Literacy Blogs

01 December, 2008

Why the Obama Education Reform Won't Work

The problems that beset America since the “new millennium” had been silently growing beneath the surface for some time without adequate response. For example, we all share the memory of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, but it is important to remember that radical Islamic terrorism did not begin then. It had been growing for years. Maybe it had only seemed like a bad cold, but the 2001 attacks signaled a change in our situation. Evidently, the cold had morphed into a bad case of double pneumonia.   Similarly, our current financial crisis didn’t just blow up in October. This one had been ...

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10 November, 2008

How do I select an effective phonemic awareness program?

Is there really such a thing as an effective program? Your question would be like asking a plumber, “How do I select an effective wrench?” It’s not the wrench that’s effective, it’s the plumber with a wrench, and it is the same idea with teachers and instructional programs.   However, I get your point. You aren’t looking for an “effective program,” as much as for a program that has the potential of being effective if used properly by a teacher who knows her stuff. The National Reading Panel (NRP) reviewed 52 studies that showed that explicit teaching of phonemic awareness to kindergartners ...

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02 November, 2008

An Open Letter on Literacy to President-Elect Obama

Okay, okay, I know. The election won't really take place until Tuesday, but let's face it, it would take a miracle to prevent Barak Obama from being elected President of the U.S. His victory celebration is supposed to attract about 1 million people to a site just a few blocks from my home, and commentators are talking about how important a quick transition is going to be this year with the economic crisis. Given all of that, I don't think it is too early to let the transition team know that literacy policy is going to this president's attention (and ...

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29 October, 2008

The Combination of Phonemic Awareness and Phonics Instruction

Blast from the Past: This entry posted on October 29, 2008 and was revisited on August 20, 2022. When originally issued, educators were concerned about properly adhering to the intent of various federal and state documents – which raised questions about whether phonemic awareness and phonics were to be separated. By 2022, these concerns were being raised by researchers and theorists about the proper role that letters should play in phonemic awareness instruction. This blog explains the value of combining PA and phonics instruction. The point of phonemic awareness teaching is to help students to perceive the individual language sounds ...

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24 October, 2008

On Reading To Children

Okay, here is a quiz...  1. Does research show that reading to kids improves literacy? Yes or no.   If you read Jim Trelease's books, you're likely to get this one wrong. Reading to kids has been shown to improve kids' language development--and this might have a positive impact on reading--but no studies show that reading to kids improves their reading ability.... Really. 2. When you read to kids should you focus on picture books? Yes or no.   Research studies don't really tell us much about the impact of reading specific books on children's learning, but the key to having an impact on children's language ...

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14 October, 2008

Ten Things Every Teacher Should Know about Reading Comprehension

This week I am keynoting the California Reading Association and I plan to talk about reading comprehension. There are so many scary statistics these days about reading comprehension, and I see so much bad practice when it comes to teaching kids to think about text, that I hope this will be a timely reminder of some key ideas.   Some of the things that are scaring me:  Reading First kids are comprehending no better than other children in Title I programs.  Reading First teachers aren't teaching reading comprehension any differently than other teachers.  Instructional interventions for English language learners rarely improve their reading comprehension.  No matter ...

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29 September, 2008

Why Balanced Literacy is a Problem?

These days, I often hear a school’s approach to reading instruction described as “balanced.” What could be better? No one wants unbalanced literacy instruction, right? Obviously not.   But what does balance really mean? It can mean that teachers provide skills instruction but in the context of sustained silent reading, learning centers, book clubs, big book activities, minilessons and the like. In other words, it is a combination of instructional approaches that clearly make a difference in kids’ learning (as shown by research), and activities that may or may not make a learning difference (they might be good, but there is no ...

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07 September, 2008

Broader, Bolder Approaches to Literacy

During the summer, a group issued the so-called “Broader, Bolder Approach” (BBA) statement. It called for economic and social responses to support greater educational progress for our children. Much was made of the statement because of its obvious contrast with Bush administration education policy that mainly has emphasized the changes that schools must make. Much to the consternation of some of my friends and colleagues, I signed that statement.   How can someone square the circle? How can I support NCLB and BBA? Frankly, I don’t find it to be any kind of contradiction—not even a stretch. I have said for years that I would ...

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31 August, 2008

Which Reading First Idea Has the Least Research Support?

Reading First is the federal education program that encourages teachers to follow the research on how best to teach reading. The effort requires that teachers teach phonemic awareness (grades K-1), phonics (grades K-2), oral reading fluency (grades 1-3), vocabulary (grades K-3), and reading comprehension strategies (grades K-3). Reading First emphasizes such teaching because so many studies have shown that the teaching of each of these particular things improves reading achievement.   Reading First also requires that kids get 90-minutes of uninterrupted reading instruction each day because research overwhelmingly shows that the amount of teaching provided makes a big difference in kids’ learning. It ...

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23 August, 2008

Why Use a Textbook to Teach Reading

As a young teacher, I was aware that reading professors in colleges of education tended to be anti-textbook. They imagined a world in which all teachers would construct their own individual reading lessons every day, rather than following what they saw as the dismal guidance of the basal reader. Such views reigned during the “whole language era” (the 1980s and early 1990s) when textbooks were replaced by trade books, decoding instruction received less emphasis, and the idea that kids should just read and write rather than receiving explicit teaching (except for the occasional mini-lesson) became predominant. That was also the ...

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