Sunday, October 28, 2007

Teaching Reading IS NOT Rocket Science!

I remember watching a program on PBS about teaching children to read. One statement that stuck out was “teaching reading IS rocket science…” Good thing I didn’t have a mouth full of liquids at the time. I thought it was a joke when I first heard the statement, but they were serious. A web search for “teaching reading is rocket science” brought up the article which I assume the PBS show was quoting. My reaction to the statement was “Only if you try to teach 30 children before they are developmentally ready!” For the average child learning how to read isn’t difficult; we make it difficult by expecting results so early.

Two of my children taught themselves to read. Any teaching on my part was purely accidental yet 100% effective. It wasn’t rocket science but my methods would be just as difficult to transpose to a classroom setting. I spent one on one time with each child for several hours a day. When my son was an only child I would read a stack of books to him during the day and another stack at night to try to get him to fall asleep.

Reading was an important part of our world. He lived 24/7 in a home that placed a high emphasis on reading and he spent much of his time sitting in front of a book or having a book read to him. We also wrote books together. He would say the words and I would write them down. I would fold the pages in half, punch holes in the paper, and secure the pages with ribbon or I would fold the pages down the middle and staple the folded area to create a spine. Our "readers" were written by the child. We created these books whenever we could and he could read these little books because he was the author.

Our refrigerator was decorated in refrigerator magnets shaped like the letters of the alphabet. We had alphabet puzzles, alphabet building blocks, alphabet shaped water toys, and many “ABC books.” Each day as we read side by side on a comfy couch I would point out a letter of the alphabet and then I would challenge my son to find the letter as I read to him. The only plan I followed was mother’s intuition. We did this almost every day until he learned how to recognize all of the letters. Eventually, I would challenge him find three letter words or common words. This family reading time eased him into becoming a reader. I didn’t teach him to read on purpose, it was purely accidental and natural. I followed a curriculum of love and a scope and sequence driven by mommy's intuition.


My daughter also taught herself to read but maybe because my time was divided between her and her brother she learned at a much later age. She and I didn't read 10 books a day. Still, I had confidence that she would eventually learn to read so I didn't force her to become a reader at an early age. At some point, using educational toys, she figured out how to read. She might be considered a late reader but she reads just fine now and she learned with little or no instruction.

I have one child who was an early reader and one child who was a late reader but both taught themselves how to read. I think the secret to their success might have been that they weren't taught how to read. They were allowed to learn when they were ready to learn – late or early. They lived reading and were read to often. Learning to read might be a lifestyle instead of some expensive miracle program.


There’s a point to all of this. Either children are smarter than rocket scientists or we are trivializing something that should be simple and natural. Are we trying to teach many children how to read too early thus making something as simple as child’s play seem as difficult as rocket science? Waiting until the child is developmentally and physiologically ready to learn would make teaching reading as easy as pie!

I know if I were teaching in a classroom I would be forced to observe the conclusions of the article that I mentioned and to understand why some people think that TEACHING reading is like rocket science. A child who is surrounded by love, books, and plenty of time and patience will find learning to read is as easy pie most of the time.

You want a nation of proficient readers? Then you want everyone to be the same and that's not reality. Read to your children daily, model the importance of reading by reading, and don’t expect all children to read so early. Let them learn when they are ready. I think children are better learners than we are teachers, anyway.

Here is the article "Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science." You have to give some of these people credit. They are masters at making something very easy and natural look like a very daunting task. Glad I didn't read this article ten years ago when I started homeschooling. They make a pretty strong case with their big words! As a homeschool mom I felt like the message of this article was "Don't even try it. It's too hard for you! Leave it to the 'educated' 'qualified' 'experts.'" Fact: Many homeschooled children are learning to read without these "experts" and some times before mom gets a chance to try to teach! I wish our public school teachers had to freedom to allow more time when it comes to learning how to read....


Nicky said...

Thanks for stopping by to say "Hi"! I've enjoyed reading your blog. I'm excited to take on this task and it helps to know there are others out there doing this, too. =)

Jeffrey said...

I certainly appreciate your views and would be the first to say that you are right. You are right in the home school enviroment. It would be ideallic for every parent to have the knowledge, time, ability, and desire to home school their child. Unfortunately, this isn't a reality. Many "underprivileged children grow up in homes where education is of little concern to the parents. Many, believe it or not, send their children to school because the chilren qualify for free or reduced cost lunches and this saves what little money those people have. This is a reality. Teaching those children is an extremely daunting task. When they go home they have no guideance nor role models. It's a terrible reality but this exists right here in America though is found to be more prevalent in poorer nations.

Basically, in your scenario it's not impossible and through caring, loving attentiveness teaching reading is not rocket science. Unfortunately not every child is raised in homes like that.

All the best,


literacyprof said...

Yikes - what you say is scary...your experiences, unfortunately, have led you to erroneously believe that reading is natural. It is NOT natural. The human brain is innately wired for speech, but for reading - which has only been popularized for 1000 years or so - the brain must borrow from different areas to break the code. Compound that fascinating fact with the 30% or so of children who have processing problems, neurological issues, dyslexia. For them - learning to read becomes the most difficult task they will encounter in their entire life.

We can be lulled into complacency when we work with children like yours - due to their background experiences and not having any risk factors, they seem to learn to read naturally and easily.

This is in fact quite dangerous. Children who are at risk- and yes include those who have average or above average intelligence and STILL don't get it - we must be alert and vigilant. We must realize that teaching reading IS rocket science - these children will need to be spotted early, provided with systematic and explicit instruction. Prevention rather than remediation is the key.

Do yourself a favor and read the article "Waiting Rarely Works: Late Bloomers Usually Just Wilt" or Shaywitz's Overcoming Dylexia, or John Corcoran's The Teacher Who Couldn't Read.

All the evidence shows that children who do not receive help early on just stay behing, falling further and further behind until they become high schoolers and adults that never learned to read or never learned to read well enough to enjoy school or reading. Why do you think illiteracy is the number one public health problem in this country? It's because illiteracy directly contributes to drop out rates, health issues, suicidality, depression, unemployment, low productivity, etc.

And why is this so rampant? Because too many people (TEACHERS INCLUDED) think "reading is natural." God help us.