Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor

Reading Instruction Should Be Reoriented

August 20, 2012 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

In the Commentary “Dear Data, Please Make Yourself More Useful” (May 23, 2012), Brad C. Phillips and Jay J. Pfeiffer plead for education data that can be drawn upon to change schools for the better. I believe that their plea was answered in another Commentary that appears in the same issue.

Anthony Palumbo’s “Unlocking Literacy for Intellectual Growth” (May 23, 2012) documents a hundred years of Americans’ failure to teach their schoolchildren to read. Mr. Palumbo notes that 25 percent of the draftees of our two world wars proved to be illiterate. He notes that the reading achievement of our schoolchildren has continued to fall, forcing the SAT to renorm its tests because they had become too hard for our students. The No Child Left Behind Act produced no improvement. In fact, the verbal scores on the 2011 SAT were the lowest ever recorded.

Such data would seem to point unambiguously to one conclusion: Phonics and whole language, our two methods of teaching reading, are not doing the job. Phonics states firmly that no one can learn to read without knowing the short vowel sounds. However, anyone who seeks data on this subject will discover that about 60 percent of the vowels in any English paragraph are not pronounced with their short sound at all, but with vowel-sound associations that phonics does not teach. Phonics students will be forced by such instruction to distort those words so badly that they can make no sense of the sentence, or paragraph, or story that they are trying to read, which accounts for those falling scores.

It would seem obvious that the best way to improve our schools from 1st grade to 12th grade is to abandon our nonfunctional reading teaching practices and replace them with an approach that works.

Here, a little more data may prove the solution to the vowel problem. Three alphabetic languages—Hebrew, Arabic, and Farsi—work perfectly well without any vowel letters in their alphabets. We can solve our vowel problems easily by copying those languages and using the consonant sounds to identify written words in the context of sentences, paragraphs, and stories. Of course, that is the same discovery that has been made by those many children who every year teach themselves to read before they even enter school.

Helen Andrejevic

Former elementary school teacher

New York, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 2012 edition of Education Week as Reading Instruction Should Be Reoriented


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.
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
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 Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

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 Opinion No, Fewer Books, Less Writing Won't Add Up to Media Literacy
NCTE’s call to “decenter” print media in favor of digital media has some troubling implications, argues Mike Schmoker.
Mike Schmoker
4 min read
conceptual illustration of a stairway of books leading out of a dark space filled with letters
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty images
Reading & Literacy Letter to the Editor Reading Recovery Debate Is ‘Polarizing’
The executive director of the Reading Recovery Community pushes back against criticism of the program.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
Reading & Literacy What the Research Says Concerns Raised Over Reading Recovery's Long-Term Effects
The popular literacy intervention showed dramatic benefits for 1st graders, but follow-up research points to drawbacks years later.
5 min read
Image of a young boy selecting books in the library.