by Linda Diamond, founder and former president, CORE and author of Teaching Reading Sourcebook and Assessing Reading: Multiple Measures
In 1976, when news Anchor Howard Beale in the film Network yelled this famous line on air and urged everyone to open their windows and yell too, it resonated with me. It resonates even more now as once again the reading science deniers disparage those of us in the reading research community who accept the settled science on teaching reading by implying all we care about is phonics. That is a cheap shot that cannot be further from the truth. However, it is a slick strategy by the advocates of other teaching methods to belittle the rest of us and stir up anger and more sales of products that ultimately only work for a few children. This same line of resistance has been used to smear any curriculum that didn’t fit a “balanced literacy” or guided reading approach and was successfully used against a fantastic ELA curriculum, Open Court, as being only about phonics. Again, a big lie. Explicit systematic instruction, the science of reading, Structured Literacy, whatever the term, has NEVER, I repeat NEVER been all about phonics. It is about a systematic and explicit approach to developing ALL the critical literacy skills, including phonemic awareness, sound-spelling relationships, syllable patterns and morphemes, fluency, sentence and paragraph structure, vocabulary, text structure and comprehension.
Yes, we start with children reading decodable texts to help them apply their decoding knowledge rather than guessing and using other cues with so-called “leveled texts.” However, simultaneously as children are developing their early reading skills, they hear and discuss great literature and informational texts. They learn new vocabulary and academic language, experience advanced syntax, and gain content knowledge through complex texts. From this combination of reading decodable text and listening to and discussing complex text, quite soon they are reading texts on their own from standard children’s literature, much earlier and much more advanced than the type of leveled texts used in other systems.
With the current NAEP results showing abysmal achievement for minority students, the science deniers could take a lesson from the great educator Marva Collins. Marva explicitly and systematically taught phonics, but her children, the poor African American and Hispanic children that many of the current practitioners of non-science supported methods have left behind, were reading Shakespeare and Chaucer. Marva Collins and my other hero Siegfried Engelmann did more for social justice for our most marginalized and vulnerable children than do the science deniers who perpetuate illiteracy. What the science of reading is about is equity—transforming, liberating, and equipping all students with the skills to be sophisticated citizens capable of achieving anything they want as opposed to leaving so many ill equipped to reach high levels of literacy. Interview Marva’s students today and you will see adults who because of how she taught were able to escape a cycle of poverty and achieve their goals.
I stand with Kate Walsh (NCTQ) and her recent post, Getting at the Root of the School to Prison Pipeline and I too am calling out Lucy Calkins and Fountas and Pinnell, especially for painting a picture of the science of reading as all about phonics when they know darn well that is a lie. I too am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.
Interested in more great professional insights into the science of reading? Check out this webinar: Using the Science of Reading to Improve Literacy Instruction for English Learners