We’ll get back to Mating in Captivity tomorrow; Scout’s honor.
In the meantime, The Atlantic has published a piece which confirms my assertions from the post preceding this one. Specifically, that the attempts to modernize instruction away from techniques that have been proven effective is yielding poor results. After describing an example the author observed in a D.C. elementary school classroom, the article begins to state its case:
That girl’s assignment was merely one example, albeit an egregious one, of a standard pedagogical approach. American elementary education has been shaped by a theory that goes like this: Reading—a term used to mean not just matching letters to sounds but also comprehension—can be taught in a manner completely disconnected from content. Use simple texts to teach children how to find the main idea, make inferences, draw conclusions, and so on, and eventually they’ll be able to apply those skills to grasp the meaning of anything put in front of them.
This is backwards, right? It gets worse, yet simultaneously gives me comfort with the fact that our kids have 1) not been subjected to this approach, and 2) always read whole books, whether they could read themselves or whether I had to read them to them. Here’s why:
In the meantime, what children are reading doesn’t really matter—it’s better for them to acquire skills that will enable them to discover knowledge for themselves later on than for them to be given information directly, or so the thinking goes. That is, they need to spend their time “learning to read” before “reading to learn.” Science can wait; history, which is considered too abstract for young minds to grasp, must wait. Reading time is filled, instead, with a variety of short books and passages unconnected to one another except by the “comprehension skills” they’re meant to teach.
As I noted, the results are in:
As far back as 1977, early-elementary teachers spent more than twice as much time on reading as on science and social studies combined. But since 2001, when the federal No Child Left Behind legislation made standardized reading and math scores the yardstick for measuring progress, the time devoted to both subjects has only grown. In turn, the amount of time spent on social studies and science has plummeted—especially in schools where test scores are low.
And yet, despite the enormous expenditure of time and resources on reading, American children haven’t become better readers. For the past 20 years, only about a third of students have scored at or above the “proficient” level on national tests.
I taught my kids to read by reading to them and also using this admittedly drab phonics book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It wasn’t glamorous, as phonics instruction rarely is, but it got the job done and prepared them to be able to read content and then comprehend it.
Of course, it might be helpful if teachers, you know, actually teach kids something about the content they are expected to comprehend as well, which also seems to be missing from the current model. At least it is if The Atlantic piece is to be believed.
The passage and quiz approach leaves a lot to be desired, and I’m sure it’s easier on both the student and the teacher, but what about the long term implications? Why use it if it doesn’t work?