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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Reading and wronging

Educators are teaching reading wrong, argues Mark Seidenberg, a University of Wisconsin neuroscientist, in Language at the Speed of Sight.  “Whole language” and “balanced literacy” ignore the “science of reading,” he writes.

The book is “indispensable,” writes Robert Pondiscio in a review (follow the link and read his lead, if nothing else).

“Parents who proudly bring their children to school on the first day of kindergarten are making a big mistake,” Seidenberg writes. “They assume that their child’s teacher has been taught how to teach reading. They haven’t.”

Future teachers are taught that “phonics is the route to poor reading,” he writes. They’re not taught effective classroom practices.

Ed schools treat 19th- and early 20th-century theorists such as Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner, Piaget, and Montessori,  “as the source of axiomatic truth,”  Seidenberg complains. Prospective teachers don’t study the latest science on how children learn.

Pondiscio recalls his first teaching job as a “provisionally certified elementary-school teacher.”

I remember counting myself lucky that I was assigned to teach 5th grade, since I hadn’t been taught the first thing about teaching children to read. I was terrified that I would be found out and fired. It turns out I wasn’t an outlier.

In addition to teaching phonics, Pondiscio makes a pitch for teaching content — history, geography, science — so children will read with understanding. “Our teacher-preparation programs remain unaccountably indifferent to background knowledge as a driver of education inequity.”

Cognitive scientist  and blogger Dan Willingham, who blurbed Language at the Speed of Sight, has a new book out himself, The Reading Mind. It looks at how children go from reading letters, words and sentences to understanding beginner books and, eventually, “inferring deeper meaning from texts and novels in high school.”

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