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School & District Management Letter to the Editor

‘Getting Reading Wrong’

October 22, 2019 3 min read
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To the Editor:

On Oct. 2, EdWeek published “Getting Reading Right.” It would be more accurately called “Getting Reading Wrong.”

Here are the main things wrong with the explainer “How Do Kids Learn to Read? What the Science Says":

1. The article confuses three very different kinds of research.

a. Research on the reading process: What do readers do to make sense of written language? My research has basically been on the reading process.

b. Research on learning to read: How is literacy actually learned? Among others, my wife, Regents Professor Emerita Yetta Goodman, has done considerable research on how literacy is learned.

c. Research on reading curriculum and instruction: What methods are effective in supporting learning literacy? Even ardent behaviorists have concluded that time spent reading is the only factor that has shown consistently to correlate with reading development.

2. The article equates reading with word identification. Over and over this assumption dominates the article. But reading is in fact not identifying words, it is constructing meaning. There is an implicit, but wrong further assumption that once words are identified meaning will somehow happen.

3. There is no “three cueing system” instructional approach. This is based on an article written years ago by Marilyn Adams claiming that the cueing systems we have described as involved in making sense of language constitute an instructional method rather than the intrinsic aspects of language linguists have determined are operative in all language: symbol systems, grammar and syntax, and meaning or semantics.

4. Miscue analysis is represented as the study of errors made by non-proficient readers. In fact all readers produce miscues, and miscue analysis is a research method that has been applied to readers at all levels of proficiency and has been the basis for understanding how readers construct meaning. The assumption that reading can or should be error-free is not possible since each reader is making sense (constructing meaning), bringing prior knowledge as well as linguistic knowledge to the process. Further, words do not really have meaning nor can they be identified outside of the context in which they occur.

5. Many assertions about what “science” or “research” has proven or disproven are made in the article that are not referenced and are absolutely without foundation.

6. There is the assumption that phonics can be taught or learned as a prerequisite to learning to read. As I showed in my book Phonics Phacts (Heinemann, 1993), phonics is variable from dialect to dialect, produces productive invented spellings but not conventional spellings, and must be learned in the context of reading.

7. Whole language is reduced to an alternative method of instruction to phonics. It is actually a much more profound recognition of the understanding that language develops in the context of its use and is not a school subject that can be reduced to a series of discrete skills to be learned and tested.

8. Considering that my research and theory are the subject of attack throughout the article, I should have been offered the opportunity to respond to the misrepresentations.

9. Once more teacher education is blamed for a non-existent crisis. Most pupils learn to read and most teachers have sufficient knowledge to support their learning.

Shame on Education Week for taking us back half a century at a time when 4-year-olds are becoming literate on digital devices and literacy is spontaneously invented on cellphones in languages with no formal history of literacy all over the world.

Kenneth S. Goodman

Professor Emeritus

University of Arizona

Tucson, Ariz.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 23, 2019 edition of Education Week as ‘Getting Reading Wrong’

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