Saturday, October 27, 2018

Learning to read

Emily Hanford, education correspondent for American Public Media, asks why we are still teaching reading the wrong way: “To become readers, kids need to learn how the words they know how to say connect to print on the page. They need explicit, systematic phonics instruction.” Yes, they do.

I recall, many years ago, working as a volunteer tutor with a local literacy program. Big emphasis on “sight words” — men, women, push, pull, danger — and yes, being able to recognize such words is of urgent importance. But I remember asking at a training session: If it’s only sight words, what is a student supposed to do with unfamiliar words? There was, as you might guess, no good answer.

In my tutoring I was able to use phonics-based workbooks, which proved immensely helpful to my students. And I remember one wonderful moment helping a student work out the sh sound with a word that wasn’t in our workbook, or in any workbook. “Here’s another word, Howard, one you’ve already known most of your life.” That was a moment of great hilarity in the library basement.

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