Blog Posts

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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18 August, 2008

Starting Out Right: Helping Your Child Have a Successful School Year

Here we are at the start of another school year: a time of great new beginnings for many children and one of overwhelming anxiety for too many others. What can parents do to help ease their child into a successful new school year—particularly for struggling learners?   I suggest the following steps.  1. Talk to your child about school.   “What did you do in school today, Johnny?”   “Nothin.’”   Sadly, that is a pretty typical exchange between most parents and kids, and it does nothing for improving home-school relations, for making children feel supported, or for helping both teachers and kids to succeed.   As a parent and former ...

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09 August, 2008

Rubber Rulers and State Accountability Testing in Illinois

Much has been made in recent years of the political class’s embrace of the idea of test-based accountability for the schools. Such schemes are enshrined in state laws and NCLB. On the plus side, such efforts have helped move educators to focus on outcomes more than we traditionally have. No small change, this. Historically, when a student failed to learn it was treated as a personal problem—something beyond the responsibility of teachers or schools. That was fine, I guess, when “Our Miss Brooks” was in the classroom and teachers were paid a pittance. Not much public treasure was at risk, ...

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02 August, 2008

Explaining the Reading First Impact Study (New Districts Added)

Recently, I wrote about the Reading First Impact Study in this space. That struck a nerve and received much attention and generated many questions. Given that, here I will answer some of these inquiries. Feel free to send more along and I’ll see what I can do. Hope this helps readers to better understand this study; various political statements recently have suggested that many politicians, at least, don't get it. The Impact Study showed that the Reading First schools made no improvements in reading comprehension, so the program did not work, right? No, that’s not correct. The Reading First Impact Study collected ...

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29 July, 2008

Reading First for English Learners

As I write this, I’m in Nashville, TN at the 5th annual National Reading First conference. It appears to be their last meeting and my first appearance at one of these affairs. Of course, there is a lot of sadness as most state people are resigned to the idea that Reading First funding is not to be renewed. Yesterday, at the opening of the meeting, Laura Bush apparently cheered folks’ spirits by calling for the reinstatement of full funding to Reading First (I was on a plane at the time, but morning radio caught me up on what I missed ...

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27 July, 2008

When Reading Isn't Reading

In this morning’s New York Times, Motoko Rich (the Times cultural reporter) has a terrific article about reading on the Internet. This article is a continuation of a discussion Ms. Rich and I had awhile back about the National Endowment for the Arts’ study that claimed young people were no longer reading. I responded to that study by opining that survey respondents do not include their Internet reading time, even though they might be reading newspapers and books online. The Chicago Tribune followed up on that story at the time by interviewing Chicago area young people, and these young people both separated ...

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21 July, 2008

Vocabulary Learning: Words, Words, Words

Blast from the Past: I’m taking Independence Day weekend off but thought this previously released blog entry would be a good reminder of some of the great vocabulary resources that are available online. Teachers, parents and kids can benefit from these—even during the summer months. Okay, the National Reading Panel found that vocabulary instruction improved reading achievement, especially for older readers. And, research has been showing a clear, substantial empirical link—especially for older kids—between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension (both within reading and readability research) for almost a century. The National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth found an even bigger impact of vocabulary teaching with children who ...

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One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.