Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

Meaning Must Come First During Reading Instruction

May 30, 2023 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Older Students Who Struggle to Read Hide in Plain Sight. What Teachers Can Do
Going back to basics may get to the root of the problem.
6 min read
Image of a seventh-grade student looking through books in her school library.
A seventh-grade student looks through books in her school library.
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages
Reading & Literacy The Key Parts of a 'Science of Reading' Transformation, According to One State Chief
Under Carey Wright's leadership, Mississippi pulled off a reading "miracle." She has a similar transformation in mind for Maryland.
6 min read
Dr. Carey Wright, the interim state superintendent for Maryland, discusses improving literacy instruction and achievement with Stephen Sawchuk, an assistant managing editor for Education Week, during the 2024 Leadership Symposium in Arlington, Va. on Friday, May 3, 2024.
Carey Wright, the state superintendent for Maryland, discusses improving literacy instruction and achievement during Education Week's Leadership Symposium in Arlington, Va., on May 3, 2024.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Reading & Literacy Teachers Are Still Teaching Older Students Basic Reading Skills, Survey Finds
Who across the K-12 spectrum engages frequently in activities that promote foundational reading skills? The answer may come as a surprise.
4 min read
Group of kids reading while sitting on the floor in the library
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on The Science of Reading in Practice
This Spotlight will help you analyze new curricula designed to build knowledge, review the benefits of reading aloud to students, and more.