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Why Millions Of Kids Can't Read, And What Better Teaching Can Do About It

By NPR

The instruction many students get is not based on the overwhelming scientific evidence about how kids turn spoken sounds into letters and words on a pageRead full story

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  • Dan Dresner
    Dan Dresner Educator, Marine Biology

    27yrs teaching HS science and Master Teaching Coll Prep. Biol gd. 10–12 I agree with much of what’s been said, but if the child comes from a home where the adults don’t enjoy reading themselves, then reading is just something the child has been “told“ to do. They need to see parents personally enjoying the practice of reading and they need to share it with them. Same goes for learning and exploring, too. Another thing: kids were having trouble reading their age-appropriate sci. text. Asked Engl

    27yrs teaching HS science and Master Teaching Coll Prep. Biol gd. 10–12 I agree with much of what’s been said, but if the child comes from a home where the adults don’t enjoy reading themselves, then reading is just something the child has been “told“ to do. They need to see parents personally enjoying the practice of reading and they need to share it with them. Same goes for learning and exploring, too. Another thing: kids were having trouble reading their age-appropriate sci. text. Asked Engl. Dept. for help by devoting small amt of time to sci vs humanities reading. Was told “We don’t have the time. Teach them yourself.” I’m still steaming....

  • Scientists have done thousands of studies on how people learn to read, and come to the conclusion that the current leading theory is wrong. Reading is not natural. People become skilled readers by learning that written text is a code for speech sounds. The primary task for a beginning reader is to crack the code. 📚

  • Annaliese Griffin
    Annaliese Griffinreporter at Quartz

    "My kids are successful, and happy, and believe in themselves," she said. "I don't have a single child in my room that has that look on their face like, 'I can't do this.'"

    To me this quote is crucial. When we treat teaching like glorified babysitting, instead of a challenging, evidence based profession, kids suffer. They need instruction, not osmosis, to learn.

  • This is great information concerning children and teaching them how to read. There’s a little too much positive reenforcement and not enough “this is wrong, try again and explain in a new way kids can understand”. This is a reality check for all parents and teachers. For families in poverty, access to books are important. Reading and practicing constantly is key. There are more programs making it easier to have access to books but there are still limitations for poor communities. I also agree teachers

    This is great information concerning children and teaching them how to read. There’s a little too much positive reenforcement and not enough “this is wrong, try again and explain in a new way kids can understand”. This is a reality check for all parents and teachers. For families in poverty, access to books are important. Reading and practicing constantly is key. There are more programs making it easier to have access to books but there are still limitations for poor communities. I also agree teachers need better educated on helping children to read. Why else do we have a public education system? Parents need help and our tax dollars are supposed to pay for educators to help teach our children how to read. I’m not a teacher and am a parent struggling to teach my son to read. It is a learning experience for both of us. I have to learn how to teach my son to read while he is learning to read. New perspectives and insight from teachers would lead to more success.

  • Did you know there's a good chance the literacy education in your child's school is borderline useless? Many deeply entrenched parts of American education are based on disproven theories and false assumptions. This is one of the reasons why even American schools that do have money underperform compared to foreign peers.

    This lesser-known issue of bad education for teachers needs to be addressed ASAP. If the teachers themselves are being taught incorrect things, how on earth are the kids supposed

    Did you know there's a good chance the literacy education in your child's school is borderline useless? Many deeply entrenched parts of American education are based on disproven theories and false assumptions. This is one of the reasons why even American schools that do have money underperform compared to foreign peers.

    This lesser-known issue of bad education for teachers needs to be addressed ASAP. If the teachers themselves are being taught incorrect things, how on earth are the kids supposed to learn?

    "Maldonado had been a teacher for more than a decade. Her first reaction after learning about the reading science was shock: Why wasn't I taught this? Then guilt: What about all the kids I've been teaching all these years?"

  • Greg Vetter
    Greg VetterCEO at Tessemae’s

    This is somewhat shocking. When did we stop teaching the fundamentals of “sounding out” the word, working through each part and then explaining the word after the child fought through it? Most of this is on us as parents. We were taught this way. Why do we allow our children to simply guess pony when it says horse? Some of it is obviously on the teachers but there are 20-30 kids in a class. This is a fundamental failure that will continue to haunt us as a society.

  • Whet Moser
    Whet MoserDeputy editor, Obsession at Quartz

    If memory serves me, this is similar to the Montessori method. We have a couple of books at home that focus on letter sounds.

  • Michael Allen
    Michael AllenRetired CFO and World Traveler

    I had my wife who is a retired 3rd grade teacher read this article. She taught for 28 years. She said the new “science” the article describes of how to better teach reading isn’t new at all. When the article says the teaching theory should be “...words are made up of sounds, and how letters represent those sounds...” she said that is called phonics which is teaching words by correlating sounds with letters. She used phonics her entire career to teach reading so she found it odd that the Bethlehem school district wasn’t using it.

  • William Wood
    William WoodOwner at William Wood

    One of the biggest disconnects, in education, started with busing, to achieve full integration. Don’t get me wrong, I think the country benefits from integration, but the bussing did create problems. In the past, parents were involved in their children’s schools. There was a sense of community around the school. Losing that sense of community, children felt less invested in the school their parents were no longer involved with, and education suffered. Of course guys abandoning their responsibilitiesas Father has exacerbated the decline.

  • David Haskett
    David Haskettfounder at sirius cybernetics

    In my honest opinion from talking to teachers it is the strick, unbreakable rules that federal and state government have put on what a teacher can or can't do in the classroom to help INDIVIDUAL students. It's all cookie cutter teaching. No individual expression by teachers or students is allowed. Stick to what is mandatory to get them passed to the next grade. Period.

  • Catherine Tannahill
    Catherine Tannahillprof, teacher

    There is a lot of research on how to teach reading, some of it is good. But, I would argue that allowing a teacher to make informed decisions based on results is important. Scripted reading has good points but not when a teacher is not allowed to explain meaning. Phonics works with assistance but is useless without context. I believe that real meaningful practice is as important to successful reading as it is to playing basketball or the piano. The more a child reads, the better they get. I'd like

    There is a lot of research on how to teach reading, some of it is good. But, I would argue that allowing a teacher to make informed decisions based on results is important. Scripted reading has good points but not when a teacher is not allowed to explain meaning. Phonics works with assistance but is useless without context. I believe that real meaningful practice is as important to successful reading as it is to playing basketball or the piano. The more a child reads, the better they get. I'd like to see as many reading camps as basketball camps.

  • Lissa Ingram
    Lissa IngramIlluminography

    This is why, despite their overall dismal ranking in K-12 education, Alabama’s pre-K program is first in the nation. If only they could find a way to infuse that reliance on the science of learning into the other level curricula.

  • DebbieandDick Snider
    DebbieandDick Snider

    As a teacher, I have been frustrated for years with the whole language approach to teaching literacy. I have watched students become worse at grammar, vocabulary and spelling through this method. Thankfully, I see the tide turning some but the article makes a very valid point in the fact that teacher preparation courses are not paving the way. Additionally, we, as both parents and educators must stop accepting wrong answers but instead take the time to insist children correct their work.

  • Of course it matters if your parents are reading at home. It naturally takes time if you spend at least 1 hour every day reading with your children. When I was a child my family was far from wealthy, so nearly all of my books were from the local library - but yes somebody has to bring the kids to the library and not just leave them in front of the TV or with a smartphone...

  • Louise Sumrell
    Louise Sumrell

    They don't read because their parents don't read to them, regularly, in early childhood...

  • Alexandra Zuzene
    Alexandra Zuzene7th/8th Grade English Teacher at MVMS

    I’m shocked the teachers didn’t know this... but it’s not really their fault—that is a serious deficiency in Pennsylvania’s elementary licensure program, and the state’s Ed department should rectify that.

  • Patrick deHahn
    Patrick deHahnNews curator at Quartz

    Really like how Kim Harper described their research simply: reading is not natural.

  • Mike Green
    Mike GreenCo-founder at ScaleUp Partners

    Remind me: what's the purpose of public education?

  • Nick  Cole
    Nick Cole

    This so called “science” of reading is nothing new in fact it’s just another label for the teaching of proper reading skills. In this article the question is asked what is first sound (syllable) in Eunice? It’s certainly not the word you. It is ū.

  • Carley Roberts
    Carley Roberts

    Happily they have noticed this in reading, next step? Realizing that numbers are a symbol meaning value. This research backs up the idea of schools running on the Davis Dyslexia program. All elementary teaching recognizes and nurtures symbol mastery- not just for students with dyslexia.

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