Our public schools do a great many things well, but effective reading instruction is not one of them.
Children come to kindergarten from a dizzying variety of home environments. Their exposure to language and the printed word varies from “a great deal” to “hardly any.”
Ideally, a kindergarten teacher’s first efforts would be directed toward establishing a common learning ground as quickly as possible. One way to do this is to create lessons that enable all the children to begin at the same place. But that is not how it is done in the typical public school kindergarten.
Instead of starting all children on the same page, as it were, five-year-olds are plunged directly into open-ended language activities for which not all of them are ready.
The result is predictable. Children who received plenty of language exposure at home quickly leave their less well-prepared schoolmates in the dust.
The CCSS (Common Core State Standards) that are supposed to raise the quality of public education make matters worse when it comes to reading instruction.
One of the CCSS recommendations for kindergarten is “Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose an opinion piece.”
How do kindergarten teachers implement such a recommendation?
Here’s an example I found on the Web. A kindergarten teacher is describing how she might talk her class through the writing part. The children have drawn the picture of a dog.
I want to write, “I have a dog.” Count on your fingers to indicate there are 4 words to be written. The first word is “I.” I know how to write that. The next word is “have.” I don’t know the whole word. Does anyone know how it starts? Take suggestions, but in the absence of anyone knowing, say, That’s ok, I’ll skip that one. I leave a space here to show “have” goes here. Continue until you have all or most of the sentence written.
The lesson described is intended for the first or second week of kindergarten— a class containing anywhere from 20 to 35 children. Picture it. Some of the children can write their names and words like have; others can’t identify all the letters of the alphabet.
First-month writing lessons should not require skills or information that only some of the children may have learned at home. The teacher should not leave essential information “until later.” Children should not be asked to write a sentence about anything before they have been taught how to write words.
This ineffective approach to early literacy instruction is defended because it is “based on research.”
The technique may be based on research, but the fact remains that two out of three children who begin school at the age of five or six will fail to acquire a level of adult literacy.
The only reading research that matters piles up yearly in the form of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results.
In 2015, only about 65% of the students tested in grades four, eight, and twelve were able to read at grade level.
These are national figures.
In some states, and for some demographics, the failure rate soars as high as 80%. Here is a chart prepared by the Annie E. Casey Foundation:
Parents of young children cannot afford to leave beginning reading instruction to the schools.
One easy thing they can do to failure-proof their children is to start teaching them the alphabet as soon as they are born.
My next post will offer suggestions for instilling the alphabet at an early age.
If you’d like to see the results of having children write before teaching them how, read this: