Change is slow…unless we help!

It’s always good to see colleagues and friends at these yearly meetings of SSSR. Louisa Moats and I found ourselves commiserating at lunch one day.  Louisa has been teaching the importance of a speech-to-print approach for years.  She has lectured widely, taught professional development courses, been active on government advisory panels, and has written an excellent book called Speech to Print. (Also, Straight Talk About Reading with Susan Hall, another excellent book). But, as we said over lunch, it’s sometimes discouraging that change happens so slowly.  This is what she said in American Educator in 1998:

“One of the most fundamental flaws found in almost all phonics programs is that they teach the code backwards.  That is, they go from letter to sound rather than from sound to letter….the print to sound approach leaves gaps, invites confusions, and creates inefficiencies” (Moats, L. Teaching Decoding, American Educator, 42-49)

This was an eye-opener for me when I read it.  A shot in the arm! If teachers, administrators, and especially publishers had taken this advice to heart, I believe we would be seeing a more promising picture of reading achievement in America.  But as Louisa and I agreed over lunch, it is very hard to change teaching habits that have been ingrained over years.

However, there is good news to report.  As brain imaging is used more and more to probe reading and reading difficulties, our understanding of how the brain organizes reading is growing. And these results, direct from the brain itself, add punch to the observations of researchers like Louisa Moats. Learning the alphabet code by going from speech to print is not only less confusing; it is more likely to activate efficient reading pathways in the brain.  But more about this in later blog posts…

I’m confident that there will come a tipping point, where instruction will change, and more resources will be directed toward our youngest children who badly need attention and conversations with adults.  Just increasing the vocabulary and conversational skills of the youngest members of our tribe could raise the intelligence of our entire society!  Get busy, you retirees!  There’s important volunteer work to be done! Go find some three or four year olds, read to them, help them sound out and write some simple words, and have a conversation with them!

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