We have, for instance, entered the Me Do It phase for one of our most beloved tomes (Little Excavator, by Anna Dewdney). I am no longer allowed to read that book to the Board, but must hold it open while a Board member recites the text. We can do then same thing for select portions of that other best-seller, Digger, Dozer, Dumper. The Board also enjoys just sitting and holding a book and flipping through the pages, one at a time, just like the Institute's CEO and his wife, the Executive Breadwinner.
|A Board member considers the deeper themes |
of Hank the Cowdog
I have two older children, so I've seen this movie. At some point the letter-sound connection will click. At some point they will start to learn that particular letters make particular sounds, and they will start connecting the marks on the page to the words and stories that they already know.
When that day comes, there's one thing I know for sure-- the damn reading wars arguments will still be going on.
How can this argument still be going on? How?
Look, maybe, somewhere, there's a whole balanced literacy language fan who would claim that my toddlers are now actually reading. Maybe. But they aren't. They need to add the decoding piece that allows them to sound out actual words and not just depend on random lucky guesses.
But by the same token, if you "sound out" a word that you don't know, what have you got? Nothing.
The current push for the "Science of Reading" insists that the science is settled. It isn't (you can read the article, but don't skip the comments). Even if the "brain science" were completely settled, so what? We know a lot of science about love and relationships, but that doesn't mean you can use it to scientifically make someone become the love of your life. There's a limit to how much you can program people like computers. Why this current crop of agenda-driven journalists and amateur reading analysts is so devoted to phonics and phonics only is a mystery (well, partly-- some folks depend on this stuff to make a living). What's also striking is how unscientifically the science argument is often made-- this article follows the usual pattern, built around a heart-tugging anecdote and vague on specifics.
I worked on the top end of this, working with lots of not-very-proficient readers nearing the end of their school careers. They came in a few types. Can sound the word out, but has no idea what it means. Can only bring themselves to read when the material is interesting. Will guess wildly based on first letter. Lacks the life experience to make sense-- literally to construct any sense-- of what they're reading. Reads words, but not sentences. I had poor readers who couldn't (or wouldn't decode). I had poor readers who could decode, but couldn't do anything with the decoded words. Humans who have trouble reading come in a million different configurations, and so remediation has to come in a million different configurations as well.
Why is this so hard? You can't have reading without decoding. You can't have reading with only decoding. Reading involves a whole complex of skills, and none of those skills can be taught or acquired outside of the business of actually reading. Every reading student brings a different web of experience, knowledge, interest and processor power, which means that teachers need a toolbox filled with many tools.
In the meantime, too much literally meaningless phonics drill kills an interest in reading. Too much practice with material that is too hard kills an interest in reading. Too much drill that suggests that everything can be read only one way and someone else knows that way and you don't and if you can't figure out what that other reader thinks then shame on you for being wrong wrong wrong-- well, that doesn't build anyone's interest in reading, either.
The reading wars, at their worst, are always the same thing. A bunch of chefs standing in a kitchen, trying to make a salad, with a couple of them insisting "It has to be all lettuce and nothing but lettuce" and another arguing, "No, it has to be all cucumber slices, and they have to be sliced exactly like this." Also, one of them will turn out to not actually be a chef at all-- just someone who read a book about vegetables.
I suppose the wars are exacerbated by the current decidedly unscientific notion that reading must be pushed to younger and younger ages. I can mock the stupidity of thinking that pedagogy can somehow overcome human development. I can understand that this emphasis on making kindergarten the new first or second grade is wrong and even harmful. But even I feel the pressure-- the Board whiled away the morning just playing with toy cars all over the living room and at the time I was impressed by their focus and touched by how they played together so well. But now it's the afternoon and I am second-guessing myself and wondering if I should have been providing them with more enrichment. In times like this, it's no wonder that so many people are reacting so strongly to the argument that we must have all phonics all the time right now or how will we ever get these tiny humans to read in time??!! The reading wars seem mostly fought between folks on the over-simplified extremes of the different camps.
It's a dumb argument, raging while the real work is done by folks who live in the complex middle between the poles. At some point, the Board of Directors will be ready to start actually reading, at which point, the EB and CEO will provide all manners of support, and hope to high heaven that their school does the same. They'll have to, if we're going to have the Board reading and writing novels by December of kindergarten.