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

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Adventures on the Striving Readers Webinar

I watched a Webinar on Striving Readers put on by the Alliance for Excellent Education. It was designed to strengthen support for the Striving Readers program, which the House of Representatives wants to eliminate. The participants (esp. prof Don Deshler, a specialist in special education, as is often the case with proponents of skills-based approaches) stated their belief that better educational achievement and literacy development will help the economy, and their belief that direct teaching of skills and strategies is the obvious way to go, and that we must raise the bar and insist on higher standards.

There was a brief mention of the importance of engagement in books.


I do not support Striving Readers: It is highly skill-based. Many of the programs use READ 180 and Xtreme Reading. And the results are very disappointing. I reviewed this is previous posts.

I had previously sent in a question asking them about the dismal results for Striving Readers. Deshler answered this saying that some of the programs got great results – this happens when conditions are right.

I sent in this question in response, during the discussion: "Dr. Deshler says that when conditions are right, Striving Readers works. The summary I have seen shows dismal results everywhere, with little variation. Please provide citations so we can read about these successful cases."

This question was not answered.


I also sent in this question during the course of the discussion:

"The claim was made that opponents of Striving Readers say that "we don't know how to develop literacy." Not the case for this opponent. One of the things we know is the importance of providing access to lots of interesting reading materials. The more self-selected pleasure reading students do, the better they read, write, spell, etc. Are you aware of the massive research supporting this common-sense view?

Quite often, struggling readers are those who live in high-poverty areas and who thus have little access to books. I have not seen much in Striving Readers about this. Why not? (Note also that the feds want to eliminate support for libraries in high poverty area, Improving Literacy through School Libraries, despite the many studies showing a consistent relationship between library quality and reading achievement.)

(The usual response to this question, which I ask a lot, is that presence of books does not guarantee students will read. The research I have seen shows that most students will read, given the presence of interesting reading material. And even if some don't, this is not an argument for not providing books.

Another response, consistent with the philosophy of Striving Readers, is that students need more skills and strategies before doing real reading. Teaching some of them at the beginning (eg basic phonics) is a help, but there is evidence that most skills emerge as a result of reading.)."

The host brought up this question (I was identified as Steve), and Deshler's response was that he agreed that reading for pleasure is important, but you gotta have those skills first, you can't just throw books at children, and the skills won't come "from magic." Time was nearly out by then, but I still submitted this as the program was going off the air:

"Dr. Deshler has taking a naïve interpretation of my question, eg. Just give them books and do nothing else. This is why we do read-alouds, and have discussions about books (literature). Also, in many cases, this IS all you need to do. And will the skills emerge 'by magic'? Yes they will. This is what the research on free reading and libraries shows."

I should have made my question much shorter, and I should have somehow built in the skills-result-of-reading aspect into the question better.


It was confirmed that Striving Readers was a version of the LEARN Act.

One listener asked about phonemic awareness.

Deshler's response again reflected his belief that you gotta teach all the skills first: The big problem for adolescents is comprehension, but there are also problems in decoding and fluency, the foundational skills. We need to be precise in our instruction and it needs to be "hard-hitting." He then mentioned Fusion Reading, and claimed that using Fusion Reading third graders gained 1.5 years in 5 months (where published? What was the test?) Fusion Reading looks a lot like Striving Readers, in my view. For the record, free reading produces spectacular results on tests of reading comprehension and it is something students can continue to do on their own.

At times the webinar sounded like an infomercial, but I was, of course, very pleased that they took my questions seriously. But as usual, I was disappointed with the low interest in (and lack of knowledge of) libraries and actual reading. Actually, I was more than disappointed.

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