Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shooting Rubber Bands

Back to school - all those different little people together in one room. There were those who sat quietly doodling in the margins. All those who were studious and wrote everything down. How about the kids who just couldn't sit still moving around, playing with things in their desk, or shooting rubber bands when the teacher wasn't looking. As children we didn't think about how they taught us to read. Now that we're the adults do you wonder how they did it? There are two schools of thought when it comes to reading and it helps to think of them as if they were the phases of a shooting rubber band - release (developmentalists) and stretch (interventionist). This time it's the teacher who is taking aim.

If a rubber band is released, it takes on whatever shape is conducive to it's environment. Those who have a developmental view are proponents of whole language, essentially to immerse a child in rich literature, foster a wealth of language, teach strategies based on reading observations, appreceiving reading growth. This is an environment that encourages literacy growth. Yes it is...

If a rubber band is stretched it becomes a slick aim line pointing in a clear direction. Those who are interventionists see reading development as being more concrete. The reader has to master a series of sub-skills in order to read fluently. The belief is to intervene with immediate corrective feedback, giving multiple exposures, and allowing for many repetitions until the skill is mastered. This is the way to create proficient readers.
Yes it is...

In years past this was referred to as the "Reading Wars". I don't know about you, but I could do with some peace. In many ways education is similar to politics. It seems that educational philosophies can become so entrenched to the point where these beliefs become dogma. I like to believe that happens because the work is so important people just want to do what they know is right. Just like politics, there are no simple solutions to complex problems.

The good news is, most teachers know this. The primary mission is helping children learn to read. That is why there is room for both in the classroom. Some people learn how to read as if it were breathing; others need to learn strategies for the alphabetic principle (phonics); and some thrive with a smattering of both.

I do not believe in whole language, I do not believe in phonics, I believe in what works for the reader. A literacy toolbox includes all of this - rich literature, sophisticated language, developmental designs, strategies, and more. It is imperative to understand the context of a reader while being responsive to whatever needs exist. Dedicated educators possess a deep understanding for appropriate interventions. If something isn't working it gets fixed. There are so many good things going on in the classrooms of America - I just wish more people knew.

This is not to say there isn't a lot of work to be done. As with a rubber band and the process of stretch and release and stretch and release causes it to break; resulting in some pain in the process. Clinging to ideals over finding solutions is just like that, but it causes a wake of pain - called illiteracy. Teachers know there is a small window of time to intervene before all that can be done is to remediate a problem. I encourage you to get involved with your child's literacy growth this academic year. You make a better advocate if you understand the needs. So roll up your sleeves and partner up with your child's classroom teacher, there is no stronger team.

1 comment:

  1. A key discussion point regarding reading instruction today involves those favoring skills-based instruction and those favoring content-based instruction. This is not the old phonics-whole language debate. Other than a few hold-outs, such as Stephen Krashen, most in the reading field would agree that this debate has been largely settled. The current debate involves whether teachers at all levels should be teaching the how or the what of reading.

    There are, indeed, some who would restrict reading to a measurable skill-set. These would pigeon-hole reading instruction into a continuum of increasingly complex rules, while ignoring the thinking process necessary to advanced reading. Teachers of this ilk love their phonics, context clues, and inference worksheets when they are not leading their students in fluency exercises, ad nauseum, whether the students need fluency practice or not.

    On the other side of the debate are those who would claim that content is the real reading instruction. These would limit reading skill instruction in favor of pouring shared cultural knowledge into learners. They favor teacher read-alouds, Cornell note-taking, and direct instruction. They argue that subject area disciplines such as English literature, science, and history often provide the best reading instruction by the content that they teach.

    Both are extremes. Students need some of each to become skilled and complex readers. More on how to strike this balance on my blog at