TEACHING READING AT BANK STREET COLLEGE
Why Johnny Can’t Read
In a recent lecture at Bank Street College, Richard Allington criticized “we keep doing the same thing, the same way every time and expect a different outcome.” The audience laughed, noting the double entendre: the state of Reading Instruction and Government Affairs. As educators, our moral responsibility is to teach children using the research that works.
Two premises have been documented for decades. First, children differ: To search for the one best way to teach kids to read is futile. Secondly, there are about 6-8 distinct profiles of struggling readers. Therefore, intervention designs must be based on empirical research. In order to equalize this system—53% readers who get it right and 47 % who get it wrong—we need to assess the quality of instruction and provide struggling readers with more help across the school year.
So what do we need to teach reading? We need small groups, the expertise of a professional teacher, and books kids can and feel motivated to read.
Whole class instruction is the least effective way to teach. It guarantees that the struggling readers will get zero minutes of high success reading instruction. It’s been found that the curriculum is over the head of 80 percent of the kids in a 60-minute class. Side by side and individualized teaching that’s highly personalized works better reaching over 60 percent of the class. Kids also collaborate better in small groups and help each other out.
The teacher plays the critical role of both model and coach in reading instruction. They monitor reading by questioning kids and discussing with others their thoughts after reading a text. Teachers coach students to use strategies that help them to read independently. Effective reading instruction requires teachers to be careful observers of the speaking, listening, reading and writing practices students bring to school. With this knowledge, a teacher designs reading instruction that meets the current needs of the whole group, small groups, and individual students. Expert tutoring is also needed for struggling readers.
Children need access to interesting text and books they can read. They feel empowered when they have a choice (or the illusion of choice). This is motivational and assists in students’ reading, comprehension and achievement. These texts should engage and allow them to practice recognition and comprehension of unknown words simultaneously. Teachers create fluency problems when books are too difficult to read. Research has found that good readers are interrupted less often than poor readers, who are asked to read aloud. The teacher, either by intonation or using phonics, interrupts the struggling child constantly until he/she gets the word. Allington argues this method is akin to dodging traffic: It is not productive and destroys the kids’ memory. A library of good books, book rooms, and a certified reading specialist is also an essential resource, which leads to better reading scores.
As a literacy teacher, our aim is to have kids read fluently, accurately, with a 90–98 percent accuracy of comprehension. We don’t need any more studies. If we teach them how to read, there is a reciprocal effect on their ability to write, spell, decode and comprehend their subject matter.#