Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sol Stern misses the boat...

...in his Marshall Plan for reading in K-3 as he turns to a narrow view of reading methodology as a solution to whatever gap is being discussed. He talks about decoding and pushes his beloved "Success for All" program, a rigidly defined program that allows little flexibility for teachers.

I mentored Teaching Fellows who used this program and what it was really about was reducing class size by taking the entire school's resources - all out of classroom teachers - and for an hour an a half a day cutting the size of reading groups into more manageable chunks.

Reading doesn't just start with phonemic and phonic awareness but with speech - lots of it. And having stories read to kids an an early age.

The concept of balanced literacy which he is so critical of, actually has some sound theory behind it in addressing some of these issues but was implemented by Klein's non-educators in a destructive way. It also requires small, manageable classes, something Klein doesn't believe in.

Another factor was their rigidity - kids that did need phonics were denied it in the early years. I was in one class where one of the children was not able to function in the BL program and kept the teacher preoccupied while she was clearly needed to be circulating to make it work for the rest of the class. As her mentor I recommended she give him some kind of workbook so the other kids wouldn't lose out. "We're not allowed" she said. Okaaay!

I agree we should have a Marshall Plan for the schools. But covering only up to the 3rd grade (don't we see the enormous slippage between 4th and 8th grade scores) will be a drop in the bucket.

It is good to finally see Stern acknowledge the benefits of lower class size, which he used to pooh pooh. But if he thinks starting a reading program in kindergarten will do the trick, he is mistaken. By that time many kids need one to one assistance (Reading Recovery addresses some of this).

Open up schools for parents to bring their 2 year olds to be read to. Strengthen local libraries and run programs for very young children. Arrange for trips. It is the bigger bolder approach to the whole child before they enter school. Any Marshall Plan should attempt to diminish the language gap by pre-school.

The key ingredient in reading improvement is getting kids to enjoy reading. No easy task, especially when programs like Success for All and test prep often end up making the reading experience akin to taking a daily does of Castor oil.

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