kitchen table math, the sequel: imitation of life

Friday, July 17, 2009

imitation of life

"We teach children to mimic the behaviors of good readers without the conditions (background knowledge) that make those behaviors work."

It always amazes me how this blog seems to reflect conversations I'm having with a good friend of mine who is also a teacher. We talk non-stop about education. Just two days ago we were talking about this, which seems especially prevalent in high school remedial reading courses. Since these kids are perceived to be able to "read" (that is, say out loud the collection of letters on the page), the idea seems to be that they just aren't concentrating hard enough - or as mentioned mimicking the behavior of good readers well enough - and teaching them that should take care of the problem.

As for "Best Practices," I've often thought it was a very Orwellian phrase, and could go right up there with:


A teacher from Australia shared a refreshingly honest "standard" for First grade reading there:

"engages in reading-like behavior"

Well, if it is "reading-like" it is, by definition, not reading, just as "catlike movements" are movements of some animal other than a cat.

And here's Robert Pondiscio:
I may have to start calling our reliance on “reading strategies” instruction “Cargo Cult Reading.” Its entire point is to teach children “what good readers do” and the habits of mind that are reflexive to able readers. It’s the exactly the same thing–you teach kids to mimic the behaviors that lead to comprehension–but without the background knowledge that actually makes it possible. Indeed, a staple of strategy instruction is to teach children that good readers ”activate their prior knowledge to create mental images, ask questions, and make inferences.” How exactly does that work in the absence of prior knowledge to activate?

Imitation of Life, by the way, is one of Douglas Sirk's great films. I must have watched it a dozen times in graduate school.

Allison on Cargo Cult education
Vicky S on developmentally inappropriate education


Crimson Wife said...

My 3 1/2 year old "engages in reading-like behavior." He sits down with a book and proceeds to flip through the pages while telling a story that, while he made it up himself, is fairly plausible based on the illustrations. This is IMHO perfectly appropriate for his age.

The standard for a 6-7 year old in first grade, however, should be at minimum the ability to read BOB books.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh - good thing I wasn't drinking coffee when I read that last line!

Crimson Wife said...

BOB books are sheer torture for the adult doing the reading instruction because of how dull they are: "Mat sat." But they work wonders in helping kids learn to read.

palisadesk said...

A quantum leap better than the BOB books are the old SWRL books from the 70's (otherwise known as the "I See Sam" readers) which are available here, or here, or as a free download (the original materials are in the public domain) at this site

These are clever little stories with engaging plots but completely decodable text (the pictures carry the story, but do not promote guessing the words). I haven't seen any other decodable books for the complete beginner that are of this quality.