Reading what?

Good readers need background knowledge — not just skills — concludes John Merrow after talking to E.D. Hirsch, Mike Smith and Linda Katz about reading development.

(Hirsch) explained what is called “the Matthew Effect” to Virginia’s legislators . . . “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” . . .  the more you have learned, the more you are capable of learning and likely to learn. The reverse is also true: the less you know, the harder it is for you to acquire knowledge.

“You have to read about something, whether it’s baseball or Patrick Henry or space travel or a pet dog,” Merrow concludes.

And it’s important that all children have common reading experiences — shared content. Finally, closing the vocabulary gap is best done in situations that replicate how vocabulary-rich children in the study acquired their larger vocabulary — through conversation, not in cold classrooms where drill is the M.O.

Merrow is touting the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

I’m tutoring two first-grade boys, one of whom has really struggled. On Monday, he doubled his reading speed. On Thursday, he enjoyed reading.

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  1. Yes, this means that elementary and middle school teachers need to do a lot more show-and-tell –explaining the world we live in –and less content-less literacy exercise. Teacher talk, when it’s filled with interesting content and accompanied by interesting visuals, engages kids and imparts the knowledge that is essential to make good readers and thinkers. Yet ed schools vilify teacher talk.

  2. Along those lines, I would like to see teachers reading to students about the world. History books in story form, literature, literary science would go a long way to inspiring students while increasing knowledge. This is allows the students to learn from experts who love the subjects they have written about instead of the teachers who may have little knowledge on the subjects they are teaching. Good books written with passion are always preferred over much talky talky by teacher.