To the Editor:
A central problem for schools, in the teaching of reading as well as other subjects, is finding a system that can educate all children to learn, and to love learning (“Legislation Would Replace Federal Reading Programs,” Nov. 11, 2009). Teachers must be given the training and tools to succeed in reaching students with widely differing abilities and home environments, and to enable each of those students to achieve according to his or her individual potential.
In Israel, a “differential teaching” program known as LITAF, developed by the educator Nira Altalef, has had spectacular success in teaching children to read with understanding, fluency, and enjoyment. The Israeli experience may help educators in other countries succeed in the crucial task of educating all children, with none left behind.
Her programs begin by recognizing classroom reality: the pupils we have, the teachers we have, and the budgets we have. While others fail and blame their failure on these realities, Ms. Altalef succeeds with differential-teaching strategies that accept the fact that we must live in the real world, not some imaginary one where everything is better. Her programs insist that it is the responsibility of the school and the education system to teach all children, including those who receive no help from their parents. The success of these programs has shown that it can be done.
In July 2000, I published a “millennium essay” in the journal Nature that included a picture of a 1st grade classroom in Israel; the photo shows children working quietly in small, independent groups, and its caption reads, “Ninety percent of 6-year-old Israelis can read, understand, and learn independently.” Ms. Altalef’s LITAF reading program recognizes that all children, as well as all teachers, are different. But a good system with a realistic, positive approach can fit everyone.
All pupils can learn to read, all teachers can teach them, and all can finish each day with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Harry J. Lipkin
Weizmann Institute of Science
A version of this article appeared in the December 09, 2009 edition of Education Week as ‘Differential Teaching': Israel’s Key to Success