Update, 11/20: I realized after I posted this piece that the problem I discuss in this post—namely, that most people don’t know what the three-cueing system is—ironically made the piece hard to follow. So if you’re unfamiliar with three-cueing and want the full background, see this post first.
If you want the short version, it’s this: basically, the three-cueing system is derived from the observation that skilled use a variety of “clues,” including spelling, syntax, background knowledge, to draw meaning from texts. Over time, that idea became profoundly distorted into the notion that children should be discouraged from using all the letters in a word to determine what it literally says, and should instead look at only the first/last letters, along with other contextual clues—usually pictures—to identify it. I’m simplifying here, but that’s the gist.
A couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine attended a mandatory development workshop for AP French teachers. During a discussion of the previous year’s main essay, she learned that the average score had been exceptionally low—a 1, in fact—because so many students had confused the main verb in the prompt, s’habiller (to get dressed), with habiter (to live in or inhabit).
Now, the s’ at the beginning of the former signals a reflexive verb (in French, one literally dresses oneself), whereas habiter can never be reflexive—from a logical perspective, one cannot live in oneself, and so this construction makes no sense. (Note to anyone new to this blog: I have a college degree in French and started out tutoring that language; the English thing happened more or less by accident.)
Nevertheless, an enormous number of French AP exam-takers failed to notice either these very important linguistic clues (despite the fact that students at this level should theoretically be able to recognize reflexive constructions easily) or their commonsense implications.
Beyond that, s’habiller and habiter are such incredibly common verbs that that a student sitting for the AP exam should obviously know the difference between them.
2019 NAEP scores have been released, and the results in reading… aren’t good. As the New York Times reports:
Two out of three children did not meet the standards for reading proficiency set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, the research arm of the Education Department.
The dismal results reflected the performance of about 600,000 students in reading and math, whose scores made up what is called the “nation’s report card.” The average eighth-grade reading score declined in more than half of the states compared with 2017, the last time the test was given. The average score in fourth-grade reading declined in 17 states. Math scores remained relatively flat in most states.
Only 35 percent of fourth graders were proficient in reading in 2019, down from 37 percent in 2017; 34 percent of eighth graders were proficient in reading, down from 36 percent. Overall student progress in reading has stalled in the last decade, with the highest performers stagnating and the lowest-achieving students falling further behind.
Despite attempts to pin the blame on poverty and other social ills, the fact that math scores have not declined to anywhere near as much as reading scores suggests that the problem lies in the schools—in considerable part, at least. Intuitively, at least, it does not make sense to suggests that socio-economic factors could suddenly have such an outsized impact on one area of the curriculum while having almost no effect on another. In fact, math scores actually improved in some states. (more…)
Lest anyone should have read my last few posts and concluded that my depiction of the state of American reading instruction was exaggerated in some way, I direct you to the video below. If you’ve ever wondered why so many children struggle, this pretty much says it all; you basically get to watch reading problems being created in real time.
Notice that a couple of times, children attempt to use the letters sound out words, but the teacher reminds them to focus on the pictures instead. The clear message is that sounding out words is a strategy to be avoided.
The only times she acknowledges that letters have something to do with how the words are said is when she tells children to look at the first and last letters in conjunction with the pictures; the fact that the sounds in the middle of a word also play a role in how it is said is not mentioned, ever.
This is pure three-cueing: if teachers are taught that reading is a “psycholinguistic guessing game,” then they will in turn make reading into an actual guessing game.
I have to wonder: do the children understand that the words don’t say what they say because of what the pictures show? That is, do they grasp that if you took the pictures away, or changed the pictures, the words underneath would still say the same thing? I’d bet that at least some of them would struggle with that idea.
At any rate, it isn’t hard to imagine what will happen to kids taught like this when the pictures are taken away.
And remember: this type of teaching is being held up an an example.
A couple of days ago, I got curious about the state of phonics instruction in New York City schools and started googling away. I learned all sorts of fascinating things about the respective reigns of Joel Klein and Carmen Farina, and about the ongoing and pernicious influence of Lucy Calkins/Reading Workshop and Columbia Teachers College; I also came across a well-intentioned an article in Chalkbeat about the struggles of some Brooklyn parents to get their dyslexic children into appropriate programs. The content of the article was disheartening but fairly predictable—what I found more interesting was the semantic confusion the writers displayed in a discussion of balanced literacy vs. phonics, and it got me thinking about how the standard reading-war rhetorical tropes get wielded. (more…)
Of all the difficulties involved in tutoring SAT reading, the one that perplexed me the most was the inordinate difficulty certain students seemed to have in grasping the notion that the answers to the questions were *in the passage,* as opposed to in their head or somewhere on the other side of the room. As I wrote about in a fit of irritation many years ago, not long after I started this blog, it literally did not seem to occur to them to look back at the text, and I could not figure out how to get them to do otherwise.
That many tutoring programs treated the location of the answers as some kind of amazing secret baffled me even more. Where other than in the passage would the answer be? How was it possible that so many students seemed to struggle not just with understanding what various texts said, but with the idea that answers to reading questions were based on the specific words they contained? How could such absolutely fundamental notions of reading be so lacking that they could actually be packaged as tricks? (more…)
I found myself stuck at home sick today, and unable to do pretty much anything other than lie flat on my back on the couch, I inevitably ended up trawling the internet and somehow found myself on Retrospective Miscue, a blog run by various members of the whole language community (including Yetta Goodman, wife/collaborator of Ken Goodman, the founder of whole language and one of the figures discussed in the article by Marilyn Jäger Adams I posted about recently.)
As I read through the posts, I couldn’t help but notice what seemed like a rather idiosyncratic connotation of the term “making meaning,” and it occurred to me that what scientists and, well, most educated adults understand by it is fundamentally different from what the whole-language crowd—or a certain segment thereof—mean. The two groups are not simply having a theoretical debate; they’re living in two separate universes, one of which is based in reality and the other of which is not. (more…)