kitchen table math, the sequel: reading without teaching

Friday, April 6, 2012

reading without teaching

in Education Week:
"A federal study has found no learning gains from a summer reading program that provided books to students, but little else.

The report, by the Institute of Education Sciences, explores whether fall reading-comprehension scores could be improved through a summer reading initiative for economically disadvantaged children with below-average reading skills. The randomized, controlled study involved 1,571 students in 112 schools during the summer between 3rd and 4th grades. Students received eight books appropriate to their reading levels and their interests.

Unlike some other summer reading efforts, though, this one offered no interventions beyond six postcard reminders throughout the summer. The aim was to learn if the program could close reading gaps without additional strain on parent and teacher resources."
Summer Reading By Hannah Rose Sacks
As far as I can tell, and contrary to what parents and schools universally believe, "reading a lot" doesn't work particularly well. To get better at something, you have to engage in deliberate practice, and deliberate practice is pretty much the opposite of reading for pleasure. More-reading-less-Facebook isn't the answer to our nation's reading problems.

Btw, I had no idea that more-reading-less-Facebook wasn't the answer to our nation's reading problems until I read Tom Fischgrund's book on students who scored perfect 1600s on their SATs.

I think there's another problem with independent reading as well, but that is for another day.


Jen said...

Well, reading a lot and independent reading are lovely things -- if you 1) know how to read and 2) are actually reading them and increasing the level of your content -- that is, the vocabulary is increasingly difficult, the themes become less simplistic, etc.

However, the kinds of kids who are in these programs generally don't read well -- if at all. There are very few books that are "at their level" in terms of readability and their age and interest level. The books that do meet those qualifications are not generally books that are going to lead them to more and different reading.

BUT, as an SAT tutor? I can tell you from one session if the kid I'm tutoring reads books for pleasure or not. Their vocabularies are far broader and they can use the words, they are able to slow down and read a difficult couple of sentences for the meaning, without just pulling out a couple of words and trying to put something together out of that context.

So, um, my point -- reading a lot is good, but it's not the starting point, it's more of the goal of good reading instruction.

Bostonian said...

We should improve the job market credentialing system (allow broader use of certification exams) so that people who never read for pleasure do not feel compelled to go to college, where they do not belong.

Anonymous said...

"We should improve the job market credentialing system (allow broader use of certification exams) ..."

In my field (tech), the problem isn't any *legal* requirement for a 4-year college degree. It is that all (or almost all) of the certificate exams suck so badly that they are worthless.

I don't have a solution.

I'd love for "digital badges" to take off *and* be useful, but I'm not hopeful at all (for my field). We just have way too many previous examples of alternative certifications that turn out to be worthless (Microsoft has a whole series. Sun, now Oracle, did, too. I'm sure that there are lots of others in the industry).

-Mark Roulo