Opinion
Special Education Letter to the Editor

There Is No ‘Reading War’

October 08, 2019 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Education Week is a venue for the expression of opinions, such as Ms. Hood’s, a “literacy expert,” in the Opinion essay of Sept. 11, 2019 (“What the New Reading Wars Get Wrong”). She urges readers to clarify the term “reading” and points to a “war.”

“Reading wars” is artificial. There is no “war.” There is disagreement on the entry point of formal instruction: decoding or experiencing text content. The National Reading Panel indicates the importance of all areas of reading instruction, especially phonics for those with learning challenges.

Understanding what comprises “reading” and how to teach an individual “to read” is clear to those who work with students diagnosed with dyslexia. Effective teachers begin with phonics, leading to the skill set of decoding with fluency. This does not negate instruction in all aspects of reading comprehension. Engaging a student’s interest and imagination in text content is crucial.

However, if this student cannot independently sound out letters seen, then he or she will not comprehend meaning. Not everyone requires phonics instruction. For those not easily and automatically picking up on the code of language, the “Alphabetic Principle” is paramount. Students establish the linkage between the letter seen with its sound(s)—decoding—and the sound heard with its letter(s)—spelling.

Any “language literacy” teacher or educational therapist knows that those with dyslexia do not efficiently “guess” at letter-sound patterns; Ms. Hood’s assertion about “guessing” at word patterns does not hold up.

How a teacher teaches is another variable, especially for those with dyslexia. Covering phonics is not enough. Effective teachers incorporate the Orton-Gillingham philosophy, a sequential, explicit, multi-sensory, interactive, and mastery approach embedded in several commercial programs.

Let us embrace all aspects of language instruction, regardless of entry point, focusing on those we serve—all those who strive to make meaning from print.

Arlene Harris

Educational Therapist, Educational Consultant

New York, N.Y.

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A version of this article appeared in the October 09, 2019 edition of Education Week as There Is No ‘Reading War’

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