My new reading site, “Breaking the Code,” is now live!

My new reading site, “Breaking the Code,” is now live!

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. (more…)

Announcing the launch of “Breaking the Code”: a new site dedicated to reading and phonics

Announcing the launch of “Breaking the Code”: a new site dedicated to reading and phonics

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…)

Does Lucy Calkins understand what phonics is?

Does Lucy Calkins understand what phonics is?

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…)

Lucy Calkins vs. phonics: the Common Core creators strike back

Lucy Calkins vs. phonics: the Common Core creators strike back

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…)