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Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

Meaning Must Come First During Reading Instruction

May 30, 2023 1 min read
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To the Editor:

I believe the EdWeek article “What Is Background Knowledge, and How Does It Fit Into the Science of Reading?” (Jan. 30, 2023) is problematic. The “science of reading” inspired by the National Reading Panel was never scientifically tested for efficacy by experts before it was presented as the only way to teach reading.

Try reading this. The topic is “reading”:

Ti is pssbleoi to rdea wtouthi snoudign otu wdros. I’ev jtsu dmsteontrade it.

Instead of decoding the sentence, the brain must look for the message. And, to find the message, the brain must compare minimal phonetic information with all the knowledge and language you’ve acquired to find something meaningful.

Those who promote decoding as reading’s required fundamental skill ignore the research cited in a 2006 article that shows 1 percent of all children ages 5 to 6 who already know how to read when entering preschool, kindergarten, or 1st grade do so without ever being formally taught to decode. My grandson is one of them. He’s a 3rd grader and reads at a 5th/6th grade level.

The struggling readers I work with overcome their reading problems even though I never ask them to decode a single word. Using methods from my mentor Dee Tadlock, I help learners from ages 7 to 57 become readers by putting meaning first and guiding them to figure out how to use strategic phonetic information to anticipate the language in stories (what you did above to read the scrambled sentence).

My new readers (5- and 6-year-olds) do not learn to read—one—word—at—a—time—with—ugly—pauses—between—every—word. There is no meaning in single words. Language is what we use to express meaning. Meaning, therefore, must come first.

Rhonda Stone
Parent Advocate & Reading Tutor/Trainer
Co-Author, Read Right! (McGraw-Hill, 2005)
Shelton, Wash.

A version of this article appeared in the May 31, 2023 edition of Education Week as Meaning Must Come First During Reading Instruction

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