kitchen table math, the sequel: missed the memo

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

missed the memo

End of the reading wars.

In the past seven years, a new view of reading instruction has taken hold in school districts nationwide.

The issue these days isn't whether "phonics" or "whole language" is the better approach for beginning readers, but how to blend those philosophies and other elements in a reading program tailored to the individual child.

For a growing group of educators, the reading wars, waged so ferociously in the 1980s and '90s, are past. Or at least passe.

"I think more schools are moving toward a balanced literacy program," said Tina Chekan, co-principal and literacy coach at Propel McKeesport, a charter elementary school. Propel also operates elementary schools in Homestead, Kennedy and Turtle Creek.

"There's not one program that fits all," she said. "We know that our students are on varying ability levels. We work to really focus on the individual."


Some educators now downplay the significance of the reading wars, calling them the over-publicized rants of academic extremists. Dr. Roller, of the International Reading Association, considers the wars a dead issue.

"I wish somebody would hold a big funeral service and bury this casket," she said.

I don't think that's going to happen. 


Mark Pennington said...

A key discussion point regarding reading instruction today involves those favoring skills-based instruction and those favoring content-based instruction. This is not the old phonics-whole language debate. Other than a few hold-outs, such as Stephen Krashen, most in the reading field would agree that this debate has been largely settled. The current debate involves whether teachers at all levels should be teaching the how or the what of reading.

There are, indeed, some who would restrict reading to a measurable skill-set. These would pigeon-hole reading instruction into a continuum of increasingly complex rules, while ignoring the thinking process necessary to advanced reading. Teachers of this ilk love their phonics, context clues, and inference worksheets when they are not leading their students in fluency exercises, ad nauseum, whether the students need fluency practice or not.

On the other side of the debate are those who would claim that content is the real reading instruction. These would limit reading skill instruction in favor of pouring shared cultural knowledge into learners. They favor teacher read-alouds, Cornell note-taking, and direct instruction. They argue that subject area disciplines such as English literature, science, and history often provide the best reading instruction by the content that they teach.

Both are extremes. Students need some of each to become skilled and complex readers. More on how to strike this balance on my blog at

SteveH said...

Wow! Everyone can fold up camp, pull out their wallet, and head home.