This blog post is essentially a plea. It’s partially a plea to myself as I do my own work, partially a plea to educators, partially a plea to the world at large.
I’ll start with the story of two twins who couldn’t read. They were 5th graders, and they didn’t even know sight words, like the or I, couldn’t decode at all (even phonetically regular one syllable words, like cat or sip). But they were feisty, with just the right amount of attitude and curiosity.
I taught them to read, and the thing is, it wasn’t that hard. We did lots of read-alouds of excellent stories and they learned, slowly, to decode. I didn’t get them caught up to a 5th grade reading level or even close, but their mom told me they were reading things to her all the time, “just to show me they can.”
So what happened? I don’t know, but I’ll make a guess- they were labeled as students with special needs. People assumed they couldn’t read. They got into trouble a lot and that distracted everyone. Later, say past 2nd grade, their teachers didn’t know how to teach basic reading skills or didn’t have the time or didn’t have the materials.
Lydia Dobyns recently wrote a blog post on turning college and career readiness into reality; she references an excellent article by Jim May on what it really takes to ensure students are college and career ready. I’m going to just say, “what they said,” and add my plea to please, please help me make sure our students can read, because if they can’t, college and career readiness is not attainable. For too many students, it’s a matter of never having been taught decoding skills, for others, they simply don’t have the fluency, for others, they know how to attack novels but not a chemistry textbook. I wrote about 5th graders, but I’ve seen too many high schoolers who still read at a 3rd or 4th grade level.
Why? I’ll make the same guess. Teachers don’t know what skills students lack- students can be amazing at masking their reading struggles. Many educators were never taught how to instruct kids with such huge needs, or don’t have the time or materials.
So here’s the detailed version of my plea. Please…
1) Assess the reading skills of every single student
2) Find the time and the materials
3) Train the teachers
It’s a lot harder than it seems when I write it down in black and white. How do I know that? Because too often, those three things don’t happen.