To the Editor:
The March 13, 2019, issue’s front page article on textbooks (“New Texts Failed to Lift Test Scores in Six-State Study”) and the back-page Commentary about reading instruction (“We Have a National Reading Crisis”) together tell a powerful story: Our teachers are not being adequately prepared and textbooks cannot make up for this shortcoming by themselves. The result is, as the back-page headline screams, a national reading crisis.
What’s a nation to do? From 36 years of partnering with schools in Chicago and a respectable review of reading and teaching research, I propose a simple model for what every teacher can and must do every day with and without textbooks: Provide the right amount of instruction for each student, use engaging methods, and deliver the right content.
The right amount of instruction for each child acknowledges that some students need more and some need less. Billy might need 30 more minutes per day to catch up on the skills that Suzy already possesses. Engaging methods keep students’ attention on the teacher and the content, like teaching in a small group or using drama and music. The right content can come from a textbook, but few cover it all. This means teachers must know what all the right skills are (hint: for reading, it’s not just phonics but also fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and more), and then find multiple sources to plug gaps.
Good teachers have figured out how to make these three things happen, so Billy, Suzy, and every student can move ahead successfully.
Reading In Motion
A version of this article appeared in the April 10, 2019 edition of Education Week as A Model for the Reading Crisis