Why Are We Still Teaching Reading Wrong?

By Emily Hanford from the New York Times


Our children aren’t being taught to read in ways that line up with what scientists have discovered about how people actually learn.

It’s a problem that has been hiding in plain sight for decades. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than six in 10 fourth graders aren’t proficient readers. It has been this way since testing began. A third of kids can’t read at a basic level.

How do we know that a big part of the problem is how children are being taught? Because reading researchers have done studies in classrooms and clinics, and they’ve shown over and over that virtually all kids can learn to read — if they’re taught with approaches that use what scientists have discovered about how the brain does the work of reading. But many teachers don’t know this science.

What have scientists figured out? First of all, while learning to talk is a natural process that occurs when children are surrounded by spoken language, learning to read is not. To become readers, kids need to learn how the words they know how to say connect to print on the page. They need explicit, systematic phonics instruction.

There are hundreds of studies that back this up.

But talk to teachers and many will tell you they learned something different about how children learn to read in their teacher preparation programs. Jennifer Rigney-Carroll, who completed a master’s degree in special education in 2016, told me she was taught that children “read naturally if they have access to books.” Jessica Root, an intervention specialist in Ohio, said she learned “you want to get” children “excited about what they’re reading, find books that they’re interested in, and just read, read, read.” Kathy Bast, an elementary school principal in Pennsylvania, learned the same thing. “It was just: Put literature in front of the kids, teach the story, and the children will learn how to read through exposure,” she said.

These ideas are rooted in beliefs about reading that were once commonly called “whole language” and that gained a lot of traction in the 1980s. Whole-language proponents dismissed the need for phonics. Reading is “the most natural activity in the world,” Frank Smith, one of the intellectual leaders of the whole-language movement, wrote. It “is only through reading that children learn to read. Trying to teach children to read by teaching them the sounds of letters is literally a meaningless activity.”

These ideas had been debunked by the early 2000s. It may seem as if kids are learning to read when they’re exposed to books, and some kids do pick up sound-letter correspondences quickly and easily. But the science shows clearly that to become a good reader, you must learn to decode words. Many whole-language proponents added some phonics to their approach and rebranded it “balanced literacy.”

But they did not give up their core belief that learning to read is a natural process that occurs when parents and teachers expose children to good books. So, while you’re likely to find some phonics lessons in a balanced-literacy classroom, you’re also likely to find a lot of other practices rooted in the idea that children learn to read by reading rather than by direct instruction in the relationship between sounds and letters. For example, teachers will give young children books that contain words with letter patterns the children haven’t yet been taught. You’ll see alphabetical “word walls” that rest on the idea that learning to read is a visual memory process rather than a process of understanding how letters represent sounds. You’ll hear teachers telling kids to guess at words they don’t know based on context and pictures rather than systematically teaching children how to decode.

Many teachers learn these approaches in their teacher preparation programs. Publishers perpetuate these ideas, and school districts buy in. But colleges of education — which should be at the forefront of pushing the best research — have largely ignored the scientific evidence on reading.


Easy, Free Rewards for Your Classroom

Save yourself the trouble and consider some of the free ways you can give your students a meaningful “thumbs up” when they do something right.

Lunch Bunch 

Recognize a well-behaved table group by inviting them to Lunch Bunch with the teacher. The chosen kids bring their own lunches and eat in the classroom together with you. If you have a TV, find some cartoons to watch. Or, have the kids bring their favorite CDs from home to listen to during lunch (check the lyrics first!). They can also play games when they finish eating. The children feel special because they get to stay inside and you may even find that you enjoy this unique, low-key time with the kids as much as they do.

Longer Recess 

This is a great one because it doesn’t have to involve extra time from you. If possible, reward a child by letting them stay outside and play until a later bell. For example, after my third graders come in, the fourth graders get to play about 10 more minutes. So, I can reward a student by letting them stay out until the “fourth grade bell.” You may need to double-check with yard duty supervisors before doing this. Also, you probably won’t want to use this one all the time. The kids do miss some instructional time and you are relying on the supervisors to help you out.

Special Seats 

Reward a well-behaved (or much-improved) child by letting them work at the teacher’s desk for an entire day. Or, you can set up a special seat “on the rug” and let chosen students have a chance to sit there during story time. This free reward is zero hassle for you and quite a thrill for the kids!

Whole-Group Rewards 

Let individual students earn points towards a whole class reward. This works especially well for students who crave attention because they will earn positive attention from the whole class for their good behavior. For example, the student can earn a table point for their table group, or a few marbles for the class marble jar. This helps difficult students feel like a real part of the group and it provides for a little positive peer pressure to keep them performing well.

Read-In Party

Stay away from popcorn parties that require extra money and preparation from you. Tell the kids that they can wear pajamas to school that day (discuss appropriate attire, first!). They can also bring their favorite stuffed animal and a pillow. Use the day to celebrate the joys of reading. The kids get to lounge around the room for part of the day, reading, relaxing, and savoring the joy of books. You can also add in other literary activities for a rewarding day that sends a clear message to the students: Reading is Fun!

Afternoon of Art and Music 

Art and music are worthy academic subjects. But, if you’re like most time-strapped teachers, you can’t fit enough of them into the school day. Motivate your class with this simple reward. Let the class listen to music while they work on an art project. They’ll love it and so will you!

Good Phone Call Home

Why do phone calls home always have to be negative? Set this standard on its head by letting parents and guardians know how great their child is doing in your class. Most students will work really hard to get this kind of individualized recognition that will make a big difference at home. This is also a wonderful opportunity to solidify your relationship with parents. They want to know that you love their child and this is an easy way to make everyone happy.

Help in Another Class 

This is a great one for reinforcing academic content and building self-esteem in kids who really need it. It’s hard to implement in kindergarten and first grade classes, but with other grades, it works great. Recognize a worthy student by letting them help out in a lower grade for awhile. Use your professional judgment to make it work in your classroom and school environment.

Hand Stamp

Don’t get stuck on costly and consumable stickers. Use the simple ink stamps that you already have to let a student know that they are A-okay! Simply stamp your sign of approval on the back of the child’s hand. You may want to clear this with parents first, since they might not appreciate ink on their kid’s hand.

It may sound too good to be true, but if you don’t introduce material rewards in the first place, your students will never miss them. In elementary school, children are so eager to please and so pleased to receive any little special recognition. They really will bend over backward for these types of rewards that don’t cost you a penny!


The Role of Attitude in Teaching

By Kellianne Holland
Early Childhood Education Major, College of Education

The classroom is a place where children flock to learn new things, and it can be a bit crazy sometimes. As a teacher, you must remain positive and strong-willed. Read along as the Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Christine Marsh, shares her wisdom on the topic of attitude and teaching. Christine Marsh is a teacher at Chaparral High School, and she passionately teaches 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement English.

Attitude is very important when you are a teacher. It affects your students in many ways and can shape their learning experience. Marsh makes a good point when she talks about how intuitive students can be. “I have learned that teachers can’t really fool students, so it’s best not to try,” says Marsh. “Students can and do feel teacher’s moods and attitudes.”

As a teacher, you will sometimes experience stress that carries with you all the way home. Rather than dwelling on this, find positive ways to eliminate your stress. Complaining about how bad your day was won’t make the next day better. So, see what went wrong and try to turn it around. Did it upset you when your students didn’t do the reading? Were you frustrated with your kindergarteners because they were extra rowdy that day? Instead of focusing on what went wrong, prepare yourself for the next day, emotionally, mentally and physically.

In addition, an extra hour of sleep can significantly improve your mood as well as a few motivational words or a devotional reading. Also, don’t take it personally when your students don’t do the homework or when your students decide to talk over you. Staying cool, calm and collected will allow you to properly and clearly think of a reasonable solution rather than lashing out.

Marsh also helps us understand that it is okay to have a bad day once in a while. Teachers are just as human as their students, and can find it impossible to go a whole school year without having at least one bad day. Marsh advised that we be honest with our students.

“I usually just tell them about it. I’ll say ‘Look, folks, I’m having a rotten day, and I am grouchier than normal. I don’t plan on snapping at anyone, but if I do, that’s why.’ They’ll usually then ask why I am having a bad day, and if it’s not too personal, I’ll tell them very briefly.” It’s true that most students are very understanding when it comes to their teachers having a hard time.

Being a teacher is not for the faint of heart. It requires patience, preparedness, flexibility, an open mind and strength. It is a rewarding career, as it gives you the opportunity to change many lives for the better.



Universities News

Three Pakistani universities make it to global top 900

Three Pakistani universities have been featured among the top 900 of the world.

The 15th edition of World University Rankings was issued by the Times Higher Education.

COMSATS Institute of Information Technology has been ranked in the range of 601-800, while the University of Agriculture and the National University of Sciences and Technology fall within the range of 801-1,000.

Six Pakistan universities which featured on the 1001+ rankings (those which did not make it to top 1,000 list) include Bahauddin Zakariya University, University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore, Government College University Lahore, University of Lahore, PMAS Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi, and University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Lahore.


Youth urged to turn to Iqbal for inspiration, self-enlightenment

Event Category   Educational

Speakers at a University of Gujrat (UoG) seminar on Wednesday paid rich tributes to Allama Muhammad Iqbal – one of the most powerful sources of inspiration for the Muslim nation – urging the country’s youth to dig deeper into his teachings and philosophy for inspiration and self-enlightenment as well as for helping the nation regain its glorious status.

The seminar titled “Suragh-e-Zindagi” was organized at Hafiz Hayat Campus by SPEAKS Society of Faculty of Management & Administrative Sciences as part of celebrations marking the 141st birth anniversary of the great Muslim poet, philosopher and thinker of Pakistan.

Stressing the need for the revival of the message of Allama Iqbal, Registrar Dr Tahir Aqil, the keynote speaker at the seminar, said, “The spirit of his teachings and philosophy is a great source of inspiration for our youth. A proper and complete understanding of Iqbal’s ideas and philosophy is all that we need to take us back on the road to progress.” He said that Iqbal’s focus of attention is the Muslim youth whose intellectual and spiritual awakening he keenly yearns for throughout his poetry.

Dr Tahir Aqil expressed his hope that the current generation of youth possesses all the potential what it takes to realize the dream of the great philosopher by adopting the pragmatic approach and ideas in their lives. Muhammad Haider Meraj said Iqbal’s philosophy is about self-awareness and self-recognition and carries a message of universal appeal. Dean Dr Abdul Rehman said that the revival of Iqbal’s teachings and ideas at higher education institutions will go a long way in the character building and intellectual awareness of the youth.

Director Media Sheikh Abdul Rashid emphasized the need for today’s youth to turn to Allama for inspiration as well as their intellectual, moral, and spiritual enlightenment. He equally stressed the need to promote his ideas to address the contemporary challenges facing the country, describing his poetry and philosophy as the most remarkable source of enlightenment for all the generations to come. Coordinator SPEAKS Ayesha Nazeen thanked the participants in her address and discussed the teachings of the great poet as “the most effective means of social reformation”.

Among the guests of honour were department head Dr Ghulam Ali Bhatti, Director IT Dr Arshad Manzoor Bosal, Director Security Maj. (retd) Raja Muhammad Umar Yunus, Deputy Controller of Examinations Faisal Ijaz, a number of academics including Najeeb ur Rehman and Mubasshar Hussain. A large number of students also participated in the seminar. Tasadduq Hussain Waraich, a young faculty member, presented a moving recitation of one of Iqbal’s poems.

Students Momina Shahzadi and Raabi Peter threw light on the various aspects of the life of the poet philosopher. A team of students led by Hamid staged a one-act play highlighting the significance of Iqbal’s teachings.





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