"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

They still don't get it

They still don't get it: A comment on the "Reading for Understanding" Research Initiative
Stephen Krashen

Submitted for publication

Reading the description of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative, it is clear that the US Department of Education has (finally) recognized the limits of research on decoding skills and is prepared to move on (see age 5).

But they still don't get it.

They now claim that decoding is necessary but is not sufficient for reading comprehension (and, I assume, that methods that focus exclusively on decoding are not the way to go), and will invest $100 million on research that will contribute to developing ways to "accelerate growth in oral language and word knowledge in ways that are likely to close reading comprehension gaps" (page 11).

Unmentioned is the slightest hint that "decoding skills," word knowledge, oral language development, reading comprehension itself, and a host of other competencies (e.g. spelling, grammar, writing ability, knowledge of the world) might be the result of actual "Reading for Understanding," the result of children reading a wide range of interesting and comprehensible texts.

Unmentioned is any realization that our "literacy crisis" could have one fundamental cause: Children of poverty, the group with the low reading scores we are concerned about, suffer from a profound lack of access to reading material.

That $100 million could be used to help solve the problem. It could go toward supporting libraries and librarians in high-poverty areas, and would represent more than five times the current annual federal government investment in school libraries in high-poverty areas.

But my first suggestion is to use about $100 of the $100 million to buy government education advisors copies of books by Frank Smith, Kenneth Goodman, and Jeff McQuillan. I'll be happy to donate a copy of the Power of Reading. (Important writings by Keith Curry Lance and Doug Achterman are available for free on the internet.)

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, the recent research in this area shows that even more important than amount of reading is number books in the home. That is, kids in poverty who are taken to the library a lot, who read in after school programs, etc., while they do significantly better than kids who don't have those opportunities, still do more POORLY than kids who READ LESS but who have many books in their home. There is something mysterious about the simple fact of book ownership that improves early (and throughout life) literacy skills. Perhaps it is re-reading the same book many times that matters. Perhaps parents and kids interact differently around books when they own them. Perhaps it is self-image as "book person" that changes when you own books. The research is unclear on this point. But one thing is clear: kids who have books in their homes out-perform kids who don't. And impoverished children are unlikely to own even a single book. The best, easiest thing the federal government could do to improve childhood literacy would be to give every impoverished kids a few books. Seriously.

    Work for a literate America! Give a kid a book.

    Here is a summary of the research: http://literacyforallchildren.org/mission_vision.html