Untrained to teach reading

The Training Gap

In The Training Gap, education school graduates tell PBS NewsHour they’re not well-prepared to teach reading. The segment visits “an innovative public school in Hartford, CT that may serve as a model.”

If reading instruction isn’t taught in ed school, what do they teach?

About Joanne


  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    shhhhhh. Recently I was told the reason American children can’t read is because they’re stupid. You’re suggesting, Joanne, that American children might be having a hard time learning to read because of the crap training teachers receive. Shhhhhhh- obviously you haven’t heard that it’s because they’re stupid.

  2. There’s just no end to human inventiveness.

    Having finally convinced the world that whole word, whatever it’s currently named, doesn’t work by producing millions of educationally crippled kids the edu-sphere now sets about making phonics needless complex.

    Well OK, needlessly complex if you want to teach kids to read but if you’re trying to justify claims to a deep, broad expertise then artificial complexity is a necessity.

    • Thanks for recalling Whole Language. Teachers aren’t “untrained to teach Reading”, they’re anti-trained. They’re trained to use inept, bass-ackwards methods. There’s a good reason for this: reading is so simple that third graders playing “school” can teach preschoolers to read and Colleges of Education would be out of business if word got out that an Ed degree adds less than nothing to teacher competence. Complications enhance the mystique on which the tax-subsidized credential industry depends.

      • Thanks to my mom, an elementary school teacher who rebelled against whole language back when it was first introduced, I recoil when someone says Dolch sight words have to be taught by memorization instead of being sounded out. Sure, they aren’t all CVC simple; there are a few unusual sounds that have to be explained, but they are hardly logograms.
        My mom taught us all how to read with phonics-based primers before the elementary schools could mess us up. When she was short on time, she’d let us older siblings help the younger one go through the primers. The youngest, most neglected of us all has a BS in electrical engineering and just started medical school this year, so he survived our lack of pedagogical skill.

      • Oh, that’s OK. My stint as an adult literacy aide gave me a little window on the amount of human suffering caused by Whole Language and, by extension, the public education establishment.

        You are wrong, however, about Whole Language being a deliberate tactic to increase the importance of Ed schools. Whole Language came about because there’s no good reason for Ed schools to pursue ideas that enhance and improve education. It’s the K-12 system that’s responsible for Whole Language.

  3. My mom taught all three of her kids to read before first grade. “Kid whisperer” or just good mom? There may be mad skills involved in teaching a whole pack of kids to read, but teaching one is not exactly rocket science.

  4. To answer your question Joanne, nothing. That’s the problem with these Ed schools in this country. They don’t teach subjects. They teach leftist, faddish pedagogy that serves to dumb down kids.

  5. palisadesk says:

    I’m definitely going to be the vox clamantis in deserto here, but frankly I don’t think pre-service education programs are the appropriate venue for teaching highly grade-specific skills. And why not? Because when going for that teacher certification, the prospective elementary teacher candidate is preparing for certification across a number of grade levels — K-6, 1-8, 6-9 — it varies by state and district, but includes a number of grade levels. Let’s say the candidate has her heart set on being a first grade teacher, and learns all she can about beginning reading instruction. Then she is hired and assigned to middle school social studies! At the whim of administration, she can be assigned to something else the next year or the next month. She has little or no control over what grades or subjects she will be asked to teach.

    A good teacher pre-service p[program will focus on knowledge and skills needed by all teachers: cognitive science, behavioral psychology, relevant legislation (IDEA etc.), child development, some knowledge of exceptionalities of different kinds, effective teaching strategies that cross grade and subject levels (corrective feedback, direct instruction, mediated scaffolding, distributed practice…), assessment, statistics and how to read and interpret them, research methods and how to evaluate them, curriculum design, and a few other broad topics. It would be a great idea to have a required component on the structure of the English language writing system (not nearly so capricious as most believe), the development of the alphabetic code, and typical and atypical developmental milestones in oral and written language achievement through the school years. This could serve as a useful foundation for the specifics of “teaching reading” (at whatever level) later on.

    So, who should provide this level of detailed instruction? My suggestion is, the school district that hires the prospective teacher, and determines her assignment, should provide — or make arrangements with another organization to provide — specific training in the skills required at that grade level. The new teacher should be paired with a mentor who can help with implementation and problem-solving, and coaching with feedback can be extremely beneficial. Learning “about” teaching reading is not the same as learning to do it, and teachers are sure to encounter students whose needs and presenting characteristics challenge what their professors told them. These present incredible opportunities for learning.

    Learning in situ is much more effective than learning “about” how to do something, in vacuo. I had a pretty good pre-service preparation program, but my district at the time capitalized on it with some of the initiatives I suggest. There is no reason why this cannot be more widely done. There also needs to be more of an emphasis on, and respect for, specializing at the elementary level, instead of regarding every K-8 teacher as an interchangeable widget.

    • Applause for your recommendation that all ES teachers (and I’d like to see all English and History MS-HS teachers as well) be required to take coursework in the structure of the English language. English majors/minors in the Arts College at my school were required to take Structure of the English Language, followed by Stylistics, but the ed school didn’t require either (although some kids took them). You didn’t get past that year (C or better required and the prof was a tough grader) without knowing English grammar and composition I’ve had far too many notes/assignments and notices from teachers (in high-performing schools) that needed a large dose of red pencil. I also like the idea of specializing in ES; too many teachers are too weak in math/science and too many don’t know/ don’t know how to teach reading, grammar and comp.

    • Agree BUT: all K-12 teachers should have been taught not just the cognitive science that underlies effective reading instruction but also the range of instructional goals and techniques that most children will have been taught with, by the time they reach reading mastery. Pre-K thru Grade 3 teachers should have been exposed to what good reading instruction looks like even for older children; middle school teachers should have been exposed to what it looks like for K-3 students; and so on.

  6. Palisadesk is exactly right.

    By the way, it’s pretty absurd to say that most teachers can’t teach reading. What is needed is specialized instruction for kids with disabilities or simply low cognitive ability to be sure they can learn as best they can.

    In short–and unsurprisingly–Stacy is wrong again. While the kids aren’t “stupid” and I very much doubt a teacher used that word, the fact is that the only kids who can’t learn how to read have low cognitive ability or a specific reading disorder.

    • Well if it’s absurd to say most teachers can’t teach reading then what accounts for high rates of illiteracy? If the kids aren’t stupid and the teachers *can* teach there must be some third factor insinuating itself into the equation.

      But there is no third factor and teachers can’t teach kids to read.

      Not, at least, using the stupid methodologies which are foisted off as effective by the ponderous intellects that daily hold forth in schools of education.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Cal – you’re irony impaired.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      What is needed is specialized instruction for kids with disabilities or simply low cognitive ability to be sure they can learn as best they can.

      Almost all schools employ “reading specialist” who are specifically trained to teach kids with disabilities. They just are really bad at it. allen has it right. For all but the highly motivated who will scramble their way into a bit of education despite what their schools do to them, the schools as they’re currently constructed aren’t capable of educating with anything like efficiency or effectiveness. They are great holding pens and cash cows for guards, though.

      • I agree with Stacy that some of the reading specialists are really a waste of time. A relative with a dyslexic kid had to go private to have her taught – to the point that she needed no spec ed by MS (maybe before). Worse, the private tutor had been at the school but left because she was forced to use ineffective methods and materials – in addition to being “encouraged” to simply supply kids with answers.

        • In addition, the specialist is held to a slow level of pacing. Quite a few around here privately tutor the same students they see professionally, as the student can make faster progress than the district allows. This lets them catch up to grade level after the crippling they rec’d in K-2.

  7. “Well if it’s absurd to say most teachers can’t teach reading then what accounts for high rates of illiteracy? ”

    Quite a few kids will not become literate, if by literate we mean 8th grade reading, until adulthood. And that’s assuming we stop pretending that it’s the teacher’s fault and instead let kids develop at their own pace.

    • They’re not going to learn to read if given over to the tender mercies of self-serving professionals who don’t have to answer for their poor, or misguided, performance and prefer it that way.

      Fortunately, as faith in the public education system continues to ebb the “blame the victim” excuses aren’t working nearly as well as they used to and those self-serving professionals aren’t as free to peddle ineffective pedagogical nostrums as once they were.

      That means they will learn to read because when some psuedo-learned rebbe strokes their metaphorical beard before pronouncing their oh-so-tragic diagnosis of socio-economically-based illiteracy, sorry but nothing can be done, the adult will respond with two words the second of which will be “you” and go and find some professionals interested in teaching their kid to read and willing to take responsibility for doing so.