"Summertime and the living is easy, fish are jumping, and the cotton is high..."
It is summer and not a good time for a long blog on literacy teaching. So, I took the time to write a short one. I didn't want to get worked up in the summer heat, so have provided a pithy critique of 5 popular myths about reading instruction.
1. The fact that you do not use a textbook to teach reading does not make you a good teacher.
The idea that good teachers don’t follow a program and weak ones do has been around since well before I became a teacher. It is absolutely silly. The good teachers are the ones who manage to teach kids a lot and the poor ones accomplish less. That has nothing to do with whether a program is followed or not.
2. Having regularly scheduled free reading time in your classroom does not mean the kids will improve in reading.
Kids can learn something from reading on their own. But they tend to learn much more from reading instruction (reading a book along with other kids, discussing it with a teacher, and writing about it). Free-choice reading time — SSR, DEAR, SQUIRT — ranges from having no affect on learning to having very tiny effects. Encourage free reading when teachers aren’t available to work with kids, and encourage teaching when they are.
3. Focusing only on reading — ignoring writing and content instruction — is not the best way to raise reading achievement for struggling readers.
The idea that kids who struggle with reading need more literacy instruction makes sense and is supported by research. But often this is offered at the cost of other kinds of instruction. Writing about text has been found to have bigger comprehension effects than reading alone, reading and rereading, and reading and discussing. Skipping writing instruction and activity for extra reading is obviously a bad idea. And, though it might be necessary to pull kids out of some content instruction to get the reading help they need, the bad effects of this should be reduced by making sure the texts used for this instruction is content rich.
4. Assigning students (in grades 2-12) to reading books at “their reading levels” does not facilitate learning to read.
I’m still finding teachers who are sure there must be research supporting the idea of teaching kids with texts of particular levels of difficulty (such as those they can read with 95-98% accuracy). There isn’t. Kids can learn from a wide range of text difficulties, and it makes sense to guide them, within instruction, to make sense of texts that they would struggle to read on their own.
5. Reading to kids does not teach them to read.
There are few activities that I enjoy as a parent, grandparent, or teacher than reading to children. And, yet, studies show that such activity has positive impacts on children’s vocabulary (kids who are read know the meanings of new words). However, the idea that reading to kids teaches them to read is a bad idea — and one not demonstrated in the dozens of studies on reading to kids. I definitely would continue to read to children, but not instead of reading instruction. Reading picture books or chapter books to kids should not take the place of any part of the reading and writing instruction block.