Books are Enough

The Power of Free, Self-Selected Reading

The Great Reading Lie

There is a recurring myth that keeps popping up about literacy. I thought it was confined to the test crazed state of Florida until I heard it in Wisconsin and then in other states. What is this myth? Well we might call it a lie since the reasons for pushing it are political and not based on reality. Those working with students must refrain from laughing out loud.

It goes like this:

Third grade is the magical year. Before then, we learn to read. After, we read to learn.

This line makes me furious since it is manifestly false.

Give me a student in second grade and a book (maybe a Big Book) about the zoo. I can show you how we always learn to read and read to learn at the same time. Now we can fast forward to high school. Give me a book about car repair and a sophomore who has never read books before- stuck on computer programs and skill-drill-kill worksheets for years. I can show you how we always learn to read and read to learn at the same time. Even the most advanced readers are always learning to read as they face different texts.

Let’s go back to second grade for a moment. While the student is reading (and being read to) from the Big Book on the zoo, he or she is learning to read through rhyme, rhythm and repetition- they are also learning about all kinds of animals. What an amazing way to help kids!

Time to go to high school. While the student is learning all about car repair (possible career) he or she is also practicing active reading and thinking skills. Dealing with different text always prompts us to modify our approach. We are always learning new vocabulary and different ways to make text more comprehensible. You see- learning to read involves understanding what is on the page. We are always learning how to deal with text.

Why do folks persist in repeating the lie? Well, it justifies massive testing and skill based instruction for our younger students when they should be READING and reading A LOT.  This means a lot of money for the educational testing complex and consultants who shill for them. Joe Torgesen (of DIBELS infamy) and Barbara Foorman (Children must be TAUGHT to read and write! lol ) are prime examples.

If I could get to kids when they first start school and surround them with books, there would be no need for later remediation. We are drowning kids- who are yearning to read- with phonics and skill based packaged program pablum. Enough! If you get a chance, look at the work of Warwick Elley. Look at the work of Dick Allington and Linda Gambrell. Buy the book “The Power of Reading” by Krashen. If you can find it- pick up an amazing book called “Hooked on Books” by Fader. I can go on forever. Find “The Read- Aloud Handbook” by Trelease.

If you see anything by Torgesen or Foorman (or the Florida Center for Reading Research) RUN for your lives.

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One thought on “The Great Reading Lie

  1. Thanks for articulating something that’s bothered me since I first heard it, 20+ years ago when I was going through classes to get my multiple-subject credential. I now teach high school, but I am thankful I got a decent grounding in literacy. Most teachers at this level have no idea how kids learn to read, or what to do when those kids don’t do it very well.

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