way and some another way. You might be able to show them different ways to think critically but basically they are going to choose the way of thinking that they are more comfortable with.

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