Exciting announcement: www.breakingthecode.com, the new site that I’m co-hosting with my colleague Richard McManus of The Fluency Factory, is finally live (pats self on back for setting up and designing a website entirely from scratch, with only a minuscule amount of help; to my tech people, you’re awesome, but apparently I’ve learned a thing or two in all my years of wrangling this site into shape).
So the good news is that I’ll finally get out of everyone’s hair about little-kid reading problems—even though, for the record, they tend to turn into big-kid reading problems—and stick to writing about testing and admissions-related topics (well, mostly).
Kidding aside, Richard and I really want this to become a major resource for people involved in reading instruction, whether out of personal or professional interest. Richard and his tutors do phenomenal work getting kids who’ve fallen behind in reading back on track.
Last fall I was lucky enough to spend a few days hanging out with them, and I can testify to their dedication and effectiveness. If anyone reading this has a child, or knows anyone who has a child, struggling with reading, I really encourage you to get in touch. (Because of the Coronavirus situation, they’re working exclusively online and on a pay-what-you-can-afford model.)
For anyone who wants an overview of the basics of teaching reading, I’m also planning to make available a short (just over 30- page) downloadable guide to the major concepts. There’ll probably be a small fee, but not more than a few dollars. I started out intending for it to be very bare bones, but the more research I did, the more I realized had to be included, and it kind of spiraled from there…
One of the things I realized was the extent to which really key information about reading instruction is diffused over a very wide range of sources, many of which are quite dense and not particularly accessible to a non-academic audience. I’d be skimming through an article or an interview that I’d found half by chance, and all of the sudden I’d read something that made me think, “This is so incredibly important—how did it take me so long to learn this, and why isn’t it common knowledge?”
Then I’d read blog comments left by people who were struggling to teach reading and realized they hadn’t been trained well but couldn’t find a primer that explained just what they needed to know. So obviously I had to take it upon myself to write one;)
So please feel free to pass this along to anyone you think might be interested, and if you’re interested in contributing, please drop us a line!
As regular followers of this blog may have noticed, I’ve recently been focusing heavily on issues related to phonics and the teaching of reading. I realize that these topics are in some cases only tangentially related to the test-prep and college admissions process, but I haven’t had anywhere else to post my observations… until now.
My colleague Richard McManus, a reading specialist and the owner of The Fluency Factory in Cohasset, Massachusetts, have decided to join forces and start a new website. Titled “Breaking the Code,” the site is dedicated to exploring the issues surrounding the teaching and learning of reading. (more…)
As I alluded to my previous post, the U. Wisconsin-Madison cognitive psychologist and reading specialist Mark Seidenberg has posted a rebuttal to Lucy Calkins’s manifesto “No One Gets to Own the Term ‘Science of Reading’” on his blog. For anyone interested in understanding the most recent front in the reading wars, I strongly recommend both pieces.
What I’d like to focus on here, however, are the ways in which Calkins’s discussion of phonics reveal a startlingly compromised understanding of the subject for someone of her influence and stature.
In recent years, and largely—as Seidenberg explains—in response to threats to her personal reading-instruction empire, Calkins has insisted that she really believes in the importance of systematic phonics, a claim that comes off as somewhat dubious given the obvious emphasis she places on alternate decoding methods, e.g., covering up letters, using context clues, etc. (Claude Goldenberg, the emeritus Stanford Ed School professor who helped author the recent report on Units of Study, also does a good job of showing how Calkins attempts to play to both sides of the reading debate while clearly holding tight to three-cueing methods.)
That’s obviously a problem, but I think the real question is even more fundamental: not just whether Calkins truly supports the teaching of phonics, but whether she understands what phonics is. (more…)
I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to finish my AP English book updates these last few weeks that I somehow missed a new front in the reading wars: Emily Hanford recently published another American Public Media article, this one casting a critical look at Columbia University Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins and her enormously lucrative and influential Units of Study program.
Although Calkins claims to be in favor of phonics (when appropriate, as long as it doesn’t interfere with children’s love of reading), her guides for teachers promote a series of methods that effectively embody the three-cueing system.
The cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg, a specialist in reading problems who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has an excellent blog post in which he methodically dismantles Calkins’s attempts to distance herself from three-cueing methods, and demonstrates the extent to which Calkins engages in semantic game-playing. His reading of Calkins’s work also hints at the depth of her misunderstandings about phonics, some of which are rather astounding. I think they’re very important to highlight, and I’d like to do so in another post. (more…)