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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Are teachers and education professors ignorant or arrogant when it comes to teaching reading?

It appears that many teachers and schools of education aren’t following the guidelines put forth in the National Reading Panel. Schools of education persist in presenting all methods of reading instruction as “equally valid, and how one teaches reading is merely a decision that works best for the individual teacher" rather than teaching scientifically proven methods.

Here are the “scientifically proven” methods:

  1. Early identification of children at risk of reading failure.
  2. Daily training in linguistic and oral skills to build awareness of speech sounds, or phonemes.
  3. Explicit instruction in letter sounds, syllables, and words accompanied by explicit instruction in spelling.
  4. Teaching phonics in the sequence that research has found leads to the least amount of confusion, rather than teaching it in a scattered fashion and only when children encounter difficulty.
  5. Practicing skills to the point of “automaticity” so that children do not have to think about sounding out a word when they need to focus on meaning.
  6. Concurrently with all of the above, building comprehension skills and vocabulary knowledge through reading aloud, discussing, and writing about quality children’s literature and nonfiction topics.
  7. Frequent assessment and instructional adjustments to make sure children are making progress.
The study conducted by The National Council on Teacher Quality examined 72 elementary education programs throughout the United States. The findings are discouraging. According to the authors, “only 11 out of 72 institutions (15 percent) were found to actually teach all the components of the science of reading.”

The problem appears to be an outright contempt of the “science of reading” in professorial circles. This stance is arrogant because it flies in the face of quantitative studies and destructive because it ultimately retards the intellectual growth of millions of children. The problem is bigger than that though: "The big step between us and animals is language. But the big step between civilization and more primitive forms of human society is written language" Dr. John Searle, Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at University of California- Berkeley, 2004 National Humanities Medal winner for Contributions to the science of the Mind. (COTC Interview)


Many reading teachers and textbooks describe the process of becoming a reader as a natural, organic process, though there is no scientific basis supporting such a view for any child, even for children who seem to find it easy to learn how to read. Many courses indicate that exposing children to literature that speaks to their own experience will spark a natural development of reading skill; the right motivation is sufficient to build skill. However, these assertions are also unsupported by scientific evidence.

Obviously we need to right the ship. As parents we need to demand that our schools teach scientifically proven reading methods. We need to hold teachers, administrators, and boards of education accountable. As pre-service teachers we need to challenge our professors when they downplay or ignore the science of reading. We shouldn’t stop their though, we need to hold professors accountable for propagating reading myths by outing them.

Undoubtedly, some folks will argue that the National Council on Teacher Quality is a conservative think tank ala the Fordham Foundation, but remember to distinguish between name calling and the refutation of facts when evaluating their research. The future of our civilization may depend on it.

Comments on "Are teachers and education professors ignorant or arrogant when it comes to teaching reading?"


Anonymous Susan said ... (3:23 PM) : 

Well, the teachers are ignorant and the education professors are arrogant! We have the same problem here in the UK. Do visit the if you're interested in evidence based teaching of reading, and my website for home education help and much more

Best wishes


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