Teaching reading skills isn’t enough to produce a good fourth-grade reader, writes Dan Willingham on Britannica Blog. Good readers know things, so they can understand what they’re reading.
- the frequency with which the teacher used materials from other subjects in reading instruction.
- using assessment to assign grades.
- the frequency with which students took a quiz or test after reading.
- using assessment to provide data for national or local monitoring.
The first factor — teaching subject matter knowledge — was the most important.
Once students can decode, background knowledge is crucial to reading comprehension. Ensuring that students have wide-ranging knowledge of the world ideally begins at birth, through a rich home environment. Schools must do everything possible to support and expand that knowledge base, and integrating material from other subjects into the reading curriculum is an important step in the right direction.
We get a snap of satisfaction when we solve a problem. But solving a problem that is trivially easy is not fun. Neither is hammering away at a problem with no sense you are making progress.
So the challenge for a teacher is to find that sweet spot of mental difficulty, and to find it simultaneously for 25 students, each with a different level of preparation. To fight this problem, teachers must engage each student with work that is appropriate for his or her level of preparation. This must be done sensitively, so that students who are behind don’t feel like second-class citizens. But the fact is they are behind, and pretending that they are not does them no favors.
Intelligence is malleable, Willingham says.
. . . data have shown that moving kids from low-quality to high-quality schools boosts IQ scores.
The secret to getting smarter is really not a big secret: Engage in intellectual activities. Read the newspaper, watch informative documentaries, find well-written books that make intellectual content engaging.
And watch less TV.